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Adultery in the Military Part 2: The Root, the Remedy, and the Recovery

Adultery in the Military Part 2: The Root, the Remedy, and the Recovery

By Suzzanne Bonn, ACBC Certified Biblical Counselor, Director of Biblical Counseling at Arcade Church, Ranger Mom

Now you are free from your slavery to sin,
and you have become slaves to righteous living.
Romans 6:18

Why begin an article on adultery with a Bible verse about slavery? What do adultery and slavery have in common?

One might think that we become gradually enslaved to sin as we continue to commit it, but according to Scripture, the opposite is true. We are already enslaved to sin from the moment we are conceived (Psalm 51:5).

In a previous article, we discussed the widespread problem of adultery in the military, reasons given for the motivation behind it, and ways to help curtail the temptations toward it. As important as it is to listen to the reasons given by one who seeks to justify such an act, it is far more critical that we help discern the root cause so we can work toward repentance and restoration. Parsing reasons helps us to ascertain heart motives, but these are never the motives themselves. We must fathom the cravings of the heart at their basest level to fully realize what drove the attitudes and actions that followed. (For the remainder of this article, I will be using masculine pronouns for the offender and feminine for the offended, but only for the purposes of clarity.)

The Root

To truly understand the root cause of adultery, we must first come to the harsh realization that we all are now, have always been, and always in this life will be slaves. We were born into slavery to sin,1 and we will remain so in this life and spend eternity paying the price for it apart from repentance and saving faith in the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus. Repentance and saving faith will not release us from slavery by any means; they will, however, transfer our ownership. Whereas we were helplessly and hopelessly tyrannized by sin, bound to obey its lust and bear its regrets, through Christ we are now His beloved children who gladly indenture ourselves to His will, His ways, and the glories that await us.2

Romans 6:5–23 describes the condition of every human soul before salvation in Christ, but this passage, particularly verses 16–18, explains the necessity of shifting our allegiance from sin to Christ.

Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living.

Romans 6:16–18

This is good news for anyone who has been held in the bondage of sin’s clutches. The regenerated in Christ now have a choice in their master. We now have a decision about who or what we will serve: sin, which leads to death, or Christ, which leads to righteousness. These are the only two choices.

Simply stated, the reason we do everything we do comes down to who or what is master over us; to whom or to what are we bowing down; who or what is sitting on the throne of our hearts. The Lord rightly commands us to "Guard (keep, pay attention to, watch closely) your heart with all diligence, for out of it flow the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23).3

The heart’s desires are the driving force behind everything we think and do. When one honors Jesus as King in his heart, his attitude (his settled, determined way of thinking and feeling) are centered around glorifying, pleasing, and obeying Him, and this will then show in his actions. Example: A soldier is getting unsolicited attention from a female soldier. If glorifying Jesus Christ is his heart’s desire, his attitude will be one of respectful distance from her, resulting in actions clearly communicating his disinterest in anything other than the work before them. He has wisely chosen to be the slave of Christ.

Christ is a Master worthy of the throne of our hearts! He will never deprecate us or make us regret obeying Him—even if obedience to Him brings about ridicule or persecution. He will, in fact, give us great joy despite any cost.4

There is, however, a constant barrage of things that vie for the throne in our hearts—all of which are good in and of themselves. In fact, they are all gifts from God intended to be enjoyed if God grants them to us in their proper setting.5 The problem is that as sinners, we take good things and make them gods—idols, "needs," supplanters of the Lord who gave them to us. When a good thing takes the throne and becomes the "master" and something threatens to deny us what we feel we must have in order to be whole and happy, our attitude becomes one of fear, anger, anxiety, lust, etc., and our actions carry out those attitudes. Example: the same soldier is receiving unsolicited attention from a female soldier. When Jesus was on the throne, the soldier’s attitude—his settled, determined way of thinking and feeling—was committed to glorifying his Lord, and he acted appropriately in a Christ-honoring way. But if pleasure, companionship, relief from loneliness, and/or comfort take the throne, his attitude will concentrate on justifying actions that will more than likely lead to adultery, even if it’s only in his mind. In worshipping these or any other felt needs, he has enslaved himself to sin by making them his master. If, for instance, pleasure takes the throne, it will likely lead to sexual sin, even if that sin occurs only in his heart and mind.

It is popular to assert that Christians usurp Jesus and put themselves on the throne. Make no mistake: We never occupy that throne! We are always the slave!6 We have no authority except to choose the master to whom we will do homage. We will either bow to Christ and receive both the temporal and eternal rewards for doing so, or we will bow to whatever we put in His place and even denigrate ourselves to get it.

Understand that whatever takes the throne will be something that is good—many times it is something we are commanded in Scripture to pursue and strive toward. But even things this good must not usurp Christ.

The drug addict doesn’t worship heroine or the sting of the needle; he craves what the contents of the needle provide: relief from pain, escape from trouble, approval of peers. The pre-teen’s body does all it can to reject the cigarette smoke he is eager to ingest in order to procure the acceptance of the cool kids at school, but he’ll persevere if that’s what it takes to get it. The raging mother justifies screaming at her kids to manipulate them into being the obedient children for which she longs. The negligent husband ignores the wife who doesn’t give him the respect he covets. The adulterer forces his wife’s and children’s faces out of his mind so they don’t halt his march toward the pleasure he wants. Relief from pain, escape from trouble, approval, acceptance, obedient children, respect, pleasure—all these are good things! No one feels bad for asking the Lord for them, nor should they. In their proper place, they are godly requests. But if God chooses to deny us these gifts, we easily defect from the goodness of His supremacy and flee to the demeaning mastery of sin.

When interviewed, those who cheated on their spouses listed reasons for their actions, but upon scrutiny, are they reasons? The word reasons carries a connotation of thought and logic, as it should. But when examined closely, we can no longer assess these as reasons at all; they are nothing more than excuses, a word that denotes irresponsible, reckless rationalization in an effort to escape culpability. Loneliness, frustration with an at-home spouse, stress, common grief, detachment from consequences, apathy, drunkenness, and stupidity were some of the listed reasons given for adulterous actions, but no one worships any of these things, so we must reassess them as excuses. At the root of what is rationalized is the heart’s desire responsible for causing the conundrum as to which master will be served and whether or not the pursuit of it will end in sin and its consequences. This point cannot be overstated. To stop short of doing the hard work of burrowing deep into the desires that drove the attitudes and actions is to not fully understand the problem. Until a sinner comes to the realization that he must repent of his sinful state, transfer his worship to Christ, and bind himself to His will and ways, there is no hope he will experience anything other than sinful attitudes and actions at worst, and behavior modification at best. If he adopts the latter, he will likely find another outlet for his sin that may be more palatable or acceptable, but it is still not righteous because the heart has not repented of its idolatry. He has a choice to make: remember the One who created him, loves him, and bought him with His own precious blood to rescue him from the slave market of sin in this life and the consequent eternity in hell in the next . . . or surrender to the sin that reduces him to chattel.

Marital fidelity, whether at home or abroad, doesn’t really come down to how much one loves spouse and family; it comes down to the worship of whatever is on the throne of the heart. Joseph’s response to the onslaught of sexual advances made by Potiphar’s wife toward him in Genesis 39 makes this case: "[Potiphar] is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" Joseph’s reply showed no consideration of what Potiphar would think or do, how Potiphar’s wife would be perceived, or even of how it would affect his own safety. It was all about the worship of his Lord! Joseph recognized that it was God who had spared him from the murder his brothers had conspired to enact upon him . . . ordained that he be sold to a man who would grow to trust him so completely as Potiphar did . . . and advanced him to chief steward over an entire household. His worship of God, driving an attitude of thanksgiving, barred him from taking sinful action.7 This is always the progression: worship à attitudes à actions regardless of which master we choose.

The Remedy

The military could investigate, impeach, and penalize every adulterous allegation presented to it and still not succeed in eradicating adultery. Such actions might reduce the instances of adultery or produce more clever cheaters, but laws and the enforcement of such will never completely eliminate it. The only remedy for sin is repentance—another posture that lives only in the heart and can be attained only if it is granted by our gracious God. Yes, it would help to reduce the number of broken lives and families if preexistent laws were enforced, but they cannot really solve the root problem since it is heart driven.

True repentance is nothing short of a gift from the Lord, and as such, He must be the One from whom we request it. The realization that we cannot conjure this up within ourselves should bring us to the point of humble petition. Our Lord is not One who folds His arms and looks condescendingly down upon us until we grovel enough before Him, begging Him for enough self-loathing to incite His pity. Rather, He stands before us, arms open, inviting us to run to Him, be embraced by Him, and ask Him for anything that is in accordance with His will! Ideally, after prostituting ourselves to the mastery of sin and wearing the degradation of its stench, we should reproach ourselves most bitterly for thinking that we could possibly find a more gracious, loving, and indulgent Master! Repentance causes us to cling to Him as our only hope for salvation and protection from further sin.

Take care to not confuse sincere repentance with regret. Self-serving regret can appear to be repentance at first glance, but it is a cheap counterfeit. It is a type of sorrow over the consequences of sin rather than the idolatry that led to it. This is illustrated by the example of Esau in Hebrews 12:15–17:

See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.

 Esau is condemned as "immoral and godless," attributes suitably applied to an adulterer in the height of his sin. Esau wanted the blessings of God apart from the God of those blessings. Furthermore, he was sorrowful—not because he had sinned by thinking so cheaply of his birthright but because he would have to live with the consequences of his choice.

If the adulterer wanted the benefits of a faithful wife without having to commit his own faithfulness to her, this hypocrisy must be held in full view for what it is: hideous, repulsive, and monstrous. Failure to do so could provoke a response similar to that of Esau—regret for what he did without repentance for why he did it. In our effort to minister to the soul of the offender, we must never soften the heinous realization of his sin and its effects on his God and his family. If we do, we make the forgiveness that covers them tawdry and impotent. This easily leads to incomplete or wobbly reconciliation with all parties concerned. The first stop on the road to remedy is for the adulterer to ask God to reveal to him the idol that led to his sin and confess it to the Lord. This will be met by forgiveness and cleansing by the very One displaced by the idol (1 John 1:9).

The next stop is to confess to the spouse, a fellow sinner—and perhaps not so inclined to put another’s sin as far as the East is from the West. As such, it would be wise to refrain from approaching the offended with a paltry explanation. To say "I’m sorry I cheated on you" is an insufficient offering to the betrayed spouse who is plagued by questions of personal inadequacy, memories of failures, and loads of self-indictment, and, frankly, it’s a bit insulting. No, the grieved and hurting one must be tenderly broached with a broken and sincere claim to full responsibility: "I sinned against you because I prostrated myself to the idol of self-centered pleasure with no care whatsoever for how it would devastate you" is a good start.8 It’s accurate, and it’s honest.

Notice the absence of self-pity: no statements of "I feel so bad"; "I hate myself more than you can imagine"; "I can’t believe I did this to you." Culpability is taken with no attempt to garner any pity from the faithful spouse. Also notice the lack of blame-shifting: "The loneliness finally got to me"; "If we could work on our marriage problems . . ."; "I was drunk." The idolatry that led to the flippant attitude toward the marriage and the adultery that followed are not due to problems between the couple; they belong only to the offender. Last, but not least, notice the exclusion of minimizing: "It meant nothing to me"; "It was just a stupid one-night stand"; "You’re the one I really love—she was just there." Complete responsibility must be taken with no attempt to induce pity, minimize the idolatry, or shift the blame. If these components are lacking, a discerning spouse will righteously detect the omission, and though a heart-posture toward forgiveness must be forthcoming from every believer, a declination of reconciliation is completely appropriate until such time as all three are present. It would also be wise for the offender to seek out a biblical counselor for help to perceive the root idols to which he bowed.9

So we see that to begin to remedy the devastation of adultery, there must be complete responsibility taken for the sinful worship of whatever took the throne, sincere repentance, and a request for forgiveness void of self-pity, blame, and any attempt to minimize

The Recovery

Marriage is a covenant designed to illustrate the unequivocal love, commitment, and faithfulness shown by Jesus to His Bride, the Church. God takes this covenant so seriously that He allowed only two reasons for its dissolution—one of which is the breaking of the covenant by adultery (Matthew 5:32; 19:9).10 An adulterous spouse, repentant as he may be, must humbly acknowledge the fact that he has committed an act that may yet lead to the demise of the union if the betrayed spouse chooses to exercise her right to divorce. Even if reconciliation takes place, the marriage will most certainly be different—and it should be. To expect anything otherwise is presumptuous and would evidence a lack of humble repentance that would undoubtedly undermine the already wobbly foundation of the marriage. The process of recovery and reconciliation must be patiently navigated with grace and mercy.

Grace and mercy are necessary in any reconciliation, but never more than when the integrity of a covenant is destroyed. To appreciate the denotation of these virtues, they must be explained by other virtues, and in doing so we can see that they are inextricably linked together in meaning and magnitude. Indeed, to fully explain them is the stuff by which degrees and doctorates are earned. In a marriage fraught with betrayal, accosted by forgiveness, and limping toward reconciliation, grace and mercy become indispensable. One simply cannot exist or prevail without the other. In the case of a wife whose husband has cheated on her, the grace of God becomes the power by which a betrayed wife can transmit mercy to her husband because she realizes that she is also in need of it. Through the same grace of God, an adulterous husband is able to gently show mercy to his wounded wife when her efforts to "remember no more" suffer defeat. Grace is the power given to us by God to dispatch the mercy of forgiveness and reconciliation to our repentant offenders—which is exactly what He does for us.

Grace and mercy, when repeatedly applied, can mend a marriage that would otherwise have been scuttled by the devastating betrayal of adultery. In fact, when God’s grace and mercy are cultivated plenteously along the path of restoration, one will be able to look back and see the resplendent beauty of their established maturity. Whereas once the path was littered with the debris of deceit, maltreatment, anger, fear, and a host of other aggressions and responses, it is now characterized by outcroppings of forgiveness, forbearance, kindness, sincere love, and masses of godly qualities that bear witness to the presence and power of One greater than the entity that once sought to destroy the union. A biblical counselor would be most valuable here to help guide this couple.

But what if there is no repentance? No breaking of the adulterous union? No effort to make amends? The Lord has graciously given His Church two measures by which a wronged partner may seek to move forward: church discipline and divorce. If the former does not prove to be successful in winning the offender, he is to be treated as an unbeliever. In this case, the unbeliever may depart and the believer is free to either remarry or pursue life as a single believer. Divorce is a biblically granted grace to an innocent partner when the covenant is broken by adultery. While neither of these options is without pain, they become the liberation from a union that is wrecked with deception, betrayal, and brokenness, to say nothing of the health risks involved in continuing in a physical relationship with one who has opened himself up to a plethora of sexually transmitted diseases. Such life-impacting decisions as these must not be entered into blithely, and a wise believer will seek godly counsel before determination. But ultimately, if a believing spouse wishes to exercise her biblical option of divorce, it becomes incumbent upon her church family to support and encourage her.

Restoring a marriage shaken by adultery is attainable if both parties diligently seek to be humbly obedient to Jesus Christ. The presence and external "eyes and ears" of a biblical counselor who is willing and able to walk through the valley of the shadow of the death of a marriage will bring outside wisdom and support, comfort to the sufferer, and restorative confrontation to the sinner. The enslavement that led to the infidelity can be understood and vanquished, Christ restored to His rightful place, and a marriage once characterized by idolatry and adultery can now be exemplified as godly, forgiving, and thriving. Indeed, all contributing sin bringing its power to bear upon a frail covenant can now be defeated and destroyed by the throwing down of the idols that promoted it. This is the sufficiency of Scripture and the power of God in action.



1 Enslavement to sin is discussed throughout the Scriptures. See Romans 6; John 8:34; Galatians 5:1; 2 Peter 2:19.

2 1 Peter 2:16; Romans 6:16, 18, 22; Matthew 6:24

3 See Proverbs 21:2; Matthew 15:18–20; Genesis 6:4; Ephesians 6:6; Mark7:21.

4 The concept of joy in obedience is a theme throughout the Bible. Israel was able to experience the joy of having obeyed the Lord when He prospered their land (Isaiah 1:19; Joshua 1:8; Deuteronomy 28:1; etc.). Christians experience joy in obedience to Christ even when persecuted (Acts 5:41; 1 Peter 4:13; Romans 8:18–21; etc.).

5 James 1:17

6 Romans 6:16 gives only two masters: sin or Christ. We are always the slave.

7 Had Joseph taken Potiphar’s wife up on her offer, he probably would have been executed for it. Potiphar more than likely didn’t believe the accusation his wife railed against Joseph, but he couldn’t accept the word of a slave over that of his wife. By sending Joseph to prison, he was able to protect her dignity and position in the community while sparing Joseph’s life.

8 Notice that I said, "with no care" rather than "with no thought." He thought about it. He just didn’t care about it. Sin is ugly, and minimizing it and its effects pollutes sincere repentance.

9 It is wise for the offender to commit to biblical counseling rather than to suggest that "we need counseling." As in the case of domestic abuse, adultery is not a marriage problem; it is a personal sin that most assuredly affects both partners in the marriage but was not caused by it. If there are underlying issues in the marriage that would benefit from the input of the truth of God’s Word administered by a biblical counselor, by all means procure one! But it must never be suggested that the problems in the marriage were causative to adultery.

10 The other is the abandonment of the marriage by an unsaved spouse in 1 Corinthians 7:12–16.



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