This week we answer a question I have been asked many times in my ministry…Can there be forgiveness without a confession by the spouse who has sinned and is causing the pain? This is not a simple issue, so please stick with me to the end of this teaching.
In a marriage relationship, both husband and wife must practice forgiveness.
Forgiveness says from your heart…
“I no longer hold this offense against you.”
“I won’t bring this up to you again and hold it over your head.”
“I won’t talk about this offense with others behind your back.”
And forgiveness follows through with action.
When true forgiveness has taken place, trust and openness will be restored. And in marriage, this includes both physical and non-physical intimacy.
Can this kind of forgiveness be given when our spouse who has harmed us has not confessed and asked for forgiveness?
The answer is yes. But know that it will be difficult, for we are humans with a sinful nature.
Unconditional Forgiveness is Possible
In order for us to forgive a spouse who gives no indication he or she is sorry, we definitely need the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit to do so. But it is possible with His assistance.
In Matthew 19:26, Jesus says, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” And Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.”
This is why Jesus taught there are times when we must simply forgive–to forgive the one who has hurt us and pray for the Holy Spirit to convict and lead them to repent and seek forgiveness.
Jesus said in Matthew 6:14-15: “If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
He also says in Mark 11:25: “When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
Notice there is no call for the other person to confess. In fact, to not forgive unconditionally will harm our relationship with God, according to these teachings.
We must forgive our spouse, even if he or she does not repent. And then we must leave our spouse in God’s care, for Him to convict.
Full Reconciliation Requires Confession and Repentance
While there can be forgiveness on our part without confession by the other person–unconditional forgiveness– this is not enough for a full reconciliation.
John writes in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Notice the prerequisite here–we must confess our sin before God forgives it.
God alone knows our heart and every situation. He knows when we have indeed sinned, and so He alone has the right to demand repentance before granting forgiveness.
As there will not be full reconciliation in our relationship with God unless we repent and seek His forgiveness, neither will there be full reconciliation in our marriage relationship until there is repentance, confession, and asking forgiveness.
Jesus teaches in Luke 17:3-4: “Watch yourselves. If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”
Notice that in this teaching, Jesus includes repentance as part of the forgiveness process. He knows there will not be complete reconciliation while a sin stands in the midst of a relationship. This is especially true of a husband and wife. If they are to be truly one, there cannot be hidden, unconfessed sin between them. It must be dealt with. There must be openness, honesty, confession, repentance, forgiveness, and full reconciliation. Anything less will not allow oneness to exist unharmed.
Sin that is not confessed and repented of in a marriage will lead to a lack of peace, to guilt, discouragement, resentment, and bitterness. These things will dwell in both the spouse who has been sinned against and the spouse who has sinned. Confession and true repentance are needed to bring real and complete forgiveness which leads to peace, joy, and a strong relationship between the husband and wife, and between the couple and God.
In Luke 17:3-4 (quoted above), Jesus tells us that if we have been sinned against, we should rebuke the person who has sinned against us, with the goal of reconciliation. Next week, we will discuss this idea as it relates to forgiveness and marriage.
We encourage you to take time this week as a couple to discuss this teaching. The questions below can be used as a guide. (See Couple Connect to learn more about developing a weekly time together.)
May God bless you as you seek to live a Christ-centered marriage and grow closer to one another and to Him.
Questions for Discussion
- Discuss together what God teaches about confession and repentance, and why it is important to your marriage.
- As you have your Couple Connect time each week, commit to confess anything you believe you have done that has harmed your relationship with your spouse and with God. Be open and honest. Don’t confess just to say something. Truly speak from your heart.
- Pray, asking God to forgive you for what you’ve confessed. Ask Him to help you turn from the sin and not continue to practice it.
- When your spouse confesses and asks for forgiveness, be ready to forgive.
- Pray, asking God to help you forgive your spouse if you have been sinned against. Ask Him to help you move forward in your relationship with Him and with each other.
- If you are unable to forgive your spouse because you have never received God’s forgiveness, please read about how to receive His forgiveness on this page: Meet Jesus.
May God bless you in all His wonderful ways,
Other posts in the FORGIVENESS IN MARRIAGE series:
Part 1–Because of God’s Grace
Part 3–God’s Steps to Reconciliation
Part 4–Seeing with Clear Eyes
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.