Forgiveness in Marriage


forgiveA healthy marriage is one that lives under a canopy of grace. Two people who recognize that they are sinners saved by grace will extend forgiveness one to another. Whether our marriages are strong or flailing, we must constantly be reminded of the importance of forgiveness.

 Hope for your marriage

When sin enters your marriage, can it ever be the same?

I would answer with “probably not,” because I believe by God’s grace that every conflict in marriage is an opportunity to grow closer! If your and your spouse will practice forgiveness, repentance and restoration, then there is great hope that your marriage will be better off, than if the crises of sin never even came in to begin with. Whether there has been lying, indifference, manipulation or harsh words—after both practice forgiveness and repentance, your marriage has the potential to be even stronger.

Look at the reunion of the prodigal son and the Father. I imagine that when the prodigal left town, the older brother and others in town thought that if the prodigal ever returned, things would never be the same.  In fact, the prodigal felt that way, for the prodigal plans to say to his father in Luke 15:18-19:

I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’

The prodigal believed that life could not be as it once was. He believed that there was no way forgiveness could bridge the gap that sin had been created between his father. All the prodigal son wanted from his father is the chance to make the best of their relationship moving forward.  But through repentance and forgiveness, the father and the son both discover that things are not only the way they were, but also far better.

Prodigal SonRepentance and forgiveness has a way of bringing people closer together than if that crises or sin incident had never occurred. It allows a love, humility and grace to be displayed in a relationship that the couple might not otherwise have the opportunity to display.

Forgiveness is the hope for struggling couples. If you will center your marriage on the gospel and reconciliation, you will be able to look back at your marriage and see that it is stronger than ever before. There is not only hope, but a living hope, because the power of the resurrection is at work in our lives (Philippians 3:10).

Second, get ready to experience MUCH forgiveness.

Couples often lose hope in marriage after continually finding their spouse struggling with the same sin over and over again. Everyone knows how hard it can be to forgive someone over a long period of time.

Peter asks Jesus the amount of forgiveness required by him in Matthew 18:21:

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

It is natural to apply this passage to the marriage relationship. If we are commanded to forgive a brother in this way, certainly we should apply this to our spouse. It is not by coincidence that what flows right out of the chapter on forgiveness (18) flows right into the chapter in marriage (19).

Jesus is declaring that there is no limit on forgiveness, even if the other person is wrong. Mark it down–passionate, vibrant, oneness will only come in marriage so long as a relationship is built on forgiveness. Anticipate a lot of forgiveness in marriage. In fact, in a way, all of marriage is forgiveness. A healthy marriage is one where two people don’t just practice forgiveness, they have an attitude of marriage. They have a posture and spirit of forgiveness. The flip side of this is one in which we don’t often consider, and that is confession.

A healthy marriage practices confession

When was the last time you confessed sin to your spouse?  If you regularly practice confession of sin in your relationship, there will be three benefits.

ConfessionFirst, regular confession keeps your heart soft before God and soft before each other. Frankly, it keeps one humble in the relationship. Husbands and wives must train themselves to be experts in the art of saying “I was wrong. I hurt you. I get that. I am so sorry.” What a simple collection of words, but what a game-changing effect they have!

Second, it keeps you from being self-righteous in the relationship. Marriage partners fear that confession will make themselves look bad, and thus lose their moral footing. That is not a bad thing, but actually living out the gospel!  We have seen by God’s grace that we are wrong and that God is right. The cross of Christ is a summons to this confession, and the means by which we are made right. But being cleansed by the blood of Jesus does not free us to to live in our marriage as deluded by our infallibility. Confession of sin to your spouse marks your conversion as genuine.

The third benefit is that you will be a very approachable spouse. Have you ever noticed that nobody confesses their sins and failures and fears to a self-righteous person.  NO one wants an accountability partner who is full of themselves.  By confession sin to one another, you are teaching your spouse that they can do the same. Fathers, should practice this with their children, as well as our spouse. If you want to be an approachable person, then you must be willing to confess your shortcomings. Of course there is an appropriateness to this, and we have to be careful in this endeavor, but the effects of confession is one that will radically change your marriage for the better.

Forgiveness in marriage has to be grounded in the forgiveness in God.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Why should husbands and wives forgive each other?  Forgiveness is rooted in the forgiveness we have in Christ. God has forgiven the inexcusable in us. We must be reminded that we are beggars before God, and that we don’t get what we deserve. If you are a Christian, your future is entirely rooted in God’s gracious forgiveness of you. How can you then find it in your heart to not forgive your spouse?

ForgivenMatthew 5:7 reminds us that true members of God’s kingdom who have been availed of God’s mercy, cannot turn around and have a critical, judgmental attitude towards others.

Knowledge of God’s mercy enabled Stephen, in the middle of his own murder, to say, “Lord, do not hold this against them” (Acts 7:60).  David exhibits an amazing attitude as he was running for his life from Saul (I Samuel 25:33). Joseph famously declares to his brothers who had wronged him that “man meant it for evil, but God meant it from good” (Genesis 50:20).

Forgiveness is fundamental.  It’s limits has no end, because its foundation is God’s infinite forgiveness.  The consequences of not forgiving are of eternal significance and are nothing short of terrifying (Matthew 18:35). If you are truly forgiven, you will forgive.

Jesus is the master restorer. If Jesus is able to restore hopeless man to a right relationship with God, can you not trust Him to restore your marriage? Be courageous enough to go to your spouse and ask for forgiveness. And when your spouse comes to you for forgiveness, give the person forgiveness like the father gave forgiveness to the prodigal son that came back.  Embrace that person, and be joyful with them. Have a heart full of forgiveness just as God has had a heart of forgiveness towards you.