From Adultery to Restoration in Thirteen Steps

The path to dysfunction is unmarked and hidden. Nobody knows they are on it until it’s too late. There are subtle indicators, but we rarely discern them. The most apparent one is an “I deserve better” attitude, which is what happened to Biff.

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Biff has been frustrated with Mable for most of their marriage. They used to be high school sweethearts, and everyone predicted their future marriage. Mable was everything to Biff, and he was the apple of her eye.

Then they married.

When a couple gets married, life happens fast and without brakes. They could not pinpoint a time when they drifted apart. It was not like they woke up one morning and realized they were on different pages. The divide happened slowly, over a long period. They never understood what happened until Biff crashed into sin.

After a few weeks of counseling, a lot of tears, and mutual repentance, we began to unpack what happened. Talking about the problems was not a process to dredge up the past, but an attempt to understand it so they would not repeat it.

From our discussions, a pathology (cause and effects) of what happened began to emerge. As you read, you will be able to see how and why things unraveled the way they did, as well as what Biff and Mable needed to do to repair their broken marriage. There were thirteen steps from adultery to restoration.

#1 – Self-Righteousness

Self-righteousness is an anti-gospel attitude. It is a mindset that says, “I deserve more than what I am getting.” The self-righteous person has a high view of himself, which was the defining characteristic of Biff’s heart.

Few people will own their self-righteousness, and even fewer can discern it in themselves. Biff certainly did not have a sober self-assessment, though his high-mindedness bled through his actions and attitudes. His friends saw what he couldn’t see, but they did not try to help him.

#2 – Selfishness

He not only saw himself as deserving better, but he had selfish expectations of others to meet his desires. A man with a high view of himself always has high expectations from others. Unlike the tax collector (Luke 18:13), who would not look up to heaven, but pleaded for mercy, Biff had a different perspective on life.

The Bible’s assessment of us is worthless (Romans 3:12). That is the Biblical baseline for all people, which is why we have a gospel. Christ came to elevate depraved, dead people, who could not help themselves, by making them alive (Ephesians 2:1-7).

Our Adamic tendencies blind us to who we are. We can easily think we deserve better, and when this happens, our expectations and demands will begin to morph extraordinarily, which is what happened to Biff. He was not getting his “love cup” filled like when they were dating; he expected more from Mable.

#3 – Jealousy

As life picked up the pace, Biff began to get jealous of Mable’s friends, especially the ones in her Bible study. Mable thought she was loving God by being in a study and building relationships with her friends.

Biff understood this, but he was frustrated because he was getting an overworked and exhausted wife who was more interested in sleeping than meeting his “needs.” Biff chose not to be redemptive by working through this problem with Mable, and his jealousy grew.

His good desires for his wife’s love began to turn into an insidious “I want more of you,” which began to put pressure on Mable. This demanding attitude was confusing to Mable: “It’s a Bible study for crying out loud.”

The connection of his jealousy to his self-righteousness did not register with her. The subtlety of sin is hard to discern sometimes. Besides, they appeared to have it all together, which is a typical “presentation” for self-righteous people, as they strive to control the narrative in their lives.

Biff was a hard worker and his life, for the most part, had gone according to his expectations. But if it did not go according to preferences, he was able to steer the problem in the direction of his choosing and move on to the next thing.

God was more of a servant for Biff than the Lord over Biff. It was when he could not fix his marriage that his self-reliant, me-centered worldview became apparent.

#4 – Assessment

Biff began to work on all the things he knew to fix. He analyzed and over-analyzed the situation. He even made some admissions with moderate changes. Biff was Mr. Fix It. Unfortunately, he was addressing the wrong problem. He tried to spend more time with Mable.

He took her on a couple of trips that she had suggested in the past. He bought her a few things, and they started dating again. Mable liked the “new Biff,” but still sensed there was a hollowness in their marriage. Still yet, she could not put her finger on it.

To complicate matters she was still tired and had the same struggles, which meant she was not giving Biff what he wanted—what he believed he deserved. He even told her this by reminding her of all he was doing for her and the kids.

#5 – Anger

This juncture was when he started to express his anger more consistently. He had examined his heart and life. He made some adjustments, but Mable did not change to the degree he expected her to improve.

He began to let her know about it, which did not go well. Sinful reactions to not getting what you want is a clear indicator your heart motive is not pure. It is okay to desire something, but it is not okay to sin if the person does not meet your desires.

Biff’s anger began to push Mable away, which only exacerbated his jealous demands—the more she distanced herself from his anger, the more jealous he became. The more jealous he became, the angrier he became. The angrier he became, the more she distanced herself. And the cycle continued.

Because Biff believed he deserved better, he had no qualms about letting Mable know about his displeasure. He was never overtly mean to her. His anger manifest as sulking, silent treatment, and little verbal jabs.

He did not have to assault her. He was killing her softly with micro-signs of disappointment. They were in a civil, but vicious cycle, from which they could not extricate themselves.

#6 – Blame

Because Biff had fully assessed the situation and had made all the personal adjustments that he knew to make, it was apparent (to him) who had the problem. When he was not sulking in anger, he was blaming her, which was another form of his frustration with her.

A blaming tongue connects to a self-righteous heart. This attitude was the problem with the Pharisee—he was glad he was not like the tax collector. Biff was delighted that he was not like Mable while expecting her to be like him.

The more he blamed, the more he felt justified in his rightness: “I am right, and you are wrong.” At this point, it was not so much about redeeming a miserable marriage as much as divvying up the blame.

Gospel people are redeeming people. Self-righteous people are blaming, justifying, and rationalizing people. By now they were so deep into the pathology of the problem that only a catastrophe could salvage them.

Once you start blaming your spouse for the problems in the marriage, it will not be long before you start thinking like a sinful victim who deserves better, which ties back to the core underlying problem of self-righteousness.

#7 – Apathy

From Biff’s perspective, he had done everything he knew to do, and nothing changed. His heart began to turn cold. He was in the “checking out process” regarding his marriage. His mind “okayed” (justified) himself to drift to other things to satisfy his longings. His desires were chaotic, and he was angry. It was only a matter of time before he would be lured away (James 1:14-15).

Apathy is an innocuous way of saying un-love. Un-love is a less harsh way of saying hate. Biff was too Christianized to say he hated his wife, but it would be self-righteous posturing to put a better spin on how he was thinking and behaving.

He did not like his wife any longer, which set him up for temptation. Biff, like the rest of us, does not live in a vacuum. Our hearts are wired to worship, and if God is not the object of our worship, something else will take His place.

While apathy does not sound as heinous as other sins, it is nonetheless false worship—idolatry. God would kill a person for the sin of idolatry in the Old Testament. Biff was not worshipping God any longer. He was worshipping himself, and his apathy was a clue.

#8 Lust

Biff’s unchecked desires put him on a fast track to sin. By the time he realized what he was doing it was too late. He was in a dark place. At that point, several things happened.

  • He felt justified—he deserved a break.
  • He was frustrated, so he did not care.
  • He had sinned, so he decided to give up the fight and take the plunge into more sin.
  • He was self-righteous, so he would not confess what he was doing.

Sin had captured Biff (Galatians 6:1). Lust is any ungodly craving to satisfy an idolatrous soul. We all do it though we rarely understand fully the why or how until it is too late.

It was too late for Biff. He was in a trap of his own making, which is the point where he had to decide if he was going to get off the sin train or ride it until it crashed. He knew the inevitability of what he was doing, and he chose to crash and burn.

Sometimes a person can go for years like this. Without question, God does not deal with us according to what we deserve. He is a grace-giving, mercy-expending God. Sometimes people come to their senses on their own (Luke 15:17). Other times, God sets things up to drive a person into a corner from which he cannot escape.

#9 Gospel

The part Biff was missing was a thorough understanding of the gospel. He understood it regarding his salvation, but he did not fully understand it regarding his sanctification.

There was a level of “deserved-ness” in Biff’s theology. He did not view himself as the worst of the worst (1 Timothy 1:15; Romans 3:12). While he would check the box, saying he was a sinner, he was a bit smug and stuck on himself.

His self-righteousness never manifested because he was never challenged or went through anything that he could not fix. He had intellectually signed off on the gospel but was living a detached life from this good news.

It was after he came up against something that he could not change when his “greater-than, I-deserve-better-mindset” became detrimental to his soul. It was like cancer that is never triggered; it lives in dormancy, and one day it is triggered, and the body begins to deteriorate rapidly.

Biff had undetected self-righteousness, which was triggered when his marriage was no longer meeting his perceived needs or inner cravings. The power and effect of the gospel partners with his “needy and undeserving” hearts. That is the only kind of soil in which it will work. Like oil and water, the gospel will not function in the self-righteous heart like Biff’s.

Christ did not come for the righteous. He looked for the unrighteous, the sick, the dead, and the undeserving. Once we begin elevating our hearts and minds above this baseline condition for the gospel, we are on a dark path.

#10 Unrighteous

Biff began to see how his thinking was not in line with the gospel. He realized he was not righteous and what he deserved was a Christ-less eternity in hell. He became convinced he was not better than anyone else.

God’s “common and special grace” were acts of mercy for him to enjoy, not to expect as though he merited them. The beggar is not fussy; he is grateful. Biff began to embrace the reality of his undeserving soul. The ointment of the gospel began to heal him from the inside out.

His thoughts were becoming counter-cultural. He was no longer esteeming himself (self-esteem), but accurately seeing himself in the light of the gospel. Contrary to cultural presuppositions, thinking less of yourself is the beginning of healing.

#11 Repentance

Biff began a process of repentance as his sin was becoming ever so clear to him. Instead of being discouraged about it, hope was filling his soul.

When you are fully aware that you are at the bottom, and you cannot help yourself, you look outside yourself for help. Coming to an end of yourself and realizing you’re bankrupt is not sad news, but the beginning of the Good News.

#12 Grace and mercy

Biff embraced his bankrupt-ness. God was waiting for him to express his need. God gives grace to the “lowly-humble” but will oppose the “exalted-proud” (James 4:6).

The Lord opened the floodgates, and Biff was the recipient of God’s undeserved favor. He was no longer demanding, but appreciative. Anything above hell is a perk. It took Biff bottoming out before he realized the true state of his life without God’s grace.

#13 Redemption

Biff was now humbly positioned to participate in the restoration of his marriage. He did not come to his wife as a person who felt like he deserved better than what he was getting.

He came to her as a humble, broken, but a grateful servant. He was no longer controlled by what he expected her to do or be for him. God commanded him, and Biff was seeking to discern how he could serve his wife humbly.

This kind of humility put him in a position of strength. His marriage was on the road to recovery. The gospel is counterintuitive to the ways of our culture.

The ongoing key for Biff will be preaching the gospel to himself every day for the rest of his life. If he does this while putting himself in the context of a caring community, he will experience fortification from repeating this process in the future.

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