Editors’ Note: A reader recently wrote The Gospel Coalition an honest, heart-wrenching comment concerning impurity before marriage. She said:
I know from experience that it is quite impossible to remain pure when you date someone whose heart is not longing for Jesus. And as a woman, I made that man my “ultimate joy” for a time and thus, fell into sin. I wish I could take it back. I feel ashamed whenever I think about it. I know that forgiveness is found in Jesus. It still wrecks me when I think about the fact that I will have to tell my future spouse of my past indiscretions and sin. I have confessed my sin to God, but I guess I still have to deal with the fact that I sinned against my future spouse.
Julia Huisman (Director of Communications at Bethel Church in Crown Point, Indiana) and Tammy Johnston (Director of Women’s Ministries at Bethel Church) share their response to this post.
Shame resulting from sexual sin can be great, especially for Christian women. We’re supposed to be good girls. We’re supposed to push men away (and coyly, mind you) when they make advances at us. It’s part of our moral and cultural DNA. So when we stray from that expectation, we feel weak, dirty, and unworthy. And we fear that other people, particularly our future husband, will see us that way as well.
The two of us (Tammy and Julia) were Christians when we each fell into sexual sin. We both engaged in premarital sex, and we both became pregnant because of it. Our sin was broadcasted to those around us in a very visual way and would live with us for the rest of our lives. We couldn’t hide from our sin; we had to accept the consequences that came from it. Doing so required humility and daily acceptance of God’s grace.
We have learned, through our experiences and through God’s Word, that the way to combat remorse and shame in this area is to:
Accept God’s forgiveness. Confessed sexual sin is forgiven in Christ. If you have turned from sexual sin in honest confession, it cannot wreck you, because you are forgiven by the only one who truly matters: God. In reference to sexual immorality specifically, Paul says, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
God has forgiven you! He has removed your transgression “as far as the east is from the west”! (Psalm 103:12) Now you must accept that forgiveness. Learn from your sin and aim never to repeat it, yes, but view yourself in the eyes of Christ, who sees you as pure and holy through his grace.
Accept the consequences. Forgiven sin still has consequences, some more serious than others. You did give yourself to someone else, and at times that will be disheartening for you and your spouse. The consequences of sin are sometimes painful, but the recognition of that pain helps protect you from perpetuating a sinful lifestyle. Allow the consequences to fuel your desire to be pure from here on out.
Fight against condemnation. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). If God doesn’t condemn you, then your future spouse cannot condemn you either. “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?” (Romans 8:33-34)
After learning of our pregnancies, we both struggled with what to do in terms of future relationships. Tammy ended up marrying the father of her child and is still married to him after 26 years. Julia did not marry the father and instead dated a few men (some of whom were very judgmental about her past) until she finally married a true man of God.
We both knew that our husbands were the ones God intended for us because they never condemned us for our past transgressions. They knew they were equally guilty, whether they participated in sexual sin themselves or any other sin. Our spouses understood that “none is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10), that we are all forsaken without God’s grace. Our spouses saw us as Christ does, as sinners made clean through his death on the cross.
It’s easy to think that a real Christian man wouldn’t settle for a “tainted” woman, that he’ll only marry a woman who’s pure and perfect just like him. On the contrary, a man who strives to be like Christ will love and treasure you despite your past. A man who strives to be like Christ will forgive you once and forever.
Recommit yourself to purity. You can’t change the past, but you can commit to a future of purity. Part of repenting is maintaining the fervent desire to never repeat the sin. This certainly is made easier when you date only “highly committed Christians,” as Steve DeWitt says in his sermon “The Bachelor Pastor.”
Remember, however, that even godly men struggle with sexual boundaries, and it might be even more difficult for him to resist, knowing that you’ve already gone there. Don’t rely on the man alone to be the strong one, and don’t let him rely on you to always say no. Establish boundaries together, from the beginning, and hold each other accountable to them. You are each equally responsible for the sanctity of your own body. To put the responsibility of self-control solely on the other is unfair and unwise.
Purity is a daily choice. Even when you’re in a solid, God-honoring relationship—even when you’re married, in fact—purity is an ongoing challenge. Humble yourself before the Lord daily and ask for his help in resisting temptation. He will be honored by both your purity and your acceptance of his grace.
May God receive the glory as you seek love, forgiveness, and holiness. Stay strong, stand tall, and know that you are treasured by your Creator in Christ.