A friend of the podcast, who wishes to remain anonymous, writes in: “Hello Pastor John, I’m a listener in the Middle East. I slept with my girlfriend two days ago, and now we are both left hurt and feeling dirty, cheap, ashamed—we cannot even look at ourselves. We are both born-again believers in Christ, but we got lured into temptation. Is there any hope that we might become pure again and be healed from our sin? I know the blood of Jesus covers every sin. But how can we get back our relationship’s purity again? Or is that permanently gone? What do we do now?”
I think this young man from the Middle East is beginning in the right place. He is, it seems, appropriately shattered, meaning something has been irrevocably lost. He and his girlfriend will never be able to go behind this sexual encounter and undo it. They have lost something very precious.
I begin this way, even though it may sound hard, because I feel a tender and jealous concern for those who are listening who have not lost their virginity. It is a very precious thing for men and women. The world views it as weakness, silly in fact. God views it as a very great strength and beauty beyond compare. And I am just as eager to help listeners maintain their sexual purity and virginity before they lose it as I am to help those who have lost it recover the purity that Christ makes possible. So that is why I am beginning the way I am beginning.
So I think this young man is beginning in the right place. He is broken. He knows that a beautiful thing has been lost. And he knows that the blood of Jesus covers every sin. So this is a good place to begin. Those who take their sins lightly and treat the blood of Jesus as a kind of quick fix have never seen the true costliness of what Jesus did to purchase their purity. So let me simply make a few observations that might prove redemptive and hope-giving to our friend from the Middle East and his girlfriend.
1) I would simply draw attention to what he already knows—only put it in biblical words. First Corinthians 6:18, “Flee fornication.” God’s will for unmarried people is that they abstain from sexual relations. And God makes this possible by the power of the Holy Spirit through faith in his promises, and he gives sweet and special rewards to single people who honor him in this way.
Marriage has its special rewards for faithfulness, and singleness—chaste, holy singleness—has its special rewards for faithfulness. Married people can glorify God in some ways that single people can’t, and single people can glorify God in some ways that married people can’t. This is not a matter of inferiority or superiority. Singleness and chastity are a very high calling in God’s mind. That is the first thing.
2) I would say our friend—and he already knows this, but again, I want to put it in the words of Scripture so he can hear it from Christ and not just from me—should hear, “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness” (Mark 3:28–29). Now let’s leave aside for a moment what it means to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. That is for another time.
But let all of us with tears of thankfulness, with trembling joy, let us simply revel in these words: All sins will be forgiven the children of man. That is breathtaking. Can you imagine anything sweeter for a person like the thief on the cross, just nothing but sin, nothing but sin for who knows how many decades? In other words, there is no specific, single sin or kind of sin that is so ugly, so gross, so offensive to God that it cannot be forgiven by the blood of Jesus. As John puts it, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from”—here it comes—“all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). So that is the second thing.
3) It will be a huge challenge for this couple now in this situation to forgive each other; not just to receive God’s forgiveness, but to receive each other’s forgiveness. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” But that is no easy thing. And I just want to help them realize how difficult this is going to be so that they won’t give up too quickly. What makes it difficult to forgive each other in this particular situation is not only that we are all proud and selfish people and we don’t like to humble ourselves before others, but it is also because in this situation there is a subtle temptation to shift blame onto the other person that belongs at least partly with yourself.
So while this young man may feel shame and conviction that he did not take more responsibility for chastity as the masculine leader and initiator, he may subtly be saying to himself that she was kind of seductive and she could have helped him stop and she didn’t and, thus, he begins to shift blame onto her—and she may be doing the very same thing. She may feel shame and conviction that she was too compliant or maybe even seductive and she didn’t resist when she should have, but she might begin to shift more blame onto him and find fault that he didn’t protect her in that moment of temptation.
In other words, mutual forgiveness is no simple matter because for forgiveness to be full and complete and real, there needs to be confession and repentance that is authentic and lasting. Both need to own completely their own fault in this and both, indeed, are at fault in this. Yes, they are. And both need to be willing to confess their part in this even at the risk of the other person taking advantage of them and putting more blame on them than they should have.
So you can see that what is needed here is not only the grace of forgiveness, but the grace to risk being taken advantage of, the grace to risk bearing more accusation than you think appropriate, the grace to treat another person better than you are being treated, you think, the grace to stay low before the cross when the temptation is to rise and feel superior, even superior that your repentance is better. So mutual forgiveness is very complex and grace is needed at every turn.
4) In view of all of the imperfections of human life and all the ambiguities surrounding mutual forgiveness, there will need to be a huge experience of the reality behind the old fashioned word “forbearance.” Forbearance is what you do when forgiveness has not remedied all the tensions between you. You think the other person should have done more. You think they should have changed more. You think they should have repented more. They haven’t done what your gut says they should do. So you can either walk away from that relationship—that has destroyed a million marriages—or you can forebear; that is, put up with, endure. The Bible talks this way. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:7, “Love bears all things, believes all things, endures”—I mean, he says it twice—“bears all things … endures all things.”