Purity After Impurity

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.

  • Zach

    Wow, thank you for this article this morning. This meant a lot to me.

  • Ben Holmes

    Superb article

  • http://ChristMyCovenant.com Moe Bergeron

    We tend to forget that on the Cross Messiah Jesus took upon himself your sin and guilt. You were cleansed of both once and for all. Rejoice in sin forgiven and guilt buried.

  • http://robinjester.wordpress.com Robin

    thank you for sharing this. always makes me think of this great hymn verse…

    “My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
    My sin, not in part but the whole,
    Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
    Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”

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  • Jackie

    Thank you for this lovely article! It was good to read. Do you think for Christian men and Christian women who have committed sexual sin (with or without pregnancy) that it is the man’s duty to propose to marry the woman—for e.g., Exodus 22:16? I’ve seen this sad event occur in my church but do not know what to say. Thank you.

  • http://rockedbygrace.blogspot.com/ Mike

    Praise God for his grace.

  • John

    I’m glad for the biblical answers that were given in this text. But I’m sad because you focused only on the woman’s suffering. I just felt like the suffering on the other side was minimalized. I got the impression that the man cannot be sad or have problems at all, or else he’s being judgmental. It’s really, really hard being on our side!
    Anyway, I know the text was directed to women. I just feel the need to find texts that speak to us men, on how to deal with this issue.
    I speak from experience… And I struggle with this a lot. The “man’s depravity” and “none is righteous” arguments are simply not enough for erasing the pain. We’re dealing with daily, personal pain, here. Anyway, I think it would be good if the subject was discussed in a later opportunity.
    God bless you, brothers and sisters.

  • Laura Blalock

    John, you are right that this article is just a bit one-sided.

    There’s an idea in secular culture that purity is for women and that for a man it’s ok to say, as the pop song says, “any love is good love, so I took what I could get”. I can see that a man who, for instance, has gotten so involved in porn that the very ordinary, non-photoshopped body of the woman he is intimate with after marriage doesn’t do it for him, has a real problem and it could be hard to admit it or seek help for it. Or who “took what he could get” and now wishes he hadn’t. And he could fear that it makes him look unmanly to say so, or to say to his bride that he wishes he could bring her the same purity she brought him.

  • http://www.bradhambrick.com Brad Hambrick

    Here is a free video-based resource that is intended to help people apply the gospel to their pursuit of purity (from pornography to adultery): http://www.bradhambrick.com/falselove.

    It comes with a complimenting free, video-based curriculum for the spouse (if the person pursuing purity is married): http://www.bradhambrick.com/truebetrayal.

  • Nathaniel

    John, I’m not sure if you were referring to a husband having committed sexual sin before marriage or a husband dealing with his wife’s sexual sin before marriage, both being valid topics of discussion from either point of view (the man’s or woman’s). Here are some thoughts on one of them:

    I did not have sex before marriage, but my wife did. This came out shortly after we started dating and caused great pain for both of us. She was ashamed, to say the least. I was shocked with a strange mix of jealousy and anger. I wish I could say my emotions aligned immediately and perfectly with my quick gesture to forgive her, knowing that God had already forgiven her, but I’m a sinner too and this didn’t happen. Pain lingered.

    I wondered: Will she be dissatisfied with me because of her past experience? How often does she think about that past experience? Will I ever completely get over this? Will this issue spin out of control down the road? Etc.

    Here are some key things I learned and am still learning by grace, all of which are somewhat related:

    1) “[…]as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col. 3:13). I heard this and “knew” this before this experience, but now I felt/feel it. My view of myself was far too high. Figuratively speaking, I pursue and prefer other lovers to God all the time. This is called sin. Mine is far uglier than I usually sense.

    2) “Don’t I deserve someone just as pure as I?” Again, this is a completely inaccurate view of myself. Jesus said that lusting after a woman in my heart is adultery. I am an adulterer. I am not pure.

    3) The amount of jealously and anger I felt/feel toward my (now)wife is inversely proportional to the amount of time I spend meditating on the Gospel. If marriage is supposed to be a picture of Christ and the church (and it is), than understanding the relationship between Christ and his church is most important to a healthy marriage. Thirst to know the Gospel more!!

    4) I am not free from sin in this life and therefore I do still struggle to align my emotions/desires with truth. The power of the Gospel is greater than the power of these sinful thoughts. When thoughts of the past creep up, it is always an opportunity for me to cry out to the Lord for grace to know the Gospel and live it with my wife. This is part of being transformed by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12). I have found that pursuing satisfaction in Jesus Christ causes the questions that “I wondered” above to fade away. It’s not a magic pill. It’s daily pursuit and meditation on the pearl of great price – Jesus. Life is more about him than it is anything else – even marriage.

    May the Lord build up his church on the Rock of Christ!!

    • John

      Nathaniel, I appreciate your response. It was quite helpful for me. You have gone through the sufferings that I am going through now. It’s really hard to find someone I can talk to about this, especially because I don’t want to expose my girlfriends personal past… So I’m basically left by my own and with my Bible.

      About the other comments, especially Cate Charles, you’re wrong. If you have really repented of your sin, you must ask forgiveness to the people you have sinned against. Not doing so will keep you from having a deep and sincere repentance. Don’t be arrogant, but humbly confess your sins to the people you have hurt.

  • Cate Charles

    I have one issue with this article , it’s the assumption and arrogance that whomever falls into sexually impurity before meeting their husband or wife needs to seek their forgiveness. This is a fallacy that is especially geared towards women. 1john1:9 is our biblical promise for when we stumble and fall into any sin. This type of arrogance negates the work of the cross. Our impending groom or bride did not die for our sins. It is not a right given to the future bride or groom. It is not biblical. It is a foul tradition that generally oppresses the bride rather than the groom. It is something that should be written about as a tradition of the church that should be abolished. Lastly, we truly need to get over ourselves and our so called rights, we are not priests doling out penance to the “sinner,” no, we are believers who all fall short of His magnificent glory.

    • nkadzi

      i share your sentiments.

    • http://ChristMyCovenant.com Moe Bergeron

      Well said. The believer’s sin and guilt was dealt with through the death and burial of Jesus our Savior. Leave it at the Cross. Why pick it up again when Christ did away with it? Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves His Church. Wives, love your husbands as Christ loves His Church.

    • Rick Sanders

      Do you not think that you should ask forgiveness of those you sin against?? I used to look a porn, and I did ask and receive forgiveness from my fiancé, not for justification before God, but because scripture indicates all over the place that we ought to forgive those who sin against us. So should we not ask forgiveness from those we sin against? Again, not for justification before God, but to model the way God has treated us in the way we treat others. It would go something like this:
      “Because Jesus’ perfection is imputed to you by faith, and because God has poured out all His wrath on Jesus as an atonement for your sin, and because God views you as righteous and pure on the basis of Jesus’ substitution, I shall also view you as righteous and pure. My disposition toward you will be as if you had never done this thing (whatever “this thing” may be) that has caused me pain (whether it be enormous grief or just momentary hurt feelings). I will respond to you in the way that God responds to you, and the way God responds to me, even though I have dealt pain to Him far worse than you have ever dealt to me. I forgive you.”

    • Al

      @Cate Charles. Very good point.

    • Nathaniel

      Cate Charles,

      I hear your point. I’ll be the first to admit that I need to get over myself.

      However, you assume that pre-marital sex is not a violation of the future marriage covenant that person may join. I think this is a dangerous assumption. Since sexual relations are designed exclusively for a husband and wife in marriage, using it outside of marriage is an offense to God, the future marriage, and the future spouse. Hence, it is appropriate for one to seek forgiveness for this and the other to extend forgiveness.

      The one extending forgiveness is not atoning for sin any more than one extending forgiveness for someone slandering them is atoning for sin.

    • Laura

      “This is a fallacy that is especially geared towards women.”

      Not sure how this could be argued, but…

      If anything, maybe women (generally speaking) have a better sense of the relational aspect of sex and marriage which causes them to feel a more appropriate sense of guilt then men. Men should probably learn from this.

  • JD

    As a forgiven sinner – and as a pastor, I find myself often reminding people on both ‘sides’ of this issue (and other sinful failures as well…)
    The Lord commanded Peter, “What God has made clean, do not call common (or unclean)” Acts 10:13:
    Later Peter related this teaching to the Jewish Christians who still considered the Gentile believers ‘unclean’. Peter told them, “… God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.” Acts 10:28

    Loved ones, this means that not only are we to regard ourselves as new creations but also our brothers and sisters – and spouses, now clean and new.
    Our own sense of shame and guilt are often inflamed by satan’s condemnation to paralyze us and shackle us to the ‘old fleshly person’ through a sense of failure and futility.
    To once again accuse ourselves – or others, after we have repented and been forgiven, is to lend more credence to the condemnation of the devil than to Christ’s declaration that we are forgiven.
    Christ does not condemn you, and your accuser/s have been put to shame. John 8:10,11

  • Gary

    This is a testimony to God’s grace that has stimulated helpful and healthy discussion. The topic is so relevant and as a man I relate to many of the comments made both as a husband that has struggled to deal with the sinful emotional expressions of jealousy and anger towards my wife and the men in her life before coming to know the Lord. I pray for a growing ministry in helping men and women to prayerfully work through sexual sin at conversion, prior to marriage and during marriage. I feel that every stage requires careful Biblical input and guidance counselling to help brothers and sisters in Christ to fight the good fight against sin and temptation and to build towards purity, as a single person or married. Thank you for sharing.

  • Rick Sanders

    This was a fantastic article, but I’d love to read an article written to people who did save themselves, but who’s spouses did not save themselves. I bet it’s really hard, and hearing the whole, “if s/he’s a real christian, s/he’ll love you and accept you and forgive you” is disheartening. Of course s/he’ll love you and accept you and forgive you if s/he’s meaningfully following Jesus. But that doesn’t mean s/he doesn’t deal with alot of very real, deep, intense pain. I say this as someone who used to look at porn, and in that way I didn’t totally save myself. I bet it will be pretty rough on my future spouse, and I’d be rather selfish and insensitive to just put the burden of forgiving me and getting over it completely on her as if it’s just given that she would.

    • Dan

      I’m with you Rick.

      On the one hand, I agree with this article 100%; those sins have been dealt with, and we have been made clean; for lying, for stealing, for sexual sin – all of it. Gods grace covers more than we often realize until later in life, if ever, and we as community of believers have a responsibility to encourage one another towards seeing and rejoicing in that, to the Glory of God. What a witness to the outside world, too!

      However, I also see/have seen the other side of it. In a perfect world, in a vacuum, one hears of sin (or not), remembers the cross and they glorify God together in perfect harmony. But as one person carries baggage so does the other person – sometimes sin, sometimes other issues (abuse, emotional issues, sometimes even legitimate physical issues).

      I’m not justifying bitterness or anger or judgement or any other sinful emotion that may come up. But I think we need to remember to show grace to both – we’ve created a culture where it’s popular and pious to jump up and down as hard as we can on pharisees, almost to the point of a witch-hunt (“And what else floats?” “…Nicodemus!” …Oh wait, wrong story, sorry :)).

      But Christ died for the sins of the one who would struggle with this too, and they have been made new in Christ as well. I’d love to see an article written to those who have been told “they’ve been forgiven, so suck it up,” but that’s an difficult line to walk and so it seems we (I’ll include myself; I don’t know how to best council that situation) stay far clear of that one.

      Pray for your brothers and sisters who struggle with this. We need it. Whether it’s a feeling of self-righteousness the Lord is slowly walking them out of, or feelings of inferiority the Lord is using to reveal their true identity, or a feeling of worthlessness or inadequacy or an idol falling down – God is at work there, too (Praise God :)).

      As a quick side note, I think that the comment that the pain seems to be inversely proportional to time spent in the word and proximity to the Gospel is a good note, and a great reminder :)

      • John

        “But Christ died for the sins of the one who would struggle with this too, and they have been made new in Christ as well. I’d love to see an article written to those who have been told “they’ve been forgiven, so suck it up,” but that’s an difficult line to walk and so it seems we (I’ll include myself; I don’t know how to best council that situation) stay far clear of that one.”

        That’s exactly what I meant on my first comment. That’s how I feel sometimes, as if I was told “suck it up, remember you’re a sinner too”. I’m glad because there are people who understand how difficult it is on the other side, too. Thank you for the comment!

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  • Kevin

    I’m not yet convinced Biblically that pre-marital sex is a sin against your future spouse any more than any other sin that committed before marriage is sin against your future spouse. I completely understand that the party to the marriage who has not slept with anyone is likely to be tempted to think about how they compare to their spouse’s previous partners. However, giving that such feelings can also be an issue in the case of virgins who marry widows, surely such thoughts are just sin that needs to be repented of even though that will be a hard thing to do. A person only sins against their spouse if they break the vows they have made to them. The vows do not apply retrospectively to what happened before the marriage and so premarital sex is no more a sin against your future spouse than getting a speeding ticket is a sin against your future spouse. I expect people will disagree with this, and I’m not entirely convinced that what I am saying is right but I can’t see any Biblical case for why premarital sex is sin against your future spouse.

    • Bernadette

      hmm. but a virgin marrying a widow is just previous marital sex, not prior-to-marital sex..
      ‘A person only sins against their spouse if they break the vows they have made to them’ – isn’t that a little like saying it’s OK to have sex with people when you’re single, but once you get married, THEN it’s a sin to have sex with someone other than your spouse? God designed sex to only be between a husband and wife, that’s clear (Genesis 2). If you know that sex should be reserved for your spouse, then it’s impossible to engage in premarital sex with a clear conscience… on the basis that you haven’t said the vows yet.

      • Kevin

        Thanks for your reply Bernadette. I’m definitely not saying that it’s OK to have sex with someone when you’re single. Having sex with someone when you are single is sin against God and sin against the person you are having sex with, but my question is whether it is also sin against your future spouse any more than any other sins that we commit before we get married are sins against our future spouse. I think the key passage here is Deuteronomy 22:13-21. In that passage, if an Israelite found that the woman he had married was not a virgin, he could report this to the elders, and if it was true the woman had to be executed. However, the reason given why the woman has to be put to death is not that she has sinned against her future spouse but rather because “she has done an outrageous thing in Israel by whoring in her father’s house”. The reason why I compared the situation with a man who marries a widow is because much of the hurt that comes when one finds out that one’s spouse or finacee has not been sexually pure arises not from realising that one’s spouse is a sinner, but from insecurity and jealousy in comparing oneself against previous partners (see Nathaniel’s post above). I can see how you could use the passage in Deuteronomy 22 to argue that each person is “entitled” to a sexually pure spouse, but I’m not convinced that Deuteronomy does teach this.

        So I agree with you that no-one whose conscience works properly can engage in pre-material sex with a clear conscience and that sex is designed to be only between a man and a wife but I’m still not convinced that pre-material sex is sin against one’s future partner any more than any other sin, but I’m open to be correct on this. Can you think of any passages that talk about this?


        • Kevin

          Sorry, meant to say “open to be corrected” rather than “open to be correct”

  • http://FromNoahtoHercules.com/ Brian Forbes

    Where does this idea come from that all sin is equal? Sure, all sin is sinful, but that doesn’t mean that God is equally offended by a devout believer who doesn’t understand the signs of the times vs. a pimp who makes his whore get an abortion so he can make more money. There are degrees to sin. Some required sacrifices of birds. Some lambs. Some mandated the death penalty. There are different consequences. Why wouldn’t the offense be hierarchical?

    Mt. 23:23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”

    Have we neglected justice?

  • http://www.thecalvinistcaroller.blogspot.com Adam

    Gospel Coalition Authors:

    Let me say this. I’m a guy. Nearing 30, slowly but surely (couple of years away). I was always the good kid, who did Awana, made all the right choices, had all the right things going on. I signed two separate purity cards and had two separate rings, and I can remember the old people smiling and congratulating us after signing a little piece of paper in our church (what a sickening ritual, now that I look back). Let me be frank: I failed in every respect. It started with internet, and, over these last couple of years, turned into far worse than I could imagine.

    I am in the process now of applying and truly understanding the theology I’ve held to doctrinally for so long now. It’s not an easy road. I just now got a decent job. But I’m 30, have college debt, and sexual baggage that’s nearly unbearable (one girl from a Christian dating site stopped talking to me at all after knowing of my past and my current struggles).

    But, my point is this, especially to encourage the sister that wrote you both that letter: Shame is real for men, too. Yes, women are supposed to “reject” men. But, you see, men were created to protect women, not prey on them. And there is a very real shame that only Christ can conquer when we experience this. There are people on both sides of the road. I think sometimes our homeschool (I was homeschooled), moral, perfect Christian mentality is harmful to the faith. Not that we shouldn’t strive for that. But the gospel is not about moral perfection. It’s just the opposite: Christ’s forgiveness and mercy in our moral vileness and imperfection. From what I can gather,my mistakes were far more vile and disgusting than those of the sister who wrote to you. Yet, I can wake up and go on, because His mercies are new every day. Forgetting what lies behind, and pressing on toward the upward call of God in Christ (Phil 3:13-14).

    A true Christian pursues a person who, yes, is pursuing the Lord now. But that person will have struggles. And a past. Some worse than others. And hopefully those things drive the person to avoid the same mistakes.

    To my sister who wrote in to you: “The ground is even at the foot of the cross.” We, your brothers and sisters, are with you in this battle of purity in Christ. We are wounded, but living. We have fallen, but we are crucified with Christ. May your shame drive you to Him Who has overcome death, sin, shame, and guilt.

    Don’t let modern, moral, political Christianity dissuade you from the reality that Christ is all, and in Him there’s hope every morning.

    –Adam (adam.m.cummings at g mail)