Someone once asked how Grant and I resisted sexual temptation before we got married. She was struggling with temptation herself and was hoping for some encouragement and guidance. I gave her the truth.
Like many other couples in today’s sex-obsessed culture, Grant and I didn’t save sex for marriage. An intense relationship and long engagement paired with too much freedom led to a lifestyle of sin that we took much care to conceal. We loved our church community and being in student ministry together and feared that coming clean would mean having to choose between serving in ministry and serving our fleshly desires. To avoid that decision, we feigned purity in the public light and continued living out the opposite behind closed doors. Eventually we started to believe we weren’t doing anything wrong.
I know that our experience is not unique. Statistics show that a majority of young Christians are not waiting until marriage. Some are simply swept away by a passionate moment and then don’t get the help they need to make it back to shore. The current often carries them much farther than they intended to go and makes it much harder to swim back.
It’s unsettling yet not shocking that many of our friends, like us, are carrying around secrets of sexual sin to one degree or another. Some have been carrying around secrets since before they began a relationship with Jesus, while some started carrying them after. Some are in ministry. A few of these couples are married now; others are single. And there is one thing we’ve all shared in common: the fear of bringing our sin to light.
There’s something about knowing that you’re not living out the godly, pure Christian walk that is expected of you that makes it more difficult to ask for accountability or be honest about the difficulty of staying pure until marriage. Sometimes it just seems easier to cling to the excuses and justifications that make you feel as though what you’re doing is not that bad. Our culture’s way of normalizing sex and making purity a joke doesn’t help matters either.
Now that Grant and I are on the other side of it all, we realize that this is something we don’t want to see other couples get caught up in. We understand now that choosing purity is not a matter of checking something off the “good Christian” to-do list, but rather a path designed by God for our protection. It is not only the best way to enjoy relationships and marriage, but also what helps preserve peace and joy in both faith and ministry. It’s a fruit he and I will never get to taste. This is why I’m sharing our story today.
Instead of adding onto the fear and guilt that encourages men and women to conceal and stay in their sexual sin, we want to offer a message of freedom that can help get them out. And it starts with pointing to what Jesus has done. How he walked with Grant and I on our dirty, broken path. How he brought us into a covenant of marriage and breathed new life into our faith. How he showered us with immeasurable grace we could never earn or deserve. But most of all, how he transformed our “worldly sorrow,” the kind that “brings death,” into “godly sorrow,” the kind that “brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
Godly sorrow. This is what the Lord has been teaching me and what I hope begins to move in the hearts of those who know the pain of sexual sin all too well.
It’s true that now being married to Grant “softens the blow” in some regards; it makes our sin a little less scandalous or a little more easily forgiven, at least in our minds. But I still have sorrow. I have sorrow for the wedding night and first year of marriage that wasn’t quite what I had dreamt of. I have sorrow for the day when we will have to share this part of our story with our children, when we will be to them a warning to heed rather than an example to follow. I have sorrow for my relationship with the Lord that suffered as I carried around the weight of my guilt.
I also have sorrow because I know that as I confess this now, I am probably disappointing people I care about — family members and friends who believed Grant and I were doing things right, friends and mentors who encouraged me and gave me sweet advice for what they thought would be our first time on our wedding night, faithful readers who’ve applauded my authenticity and honesty, pastors and leaders within the church who expected and trusted me to pursue purity, and students under my leadership who looked up to me.
But when I say that we now have a godly sorrow rather than a worldly sorrow, I mean that while there is still a longing for things to have gone a different way, there is also an acceptance that this is our story, a desire to move on and heal, and faith that God will use it for good.
This is different from the sorrow I once had when I was grieving more because of my guilt than because of my loss, when I felt too burdened by what I had done to want to bring my sin to light or make amends with the Lord. The weight I was carrying became so heavy that the only way I could think of to keep moving forward was to pretend it wasn’t there. This is worldly sorrow. And it only leads to death — death of hopes and dreams for the future, death of authenticity and transparency, and death of a once vibrant relationship with God.
Godly sorrow, on the other hand, leads to repentance, salvation, and a life not hindered by regret. It leads to freedom. And the only way to get from A to B, from this worldly sorrow to godly sorrow, is to take your eyes off that sin and instead put it on the Son on the Cross. Believing that the only reason you could ever be victorious over that sin is because of the victory Jesus won for you. Trusting that “his divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3). Allowing yourself to accept that it’s never too late to turn back, to run into the Heavenly Father’s open arms and take hold of the mercy and grace he’s so freely offering you.
Grant and I don’t live with much regret anymore. We live with freedom instead. And if we had only believed that we could live with that freedom back then, things would probably have gone a lot differently. I don’t think we would’ve hesitated to get help and ask for accountability when we needed it. I don’t think we would’ve made excuses or tried to hide from God or from the church. I don’t think we would’ve wanted to remain in our sin. Not if we had truly tasted freedom, if we had remained captivated with the Cross.
The reason I’m sharing these things is because I believe in the power of godly sorrow, of repenting and allowing yourself to receive God’s grace to start anew.
If you are feeling the weight of worldly sorrow and the regrets of a sin you just can’t outrun, I wish I could be sitting across from you right now. I’d put down my coffee, grab your hands as I meet your eyes, and say these words with the sincerest love and longing for you. “I understand you. I don’t judge or condemn you. And I want more for you. The Lord wants more for you. Even now, no matter how far you’ve gone, he longs for you to know his love and choose a better way.” I hope that in that moment, you would realize you still have a small voice inside of you saying, “Actually, I want more for myself, too.”
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin (1 John 1:7).
In the light there is relationship and community. Renewal and cleansing. It’s a place where perfect love trumps fear. There’s no room for shame; it’s just a wide open space of freedom.
And you, my dear friend, are invited to step in.
I want to be blessed. I desire God’s favor upon my life. I don’t think that is a shameful desire in any way, and I believe God planted that desire in me.
But I have the hardest time figuring out how to get that blessing. A lot of the time I feel like I can earn it. Like maybe if I just do enough good things, God will grant me happiness and blessings. If I honor Him enough with my relationships, then maybe He’ll bless my relationships. If I do enough in my ministry, then maybe He’ll bless my ministry. If I seek him more and more, then maybe He’ll favor me.
Then there’s this passage in the book of Psalms that I can’t overlook.
Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord. They rejoice in your name all day long; they celebrate your righteousness. For you are their glory and strength, and by your favor you exalt our horn. Indeed our shield belongs to the Lord, our king to the Holy One of Israel. (Psalm 89:15-18)
God, I want that to be me.
How do you learn to acclaim God? How do you walk in the light of His presence?
If this is what makes His children blessed, then I feel like these questions are worth finding an answer to.
I’ll just say here and now, though, that I don’t have the full answers.
What I know right now is this:
- Acclaiming God means to praise God
- Walking into the light implies walking out of darkness
Somehow we have to learn to praise God. Somehow we have to walk out of darkness and into His light.
Here’s what else I know:
- I have learned to praise God most through my difficulties and pain. I have learned to praise God in joyous times, as well. But it’s the dark times in my life and the overcoming of that darkness that has taught me what truly worshiping God and surrendering to God means.
- I have walked into the light most when I have finally bared my soul and let the darkness go. Not just to God, but to my brothers and sisters in Christ. I can walk in His light by releasing my innermost secrets and desires to God. But I have experienced many moments of shame-lifting, freeing intimacy with people, too. I have found light by first going through the darkest tunnels, whether hand-in-hand with a friend or alone with just the Spirit in my heart.
What I’m thinking is that perhaps blessings must come through difficulties and pain, through the hard stuff of life.
It takes trials to remind you of how powerful He is. It takes rock bottom to remind you that He is what you really need. Through our difficulties and pain we learn to acclaim and praise God.
It takes darkness to remind you that you need light. It takes painful soul-baring moments and conversations to assure you that you are not alone and living in light is a very real, freeing possibility. Through our difficulties and pain we learn to walk in His light.
First comes pain. Then comes gain.
Isn’t that a major concept of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount? The Beatitudes, anyone?
Amidst the hard stuff of life, we receive blessing.
And what is this blessing we receive?
Maybe it’s the next part of that passage. They rejoice in your name all day long; they celebrate your righteousness. For you are their glory and strength, and by your favor you exalt our horn. Indeed our shield belongs to the Lord…
The blessings are:
- joy in His name
- celebration for His righteousness
- glory and strength of God
- our horn (our power and strength)
- our shield (our protection)
It all just sounds so wonderful. I can’t even comprehend what fully receiving those blessings would look like because here on earth everything just seems so pitiful compared to the beauty and glory in heaven.
The joy we feel now is not even close to the joy in heaven. The celebrations we have here are nothing like the celebrations in His kingdom. The glory and strength of God can only be glimpsed so much through our tiny human eyes and brains. And the horn and shield, Him being our power and protection, is a whole other concept I think we are far from fully comprehending.
These blessings of God are being unlocked here. I do know this to be true.
But there’s so much more we have yet to uncover. There’s still more praising and walking in light to be done.
And hard stuff must come.
So let’s get ready. Expect the suffering and the blessing because they’re both coming.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you– Psalm 139:7-12
Sometimes I feel like King David hiding in a cave.
Venturing out is just too dangerous. Everywhere he turns, he encounters enemy after enemy. They are looking to kill him.
He fears for his life. All he can do is wait in the dark and beg the Lord to avenge him, to give him back even just a small portion of what he once had.
And all the while, David’s eyes are becoming accustomed to the dark. He’s becoming accustomed to hiding and running.
The question that remains is, can he outrun God? Will he reach a point of no return as he dives deeper into this dark, empty cave?
No darkness is too dark or impenetrable for the light of God’s presence.
I, like King David, have found myself again and again in an all-too-familiar cave. Enemies all around. Blocked entrance. No room to breathe.
Darkness upon darkness upon darkness.
And yet I can testify that the Lord has never left me. It doesn’t matter how alone I feel. The reality is He’s been there all along. He’s been fighting my enemies. He’s been paving a way out for me. He’s been breathing air into my lungs.
There is no such thing as too much dark or too much sadness or too much sin or too much pain. At least, those things aren’t too much for the healing touch of God.
I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19)
Sometimes you will feel like the gap between where you are and where you long to be is just too wide.
But His love is wider still.
Sometimes you will feel like time is going by too slowly and it’s been far too long. You’re too far gone.
But His love is longer still.
Sometimes you will feel like the wall you built to block out the world is too high to ever climb over, too strong to ever break down.
But His love is higher still.
Sometimes you will feel like you’re in over your head and the hole you’ve found yourself in is just too deep.
But His love is deeper still.
There is no place we can run that God can’t follow. And while that might not sound reassuring to some, it is the greatest of blessings. There will come a time when you’re tired of the darkness (I know I sure am), and that will be the opportunity for the greatest story of redemption ever told to unfold.
Let His light pierce the darkness. Let’s get out of these caves.