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 continued my reading in Joshua today and found a very interesting story of what happened after the fall of Jericho. This is my attempted abridged version. Stick with me here. In the book of Joshua, the Israelites move on to take down Ai. Meanwhile, a man among them has sinned; he has taken a robe from Babylonia and has hid it inside his tent, along with riches that he coveted. This man, Achan, did one sin among many faithful Israelites yet it had a lasting impact on the group. Not knowing God was angry because of Achan’s sin, the Israelites sent only a portion of their men to go up against Ai. The result- about thirty-six of their men were killed, and they had to flee back to camp. After learning of this news, Joshua tore his clothes and fell face down, begging to know why God led them across the Jordan if they couldn’t go any further than Jericho to claim their entire Promised Land. God’s response was a command that all the Israelites gather tomorrow to determine which of the men has sinned. Who ended up being discovered and stoned to death? You guessed it- Achan.
After reading this one chapter (yes, this all occurred in one chapter, Joshua 7), I was a bit confused. It was a pretty good story, the ending was a bit gruesome, but I didn’t know what to make of it. Thank God for student Bibles! Alongside this chapter in my hot pink student Bible is a small passage that clarifies the meaning of Joshua 7 and helps its readers better understand how to apply it to their lives.
“Inevitably perhaps, the Israelites get cocky after Jericho. Since they have conquered a fortified city without firing an arrow, the next target, the puny town of Ai, seems to pose no threat at all. A few thousand soldiers stroll toward Ai. A short time later those same soldiers- minus the dead and wounded- are scrambling for camp- thoroughly routed.
Clearly, the juxtaposition of these two stories, Jericho and Ai, is meant to convey a lesson. If the Israelites obey God and place their trust in Him, no challenge is too great to overcome. On the other hand, if they insist on their own way, no obstacle is too small to trip them up.
This humiliating defeat, coming so quickly after the great victory of Jericho, demoralizes even Joshua. Realizing that without God’s protection the Israelites were hopelessly vulnerable- trapped without possibility of escape- Joshua momentarily loses all courage.
The trouble at Ai comes because of the deeds of a single man who greedily disobeys God’s battle commands. His punishment is drastic. Evidently the fledgling nation needs a strong lesson regarding the consequences of taking God’s word lightly.
After the painful lesson of Ai, Joshua relearns an important lesson in leadership. The public exposure of Achan’s sin underscores the need to follow God’s orders scrupulously, even in the earthly matter of warfare. God will not tolerate any of the lying or looting that is typical of invading armies.”
Now, how can Joshua 7 be used to teach US a lesson? Below, I’ve taken note of a few things that I think are essential to truly understanding the purpose of this chapter.
1) When you face obstacles in your life, it is important to not lose courage.
When Joshua learned of the Israelites’ failures, he suddenly became very afraid. He lost hope and even went so far as to say to God, “Ah, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us?…What then will you do for your own great name?” (Joshua 7:7,9) Like Joshua, you may have encountered a situation where nothing makes sense. It seems like God is against you and there’s no way out. Little did Joshua know, there was a thief and liar among the Israelites, the cause of the Lord’s anger. I am not concluding that every time something goes wrong it is because God is angry with you or wants to bring wrath down upon you. Far from it. Sometimes God causes us to stumble to refocus our gaze on Him. When this happens, do not lose courage. Take a step back and reevaluate where you’re standing in terms of how close you are to God at the moment. It’s easy to let yourself become distracted and not take notice of the sins holding you back. Sometimes it’s necessary for God to shake things up a bit to remind you who’s really in charge.
2) There may be a sin in your life interfering with your relationship with Jesus.
Our Father loves us and wants to provide for us, yet we so often get distracted by a sin in our lives that interferes with our relationship with Him. In Joshua, Achan’s sin was holding the Israelites back from claiming their Promised Land. Because one of them had strayed, the whole group got taken down as well. This is quite similar to sins in our own lives. A sin is a sin, no matter how large or small, but it’s easy to excuse one as “no big deal.” It’s easy to assume that one sin couldn’t possibly impact God’s work through you. Yet it does. “That which is devoted is among you, O Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove it.” (Joshua 7:13) God has great things in store for us, but sometimes He withholds blessings and success from us because He wants us to wake up to the things in our lives that are holding us back from living entirely for God.
Our loving Father offers mercy and forgiveness to those who repent and believe that Jesus died for our sins and then rose again. This is the basis of our salvation. He knows that we are perfect, and He doesn’t expect us to be, but let us not forget that He is our Father. We are His children. Just like your parents would be hurt if you disobeyed them, God does not delight in seeing His children being led astray by sin and ignorance. We get distracted and blinded to where we should be. When we eliminate the sin potentially holding us back from living inside His will for us, remarkable things will happen.
“When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:20-23)
The book of Exodus is not just a story of the Israelites’ deliverance, though when read without really engaging, it may seem to be. The passover, referring to the protection of the Israelites from the plague on the firstborn, is parallel to Jesus. Stick with me here.
“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn—both men and animals—and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.” (Exodus 12:12-13)
The Israelites were told to smear the blood of a lamb over their doorway, giving them protection from the plague that would affect the unbelieving Egyptians. In the morning, all the Egyptian firstborns would be dead, but the Israelites would be spared by God. The plague “passed over” them, hence the name “passover” for the remembrance of this event in history.
When reading about blood from a lamb, you may just think about a literal lamb. But when you make the connection to Jesus, it’s so much more. Repeatedly in the Bible, Jesus is called the lamb:
“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
“In a loud voice they sang: ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!'” (Revelations 5:12)
After really thinking about it, you can see how Exodus is like a sign of Jesus’ coming. Jesus is the passover lamb whose\
blood ultimately rescues us from God’s wrath. This is why the book of Exodus is so much more than just a story. The events that happen in Exodus are miracles all by themselves, but when paralleled to Jesus our Lord and Savior, it just makes them so much more miraculous as reminders of God’s faithfulness and ability to change hearts and lives. Just like the Israelites, we are led out of slavery into freedom. “You were made free from sin, and now you are slaves to goodness.” (Romans 6:18) And that is surely something to rejoice about!