With good intentions, we often warn single Christians about the relational damage associated with premarital sex. In a noble desire to urge single believers to follow God’s design of abstinence before marriage, we can unwittingly sabotage God’s design after marriage if we’re not just as pastoral claiming the victory of God over confessed sin as we are warning Christians away from prior sin.
Satan assaults us with three attacks, not one. He tempts (1 Cor. 7:5), yes, but then he also accuses us after we give in to the temptation (Rev. 12:10), and finally he condemns us as forever wrecked following the temptation. We need to learn how to apply God’s promised grace to all three attacks: temptation, accusation, and condemnation.
The church often focuses almost exclusively on Satan’s role in temptation while leaving believers floundering in the face of spiritual accusation and condemnation. We need the same pastoral heart as the apostle Paul who gave his warnings to the Corinthians “So that we may not be taken advantage of by Satan. For we are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11).
Jack Deere, a popular author, was earnest about his faith as a young man. But there was that one time before marriage that he had sex with a prostitute in Mexico… It was a stupid and evil thing to do, a rash spur of the moment decision to find out what sex was like, but now, he couldn’t make the memories or the spiritual pain go away.
And then there were the many times he almost had sex in college. He had done everything short of intercourse and while confessing it to his fiancée he realized the difference between what he had done and actually “going all the way” didn’t seem all that wide.
His future wife Leesa then confessed that she and her high school boyfriend had also “done everything short of intercourse.”
Jack decided he could live with that.
A couple days later, Leesa’s conscience made her “up” the confession and she nervously admitted that she and her prior boyfriend had actually had sex. Jack told her he was okay with that knowledge, but then he went home and rammed his fist into a metal filing cabinet.
Leesa was the same person after the confession as before, but the knowledge of her past seemed to change everything for Jack.
Should it have?
Jack’s struggles with their respective pasts robbed their early marriage of the joy married sex offers. Because Jack didn’t adequately understand Satan’s role as accuser and condemner as well as tempter, he allowed a past sin to assault his present relationship and even vandalize his future wedding night. In one of the saddest passages I’ve ever read about a marriage night Jack writes:
My belief in the irrevocable damage of my sin had stolen much of the joy of our courtship and all of my joy in our wedding. To me, our wedding was not a celebration of our love; it was an empty formality to make our sex legal.
All her life, Leesa had imagined her groom telling her how beautiful she was on her wedding night. I was so preoccupied with what I shouldn’t have done that I neglected to do what she needed most. When the morning came, Leesa thought I had settled for her out of obligation caused by my sin.
What’s worse: sex before marriage, or forgetting to tell the bride how beautiful she is on her wedding night? (Jack Deere, Even in Our Darkness)
As a pastor, that last line is so painful for me to read: “What’s worse: sex before marriage, or forgetting to tell the bride how beautiful she is on her wedding night?”
As Christians we can’t pretend that premarital sex doesn’t have an impact—it does (or else God wouldn’t warn us away from it in His word). But the Bible also teaches us there is a remedy for our sin—the grace and forgiveness won by the death and resurrection of Jesus. You can’t erase the past and may even have to deal with a few consequences in the present, but you can move toward a glorious, uninhibited and joyful future when you embrace all that God offers us in this fallen world.
To take hold of such a future we have to remember and refute each point of Satan’s three-fold attack. First, he tempts us to sin, then viciously accuses us after we sin, and then lies to us by insisting that we, rather than Christ, must pay the price for our sin (condemnation). After we fall, we think that making ourselves feel miserable and condemned and perhaps even accepting a sub-par sex life in marriage somehow makes up for our past sin. It doesn’t. Only Christ can pay that price. Our suffering adds nothing to His.
All three lies (temptation, accusation, and condemnation) come from the evil one. Sometimes, we recognize only the first (temptation) as being from Satan, but accusation and condemnation can do just as much damage. Don’t make your spouse pay for your or their past sin. Jesus has us covered from beginning to end. Embrace His gift of forgiveness and the freedom that follows.
So let’s learn to respond to temptation with truth. In Luke 11:28 we’re told, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Jesus wants to give us abundant life, and the most abundant life is found in obedience. Let God bless you by doing what He asks of you.
When we fail to do that, for whatever reason, let’s also learn to respond with Scripture to the accusation that follows our sin. Romans 8:33 tells us, “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies.”
And finally, whenever you hear the whispers that you are condemned, and must accept “punishment” for your disobedience (financial wreckage, vocational failure, sexual frustration) remind yourself of Romans 8:1: “There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” Jesus paid the price so we don’t have to.
We need to learn to surrender to God in the face of temptation, but also to surrender to God in the face of accusation and condemnation. It’s a threefold battle. Let’s apply Scripture in every arena of the fight, to ourselves and to others.