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God’s Rules on Sex Will Liberate Us
All the passages below are taken from Lee Strobel’s book, “God’s Outrageous Claims,” which was published in 1997 by Zondervan.
In the 1950s America was rocked by scandal when actress Ingrid Bergman conceived a child out of wedlock. So hot was the firestorm of indignation that she was chased out of Hollywood.
Fast forward to the 1990s.
Actress Connie Seleca and John Tesh, then host of Entertainment Tonight announced their engagement---and casually mentioned that they weren’t going to engage in sex before their wedding day.
The reaction: Hollywood was aghast. People magazine slapped the story on its cover, with the headline, “TV Star Weds ET Host after a Year of Romance---But No Sex.” When Tesh appeared on Maury Povich’s talk show, Povich was unable to conceal his incredulity.
“John!” he declared. “In this day and age, you didn’t consummate your marriage beforehand?”
Tesh shook his head. “Isn’t that a comment on our society,” he replied, “that not having sex before marriage would be seen as being such a big deal?”
Attitudes toward sex have been flipped upside down in recent decades. But the reason is not that people have lost clarity on what the Bible teaches, which is that sexual expression should be reserved for men and women who are married to each other. For the most part, people are well aware that this is the biblical stand.
Instead, people increasingly believe that while God may be omniscient and omnipotent, that while he’s certainly holy and merciful, the truth of the matter is that when it comes to sex, we really know better than he does. Few people would actually come right out and say that, but they behave as if this were their belief.
They think to themselves, “the Bible’s certainly outdated and outmoded when it comes to sex, isn’t it? It’s sure narrow and repressive and, worse yet, politically incorrect. Those kinds of strict rules may have worked a few thousand years ago when people were primitive, but today---well, we’re more educated and enlightened. And I think I’m smart enough to figure out what’s best for me.”
We can see this unstated opinion played out in a number of arenas—especially Hollywood.
LIGHTS, CAMERAS, ACTION!
When the movie Endless Love caused a stir because of the way it portrayed the sexual awakening---and subsequent obsession---of two teenagers, the director strongly defended his work “I’m not encouraging fifteen-year-olds to make love,” he insisted. “They do that anyway. I’m just telling them it’s quite normal.”l
From soap operas to motion pictures, from cable TV to MTV, the entertainment industry fuels a popular culture in which the attitude is that sex outside of marriage is positive, not negative. For the most part, Hollywood portrays casual sex as nothing more than a natural---and expected---progression in a relationship.
Few in the audience seemed to raise an eyebrow when the widowed commander-in-chief quickly bedded a perky political consultant in the movie The American President. Reviewers focused on the romance---certainly not the immorality---of a lonely Iowa housewife’s adulterous fling with a visiting photographer in The Bridges of Madison County.
In fact, studies have shown that over 90 percent of all sexual encounters on television and in the movies are between unmarried people. Before the average American turns eighteen, he or she has witnessed more than seventy thousand images of sex or suggested sexual intercourse between people who aren’t wed to each other.
Yet Hollywood remains a fantasyland in more ways than one. Rarely does television show any consequences from the choice to become sexually active outside of marriage. Few get pregnant, few catch a disease, few suffer emotional trauma.
And when an unwed character does get pregnant---for example, fictional journalist Murphy Brown---her life barely skips a beat. Somehow Brown’s baby gets cared for by her housepainter or friends. Somehow the infant rarely keeps her up at night or complicates her life. Somehow the child grows from infancy to toddler with blinding speed and a minimum of hassles.
What kind of impact does all of this have on viewers? There’s no question that television plays a major role in shaping attitudes, which is why advertisers and politicians invest billions of dollars a year in commercials.
And parents can testify firsthand to the influence television has on their children. For instance, there’s the show of the mother who asked her six-year-old son what time he would like his afternoon snack He replied, “Four o’clock eastern, three o’clock central!”
Amazingly, a Lou Harris and Associates poll disclosed that nearly half of American teenagers believe that television portrays an accurate picture of the consequences of premarital sex! When they’re making their own decisions about whether to become sexually active, they often look to TV for their cues---and they see nothing but bright green lights.
WHAT YOU SEE CAN HURT YOU
Not only does Hollywood think it knows more about sex than
God, but so do those who consume pornography. The unease and embarrassment they feel when purchasing “adult” material suggests that they’re at least generally aware that pornography doesn’t come with God’s seal of approval.
But their attitude seems to be, “There’s nothing really wrong with some erotic magazines or X-rated videos. They can spice up my sex life and encourage a healthy hunger for sexual relations. Besides, God created the human body, didn’t he? All I’m doing is admiring it!”
So today there are more hard-core pornographic shops than McDonald’s restaurants. Video stores import into our neighborhoods, and cable TV pumps into our living rooms, the kind of material that used to come only in a brown paper wrapper.
According to a 1994 study, nearly half of American men and one out of six women bought erotic materials in the preceding year---and it’s not uncommon for Christians to dabble in it, especially traveling businessmen whose hotel TV features soft-core movies. For many, the attitude is, “I can handle this. I know what I’m doing. What you see can’t hurt you.”
People who choose to have sex before marriage are also saying that they know better than God. It’s certainly no secret that premarital sex is coloring outside God’s moral boundaries, but many people sincerely believe that they know what’s best.
Their reasoning goes this way: “Doesn’t it make sense to try out a relationship before you commit to another person for a lifetime? You wouldn’t invest twenty thousand dollars in a new car without test-driving it first, would you? So why not take your potential spouse out for a spin? It seems logical that you’re more likely to have a better marriage in the future if you try out each other sexually in the present.”
How widespread are those attitudes? Only seven out of one hundred women born between 1933 and 1942 lived with a boyfriend prior to getting married; today almost two thirds of adults have a cohabiting relationship before marriage.
What’s more, religious conservatism doesn’t render people immune from sexual experimentation beyond the marriage bed. According to a recent study, nearly 20 percent of conservative Protestants had two or more lovers in the last year, a percentage slightly higher than for Catholics and mainline Protestants. Thirty-seven percent of conservative Protestants, 40 percent of Catholics, and 43 percent of mainline Protestants have had five or more sex partners since age eighteen.2
SEX IS MORE THAN SKIN ON SKIN
The truth is that those who believe they know more about sex than God have bought into a very destructive myth. God’s outrageous claim is that our sexuality isn’t the result of an evolutionary accident but was intentionally and lovingly created by God himself---and that yes, Maury Povich, even in this day and age, Father still knows best.
As outlandish as it may sound to some, real sexual liberation and true intimacy are found within the moral boundaries that God has compassionately designed for us. In fact, as this chapter will show, the latest research by social scientists is confirming over and over again that God’s way is the best way. It’s one more remarkable bit of affirmation that his wisdom really works.
Unfortunately, the intersection of the sacred and the sensual has been a fertile breeding ground for misconceptions through the ages. Christians have acquired the reputation of being sexually repressed and prudish---a reputation somewhat justified by misguided attempts in centuries past to declare sex a necessary evil. But if we use the Bible as our source, we find that God intended sex to be a wonderful and important part of the bonding process between husbands and wives. He designed it not just for procreation but for pleasure as well.
The Bible says that sexual intercourse allows two people to experience a unique oneness.3 When our sexuality is expressed in the context of the loving, secure, trust-filled, long-lasting, and safe environment of marriage, it’s a mysterious method of mathematics in which one plus one equal one.
In his Bible paraphrase, Eugene Peterson renders 1 Corinthians 6:16, a passage echoing that concept, this way:
There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever---the kind of sex that can never “become one.”4
God’s design is for husbands and wives to enjoy a vital, regular, and mutually satisfying physical relationship. Scripture tells husbands and wives that their bodies belong not just to themselves but to their spouses as well. Then the Bible adds, “Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer.”5
Knowing the allure of sex and its potential for abuse, God in his compassion also drew appropriate boundaries as a way of protecting us from pain. We transgress those lines of morality at our own risk---and there has been a proliferation of empirical evidence in recent years that we, as a society, are increasingly suffering the consequences of ignoring his commands.
THE TRUTH ABOUT CONSEQUENCES
In light of our collective experience during the last few decades, who can doubt anymore that God’s approach to sex is better than Hollywood’s? The consequences that the entertainment industry irresponsibly overlooks are eroding the moral foundation of our nation---as well as its health---at an alarming pace.
For example, television may not depict the consequences of the fifty-seven types of sexually transmitted diseases, but scientists report that they are at an epidemic level. Every day, another 35,616 Americans contract one of these pernicious illnesses. If this rate continues, one out of every four Americans between the ages of fifteen and fifty-five will eventually contract one of them. Some, like herpes, are incurable; other cause infertility; AIDS carries a death sentence.
Another often-deadly disease---cervical cancer---also is being spread by unfaithful husbands. In 1996 researchers established that women are five to eleven times more likely to develop this disease if their spouses have multiple sexual partners. This is because cervical cancer is directly linked to a virus that is spread by sexual intercourse. “In effect, the husband takes cancer home to his wife,” said a scientist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
The World Health Organization estimates that there are a quarter of a billion cases of sexually transmitted diseases around the planet and at least twenty-two million people worldwide already carry the AIDS virus. Dr. David Pence, an expert on AIDS, declared, “We are indeed at war with a virus quite capable of destroying our civilizatlom”6
Television also overlooks how these consequences get passed down through the generations. You’ve heard about the horrific polio epidemic of the 1950s? In 1996 alone, more babies were born with birth defects from sexually transmitted diseases than all of the children afflicted with polio during that entire ten-year epidemic. Each and every day, about fourteen hundred children are born with the AIDS virus; three million have already died from it. In addition, UNICEF estimates that nearly thirty million children worldwide will become orphans because of AIDS by 1999.
In addition, television seldom shows the consequences of the inadvertent pregnancies that occur in premarital sex. At the middle-class suburban high school down the road from where I’m writing this, one hundred girls get pregnant each year. That’s about average. Nationwide, a teenager gets pregnant every thirty seconds around the clock, for a total of one million per year. The price tag for society: an estimated one hundred billion dollars in medical, welfare, and other costs over the next two decades.
Around the country, 1.2 million babies are born without fathers each year, and these children face terrible disadvantages in virtually every area of life---socially, financially, emotionally, behaviorally, academically, and even physically. They lose across the board---and society is reeling as a result. Even so, the pace of unwed pregnancies is accelerating. Two out of three children born in 1996 will end up living in a single-parent household before their eighteenth birthday.
Further, television doesn’t show the trauma suffered by the 1.2 million American women---including four hundred thousand teenagers---who end their pregnancies with abortions each year.
One study showed they are more likely to attempt suicide than other women; in other research, psychiatrists reported negative psychiatric manifestations in 55 percent of women who had undergone legal abortions; and in another study, “even those women who were strongly supportive of the right to abort reacted to their own abortions with regret, anger, embarrassment, fear of disapproval, and even shame.”7
Many live with an aching regret they cannot seem to resolve. Said a Washington, D.C., psychiatrist and obstetrician who has performed thousands of abortions,
I think every woman ... has a trauma at destroying a pregnancy . . . A psychological price is paid. . . . It may be alienation, it may be a pushing away from human warmth, perhaps a hardening of the maternal instinct. Something happens on the deepest levels of a woman’s consciousness when she destroys a pregnancy. I know that as a psychiatrist.8
Television doesn’t show the consequences of sexual addiction, that compulsive behavior that causes thirteen million Americans to engage in risky and self-destructive activities.
Television rarely shows the emotional devastation that occurs when nonmarital intimacy is followed by abandonment. Or the shame, guilt, and crushed self-esteem that can haunt a person after a sexual encounter that burns tantalizingly bright for a short time but then turns ice-cold.
Ask any counselor on a suicide hotline, and he or she will tell you that the most common calls concern shattered relationships, especially those in which sex was involved. One study showed that 85 percent of unmarried women under psychiatric care were sexually active.
Hollywood has led the charge in the sexual revolution, but the casualties are piling up every day. Nearly two thousand years ago the apostle Paul wrote words that still have the ring of truth. “All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.” 9
THE HIGH PRICE OF CHEAP THRILLS
There’s yet another consequence of sex outside of marriage that television probably will never show: the spiritual costs. However, this can be the most painful of all.
The Bible says that our wrongdoing causes a separation between us and our holy God.10 Part of the way in which this happens is that people are aware deep down inside that they’re rebelling against God when they choose their way instead of his.
So if they’re engaging in illicit sex, they naturally tend to shy away from talking with God in prayer, to shrink back from worshiping him and coming to the Communion table, to stop reading the Bible, and to stop interacting with Christian friends whose moral lifestyle only accentuates their own sin. They learn to plug their ears to the promptings of the Holy Spirit as he tries to dissuade them from straying.
As a result, their spiritual life shrivels as their heart turns numb and indifferent toward God. Often what had once been a rich and thriving relationship with him drains away until they feel spiritually parched.
There’s no way to sugarcoat this: People cannot be tightly related to God at the same time they are knowingly and defiantly violating God’s boundaries concerning sexuality. You can’t be boldly rebelling against him in any ongoing way and expect to experience unhindered growth in your relationship with him. That’s a terrible consequence for Christians.
Hollywood may gloss over these costs, but they’re real, and God wants to spare us from them. Please understand this: God doesn’t oppose sexual sin because he doesn’t want us to have fun; he opposes it in the same way parents oppose a car that’s careening toward their child---out of loving concern to avert the impending harm.
What should we do? One thing’s for certain---we can’t hide from the all-pervasive media, but we can be discerning. When a television show, movie, or music video tries to convince you that everybody’s enjoying sex outside of marriage, that adultery is in and fidelity is out, that only losers and loners aren’t out trolling for cheap thrills, call it the lie that it is.
Train your children to second-guess the values that the media are peddling, so they don’t unwittingly buy into distorted images. Help your kids avoid what happened to one girl who forfeited her virginity and then wrote, “I just couldn’t compete with what I saw on television; the bombardment never stopped, and so I said, [‘What’s the difference?’]”11
And when temptation is beckoning, when your hormones are pumping and you’re being enticed down the path that Hollywood so alluringly portrays, pause for a moment to count the costs---the physical, emotional; psychological, and spiritual consequences. Compare that awful downside with the fleeting and hollow upside of giving in. Let that help you make the choice to stay within the moral framework that God has created for us---because although it sounds outrageous, it’s within those restrictions that authentic sexual freedom lies.
THE DANGERS OF VISUAL ADULTERY
What would God say to consumers of “adult” materials who think it’s merely a harmless catalyst for pepping up their sex lives? I think he’d simply tell them, “1 know better. When I urge you to steer clear of that stuff, it’s for your own sake.”
The apostle Paul said, “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable---if anything is excellent or praiseworthy---think about such things.”12
It’s not that God is embarrassed by the human bodies he created. But he made them to express their sexuality within a relationship that is loving, committed, and monogamous---qualities that pornography defiles at every turn.
Pornography paints a world in which sex is cold, mechanical, transient, degrading, and increasingly violent. Twenty percent of pornographic material depicts acts of sexual assault and rape, and that percentage is increasing rapidly.
Inevitably, these images desensitize those who view them, twisting their thinking, attitudes, and values. Psychology professor Vincent Cline said that the shocking and repulsive soon become commonplace, then legitimized, then acceptable, then attractive.13
In one study, a group of average men expressed revulsion toward sexual assaults and extended compassion toward victims who had been molested. But after viewing pornography, their attitudes were transformed. They had become more flippant toward rape, which they saw as something women deserved or wanted.
That’s the lie in 97 percent of violent pornography---that women actually want to be assaulted and will come to enjoy it. Another study, by a Canadian researcher, suggests that even nonviolent pornographic images can weaken men’s attitudes toward sexual assault.
And for those who wonder whether there’s a connection between pornography and the actual commission of violent crimes, take a look at what happened in Pasco County, Florida, where the sheriff conducted a year-long crackdown on “adult” material. At the end of the year, there were 53 percent fewer sexual assaults in that county compared with other areas of Florida. Meanwhile, said author Al Haffner, “Alaska and Nevada have the highest rape rates of all other states---and they also have the highest readership of pornographic magazines.”14
This was the conclusion of former US surgeon general C. Everett Koop: “I believe we have enough evidence to implicate pornography . . . as a kind of ‘accessory’ to antisocial actions that produce grave and profoundly harmful outcomes.”15
Pornography won’t spice up your sex life; it will poison it. It introduces false comparisons, it prompts men to act out fantasies that can degrade their spouse instead of affirming and valuing her, and it introduces distrust and selfishness into the relationship. “Pornography makes women and children into objects, pieces of meat on public display,” said Chuck Colson. “Pornography reduces these . . . creatures to trash. As it does so, it jeers at the God who has conferred human dignity”1ó
In his book Christians in a Sex-Crazed Culture, Bill Hybels wrote that God designed sexuality to flow out of a loving and intimate relationship in which there’s nurturing, communication, sharing, serving, romancing, and tenderness. When those values are cultivated in a marriage, they arouse sexual interest. But
the use of pornography short-circuits all of that. It reduces the sexual dimension of marriage to a biologically induced athletic event, and eventually ... there is no longer much emphasis on the loving part of marriage. Once that is drained out of a relationship, the heart and soul of marital sexuality is gone. The woman starts feeling used and abused, and the man starts feeling frustrated and empty. He begins to think that a new positions, a new activity or, better yet, a new partner or partners would relieve his frustration and emptiness.”17
Too often the use of pornography can start men on a descent into more and more bizarre material, like the downhill slide of a drug addict who needs stronger and stronger doses to get the same high. If you don’t think pornography can be psychologically addicting, then consider this letter written by a man from our church:
I am an emotional invalid. I am crippled by my addiction to pornography. It paralyzes my spiritual life, it perverts my view of the world, it distorts my social life, it wreaks havoc in my emotional stability . . . and I just can’t stop. Lust eats me up, yet it does not satisfy.... [Pornography] promises me everything, it produces nothing.18
God would tell us, “Trust me in this: the images that you allow into your mind inevitably affect who you become, how you act, what you pursue, and how you feel about yourself and others.” Again, Father knows best---and as we’ve seen, the latest research is backing him up.
Don’t think that God Is mistaken in your case and that somehow you can innocently dabble in pornography while being miraculously impervious to its effects. “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall,” Paul warned.19
So clean house. Go to that secret stash of magazines or hidden stack of X-rated videos and put them at the curb for the next garbage pickup. Do it before you slide any farther---and before your kids stumble across them.
Consider this ominous statistic: 70 percent of pornography eventually winds up in the hands of children. The average age of first exposure is thirteen and a half years. If it can warp an adult’s view of sexuality---which studies have repeatedly established that it does---think how devastating it can be in twisting your own child’s attitudes during the critical time when his or her sexual identity is being formed.
“I got into my brother’s pornographic magazines when I was growing up,” one forty-five-year old businessman told me, “and it distorted my view of intimacy so much that to this day I haven’t been able to undo it all. I’m still unraveling the ways it has undermined my relationships with women. I feel like I was sabotaged as a kid.”
For those who feel a compulsion to consume pornography, it’s important to talk to someone about it. If you don’t, it will sink its claws deeper and deeper into you. Tell a friend you can trust and ask him to walk you through recovery or talk it over with a pastor or Christian counselor who can help you get at the root of this dependency before it damages your relationships.
But first and foremost, talk it over with God. When Discipleship Journal asked its readers when they were most likely to succumb to temptation, the greatest number of respondents---more than eight out of ten---said it was when they had not been spending much time with the Lord.
Don’t let your embarrassment over pornography continue to create a wedge between you and God. Go to him for help---now.
MYTHS ABOUT “TRIAL MARRIAGES”
For those who sincerely think it’s best to test out a relationship by having premarital sex, I believe God would say, “You’re putting yourself and your entire future in terrible jeopardy. Believe me, I know what’s best for you.”
For years people have been scoffing at the Bible’s teaching on sex, but again the social research is piling up on God’s side. As Ray Short points out in his book Sex, Love, or Infatuation:
• If you think that living together is going to make your eventual marriage stronger, think again. Statistics demonstrate that those who live together are twice as likely to get divorced after they do marry.
• Studies have shown that the more premarital sex you have, the less likely you’ll be happy in your future marriage and the more likely that you or your spouse will cheat after you’re wed. Most likely to commit adultery: women who had engaged in premarital sex.
• While couples often think that premarital sex will strengthen their eventual sex life when they’re married, research shows that the exact opposite is true. Married couples are less likely to have a satisfactory sex life if they live together first.20
Other research has established that a woman is far more likely to be physically abused by a live-in lover than by a husband and that she’s five times more likely to be forced into an unwanted sex act by a boyfriend than a spouse. Those most likely to be pushed into sex against their will are women who are living with a man prior to marriage.
Robert Moeller, who has written extensively about marriage, observed that the very concept of a “trial marriage” is a contradiction in terms. “By definition marriage is an exclusive, lifetime, permanent commitment,” he said. “How can something temporary, nonbinding, and open ended be considered a test of something that’s just the opposite?” He added that cohabiting creates distrust.
When couples say, “We just want to see if we’re compatible before we get married,” what they’re really saying is, “We have doubts about each other as future partners. And we want a quick and easy way out of this if we don’t like it.” Can you see what uncertainty does to sexual intimacy? It hangs a big question mark over the bed. “Is today the last time we’ll make love? What if my partner meets someone more interesting? If I don’t please or perform up to standards, is this relationship over?” The reason married sex is so superior to “trial sex” is that the questions which plague cohabiting couples have already been settled.21
Some of the most startling research on this subject in recent years was published in 1994 by researchers at the University of Chicago. They interviewed 3,432 Americans, in an effort to produce the most accurate and comprehensive insights into human sexuality in our country. Their findings were so myth shattering that they captured front-page attention. Among their conclusions:
• Married couples reported being the most physically pleased and emotionally satisfied.
• The lowest rates of satisfaction were among single men and women---the very ones presumed to be having the hottest sex.
• The group having the most sex is not the young and footloose but the married.
• Physical and emotional satisfaction started to decline when people had more than one sex partner. 22
The scientists admitted being especially surprised when their data revealed that the most consistently sexually-satisfied women in the country were conservative Protestants, followed closely by Catholics and mainline Protestants---all of whom had a significantly higher frequency of orgasm than those with no religious affiliation. But after thinking about it, the scientists came up with an explanation: maybe those who follow biblical teachings “firmly believe in the holiness of marriage and of sexuality as an expression of their love for their husbands.”23
The researchers added that “despite the popular image of the straight-laced conservative Protestants, there is at least circumstantial evidence that the image may be a myth at least as it pertains to sexual intercourse.”24
Again and again there has been independent confirmation by social scientists that God’s plan for our sexuality really does make sense. As ironic as it may sound, the truth is that his boundaries don’t bind us, but they liberate us to experience intimacy in its most fulfilling form.
As the University of Chicago researchers said, “Our results could be read to mean that an orthodox view of romance, courtship, and sexuality---your mom’s view, perhaps---is the only route to happiness and sexual satisfaction.”25 That, the scientists said, was not what they intended. But clearly that’s where the evidence points.
FORGIVENESS AND CLEANSING
When it comes to our sexuality as in all other areas of our life, God can be trusted. Though our sexual passions may run hot, we can trust that God will empower us to live the kind of life he wants us to lead. Though temptations abound, we can trust that God will help us from falling into self-destructive behavior. Those with sexual stress in their marriage can trust that God will walk them through it. Victims of sexual assault can trust that he will gently bind their emotional wounds.
And though we have all strayed sexually---whether in thought, word, or deed---we can also trust that God’s forgiveness is readily available to all who ask for it. Though sexual misconduct can leave an especially stubborn stain of shame, he can scrub us clean when we humbly turn to him and admit our wrongdoing rather than try to rationalize it.
God delights---he absolutely revels---in answering the kind of prayer that King David uttered: “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”26 When you come to him with a heartfelt request like that, he will forgive you (which is external and restores us in God’s sight) and he will cleanse you (which takes place inside us as God over time releases us from our shame).
I know. He’s done it for me. I don’t like to talk about this, because it’s personal and painful1 but in my days as an atheist, when my highest goal in life was to experience pleasures. I lived a promiscuous lifestyle and left disillusioned victims in my wake.
I would use whatever tactic it took, from false flattery to manipulative lies, to achieve a conquest. Afterward I would callously walk away, never giving a second thought to the other person. Mission accomplished.
I thought I knew best. I was wrong. Instead of happiness and fulfillment, I found nothing hut emptiness. And it’s a testimony to the height and breadth of the grace of God that he has forgiven me and eased my burden of regret over the years.
Now I can echo the apostle John’s words of joyous amazement “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”27 Imagine, someone like me---and yes, even a person like you---lovingly adopted into the family of God forever.
But maybe you’re still skeptical. Perhaps you think you’re the exception, someone outside the range of Cod’s forgiving power. If that’s the case, maybe this letter will help. It was sent to those of us in leadership at Willow Creek by a young woman in our congregation. See what she found about God’s willingness to forgive---and consider how you might find release from the transgressions that still haunt you.
I grew up in a home where guilt was a powerful tool for discipline. I grew up a shy, scared girl, immobilized by guilt and feeling responsible for anything and everything bad that occurred, and mostly feeling unworthy and unlovable to God.
When I was in college, because of lots of bad choices, I found myself pregnant at the end of my junior year. At the time, the only decision I could live with was to have an abortion. I couldn’t live with knowing how I disappointed my parents. I couldn’t live with nine months of guilt and shame. I couldn’t live with being responsible for my actions.
The entire day of the ordeal, I knew I was violating a sacred commandment of God’s. I was willfully murdering this life. And I believed with all my heart he could never forgive me.
Through a friendship, I began coming to Willow Creek and became immersed in biblical teaching. I heard dozens of messages on forgiveness and repentance and how Jesus died for me to bear my sins. I heard it all---but I never believed it in my heart. I never owned it. How could God forgive me for killing my baby?
I finally made a commitment to Jesus Christ in February 1989, and that June I felt I needed to take the step of making my faith public through baptism. During the ceremony, there was a big wooden cross on the stage, and we were to write some of our sins on a piece of paper and pin it to the cross just before we were baptized, as a symbol that we were forgiven by God.
I remember my fear---the most fear I ever remember---as I wrote as tiny as I could on a piece of paper the word abortion. I was scared someone would open up the paper and read it and find out it was me. I almost wanted to walk out of the auditorium during the service---the guilt and fear were that strong.
When my turn came, I walked up toward the center of the stage toward the cross, pinned the paper there, and was directed over toward Bill Hybels to be baptized. He looked me straight in the eyes. I thought for sure he was going to read in my eyes the terrible secret I had kept from everybody for so long.
But instead, I felt that God was telling me, “I love you. It’s OK. You are forgiven. You are forgiven!” I felt so much love for me--a terrible sinner. That’s the first time I’ve ever really felt forgiveness and unconditional love. It was unbelievable, and it was indescribable.
Afterward we all sang “I’m Forever Grateful,” and I cried with so much joy and relief. Relief, after all these years.
You did not wait for me
To draw near to you
But you clothed yourself
With frail humanity
You did not wait for me
To cry out to you
But you let me
Hear your voice calling me
And I’m forever grateful to you,
I’m forever grateful for the cross
I’m forever grateful to you—
That you came
To seek and save the lost. 28 (135-151)
1. Joyce Huggett, Dating, Sex, and Friendship (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter- Varsity Press, 1985), 76, emphasis added.
2. Robert T. Michael et ad., Sex in America: A Definitive Survey (Boston: Little, Brown, 1994), 103.
3. Gen. 2:24 (NIV)
4. Peterson, The Message, 346.
5. 1 Corinthians 7:5 (NIV)
6. John Ankerberg and John Weldon, The Myth of Safe Sex: The Tragic Consequences of Violating God’s Plan (Chicago: Moody Press, 1993), 65.
7. David Reardon, Aborted Women Silent No More (Westchester, Ill.: Crossway, 1987), 119—20.
8. Paul Fowler, Abortion: Toward an Evangelical Consensus (Portland, Ore.: Multnomah Press, 1987), 196
9. 1 Corinthians 6:18 (NIV)
10. Isaiah 59:2 (NIV)
11. Ankerberg and Weldon, The Myth of Safe Sex, 94.
12. Philippians 4:8 (NIV)
13. Al Haffner, The High Cost of Free Love (San Bernardino: Here’s Life, 1989), 101.
14. Ibid., 107.
15. Tom Minnery, ed., Pornography: A Human Tragedy (Wheaton, Ill.: Christianity Today, Inc. & Tyndale House, 1986), back cover.
17. Bill Hybels, Christians in a Sex-Crazed Culture (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor, 1989), 97.
18. Ibid., 93—94.
19. 1 Corinthians 10:12 (NIV)
20. Ray F. Short, Sex, Love, or Infatuation: How Can I Really Know? (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1978), 83-90.
21. Robert Moeller, To Have and to Hold: Achieving Lifelong Sexual Intimacy and Satisfaction (Portland, Ore: Multnomah Press, 1995), 162—63.
22. Michael, Sex in America, 124—25.
23. Ibid., 127.
24. Ibid., 127, 130.
25. Ibid., 113.
26. Psalms 51:2 (NIV)
27. 1 John 3:1 (NIV)
28. Mark Altrogge, “I’m Forever Grateful,” @1986, by People of Destiny (Admin. by Word, Inc.). All rights reserved. Used by permission.
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