Not long ago, I received this letter from one of our Pathway to Victory viewers:
“Dear Dr. Jeffress, three years ago, I got involved with a woman at work. My wife never knew what was going on, but I was crushed with such unbearable guilt that I voluntarily ended the affair. I confessed my sin to God and felt like He forgave me. But that didn’t seem to be enough. I felt like I needed to tell my wife what I had done and seek her forgiveness, as well. That was two years ago, and she still has not been able to forgive me or God for allowing the affair to happen in the first place. I know God has forgiven me. But my question is this: Why hasn’t God erased the consequences of my sin? God’s forgiveness doesn’t seem to mean much if my wife and I are doomed to feel this unbearable regret for the rest of our lives.”
Perhaps you can identify with this man. In your past, there may have been an episode of immorality that had some tragic and lingering results: an unwanted pregnancy, an abortion, a divorce, a sexually transmitted disease, the loss of innocence, a ruined reputation, or a broken trust. You mentally kick yourself every time you think about that episode in your life:
- “How could I have been so stupid?”
- “Why did I not end it sooner?”
- “Am I going to spend the rest of my life paying for this mistake?”
But your disappointment in yourself is tempered by your disappointment in God. Like this man, you question God’s forgiveness. You have listened to sermon after sermon assuring you that “When God forgives, He forgets.” Yet, your everyday experience tells you differently. If God has truly forgiven and forgotten your past indiscretion, why does He seem to keep poking you in the backside with reminders of your mistake?
Today, we are going to look at the subject of regret as it relates to immorality. In my experience as a pastor, I have encountered many people who have fallen into sexual immorality, sought God’s forgiveness for their mistake, turned away from their mistake, and yet continue to be overwhelmed by regret.
Why does the sin of immorality tend to rank among the things we regret most in our lives?
1. The “Why” of Sexual Regrets (1 Corinthians 6:15-19)
One of the downsides of preaching is that pronouncements are made that I wish I could retrieve. In my earlier years of preaching, I used to make statements such as: “God doesn’t grade sin. No sin is better or worse than other sins. Sin is sin in God’s eyes.”
I now realize that although such a declaration is true in one sense—no sin is beyond God’s forgiveness—some sins can be labeled worse than other sins because of the devastating consequences that accompany them.
In God’s economy, hate is tantamount to murder. But no one ever went to prison for simply harboring ill will toward another person. Likewise, God equates lust with adultery. But have you ever known someone to get pregnant by engaging in sexual fantasy?
Common sense tells us that all sin is not the same. So does the Word of God. Paul’s words to the church at Corinth concerning the uniqueness of sexual sin are described in 1 Corinthians 6:15-19.
Critics of Christianity believe that the church is unnecessarily hung up on sexual sin. These words of Paul are dismissed as the rantings of a sexually repressed bachelor.
The world’s view of sex could be summarized by one unbeliever who writes, “Sex is a function of the body, a drive which man shares with the animals like eating, drinking and sleeping. It’s a physical demand that must be satisfied. If you don’t satisfy your sexual desire, you will have all sorts of neuroses and repressive psychoses.” In other words, there is no difference between having sex and drinking a glass of water.
Yet, the Word of God says there is a difference. Sex is not like any other physiological function. And it is not even like any other sin. The apostle Paul is saying that sexual immorality affects us on at least three different levels: physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
- Physical Consequences of Immorality (Romans 1:27)
- Emotional Consequences of Immorality (Genesis 2:24)
- Spiritual Consequences of Immorality (James 1:15)
2. A Case Study in Regret (2 Samuel 11)
King David was at the absolute zenith of his career in 2 Samuel 11. He had successfully conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel, he had established a brand new capital in Jerusalem, he had recovered the Ark of the Covenant, and he had received God’s promise of future blessings for his family. Life doesn’t get much better than this! Yet David was willing to exchange all of these achievements for one night of passion with the girl on the rooftop next door, Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.
These are some of the consequences David experienced as a result of his sin.
First, there were physical consequences of David’s sin: an unwanted pregnancy, the death of a child, the rebellion of a son, continual turmoil in the home, and, eventually, the loss of a kingdom. Those consequences remained with David even after he confessed his sin to Bathsheba and received God’s forgiveness.
David also suffered emotional consequences for his sin. In Psalm 32, David described what it was like during those six months to a year when he refused to turn away from his immoral lifestyle.
I believe I understand what David has in mind here. One emotion drains your energy more than any other—fear. Nothing will wear you down more quickly than that constant anxiety that your sin will be uncovered and your reputation will be forever ruined. And no other sin spawns that kind of fear more than sexual immorality.
- Did someone overhear our conversation?
- Have I covered my tracks?
- What if my mate finds out?
- Will I lose my job?
- What if I am (or she is) pregnant?
Closely related to David’s emotional trauma of adultery are the spiritual consequences he experienced.
Every Christian who has ever dabbled in immorality can probably identify with David’s words. To feel the heavy hand of God upon your life means to feel His discipline. When you are living in open rebellion against God, you attribute every sickness, every financial setback, and every family upheaval to God’s judgment on your life. Sleep eludes you as you imagine what plot God is hatching to get even with you. You begin to picture God as your adversary rather than your advocate. I believe that is the kind of “death” or separation James had in mind when he wrote about the spiritual consequences of sin.
Although David experienced God’s forgiveness, these consequences accompanied him during his remaining years of life. Some people find it difficult to accept that God’s grace does not erase the effects of our sins. In commenting on the lingering results of David’s sin, John Lawrence writes:
“When David sowed to the flesh, he reaped what the flesh produced. Moreover, he reaped the consequences of his actions even though he had confessed his sin and been forgiven for it. Underline it, star it, mark it deeply upon your conscious mind—confession and forgiveness in no way stops the harvest. He had sown; he was to reap. Forgiven he was, but the consequences continued. This is exactly the emphasis Paul is giving the Galatians even in this age of grace. We are not to be deceived, for God will not be mocked. What we sow, we will reap, and there are no exceptions.”
If immorality has been the source of regret in the past and/or you want to keep it from becoming a source of regret in the future, let me suggest four principles that will help you deal with this issue and avoid sexual regrets.
- Acknowledge Your Need for God’s Forgiveness (Romans 6:23)
- Receive God’s Forgiveness (Colossians 2:13-14)
- View Adverse Consequences as a “Vaccination” for Future Mistakes (Proverbs 15:31)
- Avoid Tempting Situations (Proverbs 7:6-8)
- Refuse to have any relationship with a member of the opposite sex that you are unwilling to tell your mate about.
- Reserve your most intimate thoughts for your mate.
- Refrain yourself from meeting alone with members of the opposite sex.
- Renew your commitment to marital fidelity.
A few years ago, I was preaching on this topic at a family life conference. Afterward, my host introduced me to a man who had been sitting in the audience listening to me preach but who should have been speaking in my place. He knows more about commitment in marriage than I could ever learn. His name is Robertson McQuilken.
He says, “Love is said to evaporate if the relationship is not mutual, if it’s not physical, if the other person doesn’t communicate, or if one party doesn’t carry his or her share of the load. When I hear the litany of essentials for a happy marriage, I count off what my beloved can no longer contribute, and I contemplate how truly mysterious love is.”
Maybe love is not as mysterious as Mr. McQuilken would have us believe. When a marriage is grounded in his kind of rock-solid commitment, the chances of love evaporating are about the same as the Hoover Dam vaporizing into a mist. And ultimately, it takes a daily renewal of that kind of commitment to save us from the regret of immorality.
Full Passage: Selected Scriptures