Russell Moore (@drmoore) has some sage counsel for a young woman who wants to know how much she should know about her boyfriend’s sexual past. This is sound, biblical advice, and I commend it to you.
“How Much Do I Need to Know About My Potential Spouse’s Sexual Past? My Response” by Russell Moore
Lots of good points and also short.
I find much to agree with but feel that Dr. Moore’s response falls short. If you take his advice to its natural conclusion, a potential marriage partner’s past doesn’t matter at all, as long as they are repentant.
Whoa, back up the truck.
Our experiences and the decisions we make DO impact our future. They impact our trustworthiness. They impact our fitness for service in ministry, don’t they? Our church just went through a multi-year, exhaustive search for a pastor. You better believe that the decisions and choices that were made prior to his selection all mattered.
So it is one thing to forgive someone for past decisions. It is another thing to say that they don’t matter and do not impact our future candidacy for ministry, employment and yes, marriage.
“God owes me a virgin.” sounds like a line in a country song with horrible theology.
Awesome quote by Russell Moore:
“If your future husband is repentant, and forgiven, and yet you are ‘tortured’ by the thoughts of his past, then the issue for you is one of personal pride and a refusal to see oneself as a gospel-forgiven sinner.”
I also wonder, if the boyfriend asked her one day on a date: “So, do you have problems with gossip, slander, strife at school or church, worldliness, lack of compassion, and too much selfish ambition? Well, if you say ‘yes’ to any one of them, then I guess we have to stop seeing each other.” Not to downplay the seriousness of sexual sins (Scriptures take sexual sin seriously) but I think if the cards were to be turned back on her on less “tangible” sins I wonder how she would respond to the boyfriend. Sometimes I am amazed at how Christians downplay their own particular sins but highlight the sins of the other.
Wow. Please read Dr. Moore’s post over and over again until the whole concept of grace really soaks in.
“Jesus was a virgin. His Bride wasnâ€™t. He loved us anyway.”
Wow. That really puts His grace into perspective.
Derek, while I empathize with your sentiments regarding pastoral searches and integrity, there is room for grace. Based on your posts on the original, you would essentially disqualify anyone from ministering who was not raised in a Christian home and was converted later in life. A certain apostle of the church tried to destroy her before his conversion. He was certainly trustworthy, though there were doubters (and understandably so!). The same must be applied to marriage and other matters. Yes, 10 years ago, as a 14 year old he may have fornicated, but if he’s been faithful since and is a believer with sound roots: fdoesnhenjave the okay to marry your daughter?. 20 years ago he may have served time for drug related crimes but was converted after prison and has been faithful since. Do you disqualify such a man from serving your church? Both of the above are real life examples, of a great husband and the second of a great pastor, both of whom I know.
I’m everlastingly grateful for God’s grace. Without it, I would be damned and separated from God for eternity.
The implications of God’s forgiveness on my behalf are enormous. It means that I must also decide to let go of my grievances and I am obligated to forgive those who wrong me. That means everyone.
However, it does not necessarily follow that I must ignore past decisions, a checkered track record or trust that has been broken. When we sin against God or against other people, we may be 100% forgiven, but still lose privileges or positions of authority.
When we sin and then repent, we are assured of a completely restored relationship with God. But Scripture does not give us the promise of restored circumstances.
If our sin results in a job loss or an STD or a loss of credibility or a broken marriage, we don’t say that God or other people haven’t forgiven us – we simply recognize that sin can have long term consequences. Thankfully, His grace does lead us on a path of restoration in our circumstances, which may or may NOT ever be completed this side of eternity.
Read Hebrews 12:16,17:
What is the lesson here? That God doesn’t forgive some people? No, that is not the lesson here. God would have forgiven him (although we have no indication that he sought forgiveness, despite his tearful regret). Esau had no right to presume upon God that His grace would undo all of the consequences of his sin.
So you would not hire a pastor who lost his virginity outside of marriage, even if that sin occurred prior to conversion? And even if he was currently a devoted husband and father with years if “clean” living?
No, I’m not saying that would be disqualification.
But let me throw this back in your court – suppose you were involved in a search for your church’s new pastor and it turned out that the Pastor had lost his previous job because he was considered unreliable. Suppose he was deeply sorry for his lack of diligence. If your church’s leadership decides that there are better candidates, that doesn’t make you “unforgiving”, which is essentially what Dr. Moore implied in his blog entry. It means that positions of honor and trust are reserved for those who demonstrate the greatest degree of honor and trustworthiness.
I think we may be talking past one another (and I mean that in a nice way!). I completely agree with your last post.
I’ve seen numerous occasions where the sinful pasts of young men have been unfairly held against them. It’s particularly bothersome when other sins receive less attention (though they are no less dangerous.)
I think you’re missing my point. I didn’t say that a person is disqualified from marriage because of such-and-such, nor did I say that a person is disqualified from ministry because of x, y or z.
People don’t become automatically qualified as a marriage partner or employee or minister just because they are forgiven by God and man. There are many things to consider, including a person’s track record. A pattern of lying or laziness or sexual immorality might not be the best foundation for a marriage or ministry. Certainly, there is a difference between an isolated event and a pattern and this needs to be considered.
At the foot of Calvary, sin is totally forgiven and our relationship with God is restored, but it does have long lasting consequences, including lost rewards in heaven (I Cor 3:10-15).
Here’s another passage (2 Sam 12) that illustrates how forgiveness and repentance does not always result in the consequences we might hope for:
I’m curious, Derek, if you know of any New Testament passages that encourage believers to consider the “track record” of someone after they have been forgiven.
The passages I think of seem to teach that a person’s track record should be completely disregarded.
“21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven [or seventy times seven] times.”
I Cor. 13
4 “Love . . . keeps no record of wrongs.”
The overarching point I’m making addresses your question.
The verses you’re referring to address the issue of forgiveness, which we are commanded to extend to others. No excuses, no caveats, no clauses.
The question at hand is this: Are we demonstrating a lack of forgiveness if we take past actions and behavior into account.
The answer to that question is “not necessarily”.
If we hold grudges and grievances and resentment against a person, or if we withhold relationship from that person, then the answer is “yes”. We are demonstrating unforgiveness and there is no place for this in the Christian life.
If on the other hand, we say:
You are forgiven. However, restitution must be made…
– or –
You are forgiven. However, you must step down as elder of our church.
– or –
You are forgiven. However, I cannot continue to provide you with employment.
– or –
You are forgiven. However, I am looking for certain characteristics in my marriage partner. I’m concerned about patterns that I see and this is either not the right time for us or you are not the right one.
David, I encourage you to read Revelation 2 and 3 in addition to the passage I mentioned earlier in Hebrews 12. Read how Christ judges the Church. Very sobering stuff. Read Matthew 12:36, 37. Forgiveness does not always or totally eliminate the consequences of sin.
Every example you have given deals with Christ or God doling out judgment. My question is whether believers are ever told to say, “You are forgiven – However . . .” to a repentant brother or sister. If anyone ever deserved to be told, “You are forgiven, however” it would have been Paul.
You’re splitting hairs, friend.
If we follow your line of thinking, then God is demonstrating a lack of forgiveness when He allows consequences for sin to remain. Why? Because you have set up a construct whereby the grace of God banishes all effects of sin (read Hebrews 12:16, 17, which validates an Old Testament principle that is also a New Testament principle). Within your construct, God is holding to conflicting standards – on the one hand, holding us accountable for our sin, on the other hand, tossing our sin into the sea of forgetfulness.
So we must adjust our definition of forgiveness to one that allows relationship to be restored, but for at least some consequences to remain. The presence of consequences does not equal unforgiveness.
If we were to take your understanding of forgiveness to its ultimate destination, we wouldn’t be able to evaluate the lifestyle patterns of elders as described in Titus 1 or I Timothy 3, for instance. If we were to take your view to its logical end, we would have little or no grounds with which to say that one person is more qualified than another in ministry or employment.
If we were to take your view to its logical end, we wouldn’t be able to look at two candidates for marriage and say, “this one has demonstrated a high level of character for a long time and this one has not”, assuming both are Christians and have repented of known sin. So I’m sorry, David. I believe you are using cherry picked verses to present an incomplete or inaccurate picture of forgiveness as defined by Scripture.
I’m just asking for Scriptures that teach what you say is common sense. Are there any?
The Titus and Timothy passages deal with current behavior patterns, not past sins.
If you sincerely read the passages in Titus and Timothy and only read those passages as current behavior patterns, then you are reading only through the lens of what you wish to see. A person who “has a good reputation with outsiders”, “manages his own family”, and “is not a recent convert” indicates to me that track record matters. We don’t just appoint people to positions of honor and trust because they are forgiven. I’m not alone in this assessment. Church leaders, committees and pastors all approach it this way. Similarly, we don’t just say that someone is a good candidate for marriage just because they got saved yesterday and are positionally equal to other Christians in the eyes of Christ.
Read my post #10. Your view of forgiveness forces us to make no distinction between a candidate with a stellar track record and another with a checkered track record, assuming both candidates are repentant sinners saved by grace.
2 Timothy 2, especially verses 15, 20 and 21, are good ones for you to examine thoughtfully.
I’m not asking how church leaders, committees, pastors, and candidates for marriage actually behave. Of course they look at a person’s track record. Of course people make distinctions all the time based on whether someone has a stellar track record or a checkered track record.
My question is whether there are any scriptures that directly teach Christians to do this. I take it from your evasive answers that there either aren’t any or that you don’t know of them.
You seem to start with the idea that my “view of forgiveness” – incidentally, I never said it was my view, just the view of the New Testament – is impractical and illogical. Well, the teachings of Jesus and Paul often are impractical and/or illogical. Then you say that to interpret Matthew 18 or 1 Corinthians 13 by their plain meanings is “splitting hairs.”
I read Jesus as saying that if someone hits you or assaults your daughter and then sincerely repents, you are to completely forgive them. Not “forgive them” and call the police. And if they hit you or assault your daughter seventy-times seven times and repent, you are to forgive them. Impractical and illogical? Absolutely. Crazy, delusional, and even stupid? Yep. Advice that no person in their right mind would ever follow. Uh huh.
Your response here indicates to me that you didn’t read or thoughtfully examine these passages I provided. Scripture encourages us to examine and test people for fitness when it comes to ROLES, POSITIONS OF RESPONSIBILITY and CHURCH LEADERSHIP. Somehow, you can’t see this as being in any way compatible with Christian forgiveness? Wow. For you to suggest that a person’s track record means nothing (as long as they are a Christian) when they are a candidate for marriage or church leadership is stunning. Scott certainly understood the distinction here, even though he initially disagreed with what I was saying.
I’m done making my case here. I’ll let the other readers here determine who is being evasive.
FWIW, from where I sit, Derek has presented a reasonable, thoughtful, considerate case.
Another Hebrews verse is 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.
The discussion is about more than only predators but consider them as a specific case –
We know that there are sexual predators who put themselves repeatedly into positions of trust and then abuse that trust. There may be a big show of repentance followed by more victims. Such a person is not “above reproach” and those who “keep watch over” the church should not serve up more victims on a silver platter. I admit I sometimes struggle with how to apply Jesus’ words to outlier cases, such as abuse. But the spirit of Scripture taken as a whole seems to me to reveal a God who repeatedly charged his people to defend the defenseless, in both OT and NT.
Church people can tend to be easily duped by predators and it is a responsibility for them to be informed of danger signs and behavior patterns that suggest a predator.
Thanks, Matthew – you bring up an excellent point. Many of the qualifications we look for in pastors and elders also need to apply to Bible Study teachers or Children’s Ministry workers as well, for the reasons you mention. To ignore someone’s track record in those roles can have tragic consequences.
Good thinking and biblical, Derek. As one who has lived 75 years of which 54 have been in the ministry, I have seen many times where Christians have reasoned as David, only to have ministry appointments marred, when having followed the counsels of Scripture, the ministry would not have been damaged.
Thank you, James. This whole conversation has me thinking about a dangerous development that has been emerging in recent years within evangelicalism.
That is, some of us have embraced an understanding of forgiveness that gives license to forgiven people to go around demanding that they be released from all of the consequences of their actions and life choices.
If I’m truly repentant for my sin, I can and should expect all brothers and sisters in Christ to forgive me and be reconciled into the family of God, but…
I canâ€™t force another believer to – hire me
– be my friend
– elect me as elder
– restore my ministry position
– be my spouse
Thanks be to God, every day of the year broken saints are restored to ministry, non-virgins marry virgins and damaged relationships are restored. This is the model. But I believe that we misrepresent the Gospel of grace when we coerce and demand believers to formulate sacred covenants with other believers without regard to track record or preferences or compatibility, for that matter – all in the name of forgiveness. That strikes me as a form of emotional and spiritual blackmail.
I recently read “As We Forgive.” An excellent, excellent work. It’s about reconciliation in post-genocide Rwanda, where genocidaires live among survivors.
Some Rwandans have appropriated the image of Zaccheus. Jesus met with Zaccheus, who acknowledged his wrong and initiated restoration, paying back more than he had taken. We can offer forgiveness, even to the unrepentant. But reconciliation is a two-way street. It can be very HARD for both parties but it is a beautiful miracle of grace when it happens. Larson, the author of “As We Forgive” draws an analogy between reconciliation and transfiguration.
Thank you, Derek, for your wise words. I think that you have brought forth some valuable insights and completion to Dr. Moore’s answer. May your tribe increase in the church.