Treating the Indelible
Pre-marital experimentation leaves its mark, as we saw in the last chapter. Is this stain indelible, one which cannot be erased? The Bible encourages us in the belief that sexual sin, like any other, can be washed clean by the forgiveness of Christ. That does not mean we are at liberty to sin because forgiveness is readily available. That is cheap grace. But you pay a high price for it! As one man put it to me once, "It's hard to forget the past even when you know you are forgiven." Reflecting on his own promiscuous past, he asked this question, "What was it about Jesus that made His ministry so effective? What did He do for Mary Magdalene which restored her so completely?"
Jesus' ministry to a promiscuous and adulterous generation was authoritative, powerful and full of compassion. Take the woman caught committing adultery, for example. He seems to have accurately understood her feelings, her despair. His ministry was fourfold. He forgave, He healed, He released and He re-established her.
As we shall go on to see in this chapter, when Jesus forgives, He gives a person a new start. His forgiveness is accompanied by unconditional acceptance of the sinner. This is healing. Of course, Jesus never condones sin, but He does love sinners. He is able to cut them free from the failure which so often seems like an entangled mesh strangling every attempt to move. When He sets people free from the past, He sets them free to a life of usefulness once more.
Is this ministry still available today? I believe it is. Through the ministry of prayer it is still possible for a person who has transgressed God's moral law to be restored. The result? It is exactly as if they were virgins again.
Do you want to avail yourself of this ministry which the
Lord offers so freely? Of course, this will not encourage the Christian to indulge in sexual sin because forgiveness is easy (Romans 6:1).
I repeat, I am not talking about cheap grace. I am reminding Christians that the forgiveness of God is freely available. Anyone, therefore, who knows about forgiveness but who has never applied this healing balm to the open sores of the past may be reassured. Sexual sin is not the unforgivable sin. On the contrary, God delights to pour the ointment of forgiveness into the stench of the wounds we examined in the last chapter. This is the good news the Bible proclaims, "Lord, if you keep in mind our sins then who can ever get an answer to his prayers? But you forgive! What an awesome thing this is!" (Psalm 130:3-4 LB).
Jim discovered this truth for himself when he turned to Christ. He knew that his failure was punishable, that he deserved God's anger. He was ashamed. So when he heard that, although he was guilty, Christ loved him enough to wipe the slate clean, he repented, turned his back on the past, and accepted the forgiveness so freely offered by the Lord. Like a condemned criminal released from his sentence, Jim rejoiced.
He turned his back on the past in repentance. This step is vital, as Tom is discovering. Like Jim, he also experienced the deep cleansing of the blood of Christ which sealed off a promiscuous past. But Tom has not repented. He still proudly cherishes the memories of the sexual conquests he made in the past. Until he allows God to transform his attitudes, the work of forgiveness will remain incomplete.
The healing touch of Christ
Jim discovered the refreshment of God's forgiveness after he had fallen into sexual sin. Is there forgiveness for the Christian who deliberately disobeys God? I believe there is (1 John 1:9). Never allow Satan to whisper the lie that God has abandoned you because of your disobedience. This is a distortion of the truth. Sin does make God angry. But, as Jonah reminds us, He is "a gracious God, merciful, slow to get angry, and full of kindness" (Jonah 4:2 LB). Or as Jesus reminds us through the
parable of the returning son, as soon as the Father sees the stirrings of repentance in our hearts, He runs to greet us, to welcome, restore and forgive us (Luke 15).
Christine knew this in her head. She had heard this teaching from infancy. But when she had slept around at college with single students and with a married man, her own heart condemned her. She could not receive the free forgiveness God offered, until the day she confessed her sin to another Christian. When this counsellor reminded her of the words of Jesus to the woman caught sleeping with a married man, "Neither do I [condemn you]. Go and sin no more" (John 8:11 LB), Christine wept. And gradually the all-too-familiar cross of our Lord took on new meaning. As she knelt at the foot of that cross, and imagined the body of the Lord writhing in pain, she knew that He was strung out there, not just for the whole world, but for her. And she wept again, tears of sorrow mingled with joy, tears of cleansing.
Jesus forgave. He still forgives. He will go on forgiving. Richard also understood those words. After all, he was a preacher. But this message of cleansing did not flow from his head to his heart until he opened himself to the healing touch of Christ. Richard's work took him to a lonely outback. There the aloneness of the ministry overwhelmed him. He found solace in the arms of a married woman, and slept with her. His Christian usefulness was finished, or so he thought. What was it that released Mary Magdalene from the bondage of this kind of guilt and sin? Was it the words of Jesus? Or was it the non-verbal communication: the acceptance she read in His eyes, the love she saw on His face, the affirmation she detected in His touch? The Gospel narrative remains silent in answer to this question. I believe it must have been both. And through prayer, God seemed to give Richard access to both kinds of communication.
I prayed with Richard and we returned in imagination to the place where he had disobeyed God. Where was Jesus? What was He thinking, doing, feeling about Richard? As we prayed, God seemed to touch Richard's memory so that he could recall the incident in vivid detail. But this time, the re-play included not just Richard and the woman. Jesus was also there. Richard
could see Him: Jesus had been there in the room with them all the time. Richard, too, had been caught in the act of adultery. But those eyes of Jesus spoke, not of condemnation, but of love. The face expressed, not rejection, but forgiveness. And the voice seemed to say, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more." When Richard confessed this time, he was not grovelling. On the contrary, he was pouring out the anguish, not of one moment, but of years. But he was ready now to open his clenched fists to receive the forgiveness which before had been theory but which now became therapy. This forgiveness had been applied by God to the place which stung. It brought healing and release. And this reassurance restored Richard again, not just to the Lord, but to himself in self acceptance and to society in usefulness. Jesus is able to remove the sting from painful memories so that ghosts of the past cease to hold you in their grip. The past which is opened to Jesus no longer holds the present in a paralysis.
Did you squirm as you read chapter 7? Do you need to open yourself to the kind of ministry described above? I am not suggesting that you reduce the person of Jesus to aspirin proportions. I am not saying, "Take this pill and all will be well." I am saying that Jesus longs to set you free from the past. "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36).
Why, then, do some Christians remain in bondage to the past? Why are some restored instantly through prayer while others seem unable to free themselves from the tentacles of sin and hurt which hold them in their grip?
I know no slick answer to these questions and there is no point in "playing God" and pretending that the questions have easy answers. Healing, forgiveness, release and restoration are gifts from God. They are His to give as and when He chooses.
Some people come for the kind of prayer ministry I have described apparently prepared by God to enter into the joy of wholeness and release immediately. It all seems so easy. Others come equally expectant that God can and will work but He seems to entrust them with the more difficult task of growing into wholeness one step at a time. Perhaps this is
because He has many lessons to teach them in the growing process. Maybe He knows that they could not live with a sudden reversal of circumstances but they can cope with the slow process of gradual healing. And who is to say which is the more powerful? Our eyes must always be on the giver, God, and not on the way He chooses to deliver His people. But, of course, if you come to God to ask for forgiveness, you must also be prepared to forgive yourself. It is not permissible for us as Christians so to magnify our sinfulness that we minimize the grace of God. And if you really want the kind of healing I have described, you have to be prepared to walk away from the past with its sin and its pain. In other words, you have to be prepared to move into partnership with God and to grow up as a person and this maturing is not without cost to yourself. But isn't this what Jesus was implying when He said to the woman caught in the act of adultery, "Go and sin no more" (John 8:11)?
The pain of our partner's failures
The thing that troubled Geoff was not his own lost virginity. That was intact. But Caroline, his wife, had slept with a previous partner. Although Geoff wanted to forgive her, he found he could not do it. This lack of forgiveness frightened him and made inroads into their sexual relationship. He frequently felt that Caroline compared his sexual "performance" unfavorably with that of "the other guy." This made Geoff feel insecure and this anxiety had penetrating roots. On the day Caroline had broken the news to Geoff, he had felt betrayed. Could he trust her? Did he still love her? He did and so they married. But he had never faced the initial shock with Christ. He had failed to ask the vital question, "How does the Lord feel about her?" We prayed together and we returned to that grassy bank where Geoff first heard Caroline blurt out that she was not a virgin. In prayer, we asked the Lord to make it clear how He felt about Caroline, about Geoff, about their relationship. It was then that Geoff understood, with the heart and with the mind, that when Caroline confessed to God, He had blotted out her failure. In God's sight she was clean. This realization set Geoff free to
forgive her too. This forgiveness did not erase the old memories, but it removed the sting from those memories. Geoff and Caroline did not play "Let's pretend" "Let's pretend it never happened." Rather, they acknowledged just what did happen. They placed the past into the arms of Christ and walked resolutely away from it. This is healing, reconciliation and growth. It enabled them to enjoy years of satisfying marital sex and to accept one another more fully.
Victims of sexual abuse
This good news, that Jesus' ministry is as effective today as when He walked this earth, stunned Sheila. She feared that she would never marry. She hated any kind of physical closeness and felt that love-making even in marriage would be intolerable. When she was twelve, Sheila had been the victim of attempted rape. Since then, her distrust of men, of touch and of sex had become a part of life, like washing up the breakfast things. Could God break into this situation? He did. For Sheila, there was no re-living of the past. That would have been too painful. It was enough for her to receive the ministry of the laying-on-of-hands and prayer. By means of this prayer, the Lord set her free from the fears of the past and she is now happily married.
I think of another girl, Jenny. She suffered greatly from the early memory of discovering her mother making love to her god-father. After that, Jenny could not bear to watch love scenes on the television or in films. If she stumbled on a couple kissing on a park bench, she fled. It was when she availed herself of specific prayer for this situation that God set her free from paralyzing attitudes. She forgave her mother for it, and she is now able to watch love scenes without panic. She is also learning to give and receive love with greater freedom. The memories are not erased, but they have lost their sting.
Why have I introduced so many damaged people into this chapter? If you did not find yourself in the pages of chapter 7, you may well be asking this question. But if you have suffered, or still hurt as a result of extra-marital sex, you will understand why this chapter is essential to this book. Or it may be
that your sexual wrong turn involved homosexual or perverted practices. The same forgiveness and healing are available. The Lord is able to purge the sins of the past, whatever you have done. He is able to bring you into wholeness even though the way back may be an uphill struggle.
When Jesus met the woman at the well (John 4), He brought her face to face with her problem; adultery. It hurt. She wriggled, but she believed. "Come and see a man who has told me everything I ever did; could this be the Christ?" (v.29)
I believe there is a spiritual principle here. Jesus wants us to give Him access to everything we have ever done, including our sexual indiscretions, including the memories which haunt us because we have been hurt by others. When the light of His presence pervades this darkness, it transforms. We can never claim, "It didn't happen." That would be less than honest. What we can claim is, "It happened to me and the Lord saw, loved and forgave." That assurance brings healing.
People often ask me why specific prayer is necessary. Why do we need the laying-on-of-hands? Surely blanket forgiveness is enough? There is a sense in which the fact that Christ died for you is enough. For some people it clearly is, like Jim whom I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter.
But others seem to need more intimate reassurance. God, in His love and desire for our wholeness, does not withhold that reassurance. Just as He sent Ananias to minister to Paul (Acts 9:17), so He touches us through one another. It is a mystery.
We should not despise those who need specific help for particular needs. No-one can really understand the trauma another person may have experienced through sexual indulgence or assault. We must not criticize. Rather, we must rejoice that God understands, cares and heals. He is like a nurse skillfully anointing the running sores of our lives with water and ointment and love. He is not careless with His nursing, so He does not throw the ointment over us in a hit-and-miss fashion. Each sore which eats at our flesh matters
to Him and can be treated by Him. When you receive this healing, you awaken to the realization that salvation (wholeness) covers not just the sins of the present or the sins of the future, but wholeness reaches back in time to touch and to heal the sins of the past. We are complete in Him.
But, of course, it would be better if we had no need to avail ourselves of this kind of ministry. Prevention is better than cure. And one way to prevent the battering which sexual sin inflicts is to learn to handle the sexual side of a relationship. That is the subject for the next chapter.
Chapter 9 || Table of Contents