By David and Flora Tant
A careful look at what happens when young people choose to ignore the moral guidelines that have been given to us by our Creator for our protection and for our ultimate good.
This is an important subject — especially today. Young people (and older folks, too) are bombarded with the world’s (Satan’s) standards of morality, or immorality. The values and moral standards which were endorsed by most Americans in years past are now ridiculed and/or ignored by many. Teaching on sexual purity before and after marriage is no longer held before young people as a law of God nor even an ideal goal to strive for. So-called sexual freedom is flaunted as the norm among teen agers and adults and often those are ridiculed who expect and encourage young people to remain virgins until marriage. God’s law is plain: “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body; but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body” (1 Cor. 6:18).
God, our Creator, knows our needs and what is best for us, his creation. He is not a cosmic killjoy. Behind each negative Bible command are two positive principles. One is to protect us, the other is to provide for us. God has “good” planned for us and does not want us to do something that will bring pain to us and to others. To illustrate this, consider an owner’s manual that comes with an automobile. I may want to change the oil once a year. That takes less time, and would seem to cost less. But the Owner’s Manual says to change the oil every 5,000 miles. Now, if I have good sense, I understand that the manufacturer knows better how to care for it than I do. Following their advice will save me much grief and expense. And we have also come with an Owner’s Manual — the Bible. It may seem good to enjoy the pleasure of sex before marriage, but the “Owner’s Manual” disagrees. So, whose judgment should we consider — ours or God’s? God’s motivation in dealing with us is love. “God is love” (1 John 4:16). He is the author of love, and he knows all about it. God is not anti-sex. He created sex and said it was good, but he gave rules with it. Rules in any realm are to protect us and give us freedom to enjoy the activity we are engaging in, whether it be sports or whatever. Can you imagine a ball game without rules, where everyone does just what he wants to do? We have one basic rule from God with reference to sexual activity. That is, “Wait until marriage.”
Look at God’s design and plan for our happiness. When we have faith in a powerful and all wise God, we obey without always understanding the reason behind the command. But in this area of sexual conduct, God has provided evidence that his way is best in words and principles taught throughout the Bible.
Consider four areas of life that will be greatly affected by our choices of sexual behavior. Look first at the effects of unchastity, so that we can know how to deal with these consequences. There are physical, spiritual, emotional, and relational effects of an immoral lifestyle.
We saw in 1 Corinthians 6:18 that sex before marriage is a sin against the body. Sinning against the body means losing respect for your body, as well as the body of the one you are involved with. Once respect is lost, it becomes easier to indulge in promiscuous sex. Losing respect then leads to a warped view of love and centers the definition of love around the physical. The emotional needs which God created are not met in casual sex but in the loving commitment of a mate. Only in marriage is it possible for sexual relationships to reaffirm the dignity and uniqueness of each sex partner. Sex combined with love in marriage makes us want to give to our mate — not take. Waiting as God commands gives peace of mind which affects our physical health. We don’t experience the stress of worrying about unwanted pregnancies, or sexually transmitted diseases that could kill or cripple us or our children. Now, of course, the “safe sex” campaign across our country fools many into a false peace of mind. Birth control methods are sometimes unreliable, and the high rate of failure for condoms is not understood among many teens. At best, among those who are sexually active, one in six condoms will fail, and at worst one in three. That’s the same or worse odds as in Russian Roulette, which is a pretty stupid game. And of course the pill offers no protection whatsoever against STDs.
Fifty years ago, teens were warned about two STDs (called “venereal diseases” then): syphilis and gonor- rhea. What has our newfound sexual freedom brought? There are now over 50 STDs, and AIDS is not the only one that kills. And others can cripple and/ or make life miserable. (Herpes is not a picnic.) Some cause birth defects that pass a parent’s foolish decision on to an innocent child. Furthermore, that sperm that causes pregnancy can get through a tiny tear or pinhole in a condom. But the virus that causes AIDS is up to 300 to 400 times smaller than the sperm. So what does that same tear or hole look like to the AIDS virus? It looks like a train tunnel! Dr. Koop, former U.S. Surgeon General, doubts that there will ever be an AIDS cure. It is a virus, and we have never cured any virus, not even the common cold. And do you know about cervical cancer, a disease that is proven to be more prevalent among sexually active teenage girls?
God blesses purity. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). “Watch your heart with all diligence, for from it spring the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). “We are to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil” (Rom. 16:19). “Abstain from sexual immorality . . . God has called us for purity” (1 Thess. 4:3-5, 7). Clearly God’s word forbids any type of sex outside of marriage. There are spiritual consequences any time we disobey God. “God will judge fornicators and adulterers” (Heb.13:4). Sexual sins brought destruction to Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. Many Bible characters committed sexual sins and were judged by God. Great trouble and grief came to Lot and his daughters, to Shechem, Reuben, Judah and Tamar, Samson and David. Judgment from God may be immediate as in the death of David’s son or come in future consequences we will face.
Medical science may eliminate or lessen some consequences of my sin, but it cannot remove my accountability before God. Sin separates us from God (Isa. 59:1-2; Hos. 5:6). It causes us to be a bad influence on others, both Christians and non-Christians. Sexual purity is a way to show respect for others and to confirm their dignity as human beings. It is impossible to show someone the love of God while engaging in immorality with that person. When we maintain sexual purity, we can be channels of God’s love and can accurately represent him to others.
Patience is a fruit of the Spirit, and “against such there is no law” (Gal.5:23). Waiting for something builds excitement, as in waiting for a birth- day. Sex is something we wait our whole life for until we finally partake of it. A godly character results from patience and perseverance. When we wait for sex till the proper time and place, our character is developed and self-esteem is built. We develop self-control which is required to live a godly life. Waiting builds trust, and God’s plan is for marriage to be built on a basic trust factor. Sexual involvement almost always wipes out trust in a relationship. In surveys conducted, it is found that “sexual intimacy produces more broken relationships than strengthened ones.”
God’s plan gives protection from being put on a performance basis. When put on a performance basis with another person, one is accepted only if he acts or does something the way the other person wants. They are respected not for who they are, but for what they do. Their value and dignity is lost. A boy says, “I love you if you will have sex with me” or “because you are pretty, “rather than “I love you.” That is conditional love, and is worthless for building a committed relationship. Without the committed bonds of marriage, sex is inherently a selfish act done for personal satisfaction or gain. We must continue to please for the relationship to continue and that leaves one in a constant state of insecurity. God protects us from being put on a performance basis by reserving sex for the commitment of marriage. Are you aware of the various studies that show that sexual satisfaction is much greater in marriage than in uncommitted relationships? Why is it this way? Could it be that God knew what he was doing when he created us, and ordained the marriage relationship as the place for fulfillment?
The emotional baggage that often comes with premarital sex includes sexual dysfunctions in marriage. Many end up in counseling or therapy to deal with problems related to “teenage” sex. Studies have shown that premarital sex also increases the rate of cheating after marriage. Teens don’t know that when they are young, but God knew it when he gave the rules in his “Owner’s Manual.”
Guilt is another consequence of violating God’s standard of chastity until marriage. This has long term effects on future relationships in marriage, and may haunt and affect a person longer than any other consequence. To have the sex act linked with guilt in one’s emotions because of premarital activity, causes the joy intended by God for husband and wife to be robbed and clouded. For example, a couple I know has been married over 50 years, and sex has never had any meaning for her. Premarital sex did its damage. Guilt is an awareness of having transgressed a standard of right and wrong. Or it may be just a lingering doubt of thinking that some act was wrong.
Our society is plagued by those two kinds of guilt. The first is a moral guilt, which Christians are subject to, which tells us specifically when we have stepped outside God’s boundaries of conduct. It is a conscious awareness of specific transgressions. The other kind of guilt might be called a floating sense of guilt. One psychologist says, “It is indeed amazing that in a fundamentally irreligious culture as ours, the sense of guilt should be so widespread and deep-rooted as it is.” This floating guilt he spoke of comes from a society that says there is no absolute right and wrong. Rather than producing freedom as many claim they are seeking, such are in a constant turmoil. “Are these things I’m doing right or wrong?” These people have no standard, therefore no direction in their lives and are constantly adrift. Yes, they are free — as free as a ship at sea without a rudder. Christians have the Bible which gives direction and guidance to lives and tells of God’s character. (Illustration: A farmer was asked which was better — raising cattle on open grazing land, in a pasture, or in a corral. His reply was, “Well, on open grazing land they are always subject to attack from wild animals or they could wander off and be lost. In a corral they are safe, but somebody has to take care of them. In a fenced pasture, the cattle have everything they need. They are protected, yet have the freedom to graze.”).
The Bible defines our pasture. God has placed intelligent boundaries around us to keep us “home” and to keep away those who would prey on us, yet within those boundaries we have freedom to make choices. Deep down, young people want boundaries. We have seen those who had no rules, no curfews, who could make all their own decisions, but who wanted some guidance.
God has set marriage as the proper place for sex. We are protected within this boundary. Husbands and wives don’t have to be concerned with catching diseases; they are unselfish and open in expressing their sexual needs to one another. They can plan for the family they want and when children come, they are counted as blessings from God, not reminders of a grave mistake. Again, God protects us from shame and guilt, and gives us joy in the sexual union of marriage.
Misleading feelings is another emotional effect of fornication. This often comes from confusion between sex and love. Sex outside of marriage turns the relationship upside down and mixes emotions to the point of misinterpreting feelings. When we mix sex and love, we confuse the concepts of giving and taking. Personal selfish reasons cause premarital sex to take, but sometimes the taking may be confused as giving. A girl gives in to have the security the boy provides, or maybe the popularity achieved in being “his” girlfriend. Many times young people are misled by these emotions and think they really are in love.” The sex is so powerful that it creates a strong emotional bond often when there is little in common and little basis for a lasting relationship. Those mixed up feelings are destructive in a dating relationship and can have tragic consequences if the relationship progresses to marriage. God’s plan protects us from the devastating effects those confused emotions bring. Sex does not constitute love. As Christians, we are to develop agape love, the kind God has for us that gives with no expectation of getting something in return. The 1 Corinthians 13 model of love does not describe emotional feelings, but rather acts of the will. Love is primarily an act of the will, but has tremendous emotional overtones because it has to do with how we relate to people. Our actions of love are tied to our emotions because relation- ships naturally have emotional bonds. Likewise sex has a powerful emotional aspect because God meant for it to be a joining of soul and mind as well as a physical union. That involves the moral conscience which can inflict pain after the physical pleasure is gone, unless the two have become one in marriage. Marital sex is a model of God’s provision to draw us closer to one another and to him.
The hardship of breaking off the relationship is another consequence. The pain that comes when one breaks up with a sexual partner is often an emotionally terrible tear- ing apart. Even when a couple realizes that fornication is sinful, they may try to find ways to justify the relationship because of the emotional bond formed between them. Sex forms a bond that exists when the rest of the relationship is bad. We see evidence of that when a girl stays with a partner who physically abuses her, and who often treats her like dirt.
Then there is the effect of psychological and emotional distress that comes. Premarital sex has a serious adverse effect on the self image of the partners. Rather than joy, an emotionally crippling guilt seems to be the companion of permissive sex. Sex is such a definite experience that a part of each of us remains forever a part of the other. The effects of this “casual investment” on the mind and emotions is far reaching. Humiliation and a poor self image come to many after sleeping with a person who never calls back or breaks off the relationship. “Let marriage be held in honor . . . and let the bed be undefiled” (Heb. 13:14). One partner accepts sex as love and directs his or her love toward the other. But anger and rejection come when love is not returned. Resentment and bitterness often come toward the other person, as well as blaming that one for causing you to violate your standards.
We have shared our very bodies and souls with another and when we don’t find meaning in the relationship we feel that we have been stripped of our dignity and self worth. One reason God gives his loving commands is so our dignity will be preserved. That dignity is the sense of nobility, worthiness and honor God puts in everyone. That is a concept unique to human beings and makes us more than animals. The Bible spells out in numerous passages the inherent dignity and value in each person. That dignity and value come because we are handmade by God in his image — God’s spiritual and moral image (Gen. 1:27). If young people can understand that and realize that they are valuable to their parents and to God, it can help them in overcoming the false assumptions of evolution that we are mere animals and, therefore, must behave like animals.
Some try to justify sexual experience before marriage as profitable to see if the two are compatible, but studies show a greater incidence of divorce among couples who are sexually active before marriage. Often these first experiences are not pleasurable and leave greater emotional scars that must be dealt with in marriage. Emotional damage almost always comes as a result of fornication and adultery. There has been a great increase in teenage suicide in recent years as sexual promiscuity has increased, along with increased pregnancy, abortion and STDs. Certainly this unrestrained lifestyle is one factor of the high suicide rate.
Unequal levels of commitment is an effect that is nearly always present in premarital sex and can bring emotional devastation. Especially for girls and women, the sex act has a psychologically binding effect. Sex increases the feeling of closeness to the partner. When this is not shared, one partner is always vulnerable to rejection. “What if I don’t please him any longer?” If the boy is not as committed, the girl may feel she is merely being used by the guy to fulfill his physical lust. God’s design for marriage brings protection against emotional suffering and builds self esteem as we realize we are unique creatures made in the image of our Creator. The sexual bonding as he created it in marriage is for our good. A young person who uses self control to say “no” to sex outside of marriage is building discipline and security into future relationships, because waiting gives your mind and body time to mature. If we do not learn to develop self-control before marriage, it makes it easier for a lack of self-control to lead to extra-marital affairs after marriage. Various studies have confirmed this fact.
Consider the sad case of a 31-year-old woman I talked to whose life is filled with guilt. She began having sex at age 19. She has admitted to having sex with five different men. She has never been married, but would like very much to be married. When I asked her why she began having sex, she said it was to create a bond, hoping that she would be able to hold on to her boyfriend. I asked her, “Did it work?” “No,” she admitted. “Then why do you think it’s going to work now?” She didn’t have an answer. I repeated to her the old adage, “Why should he buy the cow when he gets the milk free?”
God teaches that our body is the dwelling place of God, described in 1 Corinthians 6 as a temple of the Holy Spirit. Sexual immorality disgraces God’s temple.
There are relational reasons to wait for sex until marriage. For one thing, sex hinders communication. Sex is often the easy way out to those who have never learned to communicate intimately apart from the physical. Efforts to really get to know the person and their likes and dislikes are often hindered when sexual activity starts. Sex becomes the focus, and other aspects of the relationship have no chance to develop. And a relationship based solely on sex is in trouble, for you can spend only so much time in bed. When we delay physical involvement till its proper time, we allow the relationship to grow and mature. Friendship lays the foundation for love to blossom. By obeying God’s plan to wait for sex, a couple can discover other ways to communicate that will do much in building a healthy relationship.
There is the involuntary comparison of sex partners. This is very harmful to both partners as they deal with mental flashbacks of earlier sexual encounters. These can be frustrating, disturbing and destructive to a couple who later desire to experience God’s plan for true intimacy and love in their marriage. Minds are like computers, as all information is stored there. Intimate sexual encounters which involve senses of sight, sound and touch are not easily erased. Memories are called to mind by association. Something from within us (thoughts, feelings, actions) or from without (through our five senses) remind us of something similar from the past. If these earlier experiences involve hurt, pain, mistrust, exploitation, or guilt, then permanent scars are left which carry over into marriage. This is one reason rape and incest are so devastating in people’s lives. The most important sex organ God gave us is the mind. When two people learn about sex together for the first time within marriage, they are creating vivid and unforgettable memories. These are positive memories that bind two people together in a loving, trusting union without any interferences from the past.
There are damaged family relationships as a result of sex before marriage. Often premarital sex is justified “because we are getting married anyway.” But studies have shown that there are twice as many broken engagements among those couples and those are the ones more likely to be divorced or separated or to engage in adultery. One of the things God protects is the trust and assurance of fidelity that a proper sexual union brings.
There are children who come as a result of fornication and adultery. “Safe sex” is very often not safe as a prevention of pregnancy. Then a child is born without the proper foundation for nurturing that should be there. The exploding violence among teens has a direct relationship to children born out of wedlock and raised by a single parent. What God intended as a blessing of man and woman’s love brings shame, embarrassment, and trouble.
Damaged relationships with parents also come as a result of unlawful sexual behavior. Godly, loving parents can forgive (and must do so), but they will experience hurt and pain for the young people who have strayed from the boundaries God has established.
Last, there is often disappointment and regret at lost virginity. When we lose something we know is valuable, we feel regret. I do not know how many young people have told me, “I wish I had waited.” God’s way to protect us from that is to reserve sex for marriage. There is no chance of heartache later when our first sexual experience is with the person we will spend our lives with. When we wait until the wedding night, we have a most special gift that has been reserved for our chosen lifelong companion. We establish a bond of trust and love that has no equal. God’s design to limit sex to marriage protects us from hurting each other and provides the proper setting in which to express love through sex.
The story is told of a 15-year-old boy who looked and looked for a special girl for the true love of his life. He finally settled on a beautiful ring, and gave it to her as a token of his love. And as usually happens at that age, in a few months there was another “true love.” Again he looked and looked, but could find nothing more beautiful than the same ring he had given before. As you might suspect, the same thing happened a few more times during his teen years. And then at 22 he did find his genuine true love. He looked and looked and looked to find a special gift for her on their wedding day. But all he could find was the same ring, which by now had lost its special significance. I think you get the point. There is no gift as special and sacred as the giving of one’s body. But if we give it again and again before giving it to our marriage companions it will have lost its sacred meaning.
Now, we have seen some of the effects of unchastity and great emotional consequences that come with this sin. But as with all sin, God’s forgiveness is freely given as we repent. We know in his eyes there are no big and little sins, and we know his love and power is great to help us over- come and deal with whatever consequences may come.
We know these things intellectually, but often the problem is we’re not able to forgive self. We may feel we are “damaged goods,” and can never be worthy to make a good husband or wife, or we may be married and still experiencing some of the guilt and emotional scars that come from unlawful sex either before or after marriage. We may feel cheap, used, unworthy of God’s forgiveness and love.
But we must not limit God’s power to forgive and the cleansing effects of Jesus’ death on the cross. His blood was poured out for all sinners — those who crucified him as well as us. God’s forgiveness never ends. We can come to him at any time for any reason and he promises to cleanse and make us whole again as we bring our lives into conformity with his will.
Dealing With This Sin
Four things are necessary in dealing with this and every sin.
1. Admit that we have sinned and repent as Jesus commanded in Luke 13:3. Repentance is a change of direction or course of action in our lives. God gives us strength to leave old ways behind and start on new paths. Our part is repentance; God’s part is forgiveness.
2. We must accept God’s forgiveness. He is willing and able and has promised to forgive. God always keeps his promises. When we accept his forgiveness, we accept his grace and Jesus’ death as sufficient payment for our sins. If we reject God’s forgiveness, we reject his grace and consider ourselves beyond forgiveness. We say God is not almighty and that he is unable to cope with the magnitude of what we have done. But God forgives and doesn’t keep a score-card. “God is faithful to forgive and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). For those who have never been baptized into Christ, this forgiveness comes upon the confession of our faith in Christ, and our immersion in water (baptism). The Scriptures clearly teach this in Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6:3-5, etc. If this has already been done, and one has fallen into sin, a confession of sin and a determination to turn from it will cause God to hear our prayer for forgiveness (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9).
3. When God forgives us, we must forgive self. If you were the only person alive, Christ would have died for you alone. Do you really believe that? If you were the only person alive and you sinned, as Adam and Eve did, God would provide a Redeemer for you, just as he promised Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:15). If Christ could love you that much and be willing to forgive you, then surely you can learn to forgive yourself.
In living as a Christian, we fail from time to time. Yet every day God is waiting to forgive us. Accepting the fact that we sin doesn’t mean we should wallow in unworthiness. God wants to lift us up and set us free from guilt. Only in that assurance can we again be useful in his service. Jesus’ death on the cross is the good news of forgiveness to those who crucified him as well as to us who crucify him anew every time we sin. Christ didn’t come to save the righteous, but to save sinners (Mark 2: 17; Luke 19:10). He isn’t interested in our proving to him how good we are. His message is forgiveness. He wipes the record clean. Spiritually we are a virgin again in God’s eyes so we must see self as now clean, not tarnished.
4. We must show fruits of repentance (Matt. 3:8). If we are repenting, we are turning, changing in actions and thoughts. If we are single, it may mean breaking off a relationship, staying away from certain temptation. If we are married, we may have some of the same temptations to deal with, but we may just need to develop and exercise self-control, to “think on right things,” not old sins of the past (Phil. 4:8; Rom. 12:1-2).
Next, don’t let Satan deceive you into believing, “Well, I blew it, so how can I help others?” Instead, we can use our time and influence to help other young people avoid sexual sins. You can tell them of the bad consequences that come better than one who has not fallen in that area. God can use a forgiven sinner, as we all are, to help accomplish his will in the lives of others.
Lastly, God can give us help in remolding our lives by reshaping our mind from within. He has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). He has given us his truth (John 8:32). He has given us the power of his Holy Spirit (Eph. 3:20). He has given us his people (Gal. 6:1, 2).
(This material has come from our own observations in dealing with thousands of young people through the years, as well as from material prepared by Josh McDowell, Patsy Dawson and others. David Tant is an evangelist working with the Roswell Church of Christ, 11670 King Road, Roswell, GA.)