How do you know when someone's past really is in the past?

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How do you know when someone's past really is in the past?

Sep 08, 2005 |J. Budziszewski
Question

Professor Theophilus, your reply to the letter about "Having One's Cake and Eating it Too" struck a chord with me. I am engaged to a wonderful Christian man who is a true example of a life redeemed. God gave him His breathtaking beauty in exchange for a mess of ashes. One of the biggest struggles of this relationship is that I've had to decide exactly how much I trust in Christ's work on the cross. What does it mean that He redeems us? Are we still tainted by our sin, or are we completely cleansed? Does He grudgingly forgive us but still make us suffer for our wrong choices?

I've come to realize that I have no room to judge where God has forgiven. My boyfriend used to be homosexual. For a long time after that, he was still addicted to porn. I already knew that long before we dated. Just recently, though, with great hesitation, he confessed another problem to me – a lengthy struggle with masturbation that had stopped only a short time before we started dating. So many thoughts went through my head. What was it that was so hard to say? How would it affect us? It's hard to hear something like that from someone you love and trust. But his past doesn't change who he is now. I can forgive the things in his past because I know and trust the man he has become under God's rule. Thanks for fighting for the truth. I hope that the young lady in “Having One’s Cake and Eating it Too” will be able to find God's faithfulness and sovereignty in her situation as well!

Answer

I’m so sorry to tell you this, but you've read into my words a view that I can't endorse. No doubt God has done wonders in your boyfriend's life. Perhaps your boyfriend has even made as much progress as you think. However, you are utterly mistaken in making your ability to believe this a test of your trust in God's grace. It isn't an article of faith that sanctification takes place all at once. Yes, we can be forgiven all in a moment for repented sins, and yes, we can be healed of our sinful propensities. What you are overlooking, however, is that these are not one thing, but two things.

"Conversion" is a very different thing than the soul's initial turn to Christ, and the cleansing of our inward sinful tendencies may take a long, long time. Think of it this way. A soul is like a house. All in a moment, I open the door of my house to Christ, bidding Him to come in. And so He does. Right away he begins scouring, throwing out trash, and letting in light and fresh air. I imagine that I have made Him the Lord of the manor, but have I? Not necessarily. I may only have given him possession of the entrance hall. After a while — maybe after a very long while — I permit myself to hear his tap-tap-tap on the door of the living room. Reluctantly, I relent and open that door too. He now has possession of both entrance hall and living room. What a relief to get them cleaned up. So has He the whole house at last? No, for even now I am shutting him out of my innermost, secret rooms. Will I ever allow Him to be truly the Lord of the manor? If I do, how long will it take? For most of us, years, and perhaps with great suffering and struggle. This is normal. The suffering is part of the healing, like the pain of dental work. Something like this has been happening with your young man. First he opened the door to the room of his soul where he had been practicing acts of sodomy. Some time later, he opened the door to the room of his soul where he had been using pornography. Later still, he opened the door to the room of his soul where he had been masturbating. Each time he was forgiven. Is it a test of your faith to believe that there are no locked doors left? No, it is a test of your judgment to weigh the matter carefully.

Your young man has relinquished his sexual sins only gradually. The most recent step in this process took place quite recently, after you had already known and trusted him for a long time without having a clue about the problem. What doors has he yet to unlock? Do you know? Are you even in a position to know? Consider this point too. When a sin is repented and forgiven, the guilt of the sin is gone, cut out, utterly vanished. However, the damage of the sin remains. Already-forgiven sexual sins, for example, may leave not only damage in the body, but deep stains in the imagination and desires, as well as injuries in the part of us that loves the truth. These stains and injuries generate stronger-than-usual temptations to relapse into the sins themselves. Just as it may take a long time to yield every category of sin to Christ for His forgiveness, so it make take a long time for the Holy Spirit to repair the damage of already-forgiven sin, and to heal those pre-existing weaknesses which make us susceptible. This too may involve great suffering and struggle. You haven't asked for my advice. Forgive me, but because I am writing for others too, I'll advise you anyway. Not about whether the young man has come far enough to marry — who am I to say yes or no? I can't tell you that, but I can certainly tell you something else. Your duty is not to believe that he is marriageable, but to weigh whether he is marriageable. To be more careful about him than you have been is not to mistrust Christ's work of redemption, it is to recognize how redemption actually works. So far, you have been following your feelings about your boyfriend but calling them faith in God. You have been giving yourself a theological excuse not to exercise discernment. This has to stop.

Grace and peace,
PROFESSOR THEOPHILUS

Copyright 2005 Professor Theophilus. All rights reserved.

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