My girlfriend and I are both virgins, but in past relationships both of us have been physically intimate in ways which were seriously sinful. We have talked about it and have agreed to hold ourselves to a higher standard of physical purity than we had in the past. So far we have succeeded.
It would seem that things are on the right track. But sometimes I still feel angry toward her for what she has done with other guys in the past. At the same time, I am unable to let go of the guilt of my own sins in past relationships.
I know that we have both repented and that God has forgiven us, and that we should be able to move past it, but sometimes I really feel unable to forgive her and forgive myself. I know it is wrong of me to feel that way — I should be able to take joy in God's grace and forgiveness — but I can't seem to help it.
Perhaps you could write an article about moving beyond sexual (or otherwise physically intimate) sins, for those of us who have repented but find it difficult to move on without thinking about the past. As Paul wrote, love "keeps no record of wrongs," and I want very much to apply that toward my situation.
Since you say that you know that God has forgiven you both, what you're really asking is, "When will, or how can, I emotionally feel like I've forgiven her and that God has forgiven me?" That's a very honest and appropriate question about forgiveness. Let me give you a few thoughts to help you navigate these waters.
My hunch is that you're still viewing the whole picture of your past behavior and your girlfriend's past behavior from your side of the ledger, rather than from God's. If I'm right, then your views of your past behavior could be better described as "sadness" or "disappointment," but not "sinful" or "heartbreaking to God." As a result, rather than truly repent, you've really just "felt bad" or "felt guilty" about it, as in, "I really wish I hadn't done that," rather than, "Oh, God, my choices must have broken Your heart! Please forgive me!"
Am I getting warm?
Here's why I think you might have stopped short of true repentance. True repentance bears fruit, and looks like this: it offers nothing to God but spiritual poverty and a desperate heart desiring to change. It results in humility, gratitude, and a deep compassion for others who have or who are experiencing the same sin and blindness. Given that you conducted yourself in exactly the same way as your girlfriend did previous to meeting one another, your anger toward her isn't anger, it's really judgment of her, and is pride at its worst. "You, therefore, have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges," Paul said in Romans 2:1, "For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things."
Your anger would more appropriately be directed at Satan, who deceived both of you into believing that your behavior would have no negative repercussions. Rather than anger towards your girlfriend, your heart should be broken for her because — just like you — she was blind to the hurt she was exposing herself to. Be thankful that God has graciously opened her eyes (and yours) to the truth that you now are walking in.
Forgiveness is two things (probably more, but we'll focus on two): It is a decision to act, and it is a miracle. It involves your will; and it asks God for a miracle in your heart. We need a miracle to be able to forgive, because we are not naturally inclined to do it. Our "flesh," or our old nature (that which is self-led rather than Christ-led), is incapable of forgiving. To forgive requires surrendering yourself entirely to God and His economy. And since forgiveness is something God wants us to experience and walk in, we can confidently ask for His help in truly forgiving.
The prayer, "Lord, help me truly forgive X," is the kind of prayer God longs to answer. So start praying that (or some variation). Part of His answer might be that God gives you a revelation of your own spiritual poverty, reminding you how miraculous it is that He has forgiven you, resulting in deep gratitude and humility in your heart, rather than judgment of someone else's behavior.
I suggest you take some of these thoughts back to your prayer closet, and see what happens.
One more thing. The consequences of past sin can sometimes continue even after true repentance and forgiveness, but that doesn't nullify the forgiveness. You can simultaneously regret your past sins, be thankful for what you learned by them, pray that the lesson would be used to make you more like Christ, and rejoice that God has forgiven you and that He works all things for good for those who love him.
Copyright 2006 John Thomas. All rights reserved.