A young man recently emailed this question in to the Ask Pastor John podcast:
Pastor John, I want to propose to my girlfriend, and as I prepare for marriage, thoughts of my past mistakes come to mind. I think back to women I slept with before I was saved, and mistakes I made with my current girlfriend who I will, Lord willing, marry. People often speak of the purity to be saved for marriage, and how terrible it is to squander that. What truths do you have to share with a man or woman such as myself, struggling with regret related to past sexual mistakes and their current consequences in the context of marriage and engagement?
Here’s a transcribed excerpt from Pastor John’s answer in Wednesday’s episode, “When Past Sexual Sin Haunts Your Wedding” (Episode 336).
I think the main thing I want to say is this: Virginity is a precious gift that you cannot give to your fiancé, nor she you. That is a great sadness and a great loss.
But there are gifts you can give her, and God will multiply those gifts so wonderfully that the loss will not be destructive.
You said that you have heard people say, Save yourself sexually for marriage. It is a terrible thing to squander that. Well, I say: Yes, yes, yes — that is exactly right. That is exactly what I think Paul and Jesus would counsel any virgin: “Flee fornication” (1 Corinthians 6:18).
Your body belongs to God as a single person, and it will belong to your future spouse. It would be good to think about 1 Corinthians 7:3–4, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights” — that means sex — “and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.”
In other words, you belong to each other — to no one else. You belong to God in your singleness, united to him in your body by the Spirit. And you belong to God in marriage, through union with your spouse. That is a precious, biblical gift that should be presented in marriage.
That is a gift you don’t have to give. And you will want to teach your children to have it.
So, what is the gift you do have to give to this fiancé with whom you have had sexual relations? What gift can you give her that God might be pleased to make so wonderful that the gift you can’t give her will not destroy it?
And here it is. You can look your fiancé in the eye and say this:
I failed you. I failed God. And I am deeply, deeply sorry. I hate what I did. I hate the hurt it caused you and me. I hate the dishonor that I brought upon the Lord. I hate the disrespect I showed you in not caring for you better. And I repent.
I turn away from that sin and the sinful forces that drove it. I renounce them. And I turn to Jesus Christ my Lord and my Redeemer. And I receive from him his full and blood-bought forgiveness. And I cherish it with all my heart.
I tremble at the thought of despising his blood now. And by the Spirit that he has given me, I resolve in his strength never, never, never to betray him or to give my body to any woman but to my wife.
I offer you my forgiven, redeemed, cleansed soul and body in marriage to cherish you and honor you and be faithful to you. I invite you into this new, forgiven, redeemed, cleansed union with me. I know there will always be scars and the memories. But God is merciful, and in his time and his wisdom and his way he will make these scars of sin the emblem of his mercy and the signs of his cross.
That is the wonderful gift you can give to your fiancé. And I pray that God will seal that gift for both of you.