Question:

Please help me. I have been living in fear of sin for so many years now, and the weight of it is becoming more than I can bear. I have nobody I can talk to about this, and you are really the only people I can ask about this issue.

I have had premarital sex with my boyfriend, and I know this was very wrong of us. I know that God will forgive me for fornication, but I am afraid that my situation is a bit tricky.

At the time that we had sex, we had chosen to keep that sin between me, my boyfriend, and God; thus, making it a private sin that could be taken care of (I do not mean this flippantly) without bringing others into the mix (such as not confessing it in front of others). As time went on, I told some of my friends about us having sex when it would come up in conversation. I am very worried about this.

If I repented for the sin before telling any of my friends, I know God will have forgiven me and will have forgotten the sin. By talking about it, it would not make it a public sin.

I have had sex with him many times, and while I have repented now, I do not know that I repented every time after we had sex. If I did not repent, and then I told a friend about it, do I need to go to that friend in addition to God and my boyfriend to ask for forgiveness?

Most of this happened a year ago, and I cannot be sure that I repented each time before I said anything to a friend. I know that correcting our sins does not need to be brought before the entire congregation, if it did not involve the whole congregation. If I sin against a brother, I can go to that brother and ask his forgiveness and pray to God for forgiveness. Is this the case for my situation?

In telling a friend of my sin while I was still in sin, did I sin against my friend? I am also afraid that I could have acted excited about my sin (and I know that is wrong), and I worry that this is bringing reproach on the church and warrants a confession in front of the whole congregation. I don't remember who all I told and some that I do remember, we are not friends any more (for unrelated reasons), and it would be weird to get ahold of them. Do I really need to go to them and tell them that my boyfriend and I have repented and are not having sex anymore? I do not want to bring reproach on the church, but I do not want to go to my elders about this either.

Did I make my sin of fornication a public sin when I talked to my friends before repenting? What do I do if I cannot remember if I prayed for forgiveness before I talked to them? Do I have to go to my friends and tell them we've quit having sex, and what do I do if I cannot remember who I've told? When I told them, I never implied that we would continue to have sex, if it matters. I only told them of things I had done, never intending to imply that I would continue to commit that sin.

I'm sorry for so many questions. I have been worried for so long about this and I'm so exhausted from it. I want to be sure of my salvation and quit living in fear. Please, please help me.


Answer:

You seem to be confused on a number of points.

Repentance

First, let's talk about what repentance really is. Repentance begins with a regret for things done in the past. The sorrow itself is not repentance, but it is an attitude that leads the individual to repent. "For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death" (II Corinthians 7:10).

But sorrow is useless if it doesn't cause an improvement in a person's life. Our prisons are filled with people who are sorry they were caught, but they do not change their lives -- as evidenced by their return to their same sins when they leave prison. The word repentance means to change you direction. It can be seen in Acts 26:20, "but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance." In fact the word "repent" in the Greek comes from a military term for doing an "about face." Any change will not do. The direction which we chose to face is important. "We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them" (Acts 14:15). This is why Paul called repentance a sorrow that leads toward salvation in II Corinthians 7:10. If we stay in our sins, we will die because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). We must regret our past enough to change our behavior.

It is not a hidden change. Our lives will be so altered that even non-Christians will notice the change. "Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation" (I Peter 2:11-12). You can see this change in the Corinthians. "For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter" (II Corinthians 7:11).

The drive behind this change in behavior comes from a change in attitude toward our sin. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:7). Notice that there is both a change in behavior and a change in thoughts.

Nowhere do you find God demanding a repentance of each individual act of sin. A former thief has to given up stealing and change his mind about the acceptableness of stealing. To repent of fornication means you are determined to stop having sex outside of marriage and you no longer think that doing so was ever acceptable in the past or in the future.

It appears to me that in the past you really didn't change your mind about your sin. You told people that you were having sex, but not in a context of stating that you had done wrong. At times you said you were happy about committing this sin. It is this reason why your sin continued for so long. You knew technically that it was wrong, but you had not changed your mind about it, so when the temptation came again, you were willing to sin again.

Confession

The purpose of confession is to face the fact that we sinned -- that we are not going to hide from that fact. Unacknowledged sin destroys us internally. "When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer. I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and You forgave the iniquity of my sin." (Psalms 32:3-5). Confession is made to the ones we harmed by our sins. Since all sins are against God, the first and most important confession we need to make is to Him.

"This is the message which we have heard from him and announce to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and don't tell the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we haven't sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" (I John 1:5-10).

Often the one in sin realizes how badly his sin affected his relationship with God and so he desires the support of his fellow Christians in approaching God. You can see this with Simon.

"Now when Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, saying, "Give me also this power, that whoever I lay my hands on may receive the Holy Spirit." But Peter said to him, "May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart isn't right before God. Repent therefore of this, your wickedness, and ask God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity." Simon answered, "Pray for me to the Lord, that none of the things which you have spoken happen to me"" (Acts 8:18-24).

This is why we read in James: "Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16). That is why we allow opportunities for people to come before the congregation. It is so others can pray on the behalf of the sinner that God will forgive them.

But along with that we realize that our actions impact other people. When our actions harm someone else, we should approach them to admit our wrong and ask for their forgiveness. Now sometimes our sin is so widely known that it is easier to tell the whole congregation at once so that everyone knows that you have changed your attitude toward your sin and are changing your behavior. Nothing requires a confession before a congregation, it is traditionally offered to make it easier to let people know you are a changed person.

However, this notion of a public sin versus a private sin is not found in the pages of the Scriptures.

Thus, what you should be focusing on is totally changing your life. People who meet you five years from now should look at you in surprise if they hear you used to commit fornication. Your old friends when they meet you should be shocked that you are not the same person they remembered. "Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles -- when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you" (I Peter 4:1-4).

And if you meet someone who was embolden to commit fornication because you used to do it, you have to be brave enough to sit down and explain that, yes, you did sin before but you've changed and then explain to them why you were wrong in the past.

If a fellow Christian comes up to you concerned because she heard you had committed fornication, you have to be brave enough to admit that, yes, it did happen to your shame and then explain how you came out of that sin and how you've changed.