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How Should Christians Respond to Past Sexual Misconduct?

When I decided to talk more openly about my promiscuous premarital past, I did so with great trepidation. What if someone from my past emerged and told about their sexual experience with me? What if someone came forward with their story and it cast me in a bad light?

What if my past came back to haunt me?

That hasn’t happened yet. I suppose it still could, but I haven’t had to address any of that so far. Over time, that worry faded away.

However, some news stories recently made me revisit this question — how would I respond if someone come forward with information about a sexual encounter from my promiscuous days?

How Should Christians Respond to Past Sexual Misconduct? + illustration of large finger pointing at person

Now let me be incredibly clear: I have never — NEVER — assaulted anyone, nor have I ever engaged in any kind of sexual activity with a minor (except when I was also a minor). I also don’t believe that I’ve ever harassed anyone.

But could someone embarrass me with a memory from my past? Yeah, I suppose they could.

Yet it doesn’t really matter if someone airs the sins of my past. Why? Because:

1. I own my sins. Yeah, I was a selfish person, an emotional disaster, and a sinner. If someone said, “You did X” and it was true, I’d respond, “Yep, I sure did.” No denials, excuses, no defenses.

2. I’m forgiven. Not only am I forgiven by a loving God who responds to confession and repentance with unfailing mercy — He made me a new creation. I’m really and truly not that person anymore.

3. I’ve helped others. By being transparent about my past, I’ve set the stage for others to do the same and thus discover what healing and beauty lies on the other side of redemption. My story has enabled me to give hope to spouses who need and want to let go of their sexual baggage — assuring them it can be done and God longs for you to have amazing sexual intimacy, regardless of your past sins.

God longs for you to have amazing sexual intimacy regardless of your past sins. Share on X

It’s coming from that place that I want to talk about the current climate of sexual accusations and how we should respond.Because I know full well that I’m not without sin and don’t need to be casting stones (see John 8:7).

So what is the Christian response to an accurate allegation of past sexual misbehavior?

1. Own your sins.

Ecclesiastes 7:20 says, “Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.” Not you, not me. We’re all sinners. So why do people try to deny when they messed up royally, sinned against others, and left scars in their wake? You’re not fooling anybody!

You’re certainly not fooling God. As Jeremiah 16:17 says, “My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes.” I like how the NLT translates this verse: “I am watching them closely, and I see every sin. They cannot hope to hide from me.”

Take the apostle Paul as an example. There’s a guy who had every reason not to trumpet, “Hey, I was once in a club that killed you people!” And yet, he was open about his sinful past; for instance, telling the Galatians, “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it” (1:13). And in Acts 22, he addresses a large crowd (actually an angry mob) and recounts his conversation: “‘‘Lord,’ I replied, ‘these people know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’” Yep, he owned it.

2. Apologize to those you hurt.

A long time ago, I wrote a post titled A Letter to a Former Lover. In it, I apologize for my part in a premarital sexual relationship that never should have happened. This sentence encapsulates how I felt: “I cheated myself and I cheated you out of what God desired for us sexually.”

If confronted by someone you hurt with your actions, the right response is to apologize. Too often we are concerned about protecting ourselves and our current lives. Some may even cite family as a reason not to admit your guilt and ask for forgiveness. I understand that, but are we sufficiently concerned about how our actions have affected their family? How it’s affected their marriage?

Hebrews 12:14 says, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Do everything you can to make peace with those you’ve hurt or offended. Even if they messed up too, apologize for your part.

3. Tell your redemption story.

Is there anything more inspirational than someone who used to suck at something and now they’re really great at it? It could be the story of a girl who fell on her skates over and over when she was a child, but now she’s a figure skater competing in the Olympic Games. It could be the former drug user whose habit cost him his job and social life, but now runs a nonprofit organization that helps addicts stay clean. It could be the guy who used to preach against and persecute Christians, who became one of the most vocal proponents of Jesus Christ and The Way.

Paul didn’t stop with a recitation of his past sinfulness. He used that opportunity to explain how Jesus saved him. “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16). What a witness for Christ!

If someone brings your sin from last year or decades ago out in the open, your response should be that of the first stanza of “Amazing Grace”:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
T’was blind but now I see

4. Take care of any loose threads.

Is there some tangible thing you could offer to make up for your past sin? Do you need to work on areas of your marriage affected by specifics brought to light? Do you need to forgive yourself where God has already forgiven you? Do you need to deal with any lingering temptations?

Loose threads that need addressing are situation specific. Even forgiven sins have consequences. Some may not be able to be removed, but others could be at least minimized. Take care of what you can.

Why am I offering all of these thoughts? Because sexuality has been in the news, and I believe it’s important as Christians to understand how to evaluate the responses given by those credibly accused of sexual misconduct.

And because on a more personal level, one or both spouses may have past sexual sins that need addressing. If you’re not willing to address your own sins in these ways, it will be difficult to move forward in your marriage with trust and intimacy. Your spouse may not know exactly why they struggle to feel vulnerable with you, but unconfessed sin can be a barrier to sexual intimacy in your marriage.

Unconfessed sin can be a barrier to sexual intimacy in your marriage. Share on X

But remember, there is joy and freedom in owning, confessing, apologizing, and embracing God’s redemption. Trust me — I’ve lived it.

Please don’t assume I’m talking about a specific news story. It’s really not about any one thing, but rather the culmination of various allegations and responses I’ve seen.

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14 thoughts on “How Should Christians Respond to Past Sexual Misconduct?”

  1. “Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!”

    Good post!

  2. J, what do you think about sexual sin with regard to leadership positions within the church? I’m not talking about before someone was a Christian, I’m specifically wanting to know about a Christian who falls into sexual sin. Obviously, a leader in the church can’t be committing sexual sins and continue to serve in that capacity, whatever it might be, but what do you think about after the sin has been dealt with?

    If a man was a Sunday school teacher and yet constantly watched porn, at what point would we allow that person to return to a leadership position, if ever? Or maybe he did worse things, like had an affair. Do you think that person should ever return to any kind of leadership role at that point? If he made amends with his spouse or whoever he wronged in private, do you think the wider church body needs to receive a confession?

    Obviously sins can be forgiven by God, but does sin disqualify a leader from future service?

    1. I’m not sure. If you can’t fully admit to and repent from your sin, that’s a “see you later.” But are sexual sins really worse than many others? What about David continuing as king after his affair with Bathsheba? Abraham continuing as the father of a nation after letting his wife be used by another man? Where the line should be drawn exactly seems to me a church leadership decision, and that’s not my purview. If I had a definite opinion, I’d share it. I’m just not fully certain.

      As to your “do you think the wider church body needs to receive a confession,” my answer would be no. I can think of many instances in which sharing too widely could further damage people already hurt by the sin. The Bible says you go to those affected to confess and make amends, and those choosing the leaders have a right to make sure they fit the qualifications. Other than that, I think it’s a scenario-specific decision.

      1. Thank you for your perspective J. I wonder if this is an area where there isn’t a clear cut answer for church leadership, but an area where prayer and seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit are in order. And I agree that sexual sins shouldn’t be considered worse than other sins, but for some reason they are.

  3. Powerful testimony from the heart.

    I have given some thought about what you have written and considered things I wish I hadn’t done years ago and I too have wondered if it would come back to haunt me.

    After reading your note I asked myself “what if someone from the past showed up to openly disclose it? Because what they are doing is trivializing the act not concerned whether or not they are embarrassing me, by being so candid.

    It does give us the opportunity to admit and apologize and even going so much to say, “under these circumstances I wish what happen, never happened because talking about it in this manner is trivializing the act, thereby cheapens it even further, I wish I had saved myself for the one I’m married to”

    My wife and I have had this conversation, where we admitted a deep love and devotion to one another, but also wishing we had saved ourselves exclusively for one another.

    This web site, is a strong tool to strengthen marriages and relationships and what I like most about it, is the fact that intimacy isn’t being trivialized.

    Many of us were surrounded in a society that nearly treats sex like a handshake, who later thinks its ok to antagonize or even profit by bringing someone they have been with down to their level, while ignoring the emotional toll, when we give a small piece of our heart to someone, without truly being in love with them in the first place.

    I echo Doug’s biblical verse,

  4. About three years ago when i was single and thought id likely die alone, I had an off and on fling with a married man. It was a hellish, selfish time in my life. When i finally cut off all contact with that person, i remember i felt so much shame and worried that i would be found out about, what people in my church would say and think about me.
    Something that lifted this shame from me, is when i opened up to a guest pastor who came to speak at my church. I told him flat out everything i did and how i was afraid people would find out… He brought up how Saul feared man and it was a snare, yet David feared God. I felt like Saul so much in this regard. I believe God is merciful but people not so much. (Very few safe people to confide in). The passage that God used to lift this shame off me was from Zechariah 3. I’ll just post part of the chapter, the part that got me was about the exchangement of the filthy robe.
    (Prophetic vision):
    Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan[a] standing at his right side to accuse him. 2 The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?”

    3 Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. 4 The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”

    Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.”

    Something I think about now that I’m back on solid ground with Christ, if my ol fling were to come to light for people to know what I’ve done, I just think about my standing with God. I know and believe only God fully forgives and that I dont have to fear being before His Holy presence one day when i give account of my life. I have been crucified with Christ, I no longer live but Christ in me! King David had the choice whether to be punished by man for his sin or for God to deal with him. David chose God because he knew people were merciless..
    Love your post!!

  5. J, what are your thoughts on past sexual sins (such as adultery) and eligibility for ministry as a pastor or elder. In our church, we will not consider a person for a position as a pastor if he/she has committed adultery in the past.

    1. Honestly, I don’t know. I’m certain that unconfessed, unrepented sin should be a disqualifier. But beyond that, I don’t really know where the line should be. I think that’s a decision for church leadership, and I’m not a church leader. I don’t mean to be dodging the question, but I truly don’t feel like I have fully formed, informed perspective.

  6. As a christian, when we commit sins we asked for forgiveness. However, the guilt will always be there if you weren’t able to talk the the immediate person that you’ve hurt. If talking to them is possible then better do it so your heart is free from any burden if that’s how feel.

    1. That’s interesting, Cassie. But I certainly have not talked to a number of people I hurt, and I don’t experience guilt for my long-ago past. I don’t even know how that would work, since contacting a man to apologize for what I did with him 30 years ago might simply intrude on his current family life and makes things worse. I’m not trying to avoid fessing up, which I’d certainly do if the right opportunity presented, but I wouldn’t spill the beans on people just to make myself feel better. And I wouldn’t advise that broadly. Thoughts?

  7. I tend to agree that to confront any “ex” I was intimate with over 30 years ago, could intrude on her private life.

    Like me, I don’t think they would want to be reminded of something that really shouldn’t have happened in the first place, especially if they are Christians, especially if confrontation would bring pain or embarrassment to our spouse.

    Seeing what is going on in the news media in how candid they are about reporting those trying to profit from their own consensual sex acts and how unconcerned they are about embarrassing or humiliating themselves and their own family or humiliating their past lover, or their wife or other members, makes this article relevant.

    I think knowing how to handle a sin (if it were to ever come back to haunt u) is key. The only solution I can think of (if ever confronted by an ex) is giving it to God, apologize to that ex in a sincere way, that the act even occurred in the first place.

  8. I know Paul had the gift of being single so his sins were not sexual, however when Paul was converted there is no scripture that says he went back to all the people he wronged & made amends. I agree that if it is possible & appropriate then yes we do make amends. That is a part of meeting another’s need & treating others as you want treated. But, there tons of conversion stories that never state that the saint went back & apologized or made things right. Moses never made amends for the man he killed. Jesus didn’t tell the woman caught in adultery to go & make amends.

    Conversely, it seems the world gets caught up a lot in the past of the addict. I don’t see a dwelling on the past as a requirement to be healed or whole as a saint. Yet, we do look out for the interests of others above ourselves. & yes there is something to be said for understanding your past. Maybe how or where you went wrong to fix something that’s not fixed yet or forgive & let go where you didn’t know you should’ve. But, the scripture is our teacher. The Holy Spirit is our guide. All things are made new. I think if we live that out & go where God leads we keep pressing forward but allow if or when the past meets up with us again to act Godly then.

    I’m a firm believer that Jesus if he wouldve ever sinned (I know he didn’t) would’ve taken his lumps & confessed & made things right appropriately without fear.

  9. The key to the original post & the question of official church leaders is twofold. The person with the past has to deal with the people they have sinned against or with. I think that is dealt with in the HHH post. Something I think many Christians struggle with. However, if the person with the sexually sinful past (albeit last night or last year) is a church leader. Elder, deacon, preacher, pastor, etc. The first issue would be the matter of repentance. Are they willing to see their sin, confess it, & turn from it. I agree that churches should be allowed to deal with this within that local congregation. & I agree that it does stand to say that David did not lose his throne for his adultery & murder to cover it up. I think today we the church are way too skittish when it comes to sexual misconduct. It is appropriate to protect the flock. Especially, children, from predators. But, our track record generally shows we would rather fire/expel the sinner than have anything to do with them ever again. Not all churches act this way, but most do. This is not biblical. The Bible is clear that only the unrepentant should be expelled. Expelling the repentant only teaches us to run from or expel any problems. This weakens us & teaches the next generations to do the same. We end up running from sin rather than being able to apply the gospel to it. The example of Christ is to stand your holy ground & apply the gospel to the sinner. I’m not a fan of leaving the person in their given office but I wouldn’t be against it if appropriately done. In youth ministry, no, they lose their office. But either way the church needs to have a context of restoration & resurrection. That should be the goal. Whether that looks like they lead again or not is up to them & the church. However, I may disagree that things be kept quiet. Biblical context says to expose it. If appropriate yes keep it to a one on one no one else has to know basis. But eventually the unrepentant will have to stand before the whole church. God exposes & tackles sin. We the church now are not comfortable with that. For generations we have left well enough alone. That’s the training of sin because sin likes to hide. Of course we are a divided church world wide & that plays into our weakness too. God has called us to be one with Him & each other as Christ & the Father are one. Then He calls us to endure IN THAT FAITH to the death. There’s a real reason that Revelation is the last book of the Bible & it’s not what end times gurus say it is. Revelation is about holding on & obeying God in the face of tribulation. Not backing down no compromise of love grace or truth. To the point of death. We are called to take up our cross. Where is that cross going to end up? Our death. If we the church weren’t so afraid of death we would be practicing the answers to this sexual misconduct issue & it be rarely heard of happening because the church would be that much stronger & able to be a biblical church.

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