It finally came out. The sexual sins were discovered. The secrets have been revealed. The damage has begun rippling out like the shockwaves of a nuclear blast, ripping apart the hearts of people who genuinely love — or at least once loved — you.
You have gone from self-loathing to panic to shame and back to self-loathing. Part of you wants to lash out and give reasons for what you did, but deep inside you know that they come across as lame excuses. You’ve thrown things. You’ve cried. Now you are numb.
How do you pick up the pieces?
How do you apologize and ask for forgiveness?
How do you help ease the hurt in those you care about and you have wounded?
First the hard news — yes, stick with them, there is liberating news coming, but first, here are some hard truths for this kind of situation:
- We must give up trying to spin our side of the story: it doesn’t work and if it does, it makes the cracks down deep in our character bigger and harder to heal.
- We must be honest with God about where we are and how we feel — we’re not necessarily talking about confession and forgiveness yet, we may not be to this point yet and really mean it, but we are talking about being transparent and open with God again, the ultimate key to reclaiming our walk with the Father.
- We must recognize that we are powerless to control consequences — we can’t control them for us or for any of those we love.
- We must walk with Jesus, especially in His story in each of the four Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — and listen for what the Lord would tell us by seeing how the Savior would treat us and what the Savior would have us do by seeing how He dealt with people like us.
- When we can honestly and genuinely confess our sin, we confess it honestly and tie it with a commitment to repent (change our thinking, our heart, and our behaviors to align with God).
- When we can confess our sin honestly, and without bringing them further pain to people we’ve already hurt, we must penitently apologize to those we’ve wronged and hurt by our sin.
- Finally, we must trust that what the Lord promises us and says about us and who we are — see the liberating truth below.
Now I could put Scripture references with each of these points, but we would all be much better served doing number 4 above ourselves and journaling what Jesus is telling us personally each day as we read His story, watching and listening to the Savior live out God’s righteous character and gracious compassion in human skin.
But, here is one truth — the liberating truth — that we must all hear and believe and know is true. Let’s read it from Scripture first, then put it into a simple statement to hang onto:
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by 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, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:5-9 NIV).
We have sometimes understood “walking in the light” to mean living a good life and honoring Jesus. While it is true that we should try to live a good life and honor Jesus, “walking in the light” probably means coming to the light to have the truth of our lives revealed before God — which is what someone who loves God is going to do (see John 3:16-21). And when we do that, when we come to God and have who are we fully revealed in the light of His holy presence, we are going to confess the sin we see in ourselves — confess our shortcomings, our rebellions, our moral failures, our secret transgressions, the places we have missed the mark with our lives. And by confess, we mean that we confess those sins to God and to spiritual folks who can hold us accountable and also include us back into fellowship and restore us to ministry and life in God’s family. (Confession was never meant to be something we did just between ourselves and God. See James 5:16 for an example of this principle.)
Which brings us to the incredible and life-redeeming truth in the middle of our personal tsunami:
When we genuinely confess and turn back to God, the Father doesn’t just forgive us, He purifies us!
We can’t control consequences. We can’t control outcomes. We can’t undo our messes. We can’t turn back the clock and make things not have happened. But God can do this: God can make us clean, fresh, and pure. Don’t believe me, go back and read 1 John 1:5-9 again. Or go read Psalm 51 and then follow it by Psalm 103.
So once we realize that we are not only forgiven, but also purified of all unrighteousness, what do we do?
Every circumstance is different. The consequences and fall-out for sin are different in every situation. But, here are a few things we learn from Jesus — and again, we each should answer this by making our own fuller list of things to do by doing #4 above.
- Go and live in peace — enter into a life lived in God’s blessing (Read Luke 7).
- Leave our life of sin — get help, support, encouragement, accountability, whatever necessary, to get away from the addictive draw of a sinful lifestyle (Read John 8).
- Love God out of appreciation for the grace we have received — (Read Luke 7 again).
- Minister and strengthen others — (Read John 21).
In other words, let’s believe the truth that God promises: we can be forgiven and cleansed of all unrighteousness.
And what about the rest of us, the people of God, the folks who are supposed to be the church of Jesus? What do we do with the sinner who has confessed and is seeking to turn his or her life back to God after having made a mess of things?
We begin by believing what God says about folks like this: He has forgiven and cleansed them! So we welcome them back into God’s family, or go in search of them and bring them back if they are afraid to come back , or lovingly confront them and pull them back from sin if they are having a hard time pulling away. The goal is always to restore them to fellowship. And if we need some examples, try these:
- What Jesus did with Peter in John 21:1-22.
- What Paul tells the church to do with repentant sinners in 2 Corinthians 2:7-8 and Galatians 6:1-2.
- What James reminds us to with those who have wandered away at the close of his letter in James 5:19-20.
- What Jesus teaches us about finding the wanderer, restoring the lost, and reclaiming the sinful in Matthew 18.
Oh, and one other thing. A huge thing. A largely forgotten thing. Let’s make sure that those who have their lives blown apart by the sin of someone they love receive our love, support, care, and protection. Too often, in the name of not playing favorites, when couples and families and friends have their lives blown apart by the sin of someone they love, we end up dropping both the “guilty person” and the “wounded people” because we are not sure what the full truth is and who deserves the blame. But God isn’t concerned about blame: God is concerned about restoration, healing, love, forgiveness, protection, and reclamation. So when sin blows people apart, let’s follow the example of Jesus — let’s leave the comfort of our religious house and go in search of those who need to be brought back into the family of God.
Jude, the brother of Jesus, ends his very short note of warning with these words:
Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear — hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.
To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy — to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.