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Can God forgive you if you've had premarital sex?

Yes. Not only can God forgive you, he longs to forgive you. The Bible says that even the angels in heaven rejoice when people return to God (Luke 15:10). Elsewhere, the Scriptures say, “To the penitent he provides a way back, he encourages those who are losing hope! . . . Turn again to the Most High and away from sin” (Sir. 17:19, 21, NAB). If we repent, he will forgive any sin, including premarital sex.

In the Gospel of John, a crowd wanted to kill a woman who was caught in sexual sin. In his book, The Love That Satisfies, Christopher West points out: “It is in the midst of this feeling of emptiness and shame that she meets Christ. The anxious crowd was ready to stone her. Christ said whoever was without sin could cast the first stone. According to his own words, Jesus could have thrown a stone. But Jesus came not to condemn. He came to save.”[1] After Jesus sent the people away to think about their own sins, he asked, ‘“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again”’ (John 8:1–11). This personal encounter with the love of God is what each person needs when their heart is weighed down with the burden of sin.

Scripture repeatedly reminds us of the mercy of God. Psalm 103:12 reads, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” Lamentations 3:22–23 states, “His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.” God holds no grudges and does not look down on you because of the past. On the contrary, he says, “I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud, and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you. . . . I will not remember your sins” (Is. 44:22, 43:25).

Many people assume that they need to become perfect in order for God to love them. The story of the prodigal son shows that this isn’t the case. When the son who deserted his father decided to return to him, the father saw him “while he was yet at a distance” and ran to him (Luke 15:20). There is no mention of the son’s running. This seems to imply that the father covered most of the distance between them. In the same way, as soon as you turn your heart back to God, he is already there waiting for you with open arms. In fact, your desire to return to him is itself a sign that he is with you.

When you come to him in prayer, he will not be thinking, “Oh, here comes the one who did all that stuff at that party.” Instead he is thinking the same thing he was thinking thousands of years ago: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. . . . Behold, I have graven you on the palms of my hands” (Is. 43:1; 49:16). The greatest sin you have ever committed is like a grain of sand next to the mountain of his mercies.

Jesus instituted the sacrament of reconciliation to bring the gift of his forgiveness to us. After he rose from the dead, he came to the apostles, gave them his peace, and then breathed on them. The only other place in the Bible where God breathes on anyone is at the moment of creation. So we know something big is happening here. Jesus then said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:21–23).

For two thousand years the Church has made this healing gift from Jesus available to us, so that we can hear the consoling words of absolution: “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

So do not run from mercy. Come to the great sacrament of reconciliation, and receive the gift of God’s forgiveness.

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[1]. Christopher West, The Love That Satisfies (West Chester, Pa.: Ascension Press, 2007), 14.