As conservative, evangelical Christians, we are known for our obsession with sexual purity and virginity.
God is also concerned with sexual purity – and yet examples of sexually immoral women are found throughout Scripture.
From Hagar, Rahab, Tamar, Bathsheba and Gomer in the OT to the Samaritan woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery in the NT, God gives us evidence of His redemptive grace, mercy and restoration.
Sexual purity matters because it matters to God. BUT, sexual purity is not the measure of a godly woman and it is not the goal and measure of Christian living.
There is a story told of a flower being passed around a room of young adults. It goes from hand to hand, touched and held until the speaker finally holds it up, twisted and bent, the petals bruised and with a knowing smile asks: ‘Who would want a rose like this?’
The young people look at one another and say, ‘I would NEVER want a rose like that!’
But in that same room are a few who silently look away and weep inwardly because they are that rose. They are not sexually pure – due to their own choices and actions or due to the evil or immorality of others toward them.
They learn that they have been spoiled. They learn that their beauty has been given away and that they are not wanted or worthy.
The wonderful and humbling truth is that JESUS WANTS THAT ROSE. [Illustration from Tim Challies]
Our worth and value before God is not bound up in in our sexual past or actions.
God does not look upon His adopted children as non-virgins and virgins, as spoiled or unspoiled, defiled and undefiled. There aren't two classes of saved believers.
But we tend to do this when we look differently at those with a past.
The 'good people' (like us), are in and the 'bad people' (like them), are out. The Pharisees in the Bible were rebuked by Jesus for this self-righteous attitude. By doing this we miss the Gospel of grace. This is Jesus' point in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14.
The humble are in and the proud are out.
Paul writes to the Corinthian Church and addresses sexual sin, but along with many other offenses against God. At the end he says: 'And such were some of you, BUT you were washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.’
We all were these things, BUT then God washed us. We all were these things and then God made us holy. And now we are those things no longer. Our sexual immorality was transferred to Christ on the cross and He bore its shame, guilt and punishment.
You are not defined by the sins you committed. It is about recognising that you are a sinner. Christ came to save sinners, of whom I am the worst, says Paul.
In Christ we are all unspoiled. In Christ we are all pure. That is what the Gospel of grace does. That is what Jesus did by His finished work on the cross. Tim Keller says that the Gospel is distinct: 'In its view, everyone is wrong and everyone is loved and everyone is called to recognise this and change.'
Three examples in Scripture shine a light on this:
The woman at the well:
Firstly, let's look at the account of the woman at the well, a sexually immoral woman, who had an encounter with Jesus which changed her in John 4:3-42.
We see that Jesus sought her out. He chose to engage with her,
knowing who she was and what she was.
As we consider this significant encounter with Jesus we witness the way that He engaged with this Samaritan woman. Jesus’ radical interaction with her pushes us way out of our comfort zones and self-righteous default thinking. The woman at the well was a religious, social and moral outcast. She had an adulterous past and present.
No Jewish man would ever engage with a woman like that. We see the disciples taken aback that Jesus was even talking to this woman. She was on the outside. Even in her own community she was ostracised because of her lifestyle.
Yet we see Jesus, the friend of sinners, crossing lines of prejudice, gender and race. He came to seek and save those who are lost. He came to seek that adulterous woman.
Jesus’ interaction with her is not one of admonition but rather one of mission. He does not condemn or affirm her lifestyle. Jesus’ interaction with her is focused on her transformation. He knows what she needs. Jesus knows her sordid, messy past and yet instead of humiliating her, He is kind and gentle. THIS IS GRACE. This is love, unexplained.
This is Christ with the woman at the well and her five ex-husbands and live-in lover. Jesus’ knowledge of her identity (her past), opened up the door of confession and Jesus’ disclosure of His identity paves the way for her confession of faith.
To this sexually immoral Samaritan woman, Jesus reveals what He has chosen to hide from others: ‘I AM HE. THE MESSIAH.’ The One who came to save His people from their sins.
In John 3 – the story of Nicodemus – we see there is no-one so good they have no
need of a Saviour. Here in John 4, we see there is no-one so
bad they have no hope of a Saviour.
From being ostracised, this Samaritan woman is now the talk of the town. Because of her encounter with Jesus, she is transformed and her witness transforms those she encounters. She had been looking for love, acceptance and satisfaction in many men and then she encounters one man, Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the living water, who can satisfy her deepest longing and can make her whole.
The woman caught in adultery:
A second example is the account of the woman caught in adultery in John 8:3-11. She was Jewish. A woman on the inside of the Jewish nation. Here we see Jesus deal with the adulterous woman on the basis of grace and compassion.
According to the Mosaic Law, she deserved to die. She was caught in the sin of adultery and was guilty before the Lord and the world.
She was shamed publicly by the Pharisees. The irony in this account is that although they exposed this woman, their actions exposed their own hearts. Jesus always knows our hearts.
Notice how differently the Pharisees treated her compared to Jesus’ approach:
The Pharisees humiliated her publicly, Jesus faced her personally. (As she faced Jesus, she was facing her judge.)
The Pharisees condemned her, but Jesus had compassion on her. He does not condone what she has done. The one who broke the law is standing before the One who came to fulfil the law.
The Pharisees accused her but Jesus forgave her. He was the only one qualified to throw a stone and yet He refused to. Jesus gives the law to the self-righteous Pharisees but offers grace to this sinful adulterous woman.
Jesus said, ‘I do not condemn you either. Go. From now on, sin no more.’
As I consider my own heart, I realise how I sometimes identify more readily with the Pharisees than with this woman. I may not be as overt in my condemnation, but this is often the attitude of my heart.
Tim Keller says of this encounter that ‘Jesus first of all disturbs the comfortable and then He comforts the disturbed.’
All of us are like this woman – we are guilty of sin. In God’s eyes, we have been caught in sin and stand condemned by His holy Law. There is no-one righteous, not even one.
We are all damaged goods.
‘For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.’ [Romans 3:23]
Many religious people are just as guilty of sin as openly immoral people are. Some just hide their sin better. We, like the Pharisees, tend to look on this woman as the great sinner, while Christ saw the sin of the Pharisees in their self-righteous condemnation as far greater.
Once again we see Jesus’ mission not being one of condemnation or admonition but one of transformation. Here again in John 8 we see there is no-one so bad they have no hope of a Saviour.
The Pharisees had come to Jesus to see the woman condemned and their own righteousness affirmed. And yet it is the Pharisees who went away
feeling condemned and it is the adulterous woman who
experienced grace and compassion from Jesus.
The woman who was a prostitute:
Thirdly, an Old Testament example shows us more of God’s compassion in the account of Hosea. Hosea is called to love Gomer, a prostitute, an adulterous woman, a sexually immoral woman in the same way that God loves His wandering-eyed people, Israel.
The principle applies to us, Christ’s church, His bride, today. We are often like Gomer. We are prone to wander.
John Piper explains it as follows:
‘We are all guilty of harlotry. We have loved other lovers more than God. We have gotten our kicks elsewhere. He has been at times an annoying deity. We, like Gomer, were enslaved to a paramour, the world, pleasure, ambition. But God has not cast us off. Do not think you are too ugly or too rotten. He knows that his wife is a harlot. That's the meaning of mercy: God is wooing a wife of harlotry. Yes, even a wife of harlotry can experience a new relationship of righteousness, justice, steadfast love, mercy, and faithfulness with her divine husband.
When the wife of harlotry returns to her husband, he will withhold nothing. He will not keep her at a distance. The fellowship and communion and profoundest union he will give to his prodigal wife when she comes home broken and empty.
This is the gospel story in the Old Testament.’
We are like Gomer.
‘Jesus’s life, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and second coming show that God wasn’t telling Hosea to do something he wasn’t willing to do on a much grander scale.
He did not forsake his people, despite their long history of disobedience and indifference. The Father’s sending of the Son is the definition of grace: unmerited, underserved, logic-shattering favour.’
[Brandon D. Smith]
We are like Gomer. We are damaged goods.
We are spiritual adulterers.
While it’s hard to admit that we are similar to Gomer, it’s a truth that we can embrace with humility and comfort because the story of Hosea and Gomer reminds us that God loves us not because of our faithfulness, but because of His. Not because of our perfection, but because of Christ’s. It reminds us that Christ is our bridegroom and we are His bride whom He is purifying.
We are Gomer. We are the woman at the well. We are the woman
caught in adultery. In our hearts we are these women.
And yet we are hopeful. We are redeemed. Our hearts are made whiter than snow and we are clothed in purity and righteousness. That is how God sees us when He looks at us. So I have no right to look down on your past as worse than mine. Even my ‘good’ past is as filthy rags before a holy God.
I can share the sweetest fellowship and friendships with sisters in Christ, not because we share the same past, but because we were all broken and now we all stand whole, trophies of God's grace.
Our past experiences do not define our Christian status or standing.
‘There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ [Romans 8:1]
This is our joyful testimony of grace.
We all stand equal at the foot of the cross.
Everything changes when we meet Jesus. He takes broken and shattered pasts and puts them together in a beautiful and glorious display of grace. He makes us completely new.
If we are in Christ, we are no longer damaged goods, but prized possessions, bought and purified by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
The Gospel gives us a brand new identity and Jesus Christ, our bridegroom, is coming again to gather us, His spotless bride.