The ideal situation for Christian marriage is, of course, when both parties are virgins, having understood that marriage is the only place in God’s eyes for sexual relations. But we don’t live in an ideal world. Many times, a person raised in a godly home and saved from childhood wishes to marry someone who was saved in his or her 20s or 30s and who brings to the Christian marriage a past lived according to worldly standards. While God puts our sins as far from us as the east is from the west when we come to Him in repentance and faith in Christ (Psalm 103:12), people have long memories and forgetting someone’s past may not be easy. The inability to forgive and forget the past mistakes of one of the marriage partners will definitely influence the marriage negatively.
Before entering a marriage with someone with a sexual past, it’s crucial to understand that salvation and forgiveness of sin are given to us by grace. "By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). When we begin to understand what it means to be truly forgiven, we begin to see through God’s eyes how much He must love us, and that helps us forgive others. To forgive is to let go of the other person’s past and see him or her as a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Christ died for his/her sin, and the potential spouse now has to decide if the memory of that sin can be lived with. This is where doctrine moves from the theoretical to the practical.
In matters of forgiveness, it always helps to see our own pasts in God’s eyes. Sexual sin is certainly grievous to God, but so are lying, cheating, bad thoughts, drinking/smoking too much, impatience, pride, and unforgiveness. Who among us is without sin and can “cast the first stone”? Before coming to Christ, each of us is “dead in transgressions and sins” and is made alive only by God’s grace (Ephesians 2:1-5). The question is can we forgive others as Christ forgave us? Completely and from the heart? Being able to do so is a mark of a true Christian. Jesus said if we don’t forgive, neither will God forgive us (Matthew 6:14-15). He did not mean that forgiving others is a way of procuring God’s forgiveness, which we know is by grace alone, but that a forgiving heart is a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the heart of a true believer. Continued unforgiveness is a sign of a hard, unregenerate heart.
Before entering into a marriage with a non-virgin, much thought, prayer, and introspection are in order. James 1:5 tells us that if we seek wisdom, God will grant it freely to all who ask. Speaking with a godly pastor and being involved in a Bible-teaching church will help in the decision-making process. Some churches have excellent pre-engagement classes. Also, talking freely and openly with the potential mate about these things may reveal things in both parties’ pasts that need to be addressed and forgiven.
Marriage is a challenge in the best of circumstances and takes a lot of work to make it successful. Both partners need, and deserve, to be loved unconditionally. Ephesians 5 describes the roles of both husband and wife in marriage, but the passage begins with the overriding principle for both: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). Willing sacrifice and the strength to choose to be a servant to the betterment of the marriage are the marks of a maturing spiritual man and woman who honor God. Wisely choosing a spouse based upon biblical qualities is important, but of equal importance are our own ongoing spiritual growth and our surrender to God’s will in our lives. A man who is seeking to be the man God wants him to be will be able to help his wife be the woman God desires her to be and, despite their pasts, they will be able to build their marriage into a God-honoring union that delights them both.