Could Have Been
Eric stormed into my office and flopped into a chair. "I'm
really mad at God."
Having grown up in a strong church family, he'd met
and married a Christian girl. Now he was the picture of
"Okay . so why are you mad at God?"
"Because," he said, "last week I committed adultery."
Long pause. Finally I said, "I can see why God would
be mad at you. But why are
Eric explained that for several months he'd felt a strong,
mutual attraction with a woman at his office. He'd prayed
earnestly that God would keep him from immorality.
"Did you ask your wife to pray for you?" I said. "Did
you stay away from the woman?"
"Well . no. We went out for lunch almost every day."
Slowly I started pushing a big book across my desk.
Eric watched, uncomprehending, as the book inched closer
and closer to the edge. I prayed aloud, "O Lord, please keep
this book from falling!"
I kept pushing and praying. God didn't suspend the
law of gravity. The book went right over the edge, smacking
"I'm mad at God," I said to Eric. "I asked Him to keep
my book from falling . but He let me down!"
The Choices That Ruin Us
To this day, I can still hear the sound of that book hitting the
floor. It was a picture of Eric's life. Young, gifted, and blessed
with a wife and little girl, Eric brimmed with potential.
His story didn't end that day. Eventually he became a
sexual predator, molesting his own daughter. He's been in
prison for years now, repentant but suffering the consequences
of inching his life toward the edge until gravity
How many of us Christians hope God will guard us
from calamity and misery, while every day we make small,
seemingly inconsequential immoral choices that inch us
toward bigger immoralities? (A survey taken at a Promise
Keepers gathering of 1,500 Christian men revealed that half
of them had viewed pornography the previous week.)
Tiffany and Kyle also grew up in the church. When the
youth pastor warned against premarital sex, they had trouble
taking him seriously. Their movies, television, and
music focused on sex. One night after youth group, Tiffany
gave in to Kyle. It was painful, nauseating . nothing like in
the movies. Afterward she felt horrible. Kyle was mad at her
because she wasn't supposed to let it happen.
Tiffany started sleeping around, trying to find a guy
who'd love her. She never did-they just used her and
moved on. She quit going to church. One day she discovered
she was pregnant. A friend drove her to an abortion
clinic. Now she's plagued by dreams about the child she
Tiffany could turn to Christ. He would forgive her.
But her heart is so broken and calloused now, she doesn't
believe it. She's attempted suicide. She's on drugs, a street
prostitute. She's been raped. Recently she had another abortion.
Her eyes are dead. So is her hope.
Kyle? He's lost interest in spiritual things. He's at college
now, an atheist. He's had sex with several girls. He feels
empty but experiments with anything he thinks might
bring him happiness.
Lucinda, a Christian, decided her husband wasn't
romantic enough. A decent, hardworking, church-going
guy, he just didn't live up to the Prince Charming images of
Hollywood. She got involved with another man, eventually
marrying him. Years later, after bringing unspeakable grief
to her family and herself, she came back to Christ. "I wish
I had my first husband back," she admitted. "But now it's
too late." Yes, God has forgiven Lucinda and still has plans
for her. And yet . she has paid a fearful price.
The prophet Jonah, in the digestive tract of a great fish
beneath the Mediterranean Sea, made this observation:
"Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that
could be theirs" (Jonah 2:8).
An idol is something more than a grotesque statue with
big lips and a ruby in its navel. It's a God-substitute. It's
something-anything-that we value higher than God. In
order to cling to such an idol, we make a trade.
Our sexual behavior reveals who or what rules our lives
(see Romans 1:18-29). Sexual sin is idolatry because it puts
our desires in the place of God.
Those who turn from God to embrace a God-substitute
suffer terrible loss. Why? Because they were made to
find joy in God, not the substitute. They swap God's present
and future blessing for something they can immediately
see, taste, or feel. But that something
I've done it. So have you. To one degree or another,
every sinner trades what they have-and could have had-for
a lie. Sometimes the lies get bigger and the stakes get
higher. We keep inching our lives toward destruction. To
fulfill some hormonal surge, some secret fantasy, we willingly
trade our future.
It's a terrible trade. A deal with the devil, who never
keeps his bargains.
Every day, Christian men and women forfeit future
happiness for the sake of temporary sexual stimulation.
Like drug addicts, we go from fix to fix, trading the contentment
of righteous living for the quick hits that always
leave us empty, craving more.
That's what Eric did.
He forfeited a wife who loved him . a daughter who
would have adored him . the respect of his family, friends,
coworkers, and church. A walk with Christ.
In the end, he forfeited his freedom.
With every little glance that fuels our lust, we push
ourselves closer to the edge, where gravity will take over and
bring our lives crashing down.
What will we lose? What will we forfeit that could
wouldhave been ours?
Where would Tiffany be now if she'd kept herself pure?
Instead of a prostitute haunted by rapes and abortions,
Tiffany could be a light for Jesus, standing up for Him on
a college campus, filled with joy and hope for the future.
Kyle might be that too-
What about Lucinda? She also forfeited what was
hers-and could have been hers. Who knows what God's
grace might have included.
A clear conscience and a priceless
sense of peace? Warm, satisfying years of companionship? The
respect and affection of children and grandchildren? An enduring
influence on young women watching her example? A ministry
touching scores of lives? Rewards-exceeding all
imagination-in the life to come?
Yes, God has forgiven her. Absolutely. But the consequences
of her choices remain.
Some readers, choking on consequences, feel hopeless
and defeated. Many have given up on purity. Others have
never tried. We all need foresight to see where today's
choices will leave us tomorrow.
Once lost, some opportunities are never regained. We
can't live in the "might-have-beens"-except to admit their
reality, and then, by God's grace, move on.
In C. S. Lewis's
, after disregarding his
instructions to follow him, Lucy tried to ask Aslan what
might have happened if she had obeyed his voice sooner,
following him instead of making excuses. The Great Lion
replied, "To know what
wouldhave happened, child? .
No. Nobody is ever told that."
Here's what's striking about Eric, Lucinda, Tiffany and
They all thought they were acting in their own best interests
when they followed their lusts
. If we could have obtained
an honest interview with any of them just before they
trashed their purity, they would have said, "This is for
This is for
Yet it wasn't.
Not even close.
It never is.
In fact, they didn't just hurt others. Without intending
to, they acted against their own self-interests.
What they did wasn't just wrong.
It was stupid
Since the time we were young teenagers, many of us
have heard lists of reasons for walking in sexual purity. God
commands purity and forbids impurity. Purity is right.
Impurity is wrong.
True? Absolutely. But it's equally correct to say
always smart; impurity is always stupid
There it is-what I'm calling The Purity Principle:
Purity is always smart; impurity is always stupid.
Always. You're not an exception. I'm not an exception.
There are no exceptions.
A holy God made the universe in such a way that
actions true to His character, and the laws derived from His
alwaysrewarded. Actions that violate His
character, however, are
alwayspunished. He rewards every
act of justice; He punishes every act of injustice.
That doesn't mean God always intervenes directly. This
moral law is like the law of gravity. God has set it in place.
When a careless driver speeds on an icy mountain pass,
loses control, and plunges his car off a cliff, God doesn't
suddenly invent gravity to punish the driver's carelessness.
Gravity is already in place.
In the same way, God doesn't need to punish the
pornography addict for every wrong choice.
is built into the sin
. Shame, degradation, and warping
of the personality follow as a matter of course. Scripture
describes those who have surrendered to their lust to live in
immorality as "receiving in their own persons the due
penalty of their error" (Romans 1:27, NASB).
That's the way God's moral universe operates. We get
to choose our own path. But with each path comes
The roads of life are sometimes hazardous. But God
loves us enough to place warning signs: "Don't commit
adultery" and "No sex before marriage." We don't have to
obey. We do have to live with the consequences.
Purity is safe. Impurity is risky. Purity always helps us.
Impurity always hurts us.
Purity is always smart; impurity is
. Write it down. Bank on it.
Consider Christ's story of the wise man:
"Everyone who hears these words of mine and
puts them into practice is like a wise man who
built his house on the rock. The rain came down,
the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat
against that house; yet it did not fall, because it
had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who
hears these words of mine and does not put them
into practice is like a foolish man who built his
house on sand. The rain came down, the streams
rose, and the winds blew and beat against that
house, and it fell with a great crash."
Jesus measures obedience not by its virtue, but by its
He measures disobedience not by its wrongness, but by
. The man doomed himself to a "great crash"
by his own stupid decisions. The obedient man isn't called
"righteous," but "wise."
He's just being smart.
Satan's greatest victories and our biggest defeats come
when he gets us to ask, "Should I choose what God commands
orshould I do what's best for me?" The very
framing of the question shows how badly we're deceived.
We will not consistently choose God's way until we
come to understand that His way is
alwaysbest for us.
"But wait a minute," you may say. "You're talking about a
selfish, unspiritual motivation here. Shouldn't a Christian's
only motivation be loving God?"
No, apparently not.
Scripture provides us with multiple motivations for
obeying God. Love is one. But the Bible clearly supplies us
with two other motives that appeal directly to our self-interest:
fear of God and hope of reward.
If we think these are unspiritual motives, then we're
failing to grasp a central biblical doctrine.
The fear of God is a profound respect for His holiness,
which includes a fear of the consequences of disobeying Him.
Weighing these consequences can motivate us to purity.
We can also argue for purity because God is by nature
a Rewarder (see Hebrews 11:6), and He will surely reward
us for making choices that please Him. Obedience to His
will and His way forms the underlying lattice for that rarest
and most wonderful human condition-joy.
"This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses
against you that I have set before you life and
death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so
that you and your children may live and that you
may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice,
and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life."
We can choose blessings: joy, peace, life, hope, and laughter.
Or we can choose curses: misery, scars, a handful of ashes.
When Cain, humanity's firstborn, stood at a moral
crossroads, God gently reasoned with him. "Why are you
angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do
well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do
not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for
you, but you must master it" (Genesis 4:6-7, NASB).
God was saying, "If you choose My plan, you'll find
happiness. There will be a smile on your face. Sure, this is a
fallen world. But if you say no to your sinful desires that
want to master you, if you walk with Me, you'll experience
My peace. If you reject My standards, you will be surrendered
to forces that will tear your life apart."
The rest is history.
The Smart and Stupid Argument
Does God really argue for sexual purity on the basis that it's
the smart choice, while impurity is stupid? Judge for yourself:
Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why
embrace the bosom of another man's wife? For a
man's ways are in full view of the Lord, and he
examines all his paths. The evil deeds of a wicked
man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him
fast. He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by
his own great folly.
Why avoid adultery? Because God will see it and He
will bring judgment. But even before judgment day "the
cords of his sin hold him fast." The adulterer will be
ensnared; he will die. He's the primary victim of his foolishness.
In contrast, the man who remains pure can
"rejoice" and "be captivated" by his wife's love, enjoying
their sexual union (Proverbs 5:18-19).
In the next chapter God asks,
Can a man scoop fire into his lap
without his clothes being burned?
Can a man walk on hot coals
without his feet being scorched?
So is he who sleeps with another man's wife;
no one who touches her will go unpunished.
Proverbs also depicts the man who is seduced into
adultery as "an ox going to the slaughter" and like a deer or
bird being killed by a hunter (Proverbs 7:21-27).
A believer recovering from sexual addiction told me,
"Addicts always think they can get away with it. You won't
change until you realize you can't."