While you can’t change the past, the good news is that God has provided a path to a restored sexual purity.

God’s plan for sex is beautiful and perfect, and he gives you everything you need to honor his plan.

Christian counselors Dr. Greg and Michael Smalley of The Smalley Institute offer these seven steps to help you regain a sense of purity and maintain sexual purity.

1. Turn to Christ Through Repentance and Confession

Making God your first love begins with confession and repentance. The word confession means to “agree with.” So when you confess, you agree with God that your behavior is not according to his will and is therefore not what is best for you.

You also need to repent, which literally means to “turn around and go the opposite direction.” It means making a 180-degree turn. In 1 Corinthians 6:18, Paul says to “flee from sexual immorality.” After you’ve confessed and made a decision to live in sexual purity in God’s strength, you might be tempted to break that commitment. But to repent is to trust God for the strength to overcome temptation and obey him.

2. Understand the Consequences of Sex Outside the Will of God

An important step towards remaining sexually pure is to realize the consequences of any and all sexual sin. Indulging in pornography,premarital sex or extramarital sex dulls your soul towards God and his ways, lowers your sense of worth by making you feel guilty or ashamed, reinforces your selfishness, feeds your sexual desires, and pulls you away from loving God and others. It also creates a greater susceptibility to sexual diseases and sexual addiction. It may even reduce your satisfaction in the marital sexual relationship and increase the risk of an eventual divorce.

Once you’ve understood the negative effects of disobedience to God in this area, sex that is outside the will of God doesn’t sound as exciting anymore.

3. Discover Why You Sinned so You Can Correct the Problem

Attempting to change a particular behavior without first understanding why you did it is very difficult. It’s like telling a chef who made a terrible dinner to stop cooking disgusting meals. Unless the chef knows why the food was so awful, he can’t correct the mistake. It’s the same rationale with sex that is outside God’s will.

Some people sin sexually to fit in, or to please their partners. Some are rebellious or have a weak or non-existent relationship with Christ. Some have never understood how to trust in the Spirit’s strength to obey God, and feel unable to do so. Some might simply be curious about what it’s like. People with low self-esteem may use sex as a way to feel loved or secure, or some may allow themselves to be “swept away” by infatuation or raging hormones. Whatever the reason might be, you need to understand the source of the problem in order to work to resolve it.

4. Forgive Yourself by “Treasure Hunting” the Pain of Your Sexual Past

One of the best ways you can increase your self-worth is to discover what you’ve learned from your mistakes, and how they have improved your character or your relationship with God.

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up (Psalm 71:20).

God can use our pasts to bring hope to others and to make his glory known. Reflect on how he has done this in your life.

5. Be Aware of Your Choices and Build a Buffer Zone Away from Sexual Temptation

Edwin Hubbel Chapin said: “Every action of our lives touches on some chord that will vibrate in eternity.” As you maintain or regain the sexual purity that is available in Christ, it’s important to realize how every action leaves a lasting impact on yourself and others. Even the smallest movement can have a major impact; every choice, every thought, has consequences for yourselves and others. How have you protected your mind against lustful thoughts? How have you protected your body against impurity? If you are tempted by pornography, maybe it means deciding to only use your laptop in public places. Or signing up for anti-porn accountability software on your computer. Predicting how and when temptation might hit and taking proactive measures to overcome it is essential to maintaining and regaining sexual purity.

6. Develop a Buffer Zone

As Dr. Gary Oliver notes in the book Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper, the key to keep from stepping out of play is creating a new sideline — ten yards away from the original line. In other words, leave room for error. For example, if you have had sex outside the confines of marriage, you need to develop a new purity line. For some, that new line might be limiting oneself to kissing or holding hands. For others it may be no contact, period. If the new line is kissing, then stepping ten yards back might be avoiding kissing while lying down or “passionate” kissing. Since everyone makes mistakes, giving yourself room before you step out of bounds can be the difference between losing a few yards and losing the game.

7. Seek Out Accountability

Accountability with a trusted person is one of the most important ways to maintain or regain sexual purity. This person could be a family member, friend, coach, counselor, or pastor. Or it might be a group of people who have made a similar commitment towards maintaining a life of purity. Accountability greatly affects someone’s ability to say no to sex before marriage and to live sex within marriage the way God wants (see 1 Corinthians 7.1-5). In an accountability relationship, the important ingredient is answering difficult questions like, “Did you compromise your standards on your date last night?” or “Have you been tempted sexually this week?”, or “Did you focus on serving your spouse and not yourself when having sex this week?” Ideally, these questions will force you to carefully and prayerfully consider your choices because you know that someone will be checking up on you.

You can’t change the past, but you can allow God to enter into your brokenness and heal you. He’s in the restoration business; he longs to bring you back. He aches for you to be pure again, and his Spirit will empower you to obey him in this and all other areas of your life if you trust him and follow his lead.

updated September 2019

Photo Credit: Olsztyn Poland