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Mable met Biff in high school. Though it was not “love at first sight” for her, it was for him. He was smitten. They began to hang out during their senior year. They wrote letters to each other during college because they were three states apart. They dated for the summer months. After graduation, they resumed their relationship and dated pretty heavily right up until the day they were married. Their post-college dating relationship lasted two years.
Both sets of parents liked them. They were good kids. They went to a good church, and they caused no real problems for their parents. I’m not sure if it was because of their good behavior or blind trust, but both sets of parents took a hands-off approach to the relationship. The isolation left Mable and Biff with a lot of time alone, and no one was asking the right kinds of questions about their temptations or how they guarded their hearts against the temptation to have sex. Their over-familiarization with each other and the assumed marriage-to-be tempted them to let down their guards.
Nine months before their wedding day, they committed fornication. Though they processed it differently, they agreed on one thing: they did not want anyone to know, especially their parents and pastors. The embarrassment of being found out by others was stronger than what God thought about what they were doing. So they kept quiet. What Mable did not anticipate was that she could not keep her conscience quiet (Romans 2:14-15). Her inner voice was setting off a silent alarm in her soul.
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts (Hebrews 3:7-8).
She struggled more than Biff, even though she knew most of her girlfriends were doing it. This awareness seemed to calm the noise that was going on inside of her (1 Timothy 4:2). She also kept busy with her Whole Foods job. Whenever she became torn between telling and keeping quiet, she rationalized it away. Her thoughts ran along these lines:
When they met for premarital counseling, their counselor asked them if they had had sex. Biff was ready for the question; like a good western street fighter, his finger was on the trigger. He quickly replied, “No, we have not.” Mable nodded in the affirmative, hoping the questions would stop and the counselor would move on to something else. The counselor did move on.
While Biff didn’t seem to struggle with lying, Mable had internal angst about the deception. She was relieved that they were not found out, though she had trouble with lying. The ease with which Biff could lie about the matter compounded their relationship. He seemed calm and unfazed. After their first session, Biff jumped in the car and smartly asked, “You wanna get some burgers for your folks?” Mable was still stuck on the deceit. What she could not have known, but should have perceived, was this pattern of low-level deceit and spiritual shallowness would characterize the next twenty-one years of their marriage. Only after their divorce did she gain clarity on the kind of person she had married.
His ability to lie and unashamedly transition to burgers and fries shocked her back to the reality of the type of person he was, but she dismissed it and quickly readjusted. It slowly began not to matter. The main thing was for her not to tell anyone the truth about their relationship. A few weeks later, she did muster the gumption to talk to Biff about their counseling session. While she hoped he would want to talk about what went on, she began to realize that was not Biff’s style. He was dismissive.
He said it was not a lie since they were getting married and that her dad already approved of the marriage. She began to wonder how that could be good enough for Biff, to the point that he could index forward as though the sex and lies never happened. The underlying truth about Biff was that he had hardened his conscience—the inner voice, the moral thermostat that God gives to all of us to help us discern and respond to right and wrong. His conscience was not as sensitive as Mable’s.
Whenever you choose to hide your sin, your conscience will respond with hardness. Unrepentant sin creates a layering effect on the conscience. It mutes the moral voice inside of you. The more comfortable you become living a lie, the easier it becomes to live with the lie. The side-effect of this is that it becomes harder and harder to discern right from wrong. Like a broken compass, the moral thermostats of their souls were malfunctioning. Biff and Mable were doing this to themselves, though they did not realize it.
Most of the couples I see for marriage counseling had consensual sex before they were married. And though their pre-marriage fornication does not represent all of their problems, you can typically discern a constellation of sinful patterns that are associated with and flows out of their unresolved and undiscussed infidelity. That was the case with Biff and Mable. As I began to unpack their current marriage problems, I saw a cluster of issues tied to their past issues of premarital sex. The sin of fornication and how they handled it was the template for how they handled all of their problems for the next twenty-one years. Take a look at the list below and notice how the issues tied to their infidelity also applies to the problems they had after they were married. It was as though their sexual sin was a snapshot of how they would do life as a married couple.
Whether it was fornication or future problems, you can see some of the common and destructive themes that characterized their entire marriage. Fornication was a red flag to how the rest of their lives would go, especially when it came to working through problems. Sadly, the desire to get married was greater than their desire to call a temporary halt to the marriage to fix their problems. Mable hoped that their sexual sin was an anomaly to how they thought about and did life rather than a precursor to what their life would be like in the future. Mable was wrong.
Their ignoring of the fornication led them to their versions of dealing with it. Because Biff’s conscience was desensitized to and distanced from sin, he did not seem to struggle as much as Mable. She struggled in several ways regarding their unconfessed sin. Below is a sampling of a few of the twisted processes Mable had been going through for years to make amends for her teenage indiscretion. Most of these things were subliminal—more felt than articulated. As she reflected later,
I could not tell you what was wrong with me. I was bothered, but I couldn’t put my finger on what was bothering me. After we met for counseling, and I began to see how what we did over two decades ago was the beginning of a long trail of similar disappointments, I had words and categories for what was going on in my soul (Galatians 6:7-8).
Here is a list of some of the things that Mable struggled with, as well as her commentary on them.
You can perceive the consternation in Mable’s soul. Sin is real, and you must deal with it in biblical ways. Biff and Mable made a choice not to confront their fornication head-on. They lied to God, to each other, to their counselor, to their parents, and to everyone else within their sphere of relationships. They decided they would use various forms of denials, justifications, and rationalizations to make things right, hoping to keep their secret undercover (Hebrews 4:13). Though they did fool others, they did not anticipate how they could not mock sin and how it would take revenge on them.
Sin will extract payment from someone. It must. It’s an unalterable law: sin requires a payment, which is the triumph and glory of Christ’s death on the cross. Jesus paid for your sins, and you may repent and accept the payment He made by His death on the cross. Though Biff and Mable were familiar with the gospel, the seriousness of their sin never occurred to them, nor how they would not be an exception to sin’s demands. All they had to do was run to the cross and appropriate the forgiveness that comes from God through His Son, but they chose another path.
Unwittingly, they decided that sin could extract its payment from them instead of placing their sin on Christ and walking in His freedom. That decision caused irreparable damage to their marriage. Their trail of tears ended in divorce. Here is my appeal to any couple thinking about getting married. What you are observing in your partner’s life right now is a precursor to how the rest of your life will look—only it will be exponentially better or worse.
Do not think you are the exception to this rule. If what you are observing in your partner is unclear to you, seek wise counsel to walk you through your relationship. Biff and Mable met with a counselor for premarital counseling. It was more about checking the box than a God-centered, divine appointment to learn, change, and grow. They spent the rest of their marriage living out the superficiality of their premarital counseling. If your conscience is speaking to you at all, you need to talk to someone who is willing to ask you the hard questions.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy (Proverbs 27:6).
The side effects of letting sin have its way with you are (1) a hardened conscience and (2) dysfunctional relationships. Your conscience is God’s kindness to you to let you know you need to respond to Him. If you choose not to respond to your sin biblically, the hardening process will eventually stifle your joy and damage your relationships.
So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin (James 4:17).
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).