Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Audio Transcript

Today’s question comes from an international listener named David. “Hello, Pastor John. My thoughts keep returning to Proverbs 2:19. It says: ‘None who go to her come back, nor do they regain the paths of life.’ Please, I need a deeper clarification on this verse because I’m frightened due to a recent experience. I’m a teenage Christian boy, 17 years old. Recently, I was carried away by my lust and foolishly decided to look for a temporary sex partner through a hookup site online. I made contact with two women, and they made promises, saying that they would give their bodies to me in exchange for money. I paid them the money online, but they scammed me and never showed up.

“When this happened, I felt really stupid and angry with myself. I lost about $100. Later I was able to reflect and see that what I did was wrong and that I deserved the loss. I’m really grateful to God because I feel that he allowed the scam to come my way because he was preventing me from losing my virginity. But I feel scared that I even went this far in the process. Even in seeking a prostitute, I feel like I crossed a line I cannot return from. Have I?”

My answer very simply is that I do not know if David has crossed a line; I don’t know whether he’s crossed a line from which he cannot return. But I can say to him that having sex with a prostitute, or intending to and paying for it, is not beyond God’s forgiveness, if there is genuine repentance — that is, an authentic repudiation of the ugliness of that sin, and a turning to Christ for mercy, and for the power of reformation, and for the enjoyment of Christ himself as a superior pleasure to all such sins.

Point of No Return

The reason I say that I don’t know whether David has crossed the line is because I do believe there is such a thing as crossing the line from which we will never be able to return. Now I know that’s very frightening; it’s intended to be very frightening. But the very text that teaches that also teaches that genuine repentance, if it happens, does always bring God’s forgiveness. Here’s the text: Hebrews 12:15–17:

See to it . . . that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

Now notice: it does not say that he genuinely repented and sought forgiveness, but couldn’t find it though he repented. That’s not what it says. What it says is that he was not able to repent: that’s the line that you can cross. His sin had brought such bondage and deception and distortion on his soul. This is what happens in sexual sin. Oh my goodness, it’s horrific how insane sexual sin makes people. It can distort the soul and decrease the soul’s capacity so much that it is impossible, then, to authentically repent; that’s the frightening thing.

The implication is that if he had repented, he would have received the blessing of the inheritance; he would have been forgiven.

Faithful and Just to Forgive

That is the standing invitation of New Testament gospel. First John 1:9:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

That’s a glorious, glorious, precious promise. It does not say, “Well, except for prostitution,” or “except for adultery,” or “except for rape,” or “except for really outrageous sins.” No, it does not say that. If we confess our sins — if we agree with God all the way down that we are hopeless, and he is merciful, powerful, and worthy, and that Christ is enough in his death and resurrection and as a treasure for our lives — if we confess, he forgives all of it.

“It’s not the kind of sin that is unforgivable; it’s the kind of hardness that one reaches in sinning.”

When I say there is a line that we can cross after which God will not grant us repentance, I do not have in mind a kind of sinning, a kind of really gross sin — as if to say that if you do that, then you’ve crossed the line. That’s not the line. It’s not the kind of sin that is unforgivable; it’s the kind of hardness that one reaches in sinning from which he cannot repent: you can’t bring yourself to be set free from your love of sin.

The Bible tells us nothing definite about which sins, or what duration of sinning, or what frequency of sinning, crosses that line. It simply says there’s a line, after which we may seek repentance, with tears, and not be able to find it. That’s a strong warning to flee every temptation. Let no one think they can say, “Well, I’m about ten temptations away from that line.” You have no idea how close you may be to that line.

‘None Come Back’

On what basis, then, do I say to David that having sex with a prostitute, or intending to and paying for it, is not beyond God’s forgiveness if there’s genuine repentance? How can I say that? Because he’s pointing to Proverbs 2:19, which seems to say the opposite. In Proverbs 2:17–19, this forbidden woman, this prostitute,

forsakes the companion of her youth
     and forgets the covenant of her God;
for her house sinks down to death,
     and her paths to the departed;
none who go to her come back,
     nor do they regain the paths of life.

That’s the sentence that is scaring David to death, and it ought to; that’s very strong language: none come back from her bed to the paths of life. It’s a very strong warning that there is a deadly drug in the embrace of a prostitute. The experience of thousands is that there’s no escape.

But it’s the nature of proverbs to generalize in terms like this. Very often, proverbs state things in absolute terms when we know, and they imply, that the absoluteness is not absolute; they are generalizations rather than absolutes with no exceptions.

Now here’s the way we know this, that this is the nature of Proverbs. In Proverbs 26:4, it says, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.” Now if you just took that verse by itself, you’d say, “That’s absolute: never do that — never, never, never. It says, ‘Answer not a fool according to his folly.’” But the next verse, verse 5 says, “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” And that one sounds absolute. It’s the nature of a proverb to state general wisdom without calling attention each time to the exceptions.

So when Proverbs 2:19 says, “No one who goes to her comes back,” the point is this: be that fearful of the insanity of uniting your body to a prostitute. People don’t come back; they go over the cliff. That’s what happens. He doesn’t bother to say, “almost always.”

With Trembling, Rejoice

Here’s the evidence from the New Testament that prostitution is not always unforgivable; it’s not beyond forgiveness. First Corinthians 5:1–5 goes like this. This is Paul confronting an immorality in the church in Corinth worse than prostitution. He says this:

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. . . . You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

“If we will repent and confess our sins, God is faithful and will forgive our sins.”

There it is: “so that his spirit may be saved.” He can be saved. He can be forgiven for this outrageous offense against secular and Christian morality. If he will be saved, he was forgiven. Evidently, the hope is that in delivering him to Satan, something terrible will happen to him to destroy his flesh and lead his soul to genuine repentance, because if there is repentance, there will be forgiveness and salvation — even for sexual sin that is so outrageous that the pagan world thinks it’s reprehensible.

So it is right for David to tremble because of his sin, and to hear the warnings of Scripture with fear. It is also right for David to take heart from the gospel offer that if we will repent and confess our sins, God is faithful and will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness — even the unrighteousness of unspeakable sexual sin.