Should I date someone with a past?

‘This guy and I are interested in each other romantically,’ said the email. ‘However, he has a history of drugs, gambling, crime and even a spell in prison. He became a Christian during his sentence, which he says gave him the motivation to change his life. He seems to have turned over a new leaf, but should I be concerned about his past?’

This is a dilemma many people face at some point. We find ourselves interested in someone who professes a faith, and then discover they have a bad boy (or bad girl) past. Should we trust that they’ve moved on to better things – or does a leopard never really change its spots?

Well… people can definitely change. It’s the bedrock of the Christian faith that no matter what we’ve done, we can repent, be forgiven and become a ‘new creation in Christ’. St Paul, who had a less than savoury past himself, told the Corinthians: ‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.’

We’ve all read books like The Cross And The Switchblade, where a dramatic conversion leads from a life of crime to a world-changing ministry. I’ve personally known a couple of people with hair-raising histories, who turned their lives around after coming to Christ. They were such pillars of the community (and good spouses) that it was hard to imagine them in their former lives.

However, many people, despite a genuine conversion and the best of intentions, slip back into old ways. Coming to Christ rarely results in instant change – for most of people, it’s a life-long process. They have to unlearn deep-rooted behaviours, often linked to early emotional experiences, which are their ‘go to’ responses, especially during times of stress.

Change means finding new coping mechanisms, breaking contact with bad company (who may be their only support network), and creating an entirely new way of living. Even with ‘Christ in us’, it takes time, effort, commitment and strength. And if addiction is involved, it may mean professional support for the rest of their lives.

One chap at my church previously had a gambling addiction that led to theft and other crimes. After leaving prison, he desperately wanted to start afresh. The community embraced and supported him, and gave him part-time work doing practical tasks around the church. He was a grafter and seemed to be doing well. Sadly, he struggled to find a full-time job (a criminal record will do that for you), money was short and then that gambling addiction reared its ugly head again. Money started going missing from the church collection and the fairtrade stall… it didn’t end well.

If you meet someone who has made serious efforts and progress in building a new life, they may be one of those who turn their lives around permanently, with Jesus’ help. If they succeed, then they could make a good Christian partner, especially if they’ve already shown evidence of long-term change, and you could be on your way to a bright future together.

But proceed with caution. Don’t be too quick to tie yourself to someone. Remember, once you’re married, their debts become your debts, and your money is their money – Christians aren’t immune to being left homeless and destitute by a financially irresponsible or lawbreaking spouse. Expect full transparency (personal and financial) if things get serious, be wise to any red flags, and be prepared to walk away.

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