Every Christian couple is faced with the difficult task of defining appropriate boundaries in their dating relationship to guard against the allure of getting “too close, too fast.”
Should we hang out in one other’s bedrooms or stay out? What if the door is left open? What if the roommates are home?
When should we hold hands? When can we start front-hugging (as opposed to the always-a-little-weird side hug)? Can we, or should we, start kissing? How far is too far? (Still one of the most popular questions I’m asked).
My personal favorite: Should we pray together? Doesn’t praying together promote inappropriate intimacy between a couple? Won’t we just end up wanting to get busy all the more if we are “spiritually connected” like that?
IS INTIMACY THE PROBLEM?
Christians often build their convictions about sexuality in reaction to our sex-saturated culture and not the Bible. But the Bible offers a grand vision for sexuality that encompasses fundamentally good, God-imaging qualities deep within us that are present years before we ever get to an altar.
Men and women were created to be attracted to one another. We come hard-wired by our Creator for intimacy — desiring community, connection, and companionship with the opposite sex. Insofar as our impulse toward intimacy is rooted in our sexuality and our sexuality is rooted in our having been created in God’s image, then our desire for intimacy is a good thing!
“We come hard-wired by our Creator for intimacy.”
Interestingly, many Christian men and women have been taught in the church that their impulse toward intimacy was anything but good — unless you’re married — and a couple should refrain from anything that might promote such intimacy, prayer included.
Can that which is bad all the sudden be good once you and your new bride arrive at the honeymoon suite? After working so hard for so many years to starve your sexuality, can you just turn it on like a switch in the limo? Absolutely not!
Unless God is calling you to be single so as to risk your life by taking the gospel to spear wielding, head-hunting pygmy’s in some remote country, He has called you to be married. An impulse of our sexuality — the growing desire for intimacy with the opposite sex — is meant to drive us toward marriage.
In other words, the God-given impulses of my sexuality began setting God-glorifying trajectories toward marriage all the way back in Mrs. So-and-So’s fifth grade English class when the perfume of the next girl over wafted past my peach-fuzzed upper lip and into my nostrils, causing me to think for the first time, “Man, girls aren’t so bad after all. I gotta get me one of those.”
“Intimacy is not the problem. Sin is.”
Like anything else good in our lives, sexual intimacy can become an idol. Idolatry occurs in our lives whenever we make God-given good things into God-replacing ultimate things. Intimacy is not the problem. Sin is.
GETTING TO THE “HEART” OF THE MATTER
Many (if not most) well-intentioned Christian couples genuinely desire to curb the effects of sin and idolatry in their dating relationship. So they set up all kinds of boundaries like those mentioned above. And when the couple fails to stay within their self-appointed boundaries, the change ’em up. And change them again…and again…and again while meeting a similar fate each time.
The reason that so many couples struggle to get off this rule-making cycle is because man-made rules are not sufficient for our battle against sin.
When writing to the Colossian church, Paul implored them to not place their trust in man-made rules for their holiness — “do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” — because even though they “have the appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion…they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh (2:23).”
External rules cannot penetrate to the root of our sin because they presuppose that our greatest enemy comes from outside of us.
Our environment. Our circumstances. Our relationships. We grow convinced that if our rules and boundaries could modify these variables in just the right way, then our behavior would fall in line.
“The most dangerous enemy of a dating relationship is not outside of us, but inside of us.
Mark, however, records Jesus teaching something entirely different! He says that a man is not defiled by the variables outside of himself, but from that which is within him (Mark 7:14-23).” The greatest enemy to the purity of any dating relationship is not outside of us, but inside of us. This is why the Bible says, “Guard your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life (Prov. 4:23).”
We don’t need new rules. We need new hearts. Only the gospel can go that deep.
WE NEED A “NEW LAW”
So how does a couple set themselves on a God-honoring trajectory with respect to intimacy in their dating relationship without enslaving themselves to an bottomless list of rules? Paul offers a great remedy in the book of Galatians: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything, but only faith working through love (Gal. 5:6).”
“Faith working. Through love.”
As the gospel penetrates and changes our hearts, we are enabled to love others because of how God has loved us in Christ. The faith implanted in our hearts by God assures us and deepens our convictions that we have in Christ everything we could ever need or want for our holiness and happiness. The overflow of a faith-filled heart is a radically other-centered love that seeks to lead the other person to Christ and not to themselves.
“The overflow of a faith-filled heart is a radically other-centered love that seeks to lead the other person to Christ and not to themselves.”
So should a couple make a rule about “praying together,” or anything else for that matter? Doesn’t matter. “For in Christ Jesus, neither [praying together] or [not praying together] is anything, but faith working through love. According to the Bible, “whatever (i.e. anything or everything that) doesn’t proceed from faith is sin (Rom 14:23).”
Therefore, our sin is not only seen in the “bad” things we do, but all the “good” things we do with bad motives — including praying or not praying in a dating relationship.
The Pharisees in Jesus day, who were the greatest rule-makers and rule-keepers, never understood this aspect of the gospel. Their outward obedience did not proceed from faith and was proven sinful in that they didn’t consider others more important than themselves. The problem was not their rules, but their hearts!
I’m not opposed to boundaries and rules. Just not as ends-in-themselves. Rules are useful for showing us two things: our inability to keep rules and our need for a Savior. In and of themselves, rules make for lousy saviors. If they aren’t leading you to Jesus, then they are simply “self-made religion.” Nothing more.
Let the new rule of the gospel govern your dating relationship. Faith working. Through love.
Agree? Disagree? Leave your comments below.
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