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How Far Is Too Far Before Marriage?

Dating Couple on everystockphoto by taliesinHow Far Is Too Far Before Marriage?

Let’s say you agree with my previous post – that with great love Jesus looks at you and says:

Trust me.  I love you.  Don’t have sex before marriage.

But that raises the question — what counts as having sex?  Before you are married, how much sexual involvement is too much?

God’s Idea

It’s good to remember that sex is God’s idea.  He created us with bodies that can give and receive sexual pleasure in a way that builds deep closeness, pleasure, and fun into a marriage.

So when a married couple enjoy sex together, seeing it as a gift of God’s mercy, and pursuing it as a way to serve each other — God is happy.

But What About Before Marriage?

We saw that God does not want us to have sex before marriage.  But what exactly does that mean?

What does God want an engaged couple to do — or not do?

Flee From Sexual Immorality

That’s what God’s Word teaches (1Co 6:18).  And we saw that Greek dictionaries define sexual immorality as sexual intercourse outside marriage.

But the point of the Greek dictionaries is not that outside marriage everything except sexual intercourse is permitted,  Surely Paul would not say it’s OK for a married man to be sexually involved with someone not his wife as long as they don’t actually have intercourse.

So the Greek word “sexual immorality” covers more than just sexual intercourse.  But where should an engaged couple draw the line?

Two Kinds of Activity

It’s helpful to distinguish activity which expresses affectionate love (like holding hands), from activity which involves sexual desire (like extensive kissing).

Affectionate love is content to enjoy the closeness.  But sexual desire is different.

God created us in such a way that sexual desire naturally wants more — moving from one stage to the next, creating stronger and stronger desires, greater and greater pleasures, until it is satisfied in orgasm.

This is a great gift to marriage, as together you enjoy this excitement and pleasure, with the closeness and bonding it brings.

But what if you are not married, and are committed to not having sex?  In that case, if you start to experience sexual pleasure together, you will want more, and will experience the frustration of needing to stop a process that — within marriage — God intended to continue.

A Better Way

So if you are engaged, why not commit to avoiding those actions that stir up sexual desire?  Men, you will need to take the lead in establishing these boundaries since, generally speaking, you experience sexual desire sooner than women.

But why not avoid anything that stirs up sexual desire, and focus instead on building each other’s faith, getting to know each other’s personality, and expressing affection in ways that don’t stir up sexual desire?

Yes, that would take discipline.  But it would take much less discipline than stopping sexual desire once it starts.

A Burning Fuse

Picture sexual activity like a fuse leading to dynamite which, once it is lit, burns more and more intensely and becomes harder and harder to put out.

If you are married, this dynamite can bring great good — love and closeness and intimacy.

But if you are not married, this dynamite can bring great harm — sin before God, and the pain of more closeness than your commitment to each other warrants.

So if you are not married, and don’t want the dynamite to explode — why light the fuse?

New Beginnings

What if you are engaged and have become too involved sexually — what can you do?

Here’s steps I would encourage —

  • Pray over promises showing that God’s grace will forgive, change, free, and help you — like 1Jo 1:9; Luke 18:27; 1Co 6:9-11; 2Cor 5:17.
  • Bring this to God, and confess it and fight the fight of faith until you experience assurance of forgiveness.
  • Pray over promises in God’s Word until, by the work of the Spirit, you see and feel Christ as your greatest Treasure — greater than sexual pleasure, greater than your fiance or fiancee — promises like Phil 3:8; Matt 13:44; Psa 73:25-26; Psa 16:11; John 6:35.
  • Pray and ask God to transform you and your relationship with your fiance or fiancee.
  • Share all of this with your fiance or fiancee.  Encourage them to take the above steps.  Talk together and decide about changes you can make.  Commit before the Lord to a new path, and ask for His grace to enable you.  He will.

Feedback?  Comments?  Thoughts?

I’d love to hear them.  Leave a reply below — thanks.

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(Picture is from everystockphoto.com by taliesin.)

Category: Sexual Temptation

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4 Responses

  1. Luke says:

    Thanks Steve for sharing these thoughts. Having struggled with this myself due to lighting the fuse before marriage I can honestly say that, looking back on my wife and I’s engagement, I wish we would have “[focused] instead on building each other’s faith, getting to know each other’s personality, and expressing affection in ways that [didn't] stir up sexual desire” as you said. Thankfully God did put out the fuse before our marriage and we were able to commit to a new path before God but unfortunately the effects of that sin have had very negative consequences; the main one being despair from the guilt and condemnation that satan was allowed to bring into my life. That made the first year or so of our marriage extremely difficult and took my attention off of what should have been my focus, further grounding our relationship in Christ, and put it on me. Jesus has brought me back to a place of rest and assurance of His forgiveness and is strengthening our marriage but there are still times that those feelings creep up and I have to fight with all the strength that God has given me to keep my eyes on His Son. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8). To anyone who is engaged, I exhort you to sow to the Spirit in your relationship with your future spouse so that your marriage may be filled with life and joy from start to finish.

    With brotherly love,
    Luke

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Hi Luke,

      Thank you, dear brother, for sharing your story so honestly and powerfully.

      I pray that others will read it and be strengthened to trust Christ in this crucial area.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

  2. John Graham says:

    My wife and I made this mistake and bitterly regret it even after thirty or so years. Young people ignore advice or refuse to learn from other people’s mistakes so what advice can I give?From the very beginning of the relationship it is an attitude of mind, if you are going to be regretful that you can’t do this or this, or touch those interesting soft bumps then eventually you will. because having regret is the start of negotiating with the devil about what is permissible and what isn’t. I believe negotiating with the Devil is what leads to sexual sin in particular and so from the very start a couple has to have a mindset that whatever they do it will be to please God. In several places the Bible tells us the best way to resist temptation is to flee from it (1 Corinthians 6:18; 1 Corinthians 10:14; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22). And flee is the best word to use, if you move slowly away from sexual temptation you will look back and find it attractive and return to taste it. But as this post is about what is permissible my answer is anything you would feel comfortable doing should your Pastor walk into the room.

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