“How far is too far?” That’s one of the most common questions I get asked by Christian teens and young adults alike. They want to know what they can touch, taste and caress (pre-marriage) before God gets mad or they end up feeling bad.
They often ask, “So, Pastor Sabrina where’s the line? How far can I actually go?” They expect me to list off a bunch of the raunchy stuff that’s ‘off limits’ outside of marriage and give them a lecture on staying one metre apart at all times. Well, curious friend, listen carefully.
There’s actually no explicit answer in the Bible, but there sure is a whole lot of Godly truth and wisdom.
And we’re invited to embrace that wisdom and allow our values, worldview and actions to be shaped by it.
The fact is, the Bible doesn’t actually give us a list of sexual acts and experiences that are a-ok while in the dating game and those that are meant just for the honeymoon.
It simply says that sexual intercourse is sacred, intended between two people in the covenant of marriage. It really leaves the rest in 50 shades of grey, which is why we need the Holy Spirit to help guide all our decisions.
We want rules, but God gives us relationship.
We want to know how far we can go before God gets angry, when in reality it has nothing to do with us displeasing Him and everything to do with Him protecting us (emotionally & physically).
We want laws written on stone, but God carves them on our hearts.
We want external boundaries, but God helps us develop internal convictions.
So, sorry if you were looking for a list of do’s and dont’s. Because God doesn’t give us that and neither will I! But I will passionately and enthusiastically encourage you to come at if from a completely different angle.
Instead of asking, ‘how far can I go’? Try these as replacements.
1. God, how can I best navigate this relationship with you as my guide and Lord of my life?
Unlike most people who live by the mantra, “It’s my life, I can do what I want,” a Christian’s disposition is to say, “God, I’m giving you permission to speak into every area of my life, including my love life!” I’m allowing you to shape my mind and my thinking. Even when the world says this is normal, I’m giving you the right to direct my decisions.
Your choices around relationships have nothing to do with earning God’s acceptance, and everything to do with outworking His goodness. So, stop trying to please Him with your behaviour and realise He’s already pleased with you if you’re a believer in Jesus.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, saving sex for marriage isn’t a determination of your faith, but an outworking of it. It’s a by-product of knowing God genuinely and walking with Him closely.
2. How are the choices I am making today affecting my future?
Sexologist Dr Patricia Weerakon puts it like this, ‘Sexual desire is good and pure when directed towards that person God has given you. It can be perverted and ugly when it’s directly towards dangerous behaviours and objects.” So, don’t just go with the flow. Pause, pray and think about the choices you’re making.
Over the years, I have comforted literally dozens of young women as they cried about the heartache and pain they felt after a break up. Just recently I spent the night in the bathroom with a girl who had found out her boyfriend had cheated on her with a close friend. The glamour of pre-marital sex portrayed in the movies is far different to the reality of it outworked in our lives. I’ve never seen “friends with benefits” end well.
3. Am I honouring God, myself and others in this process?
Are your actions coming from a place of love and respect or selfishness and personal fulfilment? Remember, Christian love is others-focused.
In Boundaries Before Marriage Dr John Townsend says,“ the delaying of gratification teaches something very valuable for marriage; the relationship and doing the best for the other person is more important than self-gratification and sexual expression.”
Self-control isn’t just something you need down the track, it’s a trait worth cultivating now while you’re dating.
Another train of thought that’s worth following, is the fact that the person you’re dating right now may not be the person you marry. Technically, that means he or she may be somebody else’s future husband or wife. Is your relationship something you’ve kept God in the middle of? Is your desire to love that person the best way that you can? I know lot of people who’ve looked back with regret (myself included), I am yet to find one who has exercised self-control and wished they had not.
4. Are my thoughts and actions helping me build a strong foundation for a relationship with just one person?
What fires on, wires on. That means that the experiences we have, especially when it comes to our sexuality has a way of imprinting and staying with us for a long time. In Teen Sex by The Book, we see that sex before marriage (especially in young people when the brain is under rapid reconstruction) sets scripts and sears memories onto the hard drive of their mind.
According to its Author Dr Patricia Weerakon, even one-off sexual encounters release a whole host of chemicals and hormones. Like oxytocin and dopamine (your body’s feel-good chemical). When this happens you form a mini-bond with that person. Multiple mini-bond formations can confuse your brain (and heart). Young people caught up in the culture of one-night stands and casual sex often find that they’re unable to make the commitment necessary for marriage because they’re so accustomed to breaking that connection and seeking the high, rather than the person involved in it.
Using today’s modern technology scientists have also discovered that sex is far more than a just a physical act; it produces powerful, even lifelong changes in our brains that direct and influence our future. Our sexual experiences become part of our beliefs, our wants, our fears, our expectations. Even our psychological make up is affected by our previous sexual encounters.
5. How much can I keep, not how much can I do.
Instead of asking, ‘how much can I do,’ think about how much you can keep, experience and enjoy with one person? The world can so often see commitment as a prison, but that’ so far from the truth. When a marriage relationship is healthy and moving in the right direction it becomes one of the greatest places of security, love, warmth and pleasure.
From a super practical point of view. Just because it’s not ‘sex’ all the way, doesn’t mean it’s not bonding and creating ties between your heart, head and body. According to the Author of Hooked, “Sexual activity is any intimate contact between two individuals that involves arousal, stimulation, and/or a response by at least one of the two partners. In other words, sexual activity is any intentionally sexual intimate behaviour between two partners.”
In other words, if it produces arousal, hit the breaks and pull back. The point isn’t avoiding intercourse, the point is not bonding emotionally, physically, and sexually with someone who isn’t your spouse. Because if it’s not forever, it’s clearly only temporary.
The Bible may not specify exactly where the line is before marriage, but you really can’t go wrong with setting clear boundaries, avoiding intimate acts and being mindful of showing one another respect and restraint.
Obviously, this is a message for Christians. I know it’s not a popular one. But since when was following Jesus ever about following the crowd? Romans 12:2 is clear, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
From the other side of the fence we can totally relate to the struggle. I’m not even going to pretend I didn’t stumble my way through my single and dating season as much as the next person. It’s challenging, I know. It’s confusing, I know. It’s difficult, I know! But most good things usually are.
Please remember that God doesn’t ask you to do anything without giving you the power to do it and unending mercy when you miss it. So don’t lose heart if you’ve gone too far, that doesn’t define who you are at all. Just draw a line in the sand, forget the past and start to include God in your love life from right now.
Article supplied with thanks to Sabrina Peters. Sabrina is a writer, pastor and relationships blogger. She is passionate about Jesus and changing the way people think about God & sex.