This page is best understood by first reading:
When Christians Date
As I read the heart-breaking e-mail, I learnt that he had been a Christian since he was in his early teens. My mind flashed back to the shock I felt when I first heard the claim that research suggests that nearly as many Christian couples as non-Christian have at least once fallen into premarital sex.
Then I remembered what I had once written about temptation, and with that the mystery slowly unraveled. Here’s the gist of what I remembered:
Most people who lose their battle with temptation do so because they don’t start the fight soon enough. They let the Tempter have too many early victories. They give the Evil One easy, uncontested wins by hardly thinking twice about viewing/hearing/reading things that weaken them, and dabbling with ‘legitimate pleasures’ that edge them closer and closer to the crumbling cliff face.
Suppose you are in a leaking boat. You are lounging on deck as the water seeps in a few bucketfuls an hour. No problem. Any fool can bail that out. Hour after hour you continue to snooze until suddenly you find yourself plunging towards the ocean floor. You then bail furiously but it’s too late.
The disaster was not the product of some momentary weakness or inexplicable lapse in the last five seconds. It was all so avoidable, if only the danger had been taken seriously.
That’s what it’s like with temptation. Act soon enough, and you’re safe. Take no action as temptation begins to seep in, and the danger slowly mounts until finally not even the strongest saint could survive the onslaught.
It’s not what happens in a moment of weakness that is critical. What matters is what you do right now to protect yourself from those moments.
I began wondering how far back from intercourse one must begin the fight. If there is no big difference between Christians and non-Christians when it comes to the movies they watch and the way they kiss when dating, should we be surprised if there is no big difference further down that slippery slope?
It would be very wrong to suppose that knowing where to draw the line is just a young person’s problem. It is a dilemma for Christian singles of all ages, breaking countless hearts, even when it hasn’t led to a moral fall. A woman in her mid-sixties, having been widowed for several years, was not only free from fresh memories of sex, she had gritted her teeth during marital relations throughout her long marriage. A 70 year old widower, whom she felt no physical attraction to, tongue kissed her. Despite what we might expect from her age and sad sexual history, she found it dangerously arousing. He couldn’t see a problem. She felt herself inching closer to a no-longer dormant volcano of uncontrollable passion. The result was heart wrenching as she tried to explain why she had to back off.
As I pondered the danger of snoozing in a leaking boat, I recalled a feature of lovemaking that I, being unmarried, suddenly found alarming.
Because of its key role in maintaining marital oneness, lovemaking is divinely designed to disarm one’s reservations and aloofness and be almost drug-like in its amazing ability to soothe. In fact, when the Bible speaks of David comforting his grieving wife, it resulted in pregnancy (2 Samuel 12:24). The nearly miraculous power of lovemaking to comfort and reassure is a feature not just of those aspects of lovemaking that must be restricted to marriage. Even something as innocent as holding hands or saying or hearing the words, ‘I love you,’ is infused with an almost hypnotic power to melt away one’s apprehensions and make a couple feel wonderfully secure and at ease in each other’s presence. Little wonder, then, that when, as an unmarried couple, we become even slightly affectionate, we tend to let our defenses down in the very situation that we need to be on heightened alert to sexual temptation.
Two devout Christians who had been dating received a very special touch from God in a church service. They left the church on a spiritual high, and after an hour or so they fell into sin with each other. Devastated, they came to their pastor in tears. ‘How ever could this have happened at such a time?’ they asked in shattered disbelief. They had been feeling so close to God that they supposed they were invulnerable. Filled with the warm love of God and excitement over what he had done, their feelings imperceptibly slipped from God to love for each other and slowly gained momentum on the roller coaster ride to out-of-control passion. The enemy is like a beast of prey silently stalking those who suppose they will not be attacked. He’s smart enough to know that those who are on the alert for danger will spot him early and be off in a flash; running so fast that he’ll never sink his teeth into them.
‘So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!’ (1 Corinthians 10:12). In other words, a false sense of security is as spiritually lethal as passionate kissing behind the steering wheel of a speeding car.
The issue is not whether a couple can trust each other but whether they can trust the devil. Letting our defenses down is as smart as bedding down to sleep across a railway track.
If we were alone with a stranger of ill repute, alarm bells would be blaring within us. Not so, when we are alone with our most trusted and dearest friend. And yet we have a deadly spiritual enemy who delights in tempting us when we least expect it, and in getting at us through the person we love and respect the most. He used this very ploy on the Holy Lord himself. ‘Get behind me, Satan,’ the Son of God was forced to tell his best friend. Moved by love, Peter was trying his utmost to comfort and reassure his dear friend. It was at that very moment that the enemy slipped in. Peter had no idea that his attempts to comfort his beloved Master were being used of the Evil One to tempt the Holy Lord (Matthew 16:21-23).
Given the soothing, reassuring nature of lovemaking and the fact that it involves our dearest friend, it is hard to think of any other type of temptation in which we are so lulled into letting our guard down. Add to this the fact that even limiting oneself to handholding – to say nothing of further down the slippery slide – is like trying to stop at eating a single salted peanut. No wonder so many of us fall!
There have been times and societies in which couples were never allowed alone until after the wedding. That sounds hopelessly old-fashioned – almost as old-fashioned as virginity is becoming. I’m seeking, not necessarily to convince you of the wisdom of the past, but to stimulate your thinking. My goal throughout this webpage is to inspire you to stretch your mind and to think outside the square in your personal search for wise, Spirit-led ways to avoid soiling yourself. This is needed because the sad reality is that the approach of average present-day Christian couples is simply not working.
By the way, don’t let the Deceiver tell you that because of a past tragedy you have nothing left to preserve. If you are trusting Christ’s miraculous ability to purify, then you are his virgin and have everything to preserve. You won’t want to break the heart of the One who gave his all for you.
Insanely In Love
My years of dating combine with my virginity to make me feel I could resist almost any temptation to engage in physical sex. Such thinking is dangerous speculation. Nevertheless, I’ve indulged in this madness to highlight an entirely different area of vulnerability that must be considered when deciding how far is too far. Even if I were completely safe when kissing a woman, what temptation am I inviting afterwards, when I am alone with my thoughts? What sin might my mind slip into while trying to shut my brain down for the night? How hyped up will I get when trying to sleep? What might I be tempted to do to relieve the pressure? Might I avoid sin with her, only to grieve my Lord afterwards in response to passion I had stirred up during my time with her?
It had always seemed impossible, but after an apparently endless fight, involving ruthlessly denying myself any sight or thought or touch that even slightly aroused it, I have finally managed, with massive help from God, to put my sex drive to sleep. Having experienced the advantages, there is no way I want to risk waking it.
Yes, an unsuspecting couple might end up sinning together. The blotch would indelibly embed into their brains and like a blood-sucking parasite they would carry the memory inside them until their dying day. But to this consideration, we must add the more subtle but spiritually dangerous matter of what getting amorous might lead to when the couple are apart. Moreover, to these concerns we are forced to add yet another need for caution about the physical side of a relationship. And this third factor makes me want to be even stricter in the amount of physical contact I permit myself. Here it is: even something as mild as handholding can lower my ability to choose the right life partner.
Did you know that fond – as in ‘She’s fond of him,’ – originally meant stupid or mentally retarded? That initially startles us, but upon further reflection it fits the jigsaw. Modern English language about couples in love is filled with such expressions. He’s insanely jealous, she’s mad about him, they’re crazy about each other. Such expressions are a part of everyday speech because experience has taught multitudes that the high of being in love grossly affects our ability to be level-headed. The exhilaration might be exciting but a reduced ability to make level-headed decisions as to who we marry takes some of the mystery out of why the divorce rate is so high.
Did you know that far more arranged marriages last than marriages based on romantic love? It’s not surprising when we think about it. What concerns me is that even physical contact lowers still further our ability to choose the right marriage partner. Let me explain.
I am plagued with a deep ache for very basic touch – handholding and a hug. (Mind you, if that need were met it would slowly ignite a burning for going just that little bit further. And if I yielded that tiny bit, I’d be satisfied – for a while. Then a craving would grow to get just that little bit more physical with my friend. On and on it would go, like a junkie, who month after month needs higher and higher doses to keep his craving at bay.) But even without the complication of the need escalating, touch brings with it a most disturbing danger because choosing to marry the wrong person must be one of the worst mistakes anyone can make. If a woman I were dating met my basic need for touch, she would merely be doing something millions could do and yet it would heighten my feelings for this one woman. I might presume that I enjoy a woman’s companionship and hardly be aware that most of my enjoyment has nothing to do with her uniqueness but is just the thrill of having my basic need for touch met, like almost any woman could do. I might only be dating, with marriage being far from my mind, but I cannot guarantee that my feelings for her would never end up drifting towards marriage. The high of having my need for touch met by someone I am dating would further fog my brain at the very time when clear thinking is both more elusive and more important that at almost any other time of my life.
Since there must be few things in life worse than ending up married to the wrong person, this is a matter about which I desperately need to hear from the all-knowing, all-wise Lord. Looking for a partner is most certainly not the time to risk having raging hormones drown out the Spirit’s whispers.
My longing for marriage rose-tints my glasses. I’m so desperate that the moment I see a woman seeming to have the slightest potential as my wife, glaring deficiencies in her vanish in a rose-colored haze. I’m alarmed at how blatantly unsuited to me some of the women were who for a while I thought might possibly be ideal for me.
Have you ever been shocked to discover that a radio announcer isn’t half as good-looking as you had imagined? When getting to know someone there are huge gaps in our knowledge. If we feel positively towards that person our imaginations inevitably fill in these gaps with things that are better than reality. Add to this natural tendency a longing to find as soon as possible that ‘someone special’ and we find ourselves swept off our feet by a torrent of wishful thinking, when getting to know someone we are initially attracted to. How long does it take for women to see their future husbands as someone who burps, snores and picks his nose? How many men see their future wives as someone who will have stretch marks and moods and frivolously spend their hard earned money? We are seldom aware that what we suppose to be our intimate knowledge of our friend is peppered with significant chunks that are not the real person at all, but simply our guesses and wishful thinking. As they say, ‘[Romantic, hormonal] love is blind, but marriage is an eye-opener [i.e. we discover reality after it’s too late to correct a life-determining decision].’ Even when keeping open their physical eyes, dating couples kiss with their eyes closed. Like you, I want to come to my senses before plunging into what might be the biggest mistake of my life.
We have already mentioned the almost intoxicating ability of touch to generate a feeling of closeness and oneness. It is frighteningly hard not to confuse this physical feeling with a genuine oneness of mind and spirit. When dating, we are unconsciously evaluating someone’s suitability as a potential life partner. Even light petting can create a most convincing illusion of oneness at a time and in an area of life in which illusions can have life-shattering implications.
Friendship is such a vital ingredient of an enduring relationship and yet when hormones kick in, they so dominate as to swamp everything – even the ability to develop genuine friendship. If you are not ruthless in toning things down, by the time things calm down enough to discover that you don’t have what it takes to be good friends, you might already be married.
Our sole defense against spiritual attack is faith in the power of Christ, not faith in human rules. ‘So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature’ (Galatians 5:16). Nevertheless, the same Bible commands us to flee youthful lusts (2 Timothy 2:22). We are called not to stoically endure lustful pressures but to hightail it out of there, putting as much distance between lust and us as we can. This is such an important spiritual principle that on four different occasions the New Testament tells us to flee from sin and temptation (1 Corinthians 6:18; 10:14; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22). That’s how we escape the sin that could entrap us, and fix our eyes on the Author and Perfector of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Joseph maintained his purity not by praying while enjoying a seductive woman’s attention, but by literally running away from her when she started getting physical (Genesis 39:12). When, day after day before that, Potiphar’s wife had tried to seduce him verbally, ‘he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her’ (Genesis 39:1, emphasis mine). Note how far back from intercourse he drew the line. No matter how inconvenient, nor how much he was missing out on, nor even how weak some people might think him by acting that way, he set boundaries and stuck to them and he even added stricter ones (running) when that became necessary.
We don’t prove what good Christians we are by taking heroin, confident that in Christ we can break the habit at any moment; we prove our devotion to Christ by totally avoiding any experimentation with things that entice. We don’t prove our commitment to Christ by playing chicken with the devil, seeing how close we can get to grieving God without actually falling. Setting a big gap between you and forbidden pleasure is the spiritual, God-honoring way to act.
The Story So Far
We have explored reasons for getting it right when setting limits in expressions of love. We have yet to get to the nitty-gritty of spelling out those limits, however. I have also discovered a factor that often pushes us into things we regret and yet is so subtle that few of us ever realize that it pushed us. So let’s plunge into these critical issues.