How Far is Too Far?

Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra

February 20, 2019

How far is too far? If you’re in a dating relationship, you and your significant other have probably wondered about the limits of your physical relationship. You may even feel conflicted; on the one hand, the traditional Christian position reserved sexual activity for marriage (with some people making the case that nearly all physical activity should be “off-limits” until the wedding day). On the other hand, our culture leads us to believe that that it’s normal--even important--for a couple to explore their “sexual compatibility” before committing to marriage. Where does God want us to draw the line? While the bible doesn’t lay out a list of what physical or sexual activity is and isn’t acceptable for couples in a dating relationship, He does show us principles that will help us honor him by setting boundaries in our dating relationship. Let’s look at a few of these principles that can help you enjoy a healthy level of affection in your dating relationship.

Avoid Sexual Immorality

So, how far is too far? The bible lays out one clearly defined limit. The writer of Hebrews describes this both positively and negatively by urging us to “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Heb. 13:4). God’s desire for his people is to elevate both marriage and sex, so that marriage can be nothing less than a reflection of God’s relationship with his people, and so that sex is an expression of that exclusive love and commitment for each other. To do this, God intends that we guard the sacredness of that covenant by reserving all sexual activity for marriage.

This is particularly challenging for the Christian couple striving to honor God in a dating relationship today. Some reason that as long as actual intercourse doesn’t happen, a couple is free to participate in any other form of physical or sexual activity. This may seem like an easy way around what feels like a burdensome restriction. But God’s intention isn’t to regulate our lives with finely-tuned rules (for which we naturally seek out easy loopholes!). His design for sex is that it goes hand in hand with commitment. He wants sex to be a way of enacting the vows we have made to our spouse. Moreover, God wants to spare us the unnecessary pain that we open ourselves up to when we give ourselves sexually to someone outside of a covenant. Even if we are convinced that we will remain with our boyfriend or girlfriend forever, it doesn’t always work out this way. If we’ve had sex with a person we aren’t married to, we have shared the most vulnerable part of ourselves with them--and if the relationship doesn’t work out, the pain of the broken relationship is intensified. So, if you aren’t married, honor God by avoiding sexual immorality. Instead, commit together to enjoying sexual intimacy within the context of marriage.

Don’t Awaken love

The Song of Solomon is a collection of some of the most sensual and erotic love poetry ever written. Clearly, God intends us to enjoy deep pleasure in sex. Yet three times in this collection of poems we hear the young woman urge younger maidens, “that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases” (Song of Songs 2:7 3:5, 8:4). The poet recognizes that while sex is incredibly powerful, and enjoyable, and while it is meant to be freely enjoyed in the right context, awakening our sexual drive before we have a context to express that desire is unwise. As a dating couple, you will be wise to set boundaries that can help you guard yourselves against “awakening love” before it’s time. In other words, set your boundaries before you are faced with temptation. You might decide not to spend the night at each other’s home, for example, or, you might agree on what physical touch is off-limits for you.

Positively Speaking

So far, we’ve focused only on what Christians should avoid; may Christians enjoy any form of affection before marriage? God created us as multi-faceted people. We are woven together as body, mind, heart, and soul to name a few. A growing relationship means growing closer in all of these parts of who we are--including our physical selves. God doesn’t frown on any and all forms of physical affection; he created us to enjoy affection. Beyond what has already been stated here, the bible doesn’t exactly spell out how much kissing is okay, or where the line is between acceptable affection, and “too far.” But, those in a dating relationship should feel free to enjoy the gift of affection that grows as the relationship grows.

A Word of Grace

It’s entirely possible, that you’re reading these words with a tinge (or more) of guilt. Maybe you’ve been sexually active, or you’ve gone further than you know you should have and now you carry some guilt with you. This guilt might even linger into your future, overshadowing what should be a deeply enjoyable experience with feelings of regret or shame. God is a gracious God, who wants nothing more than to welcome his children home, and receive them with his forgiving arms opened wide. When we humbly acknowledge our mistakes and failures, God wipes the slate clean and no longer holds our past against us. Move forward in your relationships confident that your past no longer defines you!

Dating is an exciting time--one filled with the thrill of meeting and knowing someone new, with the deepening joy of knowing and being known--and with the anticipation of what God may have in store for you. Committing yourself to enjoying sex within marriage isn’t easy in our day and age, but as we trust His will, we will discover that we are doing what is pleasing to God.

About the author — Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra

Rob Toornstra has pastored a church in Salem Oregon for the past ten years. He has been married to Amy for fifteen years, and together, they are enjoying the adventure of raising two girls and one boy. For fun, Rob enjoys cooking, reading, aviation, and geocaching.  He is the author of "Naked and Unashamed: How the Good News of Jesus Transforms Intimacy" (Doulos, 2014).

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