Scripture is clear that becoming one flesh is the same as being married. Sexually active relationships carry the same gravity as a marriage because they bring two people into an intimacy that God intends to be permanent. Sex outside of a committed relationship is harmful to us and leaves us hurting because physical intimacy was designed for permanent relationships that are also emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually connected permanently. When we become one flesh, we are supposed to leave others and cleave in commitment to our spouse (Genesis 2:24). When this fails to happen, we feel used and broken. Our sense of true intimacy is bent and warped--this is not what God wants for us. God loves sex, designed us as sexual beings, and established this guideline of keeping sex within marriage to protect us in our dating relationships and to bless us in our marriage relationships. So sex is reserved for the marriage bed, but what does the Bible say about how much physicality is permissible outside of marriage?
Paul tells us to honor God with the way that we live in our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:20). We need to be listening to our conscience about how our intimacy is honoring to God. Our bodies are places where the Spirit has taken up residence and that should matter to the way that we engage physically with one another. If your conscience is concerned, then pay attention to your moral compass and talk about it together.
A healthy marriage will have intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and physical intimacy. Building relationship depth across this breadth of aspects is what a serious relationship should be cultivating. When you marry, you give yourself completely to your spouse (1 Corinthians 7:3-4). That complete intimacy will grow in your marriage over time, but its roots are being built in your dating relationship. It is only natural that we should be cultivating intimacy in each of these relationship areas as we move closer to marriage. Too often dating relationships tempt physical intimacy to its limits while ignoring these other areas of intimacy which are critical building blocks to a healthy marriage. Maybe try being intentional about growing other forms of intimacy rather than pushing physical boundaries.
We may think that we have all the restraint in the world, but the reality is that God has designed our bodies with strong physical longings for physical intimacy. It is part of what our bodies were made to do. Jesus tells us to, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38). Watching and praying helps keep us from sinning in our weak flesh. Watching involves paying attention and having a plan in place. Talk about it together before it just happens. Decide together with what level of intimacy you feel comfortable in your relationship. Make a rule if it helps. Then be watchful that you don’t violate that trust. Be prayerful that God would keep you from straying from that commitment.
We are told to stay away from temptation not dabble with falling into it. Flee from it, remove yourself from it (1 Corinthians 6:18). Decide that you are not going to put yourself into a situation where you discover just how weak your flesh is around temptation. Don’t take off your clothes or get into bed and then wonder how a pregnancy happened. Hanging around temptation is actively inviting trouble into your life. Choose to distance yourself from temptation.
The biblical book Song of Songs is full of imagery of the joyousness of sexual union, but in three different places in the book it says not to awaken love before its time. Going too fast too soon is unhealthy. While your relationship is growing in intimacy, avoid rushing too close to intercourse before your relationship is ready for marriage. Arousal should be avoided in a relationship that is not ready to be consummated. Enjoy the lesser intimacies of holding hands or a tender kiss without arousing a deeper longing that gets left unsatisfied. Cultivate spiritual, emotional, and intellectual areas of intimacy instead.
With the line of physical intimacy is left in part to our own judgement, it should not be surprising when two people draw the lines in different places. On this scripture gives us guidance. Don't push anyone beyond what their conscience believes to be correct (1 Corinthians 8:11-12). We need to be supporting and encouraging a brother or sister who has adapted a more conservative understanding, not pressuring them to violate their principles. Intimate relationships should seek to support your faith stance not challenge it. You do not want to enter a marriage where you have felt your conscience was violated and your moral compass was ignored. Choose to build your relationships on a platform of respect for one another.
Rev. Deb Koster
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Dr. Dan Mielke