By / Sep 29

NOTE: Dean Inserra will be one of the speakers at the ERLC National Conference: “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” The conference is designed to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families and their churches. This event will be held at the iconic Opryland Hotel on October 27-29, 2014. To learn more go here.

If there is an area of life where there isn’t enough distinction between Christians and non-Christians, I believe it is in the aspects of the relational category we call “exclusive dating.” By dating, I don’t mean the causal night out where you get to know someone of the opposite sex, but the exclusive serious relationships that individuals usually engage in with several different people in their lives before they get married.

In fact, prior to the sexual revolution, men would pursue a woman toward marriage. Nowadays a man pursues a woman to be in a dating relationship. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just makes things quite complicated for the Christian who is trying to live his or her life in holiness, because the category of dating is something we invented. The Bible doesn’t acknowledge this category that has become a central part of our society. Boyfriends and girlfriends and being “committed” to someone who is not your spouse are all foreign to God’s design. Paul wrote that we look like people who “do not know God,” (1 Thess. 4:5) when we are in sexual sin. Dating makes this complicated.

Dating is so much a part of our culture and a modern-day prerequisite for engagement that we must learn how to approach this as Christians. The answer is not to “kiss dating good-bye” or try to overhaul a central component of our society, but rather that following Jesus actually will interfere with our lives in the area of dating relationships and cause us to approach these relationships differently. Again, as Paul said to the Thessalonians, we should not act like those who do not know God.

Here are a few important steps:

1. Stop acting like you’re married when you are not.

We treat these relationships as though they were quasi-marriages, and give them a measure of security that God never intended and that isn’t really there. For the Christian, if the only thing that changes when you get married is that you start having sex, something is wrong with the picture. When we read the common thread of Scripture, from Genesis to Jesus to Paul, we read that, “a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh… so they are no longer two, but one flesh” (Matt. 19:5-6). Should we really be giving ourselves away emotionally, romantically, and sexually to someone who is not our husband or wife? The one flesh union is not less than sex, but it is certainly more.

Not to be nitpicky, but when a dating couple functions as a package deal—when they give joint presents at parties, post the equivalent of engagement pictures on social media, and declare anniversaries of their “define the relationship” conversation—I think that mirrors the world’s idea of relationships, declaring a faux commitment that God does not recognize. There has to be a better way. This may even happen several times throughout one’s life with different people. Making out with, saying, “I love you” in a non-neighborly way, is not what we find in the Scriptures for the unmarried. I just can’t see how we, as Christians, can make the case that should happen with multiple partners in a lifetime.

Exclusive emotional and physical dating relationships that are not on the path toward marriage are foreign to the Christian understanding of male and female relationships. Which leads to the next point, emphasizing the need to…

2. Make intentions known in dating.

Now guys, don’t freak the girl out by talking about marriage during your first conversation. But you should exercise clarity and be intentional. Here is what that looks like:

Intentional: “I’d like to take you out on a date next Friday, are you free that evening?”

Unintentional: “Wanna hang out or get together sometime?”

As Christians, this allows the man and woman to know what is or is not happening. So if the guy you are dating says, “I don’t want to get engaged until after grad school,” and you aren’t planning on waiting that long for what could or could not happen, you can say “no thanks,” and nobody is mad or taken advantage of because intentions were made known. An awkward conversation about intentions is much better than heartbreak later.

3. Foreplay is not in play.

There is one purpose and one purpose only for what is known as “foreplay.” (I don’t even think anyone calls it that anymore but I’m going with it because it seems the most appropriate.) The purpose is that it prepares you for and leads you to sex. It was not designed to stop before a climax. It is absolutely what the Scriptures would designate as “sexual immorality.” You must put standards in place and my best advice is that when the date is over, the date is over. Walk her to the door, drop her off, and go home. If there are other people there, sure…go inside. If not, know yourself and where you are tempted, and be wise! Jesus said, “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to go into hell!” (Matt. 5:30). That idea applies completely here. Better to do something as non-sacrificial as cutting the night off early, than it is to sin.

We’ve got to get serious about sexual sin. Sex, foreplay, nakedness, etc., are not for dating people, in love people, or mature people, but for married people. We are called to recover and pursue God’s design for human sexuality which is that “Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame” (Gen. 2:25). This only exists in marriage.

I’m thankful that when God gave us marriage, He had the gospel in mind. Let us pursue purity from this moment on, as we recover in repentance, by believing the gospel, God’s purpose for marriage, and its public display of Christ and the Church.

God is not trying to keep you from something; he’s saving you from something. Let’s believe that He does truly know best.

This article was originally published here