My boyfriend and I recently crossed some lines sexually that I never thought we would prior to marriage. We're saving intercourse, but have done a lot of other things. I honestly don't know if any of it is a sin because the Bible doesn't have guidelines outside of "don't have sex before marriage."
Sometimes, I have no problem with where our physical relationship is, but sometimes I feel bad about it. The problem is that I'm more worried about our behavior than he is. How do we know if what we are doing physically is glorifying God? How would you suggest I approach this subject with my boyfriend? What should we do?
I appreciate your courage in writing and asking such pointed questions. Wishing that someone had been straightforward with me when I was dating, I will be straightforward with you.
Before I started dating Steve, I dated very little. With so little experience, it was easy to think it was easy to say no to sexual sin. No opportunity to sin is a great help to holiness. But it's also a strong fuel for self-righteousness. I thought I was holy and that being holy was doable in my own strength. I was also very critical of my friends who were sinning sexually. How can you do that? I'd think. Don't you know it's wrong? After I fell in love, I realized that knowing something is wrong often isn't enough to keep you from doing it. Holiness requires super-human strength — the sort that only comes from walking in the power of the Holy Spirit. Consider how we're supposed to live:
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy" (1 Peter 1:13-16).
When God said, "be holy," He was commanding something that, left to ourselves, is impossible. But He didn't leave us to ourselves. He sent us a savior, His Son, who emptied himself and became one of us (Philippians 2:5-7). As a man, Christ "was tempted in every way, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). And as the only sinless man, who was also God, He went to the cross to pay the penalty our sin deserves. It is this truth, what we call the Gospel, that sets us free to be forgiven of our sins and empowered to obey God's commands, including His commands to be sexually pure.
This purity goes way beyond not having intercourse before marriage. It includes what we wear, what we say, what we do and how we think. Jesus' call to purity is comprehensive, going so far as equating lustful thoughts with committing adultery (Matthew 5:28). Why is it, then, that so many Christian singles think the uncrossable line is intercourse? I think it's in part because we want to sin (Romans 7:15); it's our nature. But it doesn't help that in our Internet age, the Bible isn't like Google. You can't do a word search for French kissing or fondling and get chapter and verse descriptions of forbidden sexual acts. Words that in antiquity meant something to everyone hearing and reading them — words like immorality, sodomy, fornication — now just sound antiquated. But it turns out that misunderstanding the words the Bible uses to describe sin is no defense. Paul tells us in Romans 2:14-15,
Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.
I believe this is what you're describing when you say that sometimes you feel bad about what you've done. Your conscience is accusing you; it's one of the ways the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin (John 16:7-9). I urge you to pay attention to it, to "seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near" (Isaiah 55:6). When you ignore your conscience, it becomes dull, and eventually, if you ignore it repeatedly, it will become what the Bible calls "seared." That is a fearful thing.
The book of Hebrews shows through the example of Esau that the opportunity to repent will not always exist:
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no "root of bitterness" springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears (Hebrews 12:15-17).
There is an urgency in Scripture when it comes to sin. We are told to flee, not depart casually. It is serious because it is powerful. Sin has a way of taking hold, of tasting sweet going down (Proverbs 9:13-18). But it is the tool of the deceiver who is hell-bent on destroying us (1 Peter 5:8). For the sake of your soul and out of love for God, you must fear Him more than you fear upsetting (or even losing) your boyfriend (Luke 12:5). That's why you have to talk to your boyfriend about this. The best way to talk about this is to confess your own sin and repent for it, including turning away from it. You need not condemn your boyfriend — the Holy Spirit is the one who convicts us of sin — but simply tell him that the Holy Spirit has convicted you and that you won't do those things anymore. Tell him it's not because you don't love him anymore, but because you do. You're realizing that leading him to sin sexually is unloving.
Even more important, by disobeying God, you're acting unloving toward Him. Scripture is clear that the sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Read 1 Corinthians 5:9 and 6:9, 18, Ephesians 5:5, Hebrews 13:4, Revelation 21:8). I believe you are upset about this issue precisely because it is such a big deal! The Holy Spirit is at work in your heart — and that is something to rejoice over and give thanks to God for! Pay attention to Him.
Scripture is clear that where no impediments to marry are involved (you're both believers, you're of age, your parents agree, etc.), it is better to marry than burn. It may be that you should marry. That question will best be answered with the counsel of your parents and pastors. But it is essential to repent and turn from sexual sin before moving forward to marriage.
This is a huge issue you've raised, one that plagues single Christians of our generation. I realize I'm just scratching the surface with my answer. You can learn much more by listening to the sermon Kevin DeYoung preached at the RADICAL conference, the one Lisa and Martha attended last month, about sexual purity and holiness. It was an amazing talk, one I think you'd benefit greatly from hearing. Also worth getting is Sex and the Supremacy of Christ by John Piper and Justin Taylor.
I pray God will strengthen you to fear Him above all others, to submit to His design for sex and to obey Him, even when it's difficult.
Copyright 2012 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.