My girlfriend and I have been dating for about a year and a half. Eight months or so in, we fell in sexual temptation and started having sex regularly, along with sharing a bed. Later, I was strongly convicted about our sinful habits and made the choice to stop engaging in them. When I told her about this, she agreed that the sex was wrong but that she needed to sleep with me because the way she shows and receives love is physical touch.
I feel that any act like this (sleeping with each other, cuddling in private or unsupervised) could lead us right back into the sin that we were living in. She says that sleeping together is something she absolutely needs or she thinks it will be impossible to continue the relationship. Thoughts? Suggestions? I want to honor God in our relationship.
Thanks for writing — this question continues to come up a lot. I also want to commend you for recognizing the sexual sin you and your girlfriend were engaging in, repenting of it, and stopping it. Praise God for that! I will pray that whatever else happens, both of you will find comfort in the grace of the Gospel as you faithfully pursue holiness.
As to your question of what that holiness might look like going forward, your question is a little unclear as to exactly what your girlfriend means by "no sex but sleeping together." Does she mean being in the same bed and engaging in some sort of sexual activity short of intercourse, or does she literally mean just sleeping in the same bed at the same time but not engaging in any physical activity at all (probably less likely given her stated desire to give and receive physical touch). Either way, the answer is the same: you should not be sleeping in the same bed together.
As to engaging in some level of romantic physical activity short of intercourse, I think that would be sin. As I've written in this space several times, I believe the Bible to teach that all sexual activity outside of marriage is sin, and all romantically oriented physical activity is sexual activity. God's design of sex doesn't merely include the act of sexual intercourse. It's also everything that leads up to that act, and everything on the sexual continuum is meant to end in that act. It's called foreplay, and it's a fundamental part of God's design for sex.
This truth bears itself out not only in our emotions, desires and common sense, but literally in our physical bodies. The moment two people begin kissing or touching each other in a sexual way, both the male and female body literally, physically, begin "preparing" for sex. God has designed us that way, and when we begin any sort of sexual activity, our bodies act according to that design. To again paraphrase Michael Lawrence's analogy, romantic physical activity is like a downhill on-ramp to a highway. It's one way, you gather momentum the second you enter it, and according to the Great Engineer's design of the highway system, there's only one reason to get on it.
It's also clear from Scripture, however, that everything I've just described is intended to happen within the context of marriage and only there (see, among others, Genesis 1:28, 1 Corinthians 7:3ff, Song of Songs 2:7). Christian women to whom I am not married — including someone I am dating but have not yet married — are my sisters in Christ and should be treated as "sisters, in all purity" (1 Timothy 5:2). The NIV translates the end of that verse with the phrase "absolute purity." A practical guideline I often use to counsel Christian dating couples in this area is not to do anything with someone you are not married to that you wouldn't want your spouse to do with someone else after you're married. Even if all your girlfriend has in mind is sleeping/snuggling/kissing, such activities won't pass muster under that standard.
Even if you and your girlfriend don't agree that just sleeping in the same bed or kissing are sinful per se (as I know some faithful evangelical Christians do not), you're also exactly right that sleeping in the same bed will expose both of you to enormous temptation. The Bible is full of warnings to take sexual temptation extremely seriously. Rather than attempting to get as close to "the line" as we can without sinning, the Bible tells us to turn and run away from sexual immorality and the temptation to engage in it (see, among others, 1 Corinthians 6:12 and following, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-6, Romans 13:13-14, Ephesians 5:3-5). Proverbs calls the deliberate courting of sin and temptation "folly," and it is the exact opposite of wisdom. Especially because you and your girlfriend already know what it is to be in regular sexual sin, you should be particularly cautious and wise.
Finally, I would encourage you to be sympathetic but wise as you talk with your girlfriend about this. For those who mean to live as followers of Christ, nobody's preferred "love language" trumps Scripture. Try to explain gently but clearly that what Scripture teaches about marriage and sex and relating as brothers and sisters in Christ means that in your relationship, truly "loving" her well means caring for her spiritual good and not engaging in romantic physical activity outside of marriage (see Romans 13:8-14; 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; 1 Timothy 5:2). If she hears the arguments from Scripture and still insists on unwise and (I believe) sinful activity, you may need to consider whether staying in the relationship is wise.
I know these are difficult issues to think through and that they cause emotions and desires to run high. I will pray that the Lord would give you both wisdom as you seek to follow Him in this.
Copyright 2015 Scott Croft. All rights reserved.