I’m a 19-year-old guy, entering my third year of college. When I finished high school, I felt led by God to commit to not date for two years and to spend that time growing closer to Him.
That period ended last week, and now I’m not sure where to go from here. I want to continue growing spiritually as well as start a dating relationship, but I want to make sure that any relationship I pursue is of God’s leading and not just of my wanting to start dating because I now have the freedom to do so. Thanks in advance for any advice.
Thanks for writing. I appreciate that you have sought to think through your own spiritual growth and how that process might affect dating in a godly way. Your situation touches upon a number of principles covered in my “Biblical Dating” series of eight articles here on Boundless, so let me commend those to you for some fuller ideas to think through, but in the meantime, let me try to boil down a few ideas based on your specific question.
First, it’s understandable (and wise) that as a young man starting college, you decided to put off dating and focus on your spiritual growth. A lot of singles — especially college students — engage in the “recreational dating” with no eye toward marriage that, as I explain more below, so often leads to spiritual and emotional harm to those who participate as well as the dishonor of the name of Christ. You apparently didn’t do that, so well done.
I want to mention one thing initially that I think will be helpful to you as you make dating (and many other) decisions moving forward. Your question mentioned that you “felt led,” apparently in some authoritative way, to make your decision not to date for your first two years of college. I’m not sure exactly what you mean by that. It is godly and wise to seek to be in the Lord’s will in all you do, but it seems worth mentioning that the main way God authoritatively leads His people is not through subjective feelings but through His Word. The main way God authoritatively leads His people is not through subjective feelings but through His Word.
Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that “[a]ll Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (emphasis added). This is the main passage supporting the doctrine of the “sufficiency of Scripture,” which means that God’s Word is sufficient to guide us in all areas of life and doctrine — even areas of life not explicitly dealt with in Scripture.
To take a particularly relevant example, the Bible doesn’t expressly mention dating, but that doesn’t mean there is no guidance for us about godly dating in Scripture. I may be wrong, but it sounded from your question like you “felt” God authoritatively telling you to wait on dating and that you are unsure of what to do next without feeling in your gut some further authoritative “leading” from God about when to pursue it. As a general matter, I would encourage you to look to God’s Word in your decision-making instead of waiting for an authoritative “feeling” from God. Good resources on this idea theologically and practically include Kevin DeYoung’s book Just Do Something and Phillip Jensen’s Guidance and the Voice of God.
OK, then — how might we apply some scriptural principles to your question? There’s actually a lot to say here, but as I wrote earlier, I’ll give you a few key ideas for the moment. First, and most broadly, marriage is a good gift that is part of God’s creation order (Genesis 2); Jesus seems to treat marriage as part of the normal progression of life (Luke 17:26-27); and Paul affirms and instructs on marriage in multiple passages (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 7; Ephesians 5:22-33). In other words, marriage is a good, normal thing to be pursued for those of us (which is most of us) who do not plan to lead a life of long-term singleness and celibacy for ministry purposes. Also, dating and marriage, if pursued biblically, tend to sanctify young singles more than hinder their spiritual growth, so don’t worry too much about that part of your question.
Within that general context, however, the Bible also has a lot to say about how we are to interact as brothers and sisters in Christ who are not married to one another:
1 Thessalonians 4:3-6: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter….” Other translations render “transgress and wrong” as “defraud.” One application of this passage is not to “defraud” a brother or sister in Christ by implying a marriage relationship exists when it doesn’t. How does one do that? By engaging in levels of physical and emotional intimacy outside of a marriage covenant that are reserved for marriage.
I’ve spoken to numerous “long-dating” couples, in college and beyond, who other than living together, could do little to intertwine their lives any more than they already are. They see each other every day, are with each other’s families every holiday (and often know their partner’s family as well as any son- or daughter-in-law does), they travel together, spend most of their non-working (or studying) time together, they daily confide in one another (and maybe only one another), and are without doubt, closer emotionally with one another than with anyone else on the planet. This is exactly the level of intimacy that is reserved for marriage only and that dating couples should make every effort to restrain until the appropriate time.
1 Corinthians 6:18-20: “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” Where the level of emotional intimacy I’ve described above is present, it is nearly always accompanied by a level of physical intimacy that is sin outside of marriage. It is this physical and emotional intimacy before marriage that makes it feel like a divorce when the couple breaks up and/or that has profound consequences in any later marriage, even if the couple marries one another.
1 Timothy 5:2 instructs the church (and the brothers in it) to encourage young women “as sisters, in all purity.” The NIV renders “all purity” as “absolute purity.” As I’ve written elsewhere, I believe this and other passages to mean that there should be no romantic physical relationships between brothers and sisters in Christ outside of marriage.
Obviously, vigilance is required to obey these scriptural principles in any dating relationship. Without detailing the argument and statistics here, it is clearly true that the longer a dating relationship lasts, the more difficult it is to conduct that relationship in accord with the above scriptural principles. With that in mind, I generally counsel singles not to begin dating unless they are open to being married within a year. There’s nothing biblical or magical about the one year timeframe, but it’s a wise way to begin thinking through the issue.
What might all this mean for you? Well, if you agree with what I’ve suggested above — and assuming as I am from your question that you have at least two years of college left — you seem to have a couple of choices. First, hold off on dating entirely until you are closer to graduation, or second, be prepared — if the Lord should provide the opportunity for godly marriage sooner — to finish college as a married man. Both these paths should be considered in a context of counsel and accountability with older, godly (and probably married) men whom you trust and who know you well. I will pray for the Lord to bless you with continued spiritual growth and with wisdom on the dating issue.
For His glory,
Copyright 2014 Scott Croft. All rights reserved.