“My boyfriend and I can’t stick to our physical standards. I think we just need to get married.”
I’ve heard this many times in my work with single women and young couples. Though it makes sense at first glance, there is more to this “solution” than meets the eye.
1 Corinthians 7:36 is often quoted to support a rapid engagement: “If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honorably toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if his passions are too strong and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married.”
However, a look at the context tells us what Paul really meant in this passage. Only a few verses prior, Paul recommends long-term singleness as beneficial to those who plan to pursue ministry. In 1 Corinthians 7:35, Paul says: “I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” As he transitions into a discussion of engaged couples, then, he is not saying that marriage will cure out-of-control sexual desires. He’s reassuring his readers that they can continue ahead to marriage if they are already engaged, and in verse 37, releasing others to break off their engagement if they wish to secure such “undivided devotion to the Lord.”
So Paul wasn’t recommending people get married simply because their passions were too strong. He was specifically addressing couples who were already betrothed (with parental approval and involvement, according to the custom of the day), talking about sexual passions for the long term. With this established, let’s talk about three other principles that answer the question “Should we just get married?”
Marriage Doesn’t Stop Lust
Some Christian couples think that marriage—and the ability to have God-sanctioned sex within it—will stop their struggle with sexual sin. And it might…for a while. But what many couples don’t know or don’t acknowledge is that lust is a spiritual issue. If you and your boyfriend consistently fall into lust and sexual sin, the problem isn’t sex: It’s the nature of your hearts.
Rushing into marriage to “fix” sexual sin doesn’t solve anything until the nature of the couples’ hearts is addressed. Getting married might allay sexual desires for a while, but if the sin issue is not resolved through Jesus Himself, lust will re-emerge in a new form. Sometimes it rears its head in a new sexual form through porn, fantasy or even unfaithfulness. Other times it transforms into lust for material things (greed and envy), lust for control (disrespect and perfectionism) or lust for an ideal (the perfect body, marriage, home or family). But if a couple does not let Christ deal with the root of lust itself, it will always come back.
Lust Is a Spiritual Issue
Yes, lust is a spiritual issue. Long ago, the church defined lust as any passion that was out of control—not just sexual passion. I think that definition better serves us today. We can lust for food, clothes, power, status, money OR sex. And that’s why getting married and having sex won’t eradicate a lust struggle—it’s a struggle with sin!
Lust is defeated only by cutting it off at the root: fighting it spiritually first, mentally second and physically third. You can set up standards over and over, but until your heart is aligned with God’s, and your desires flow from His Spirit, your standards will continue to fail.
To battle lust spiritually, you need to be honest with yourself. Acknowledge the problem. Bring it to Jesus. Repent of the patterns you’ve been living in and seek His Spirit, His Word and His wisdom to guide your steps forward.
Sexual Freedom Only Exists Through Christ
As I said in my post Why Marriage Won’t Fix a Lust Problem:
“If lust were a sex problem, having sex would fix it. But it doesn’t. Problems with porn, masturbation, fantasy and extramarital sex don’t go away after the vows. In order to find freedom from sexual sin, we must go to the source of sexual freedom.”
Jesus Christ is the only source of true sexual freedom. Through Him, we are free from the power of our sexual desires, the condemnation of sexual sin and the debt we owe through our sin nature. To be sexually free, we must walk daily in step with Him.
What does that look like? It means starting your dates in the Word and prayer. It means recognizing your thought patterns and submitting them to Christ as soon as you see unhealthy patterns. It means removing all sources of temptation—books, movies, date activities and even date locations, like your apartment, in order to pursue holiness. God will help you do this! It’s worth it in order to be free.
Marriage won’t stop a lust problem. But Jesus Christ will. Instead of rushing an engagement, get to the root of your struggle as a couple. Find counseling. Get in God’s Word. This is how you build a foundation for your future marriage.