Josh—my boyfriend then, husband now—set down his coffee, earnest eyes looking into mine. “What should our standards be?” he asked. “I mean, what would glorify God in our relationship?”
“I’m not sure,” I replied. “What do you think?”
“Well, I think it means we need to err on the side of purity. So we need to set up safeguards for our standards.”
We set out confidently and happily for about two months before our standards were put to the test. The more our desires grew, the more difficult it was to walk in purity.
Deep down, we knew it wasn’t the standards that caused this struggle—it was something within our hearts. Now, as a married couple looking back, we clearly see the problem: We were asking the wrong question from hearts focused on the wrong thing.
We were asking, “How far is too far?”
How do we honor God physically in our relationships? It begins with the theological principles of law and grace.
Grace Does Not Remove the Law
Standards, physical or nonphysical, are a form of “law.” God’s law tells us where we have gone wrong and brings a consciousness of morality. It is because of God’s law that we know murder is wrong and adultery is a sin. We feel guilt because of the law, which tells us when we do something wrong.
Our world tells us to get rid of guilt by getting rid of the law. Some people seek to numb a guilty conscience by removing the absolute standard of morality. It sounds like a great idea—if you have the ability to change an absolute standard! But we don’t have that ability.
Affected by the cultural stance on sex, even some Christians say, “Why bother with physical standards? They just bring disappointment when you break them, and God forgives us anyway.” God DOES forgive sexual sin, but that does not mean we get to do whatever we want in our relationships. This balance can be confusing. Surrounded on one side by legalism and compromise on the other, Christian guys go through relationships never really knowing what it means to honor and respect a woman, and Christian girls continue giving away their bodies and emotions because it’s “normal” and they’ve never been exposed to love apart from a physical requirement.
Many young people determine physical dating standards based on popular opinion and personal feeling, but we don’t get to alter, edit or dictate God’s standards.
Despite the fact there is no “Dating” addendum in the Bible, God has standards for relationships. And while God is forgiving of our failures, God’s graciousness toward us does not remove His standards for us. Grace is not the absence of God’s law: It is mercy in spite of transgression.
In Matthew 5, Jesus gives the Sermon on the Mount. There seemed to be a rumor in the synagogue knitting circles that Jesus had come to get rid of God’s law. Jesus strongly corrected this thought:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-19)
We are all judged by the law of God (read Romans 1-2); God’s unchangeable standard of holiness will be the standard by which we are measured. However, where law brought a consciousness of sin and separation, grace bridged the gap. The law of God does not disappear under grace. The law is brought to fulfillment by grace.
Through Jesus’ sacrifice, we are made holy—which fulfills the righteous requirement of the law. The law exists, but now we meet its requirement because of Jesus.
Now, as new creations in Him, we must walk a holy walk (Ephesians 4:1). But how?
“Thou Shalt Not Kiss”?
What is the law concerning physical behavior before marriage? “Thou shalt not kiss”?
In order to answer this question, we have to seek God’s heart for our lives, and Peter explains this to us in his first epistle:
…just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter. 1:16)
In this verse Peter is referring back to Old Testament law. As previously stated, God’s law is His standard for holiness—and we don’t have the ability nor the right to alter that standard. In the book of Leviticus, God outlined the laws He had for the nation of Israel. They don’t always make sense to our modern-day minds, but God had a purpose in those commands:
…you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine. (Leviticus 20:26)
Israel was to live a distinct life within its culture. They were set apart, or consecrated for the Lord. In order to maintain a relationship with their Holy God, they had to live holy lives. We have this same calling.
The issue is not “to kiss or not to kiss,” but whether we are allowing God’s Spirit to dictate our decisions. If we allow cultural standards to dictate our personal behavior, we will never do hard things for Jesus. When Josh and I decided to save our kiss for our wedding day, we were mocked by the world, including Christians, but we knew that choice was the best way for us to honor God. It was difficult, but it was the choice that led us closest to holiness. Whatever you must do to achieve that same call to holiness on your relationship, do it, no matter how hard it is.
Reframe the Question
When we ask “How far is too far?” we are asking the wrong question.
God’s will and command for us as Christians is not “Try to live a good life” or “Try to please Me as best you can” or “Figure out a standard that works for you,” but to be holy. In word, deed, thought and action, we are to emulate our God who enables us to do this by His Spirit (John 14:16, 15:26).
So the question to ask is not “What can I get away with?” but “How holy can we be?”
How can you help your boyfriend (or girlfriend, if you’re a boy) be all the person God intended him or her to be, free of guilt, shame and regret?
Reframing this question changes how we think. When you sit down with your boyfriend to discuss your standards for physical behavior, holiness—not guilt or human approval—should be your guide.
When you’re on the couch, in the car, or on a date, ask: “How can we help each other be holy in this situation?”
When holiness dictates your actions, you will always please God. You will live guilt-free.
Remember how I said, “Our relationship seemed more focused on NOT going ‘too far’ than on actually enjoying one another”? When my husband and I kept holiness as our priority, our relationship thrived. Holiness gave us the freedom to build a strong, Christ-focused relationship, which paved the way to a marriage of unity and peace.
In 1 Peter, chapter one, we are commanded to “be holy as He is holy.” Peter gives us some guidelines for attaining this holiness God requires:
Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. (1 Peter 1:13-14)
With holiness as our goal, we choose to:
- PLAN for holy actions
- SUBMIT our impulses to Christ
- HOPE constantly in grace
- REJECT our former, evil desires
If you arrange your relationship around holiness, you won’t be asking “How far is too far?” With holiness as our motivator, we won’t need to ask that question at all.
No matter how difficult it is, no matter HOW MUCH we have to give up, followers of Jesus will live lives transformed by grace. We don’t look for ways to cheat the standards. We take the high, holy, but narrow path winding between legalism and self-determined morality.
My husband wrote the following line in a letter to me while we were dating:
“Walk with me, darling, into the light of His glory, and stand by me as we pursue His ultimate and perfect plan for us.”
This “ultimate and perfect plan” is made clear when we stand in God’s holy hill with “clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:3-4). When holiness and love for Jesus determine your actions, you will never have to ask “How far is too far?” again.
This post is adapted from a post of the same title on Phylicia’s blog.