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(we'll keep this short & sweet)
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Not long ago Eric and I sat down with a soon-to-be-married couple that had gone from a vibrant, Christ-centered, God-scripted romance to an impure, mediocre, run-of-the-mill “Christian” relationship in a matter of weeks. Selfish desires had taken over, Jesus Christ had been pushed to the back burner, and it didn’t take long for the fairy tale sparkle to disappear. It’s something Eric and I have seen time and time again in working with the younger generation. When it comes to honoring God in romance, what starts out with the best of intentions often ends with the worst of results.
Engagement can be one of the most beautiful – and most challenging – times in a romantic relationship. Knowing that you have committed to spending the rest of your life with someone and anticipating your new life together is incredibly exciting. But it also ushers in even stronger temptations to take the pen into your own hands and push God into the background.
Yet even though I frequently see the sad results of people taking the “pen” into their own hands, I also hear the beautiful testimonies of those who left it completely in God’s – and reaped the remarkable rewards. Cultivating an engagement that is 100% pure and Christ-honoring is more than possible – even in today’s relationally-challenged world. And it’s God’s passionate desire that you, His set apart princess, will be among those who experience His very best in this crucial season of your life.
So whether you are currently engaged, or just wanting some godly advice for when that time comes in your future, I’d like to share some practical principles for honoring Christ in the soon-to-be-marriage stage of a relationship.
As you prepare your heart for marriage, it’s certainly important to pray with your fiancé, study God’s Word together, discuss spiritual truth, and cultivate spiritual unity. But be careful that you don’t let your own personal times with Christ be replaced by your times of seeking Him with your soon-to-be husband. Jesus Christ must remain your first love; your All in all, even after your wedding day. Otherwise, you’ll begin looking to your husband to fulfill needs in your heart that only Jesus Christ can truly meet. That approach will quickly lead to turmoil and tension in any marriage relationship! Yes, there is great joy and fulfillment that comes from an earthly God-scripted romance. And yet, Jesus Christ is always meant to have first place in our hearts. He is the One who meets our deepest needs where human love falls short. Our relationship with our earthly spouse is meant to be a reflection of a much greater and more important love story – our eternal romance with our heavenly Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.
As you guard and protect your individual time with Christ, it will actually help you become a better wife. When you allow Christ to satisfy your soul at the deepest level and remain your All in all, you are able to think about serving your husband and meeting his needs, instead of spending all your time worrying about whether he’s meeting your deepest emotional desires. That doesn’t mean you should never appeal to your fiancé or husband if he’s falling short in his sensitivity toward you. But if you keep Christ in His proper place in your heart rather than making an unhealthy idol out of your marriage, you will be far less prone to nagging and complaining, and far better equipped to be the loving, honoring, servant-hearted wife God has called you to be!
A young engaged couple that I know recently confessed to allowing sexual compromise into their relationship. “I just didn’t think it was really that big of a deal to God,” the young woman told us. “I mean, we’re planning to get married anyway. We’ve committed our lives to each other. What’s wrong with expressing our love physically prior to saying wedding vows?”
That young woman articulated a very common attitude among modern Christians. We might believe that having casual sex with random people isn’t God’s best, but most of us don’t see the significance of vigilantly guarding pre-marriage purity once you have pledged your life and heart to someone. So how big of a deal is purity to God, anyway? If you love someone and know you are going to get married, why is it so important to hold back?
The reason we don’t understand the importance of purity is because we don’t understand the significance of marriage covenant. A wedding isn’t merely a ceremony in which you verbally commit to love each for the rest of your lives. A wedding is a sacred exchange – a holy covenant in which two lives become one. Until you have entered into that covenant, you are still individuals – no matter how committed you might be to the relationship. Once you enter that sacred covenant, you are no longer two individuals, but “one flesh.” Then, and only then, are you free to enjoy each other’s bodies in an intimate way – entering the “holy of holies” without shame. (Note: for more detail about this principle, please read Set Apart Femininity.) If you engage in sensual touch prior to entering that sacred covenant, you dishonor God’s perfect design and leave yourselves wide open for the enemy to ravage the beauty and nobility of your relationship. God’s Word says:
Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge (Heb. 13:4 NASB).
When we choose to engage in sexual intimacy prior to a covenant exchange, we dishonor the sanctity and holiness of marriage. The word “fornication” in Scripture might seem vague at first glance, but there is nothing vague about it. According to God’s pattern, any sexual expression outside of marriage covenant is considered fornication. To keep sex sacred, we must keep ALL expressions of sexual intimacy sacred. Sexual touch of any kind is an intimate “knowing” of another person – and such intimate acts, in God’s pattern, are only meant as an outflow of a holy marriage covenant.
This may sound strange, but Eric and I decided not to even kiss until our wedding day. We wanted to go out of our way to keep every form of intimacy sacred. My dad had once told us, “Anything physically that you save for marriage will only be more beautiful and fulfilling as time goes on. Anything that you experience beforehand will eventually lose its luster.” When we put this wisdom into practice, we found it to be true. Even to this very day, whenever we share a kiss it is just as beautiful, thrilling, and satisfying as it was on our wedding day. Instead of asking the question “how far is too far?” God challenged us to start asking a new question – “how far can we possibly go to honor Him in this area of our lives?” And as we made it our goal to live without even a hint of impurity in our physical relationship, we discovered that God’s ways are truly beautiful and perfect. Because we saved everything in our physical relationship, it has only grown more and more amazing, fulfilling, and exciting with each year of our marriage.
I’ve seen too many purity-esteeming couples compromise along the way because they “didn’t want to be too extreme” about their standards. And every time, they end up with a human-led, mediocre romance rather than the stunningly beautiful heaven-on-earth fairy tale version of love God intends. But when couples vigilantly protect the physical purity of their relationship at all costs, even going to seeming “extremes” to save everything for the sacred covenant exchange of marriage, God honors and blesses the relationship with more beauty and heavenly romance than they could have ever hoped for or dreamed of. Even something as innocent as kissing before marriage can subtly erode the “sheen” of purity in a love story – especially certain kinds of kissing! It’s not that God can’t still bless a marriage when physical things have been allowed into a relationship prior to marriage. But it could have been even better. It could have been an unclouded picture of heaven on earth – a vision of the most stunning, spectacular, brilliant purity this world has ever seen.
The more physical expression you allow into a relationship prior to marriage, the more you allow emotions and selfish desires to lead the way, rather than the Spirit of God. Physical touch is a powerful and dangerous thing – that’s why it’s meant to be saved for the “holy of holies” alone. If you want a relationship that is truly directed by God rather than your own selfish whims and agenda, then go to all lengths to vigilantly guard the physical purity of your relationship. Most modern Christians are so concerned about being “extreme” that they justify treating purity lightly. But I believe we should be far more concerned about violating God’s standard for righteousness than about coming across as “extreme” in our standards.
Once a violation of purity has been allowed into a relationship (even if you haven’t technically had sex) your ability to hear God’s voice becomes clouded. You think you are hearing the Spirit of God, when in reality you are only hearing the voice of your own selfish desires. Purity is not something to mess with or take lightly. Jesus Christ cannot remain at the center of a romance in which your own agenda is leading the way. Scripture is very clear on how seriously we are to take the protection of purity in our lives:
Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God…Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body…Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?...Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's (1 Cor. 6:9-20).
When God talks about fleeing sexual immorality, He doesn’t mean to be cavalier about all physical expression up until the point of technically having sex. He means to run away from anything that would compromise the purity of the sacred marriage covenant He designed between a man and a woman.
But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints (Eph. 5:3).
The phrase “not even be named among you” literally means that there is not to be even a hint of uncleanness or sexual impurity in our lives. When God prescribes that young men and women treat each other as “brothers and sisters, with all purity” – He means it. (See 1 Timothy 5:2.) Even if you are in a serious relationship with someone, that doesn’t give you a justifiable reason to engage in sensual touch prior to your wedding day. Until you enter into a sacred marriage covenant, you are to treat him as a brother, with all purity. Think about what that means. Would you kiss your younger brother on the mouth? Would you wrap your arms around him sensually? Would you rest your hand on his thigh, or allow him to rest his hand on yours? Would you sidle up to him on the couch and whisper “sweet nothings” into his ear? (If you would – then it’s probably time to address some serious issues in your sibling relationships!) It may sound extreme to treat your fiancé the same way you would your brother, but that is God’s prescription. In fact, He goes so far as to say that if there is any temptation toward compromise in a pre-marriage relationship, the couple should go ahead and get married in order to avoid sexual sin:
…but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion (1 Cor. 7:9).
When it comes to protecting the purity of your pre-marriage relationship, there is no such thing as being too extreme. And we must be specific, rather than vague, about our commitments in the area of physical purity prior to marriage.
Engagement is a great time to sit down together and have a clear-cut conversation about your physical boundaries. Don’t make decisions based on other people’s standards. Look to the standard of Christ alone. Remember, instead of coming from the vantage point of “how far is too far?” we should be asking, “how far can we possibly go to honor our King in this relationship?” Important note: If your finance is putting pressure on you (even in subtle ways) to lower your physical standards, that’s a clear sign that it’s time to take a step back from the relationship and allow God to shape him into a selfless protector rather than a selfish conqueror of purity. A true Warrior Poet will value and honor your desires for purity far above his own agenda. He will not make you feel guilty or strange for having high standards. Rather, he will esteem and respect you all the more for keeping vigilant watch over the treasure of your purity. If you are with a guy who does anything less, then he is not yet truly worthy of your heart. And, by the way, if either you or he is worried about purity leading to frigidity or sexual incompatibility in marriage, I can tell you with absolute confidence that this concern has no validity whatsoever. When you follow God’s pattern, you experience the fullness of what He intended sexuality to be in marriage. Saving kissing and physical touch for your wedding day does not lead to sexual challenges in marriage. Rather, it leads to the most pure, beautiful, unhindered form of physical intimacy you could ever hope for or dream of.
Also, if you have not already done so, share your specific commitments with accountability partners, such as your parents or godly teammates, and invite them to frequently ask bold questions about how you are doing in protecting the purity of the relationship. It’s helpful for each of you to have your own separate accountability partners that you can get together with on a regular basis. Give them permission to ask specific questions, such as, “what kind of physical touch are you allowing into the relationship?” or “are you maintaining the commitments you’ve made before God?” It might seem awkward or uncomfortable at first – but knowing that you have to answer to someone every week about the physical aspect of your relationship is a wonderful way to guard against subtle compromise. In reality, this is one of the best and most practical ways that your teammates can serve your relationship – by working with you to carefully protect the things that are most sacred to your King.
Finally, set clear boundaries around your “alone time.” Don’t just assume that because you’ve set specific physical boundaries in your relationship that it’s safe to spend hours alone together without temptation. Late nights sitting in the car, long hikes alone in the woods, nestling in the back of a dark movie theater, long talks alone in an empty house – all such scenarios give sexual compromise an unfair advantage. It doesn’t matter how “strong” you feel against temptation, there is never a good reason to purposefully place yourself in a situation that can lead to compromise. God’s Word makes it clear that sexual stumbling comes upon even the strongest of men, with disastrous results.
…with her enticing speech she caused him to yield, with her flattering lips she seduced him. immediately he went after her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks, till an arrow struck his liver. As a bird hastens to the snare, He did not know it would cost his life. Now therefore, listen to me, my children; Pay attention to the words of my mouth: Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways, Do not stray into her paths; For she has cast down many wounded, and all who were slain by her were strong men Her house is the way to hell, descending to the chambers of death (Prov. 7:21-27).
Giving sway to impurity seems so right in the heat of the moment. Sexual temptation is very much like the above-mentioned harlot in Proverbs – it entices us with sweet-sounding reasons about how harmless and beautiful it is to express our love physically. But with each step down the path of impurity, we venture further away from the perfect design and sacred intent of our King. And soon we end up with only a shell of a God-written love story – a relationship that proclaims to honor Christ but in reality only honors self. That’s a shaky and dangerous foundation upon which to build a marriage.
Five months before our wedding, Eric and I faced an interesting challenge while on vacation with his family. A group of us had taken an Amtrak train to the East Coast and were now returning to Colorado. But the others in our group had missed our departure train out of Boston, while Eric and I sat on board the train waiting for them. The train took off before they showed up, so they canceled their reservations on the train. And to make a long story short, Eric and I were left with only one sleeper car to share for the thirty-hour ride home.
The logical thing to do would be to both stay in the sleeper car. After all, we reasoned, we didn’t need to share a bed. The sleeper car had two bunk beds – and we wouldn’t even be lying near each other. Couldn’t we simply agree not to come near each other, and both lie down on our separate beds to get some much-needed rest? Sure, it might not sound great if we came home and told our friends that we shared a sleeper car together five months before our wedding day…but no one needed to know. We could just keep the information to ourselves, knowing in our hearts that we hadn’t done anything wrong.
But then His gentle whisper blew like a wind upon our souls, filling us with the desire to honor Him, to yield to Him in every situation. We bowed our heads and said a quick prayer, asking for wisdom and clarity. And the answer came swiftly… "Avoid the very appearance of evi..."l (1 Thess. 5:22).
We had our answer. He had called us to be set apart for Him; to be a reflection of His purity not just in theory, but in practical, daily life. And it was in these little decisions that our devotion to Him was proven real.
Eric spent that night in the observation deck while I remained in the sleeper car. (I offered to take shifts with him, but he was too much of a gentleman to agree!)
Often, it’s the small decisions you make when no one else is watching that cause your engagement season to either become mediocre and self-scripted, or spectacular and God-scripted.
Fairy tale engagements are more than possible, even in today’s perverse and warped generation. But don’t expect to find a fairy tale by imitating the haphazard, hold-nothing-back version of romance you see all around you. Only when you are willing to become the “few” in this generation who will go to all lengths to serve and honor your King and hold God’s perfect design in the highest esteem will you experience His very best in this area of your life.
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