How far is too far in a relationship?
What about living together? Sex before marriage?

This article will work backwards to answer the question of what is proper in a relationship. This means that we must begin with the ideal culmination, or union, of a man and woman -- namely marriage! God's desire was for a man and woman to come together in a life-long relationship.

"And Adam said: 'This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.' Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed." (Genesis 2:23-25, NKJ)

Back in the garden of Eden, God created a woman as a perfect partner for the man. She was to be truly an extension of the man, "flesh of his flesh", yet a separate individual. With each being the completion of the other, the bond is one that exceeds a mere legal contract, rather God describes it as two individual people become one.

And He (Jesus) answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,'" and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate." (Matthew 19:4-6, NKJ)

The man is to care for his wife as if she was his own body, looking out for her physical, mental and spiritual well-being. The woman is to respect and honor her husband, with love being the binding tie.

"So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church." (Ephesians 5:28-29, NKJ)

If two people are truly acting out of love, their expectations and actions towards the other will be loving, never abusive or self-serving. Ultimately each will be looking out for and seeking the best for the other.

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails..." (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, NIV)

In the Greek language there are three words translated as love in English. One is in reference to to God-given love, a selfless love, best exampled by Jesus Christ. Only a believer in Jesus can experience and example this type of love. The second form, brotherly love, is the strong care and affection that people naturally have for their biological relatives, even as a mother would have for a child. This love is a willful love, a love that flourishes with work. The third form of love, is erotic love. Sexual love is a God given desire that He placed into men and woman to be enjoyed within the bond of marriage. While a believer should have a marriage built with all three types of love, a non-believer has only the latter two. Any relationship built on only sexual love is destined to fade.

The sexual union of a husband and wife truly symbolizes the two becoming one. God created sex within marriage for a two-fold purpose. The first of these is procreation, to enable a husband and wife to have children and further the human race. God determined that the best place for children to grow up and be taught what is right and wrong is in the family relationship; as children of the "two that became one." The uniqueness of both individuals, the husband and the wife, contribute all the gifts and abilities God has determined to be necessary for the task of raising children. Secondly, sexual union was given as a means of pleasure for the husband and wife. The special feeling of trust, oneness, and security that goes with the physical pleasure of sex can only be found in the marriage relationship. This sexual union is one that each marriage partner is not to deprive the other of, as it's part of them being one.

"The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time..." (1 Corinthians 7:3-5, NIV)

"Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral." (Hebrews 13:4, NIV)

The reason God said that adultery is sin (Exodus 20:14) was that marriage is an exclusive relationship. When the two became one, it was to the exclusion of all others. The life-long nature of marriage is God's way of helping to ensure this exclusiveness.

While it has become fashionable for many to "try out marriage" through living together, it falls far short of God's intent, depriving both completely of what marriage is all about. In living together there is no intent to a permanent bond, no security, and little desire to work at love (something that comes with a commitment to long-term). Often this relationship is built almost exclusively on the one form of love, sexual love. When this fades, or a seemingly stronger attraction is found elsewhere, it's easy for one to claim that they no longer love someone. While those living together are two who have become one in the flesh (sexual love), they are not so in mind (brotherly love), or in spirit (selfless love). The bottom-line on living together is this; those who do so have not experienced marriage rather they have experienced the long-term effects of sin. It shouldn't surprise us that studies have shown those who live together and subsequently marry are more likely to divorce. All sin has consequences (Galatians 6:7-8). (Consider also that many subsequent marriages of those living together are marriages now out of convenience rather than commitment).

Having established all this, our backwards journey now moves to the earlier levels of relationships found in our society. It should be noted that other cultures -- and even the culture of Biblical times -- did not have dating (or even engagement) like we do. In North America, dating is a time to get to know another more intimately before committing to that individual for engagement (as a pledge to marry), and then ultimately marriage. A clarification is in order regarding the use of the phrase 'more intimately'. Dating grew out of the practice of courting, where the guy would come to visit the girl under the watchful eye of her parents or another trusted adult. During these visits they grew to know each other more intimately in regards to their likes and dislikes, mutual interests, beliefs, etc. This increased intimacy was based mostly on an intellectual level. While no one can deny that there was likely a physical attraction, courtship intentionally prevented them from exploring or furthering this physical attraction. In this way, their relationship was built -- first of all -- upon getting to truly know the other as an individual. When you read letters from that era, you could see the love of one for the other -- expressed in their concern for the other in all aspects of their life. Mostly in the last few decades, courtship grew into dating as we now have it. This came from a change in people's lifestyles, priorities and even mobility. The easy access to cars enabled people to travel further distances easier. Hosts of new entertainment, and the free time and finances to enjoy them, all came together to promote dating. Parents had less time or inclination to chaperone dates, and young people could now go more places and do more things -- away from the watchful eye of any chaperone. And with this freedom came more time and opportunity to explore the aspects of physical attraction in place of, or in greater priority to, any intellectual attraction. When relationships are based on physical first, that relationship is based on shaky ground. Pleasure becomes the pursuit -- and when the pleasure subsides, or is lost (being based on how one looks, feels, etc.), the relationship often falls apart, being based on nothing else. It's no surprise that the dating era has seen an unparalleled growth in divorce as well. As with living together, many marriages are now built solely on sexual love and no real intent to long term commitment. Rather than seeking what's best for each other, one or both are looking at it from the perspective of 'what's in it for me?' Dating (or marriage) built on self serving intent is a sure recipe for someone to get hurt in the relationship.

Sex in dating is wrong because it's outside of the life-long commitment that God established. At the dating level sex has been completely stripped of any veneer of commitment. It's sole purpose is for pleasure, without regard for consequences (physical, mental, or spiritual). The spiritual consequences of sin are found all throughout Scriptures. The mental consequences of uncommitted sex are sometimes much more subtle, leading to jealousy, loneliness, anger, and ultimately guilt. The memories can haunt someone years later, even when they have entered into marriage -- often making it hard to mentally maintain the exclusive commitment that marriage is to be. Physically, sex outside of marriage brings the possibility of children without being a family (which is God's design and intent) and raises the possibility of disease (which is destroying the temple of God, which is your body).

"Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are." (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, NKJ)

And don't let anyone fool you with the idea of "safe sex" -- the statistics show that the failure rate of condoms, for disease and pregnancy, is high enough to consider this so-called "safe sex" as being sexual Russian roulette.

It also should be emphasized that to one degree the sexual union has brought the two together as man and wife. In this they have chosen to live a lie, the result of having actions that say one thing and intents that say another. Living a lie is sin. The act which should be a symbol and seal of marriage, done without commitment (and there is NO commitment if there is no marriage) is to have willfully chosen to sin against God.

"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 Corinthians 6:18-20, NKJ)

(Showing that God viewed sex before marriage as a professed commitment to marriage, consider a piece of Israel's judicial law in Old Testament times: read Deuteronomy 22:28-29). Again, be warned, after you have had sex with one person outside of marriage, it will never be the same with someone else. The old expression, "you never forget your first love" has serious implications when it comes to sex. While some would say that sexual sin is no different than any other sin, like lying, it is more serious in that it involves another person in your wickedness. While it's true that the spiritual (and ultimate) consequences of sin are all the same, the temporal (earthly) consequences of some sins are far greater than others.

"He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." (Revelation 21:7-8, NKJ)

How far is to far? Anything that willfully places sexual temptation if front of you, or encourages wrong sexual thoughts, is to far. Sound extreme? Yet, this is the standard that God has set for you as a Christian (and truly for all, even those who do not know Him). We are told in Scriptures that thinking sexual thoughts about someone you are not married to is sin. Christians are specifically told that we are to "take every thought captive" and make it subject to our Lord (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).

"But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell." (Matthew 5:28-29, NKJ)

In another passage, we are commanded to "flee youthful lust" (2 Timothy 2:22). God knows that the sexual urges of youth are strong, but He is able to give you the will and ability to do what is right. (And, by-the-way, sexual urges don't necessarily go away as you get older either). So, the bottom line is this, stay away from situations and acts that encourage wrong thoughts and actions. Even the most well intentioned (including Christian couples) can yield to temptation if the opportunity arises -- why willfully give that opportunity? When dating, try being together with others and doing things together that enable you to get to know him or her as a person. Build your relationship upon things that count, like your mutual interests, hobbies, etc. Consider what you are feeding your mind. Television shows, commercials, movies, music, can all work to fuel sexual passions. Save everything that God wants safeguarded for the sanctity of marriage.

Proverbs 5:18b-20 May you rejoice in the wife of your youth. 19 A loving doe, a graceful deer — may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love. 20 Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man's wife? (NIV)

In a culture where even professed Christians buy into the lie that a little sexual touching is harmless, consider again the words found in Proverbs. If a guy is touching the breast of anyone he is not married to, he is embracing the bosom of another man's wife (adultery), whether or not she is currently married. The fact is, that young women will likely become the wife of another. Her breasts have been given by God to her husband, to satisfy him always. The guy can never use the lie that it's harmless, or that he really cares for her, because if he does he would not want to make her an adulteress.

If you are a Christian, what should matter the most is your relationship to Jesus Christ. All sin will get in the way of that relationship. Sexual sin is merely one of the most prevalent. If your first and primary relationship is the one you have with Jesus Christ, build your dating relationship upon that perfect foundation. For the non-believer they have no foundation on which to build and are controlled by their inherited nature...

"The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery... and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." (Galatians 5:19&21, NIV)

If you have already yielded to temptation in the area of sexual sin, know that forgiveness of all sin is found in Jesus Christ. If you turn away from your sin and follow him (repentance: see 2 Corinthians 7:10), He will forgive.

Hebrews 8:12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (NIV)

God's forgiveness means that eternal or spiritual consequences for that sin are gone forever (Romans 8:1). It does NOT mean that all mental or physical consequences are gone. The struggle for control of your thoughts will go on (Romans 12:2). Physical consequences, which could include a child, effects from an abortion, venereal disease, etc., could remain with you for the rest of your life. God's salvation from sin doesn't free you from the effects of sin right now (though it will in eternity). He has promised to give all believers the strength to carry on.

2 Thessalonian 3:3-5 But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. 4 We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts into God's love and Christ's perseverance. (NIV)