Dating Q&A: How far is too far?

Last night at Sola, (our student ministry) in honor of Valentine’s Day this weekend, we decided to take a look at God’s design and purpose for romance. After the sermon, we let students anonymously text in questions they had about love, dating, marriage and romance. However, in our short 15 minutes we had, we were unable to even come close to answering even a fraction of all of the questions. So, I will do my best now to go through and answer as many of them as I can. 

How far is too far physically, when dating?

and

I am in high school and have been dating someone for a long time. Is it a sin to kiss that person?

This is a great question that I think sits in the minds of every single person out there. Let me start out with a broad principle, then specific application. So, stay with me…

Principle

The book that covers the romantic relationship between a husband and wife most extensively in the Bible is the Song of Solomon. The book is a collection of love poems sung back and forth between a husband and his wife, rejoicing in the pleasures of giving themselves over to one another in sexual union. This book is full of very erotic literature (although, since it was written in an Ancient Near Eastern culture some of it is lost on us, like “Your hair is like a flock of goats…Your teeth are like a flock of shaved sheep.” I wouldn’t recommend using these compliments today – might not work out.). The book is full of such explicit content that young Jewish boys were not allowed to read it until they had reached a certain age. But, at one point there is this moment where the woman breaks from exulting in the pleasures of her husband and turns to her friends and says, “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem…that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.” (SOS 3:5)

It is like the woman, who is rejoicing so much in the sexual union that comes from her spouse, runs to her friends and says, “Trust me, don’t spoil this, it is worth waiting for!” 

Often, when we are asking “How far is too far?” what we are really asking is, “What’s the absolute closest I can get to the line, without it technically being wrong?” That question comes out of bad understanding of what sin is. Sin is not merely breaking a rule, or overstepping a boundary – given, that is involved, but that isn’t the essence of sin. “Sin” is when you treasure and cherish something more than God as absolutely wonderful in your heart. So, sin in this context looks like, “Yes, I love God, and I know He has told me to save sex for marriage, but what would really make me most happy is if I could indulge in this sexual desire right now.” That is the essence of sin.

God isn’t angry that we fudged on a technicality by overstepping a line. God is heart-broken that we want to. God is grieved that we are in love something more than Him. Could you imagine if went up to my wife and said something like, “So, how much can I flirt with another woman before it is technically cheating on you?” Hillary would not give me a time limit or a number of compliments I can give before I cross the line – she would be devastated that my heart isn’t solely fixed on her. Get the point? The question we should be asking, “How can we display that God is what we love and treasure most with our relationship and sexual purity?”

But here is the great news: you could also rephrase that question as, “What can we do to make our future sexual union in marriage as enjoyable as possible?” God desires that we enjoy sex as much as possible, and that is why He has restricted it to marriage. Paul explains in Ephesians 5 that there shouldn’t be the faintest whiff of any kind of sexual impurity amidst Christian – not even a hint of it. So trying to figure out how long you can make out with your girlfriend before you are technically sinning doesn’t seem to be the mindset we should have. God cares about us being so ruthless about protecting the purity of our sex lives because He is jealous for our joy, not against it.

Practical

To be fair, my wife and I kissed before we were married. However, we did decide that we were going to wait until we both knew that we wanted to be married. So, after eight months of dating, after saying “I love you” for the first time, I asked Hillary if I could kiss her, and we shared our first kiss. Six months later, we were married. 

I have friends who shared their first kiss on their wedding day, and I have friends who shared their first kiss within a few weeks of dating. I don’t think you can set up a hard and fast rule about what is a sin and what isn’t a sin in regards to kissing. The heart motive behind it really is the difference maker. However, I will say, that I have never heard of a single couple who wishes that they were more physical while they were dating. But I have heard of A LOT of couples who carry around a lot of regret over how far they went before they were married, and that shame still affects their sex life after they are married.

Now, there are obvious things that are absolutely, flat-out sinful to do, and there is no ambiguity around it. Just because you aren’t having intercourse, doesn’t mean you are avoiding sexual sin. Any kind of sexual contact, of any kind, regardless of whether or not your clothes are on or off, with anyone other than your spouse is sinful. By sexual contact I mean any touching, kissing, caressing, or petting anywhere, or in the close vicinity of places on your body that are private zones. Here is a good check for your heart: if you find that when you go in for a hug, kiss, back-rub or cuddle session with your boyfriend/girlfriend and are secretly thinking “I hope this leads to something else” then you can be certain that your heart is in a bad place. Sharing explicit, suggestive, or nude photos with anyone who is not your spouse is absolutely sinful – regardless of how commonplace it may be in culture today. If you are doing anything with the purpose of inciting and stirring up tempting or erotic desires in the heart of anyone who is not your spouse, that is sinful and is not loving.

This same question is asked to two men who are much smarter, and wiser than I am. Listen to their point of view…

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2 thoughts on “Dating Q&A: How far is too far?

  1. Great reply Marc. I hope is it OK if I weigh in though no one but you reading this will know who I am. As I said, you responded well, I would like to add (and your response comes close but I don’t believe that it actually states this, if it does I apologize, I missed it….blame it on me being over 50yrs young). Whenever you are “dating” someone and you move into any aspect of a physical relationship (caressing his/her hair, holding hands, kissing, etc.) you should consider and remember that if you don’t get married to this individual, that you have now just ______ed someone else’s husband/wife (even if it is yet in the future). How would you feel about someone ______ing your future husband/wife?? I would go so far as to even say that being engaged to someone is not enough to make it appropriate to cross the line of physical intimacy (and yes, hand holding is a form of physical intimacy, careessing a cheek or their hair is also)….why? How many times have you seen/heard of broken off engagements? Yes I’m old fashioned, some might even call me prude. But having the self discipline to not cross any line of physical intimacy until after saying your marriage vows carries with it rewards that you can get nowhere else. I wish that I could write this reply and say “Yep…..I was able to abide by the high standard that I just expressed!” I can’t do that, mostly because I had never thought about it or even considered it. If as a young man I had thought about such standards and made a covenant with God and my future spouse to have such a high standard, things might have been different. Yes it is a tough, high standard to commit to…….but anything is possible w/God! Shalom & Phileo

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