This is part two. Click here for part one.
Now…down to brass tacks: one of the big questions couples in your place wonder is, how far can we go? Believe it or not, the Bible actually speaks to this question, though in a roundabout way. Paul writes to the Thessalonians:
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;
1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 (ESV)
I like to tell couples who ask “how far can we go?” (Kissing, holding hands, etc.) that Paul’s phrase “passion of lust” is the key. Obviously, “passion of lust” is fine for married folks, so with this thought, Paul is addressing the unmarried. If a particular behavior feels like “passion of lust,” then you want to wait until marriage.
And so, you wonder – that’s a pretty high standard – what if we commit to moving apart and purity in our relationship – and then fall again? Along these lines, if a couple was in premarital counseling with me, and in one session, they told me that they had not kept their purity covenant the past week, and they felt terrible about it, I would commiserate with them and remind them of God’s grace and encourage them in holiness next week. If they came to me the following week, and told me that once again on Saturday night things didn’t go so well…etc. Well, I would encourage them to make some different plans about how they spend their Saturday nights, and remind them of God’s grace, and so on. And most importantly, these confessions would have no effect on my commitment to officiating at their ceremony.
The point is that God’s grace is real and overwhelming, but it is for those who have truly repented of their sins and trusted in Christ’s work on the Cross of Calvary. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn,” and contrary to popular belief, he wasn’t talking about funerals. He was speaking of those who are sorrowful over their sin. In the same way, He said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Mourning over sin and hungering for holiness are marks of followers of Christ, those who have his Holy Spirit. He is the one who leads us to mourning over sin and a desire for holiness.
Which means that we’re talking about far more than sex here. If a couple said to me, “We’d like you to officiate at our wedding, and we are committed to staying pure, but we do cheat on our taxes.” I would say, well, Jesus says, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s”. Are you willing to repent from stealing? And if they said, “No,” then my answer regarding officiating would be the same as to a couple living together. So, you see, in answer to the bride’s initial probing question – there is no inconsistency. We marry sinners all the time here, but we simply insist that they are repentant sinners, that is, Christians who are fighting the power of sin in their lives.
So, all that said, though I could say much about statistics and other reasons for maintaining purity during these days, I thought I would appeal to you on the basis of what I understand is your commitment to Christ. If you consider Jesus to be your Savior, then I wanted to encourage you to think deeply about what Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
2 Corinthians 5:14, 15 (ESV)
Everyone is controlled by something, and Christians are no exception. True believers, however, are controlled, not by legalism or a set of arbitrary rules, but by the love of Jesus Christ, displayed on the cross. He loved us so much that he died in our place. Now, Paul is saying that if we truly understand this great thing he has done for us, then we will know and delight in the fact that He has called us to a life not lived for self, but for Him and for His glorious Kingdom. And such a life is a life of joy.
So Bob and Sue, may I ask…what are you controlled by? Has the love of Christ displayed in the gospel so gripped you that you long to love and serve Christ with all your heart for all of your days? If so, then, I suppose you know what to do.
As for the couple I mentioned before – they chose to find other places to live and committed to purity. We celebrated a wonderful wedding ceremony, and today, they have a beautiful baby whom they are raising to know and love the Lord Jesus.
If you would ever like to talk, I would surely be glad to do so.