We know that as Christians we are to live godly and upright lives. This includes a plethora of life choices, including sexual purity. I know that sexual immorality may be a sin commonly picked on from of a list of sins, but it is for good reason.
1 Cor 6:18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.
This topic is certainly worth talking about, and for young people it is especially important to talk about. In the early years of adulthood there is a lot of passion and opportunity to fill that passion. Bodies are energized and in prime state. But here we are, as Christians, saying that we need to save our sexuality for marriage, which often feels like a world away. We have deep desires which are left unquenched even though we seek to have them quenched in Christ… easier said than done!
And it often gets harder when we enter into a relationship. Now, not only do we have everyday passion, but now we have relational affection to add to the fire. We may have general commands in the Bible to stay away from sexual immorality, but we sometimes begin asking ourselves, “what constitutes immorality anyway?” or, “how far is too far?”. We want to fill our urges and we deeply want to show our affection to our boyfriend/girlfriend… and of course, receive that affection from them!
In our quest to answering, “how far is too far?” we need to first ask where this question is coming though.
A genuine heart asks this question because it does not want to dishonor God by reckless and thoughtless choices. This person knows that their heart is deceptive and can readily justify choices because of desire. They want to know God’s clear word on the matter so they can draw a clear line and know where they stand.
A hard heart on the other hand asks this question in order to know what they can get away with, or find the grey areas that they can play around in. They are more interested in finding the maximum amount of satisfaction while still hopefully remaining in God’s good graces. Instead of seeking wholeness with God, they are seeking how far they can go for themselves.
I say all this because only those asking this question from a genuine heart will benefit from this discussion. The hard heart will twist whatever is said for its own gain, while the genuine heart uses this discussion to walk with God closely. Of course, we are all a mixed bag here. We can have hard hearted moments, but we hopefully are seeking this question from a genuine heart and will find beneficial wisdom to help us draw near to God within our unmarried relationships.
So how far is too far? Kissing? Making out? Touching? Undressing? Anything before “full on” sex? Not surprisingly, the Bible is not as explicit as we would like it to be. It often isn’t. It is especially scarce when it comes to dating/engagement. We are not going to dive into a full theology of sexual morality in this study. We can easily find verses about sexual immorality in the Bible, but that actually doesn’t give us complete clarity about what the term means. So we want to look for the more precise Biblical theme of premarital sexuality and see God’s heart. Let’s look at a section of the Bible:
1 Cor. 7:2 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband…
8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. 9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion….
36 If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin. 37 But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well.
This passage in 1 Corinthians 7 gives us clear insight into the Bible’s understanding of premarital sexual morality as the author (Paul) is giving advice to the a local church (Corinth) that he is helping. The church was asking lots of questions and had lots of concerning things happening in their midst. And one of topics in the book was the question of sex and marriage. Some people in the church were promoting singleness, others promoting sexual freedom, while others yet where promoting no sex within marriage! They were all over the place and Paul was trying to sort things out.
This passage in chapter 7 is helpful because it helps us to understand a key term “sexual immorality”, translated from the common Greek word “porneia”. This term was used to refer to all kinds of social sexual misconduct. Of course, culture would have its own adaptive definition on what is appropriate and inappropriate, but we are after God’s definition, and this passage helps us to understand what was considered “porneia” to God.
This is important because sexual immorality is a very common term the Bible, and some people understand it only referring to sexual unfaithfulness. While the term does certainly refer to adultery in many passages of the Bible, clearly here it is in the context to unmarried people. Unmarried people can’t commit adultery (though they can cause someone else to commit adultery with them), but they can still commit sexual immorality according to this passage.
According to vv. 8, 36 this “porneia” happens when sexual passion before marriage causes the couple to commit sexual acts together.
1 Cor. 8 because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband
It is clear that sexual activity before marriage is classified as sexual immorality. The solution to your sexual passion is not to fulfill it simply with the person you love, but the person you are married to (v.9).
And here is the big deal from this passage. Now that we understand clearly from here that “sexual immorality” includes premarital sexual conduct, therefore, whenever the Bible talks about sexual immorality, single people should apply the passage to themselves. I understand that many readers were already at this point before reading these things, but there are many others who are not. Either way, it is essential to have a Biblical grounding in why we believe and live the way that we do!
Now we need to get clear. How far is too far?
From the passage above, to burn with passion means to have sexual arousal and hunger that you cannot fulfill before marriage. This means that unmarried people are not permitted to sexually fulfill their partner. This is not to open up loopholes, but to say, “you are not permitted to go there”. Sexuality is not your domain. Your boyfriend/girlfriend’s body is not yours to play around with.
Song 3:5 I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
by the gazelles or the does of the field,
that you not stir up or awaken love
until it pleases.
In the Song of Solomon, we see the two main figures communicating back and forth in a state of intoxicated affection before and after marriage. In this passage, we hear wisdom speaking out to the maidens of the land to “
not stir up or awaken love until it pleases”. This is a key statement repeated multiple times in the book saying it is unwise to stir up arousal that cannot be fulfilled.
And here is the wisdom for us in” how far is too far?” It is foolish to be in conversations, actions, or situations that stir sexual arousal before you are married. Putting some more thought to it can show us why.
First off, it is not loving. It is not loving to create a desire in your partner that you cannot fulfill. It will leave them seeped in temptation and unfulfilled hunger.
Second, it is a type of sexual conduct. If your conduct is arousing sexual sensation, it is a sexual act… this is why the arousal is happening. You know what you are doing. You can try to hide it and pretend to be naïve, but you are only being deceptive and foolish. We know from other places in scripture, that God doesn’t merely look at the outward, but at the heart. What is the intention of the heart in that moment. This is why Jesus says in Matt. 5
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Third, it pushes you into a situation where you are more likely to go further. Even if the act is a grey area (e.g. kissing, snuggling, touching appropriately, etc.) and it is tempting you or your partner, it is unwise to continue that, at least in that moment/context. I understand that this can certainly become a grey area, but this is why only a genuine heart will benefit. Someone who genuinely wants nearness with God, will do whatever it takes to walk with integrity and purity. A person though, who simply wants what they want, will twist and belittle potential pitfalls, falling into them again and again as though blind.
So how far is too far in dating/engagement?
Anything that stirs up sexual arousal. Nothing is worth it if it causes you to sin. Jesus, known for his generosity and gentleness, says this about sexual temptations in Matt. 5 (continuing from passage above),
29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
Jesus apparently thinks these issues are significant right? Wow! For those of us that claim to follow him should definitely listen to his wisdom here. He is not saying that a single sin will send you to hell, but that sin leads you there. He does not want people to be lead astray, but rather soberly think about eternity and choose to live in faith towards God. I believe Jesus is so strong here because sexuality is so valuable, vulnerable, yet volatile to our humanity. It is not rage that motivates God, but truth and love. He loves what he creates and he created sexuality as a precious gift. And because it is such a sensitive thing, he protects it within the covering of marriage. And within the fortress of marriage, the sexuality of each spouse is meant to flourish and be protected. Until that moment (unless of course you choose to remain single), protect you and your partners sexuality by fleeing away from temptation and trusting God’s wisdom.