By Kristen Wetherell, iBelieve.com
I was flabbergasted and a little shook up. About four years ago, as I progressed through the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, I was flabbergasted that couples existed who waited to kiss until their wedding day and shook up because, if God commanded this, then I had already blown my chance over a high school romance.
Even still, something was not sitting right with me about this premise. So I went to my pastor.
We sat in his office and talked for a solid hour about the purpose of this book and the thoughts it advocated on dating. I still have the email he wrote to me, finishing up our conversation. He said:
I also think we need to be wise about our dating approach. To go out to dinner and a movie with a "date" is one thing. To go for a weekend trip to a cabin in the woods is putting oneself in a situation where one is more removed from helpful boundaries...
Helpful boundaries. Let's talk about them. Quite frankly, the Bible does not give us a clear-cut, set-apart chapter called "God's Way to Date." In the Old Testament, we see Isaac pursuing Rebekah as a response to a specific prayer—and later, we see Ruth laying herself at the feet of Boaz's bed! Not exactly clear-cut.
So how do we handle boundaries in dating? First, I think we should diagnose a problem that tends to run rampant with the mention of "boundaries":
THE PROBLEM: When we do not connect helpful boundaries to the truth of the gospel, they manifest themselves as legalistic rules...and rules are bound to be broken because we are sinners.
In other words, there must be a deeper motivation than simply to be "moral people" during dating. Without this motivation, a foundation that all our actions rest upon, our moral efforts will be aimless and easily compromised. For example, it is motivating to run a race when you know there is a finish line and why you are running in the first place; it is not motivating to run forever to no end, without any clue as to the purpose behind your running.
But, see, there is a point to boundaries. There is a motivation.
The point is the glory of God!
But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image (2 Corinthians 3:16-18).
God knows what is best for us. He knows what will transform us into his image. He purposes to sanctify us to look like Christ. And when we look like Jesus, God gets the glory.
THE SOLUTION: The gospel of Christ means that even dating can be a response to what Jesus has done for us on the cross. Since the Christian’s identity is in Christ, we are freed from slavery to selfish ambition in dating to pursue boundaries that have God’s glory as their motivator.
So what does gospel-responsive dating look like? After experiencing a couple of unhelpful relationships, I finally met my husband, and the following gospel-motivated boundaries were helpful for us.
I do not belong to myself, for God bought me with a high price (1 Corinthians 6:19).
Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you. God gave you this gift of holiness through the costly shed blood of his Son. Realizing that we are now eternally promised to the Lord gives us a different perspective on how we treat our bodies while on earth.
Helpful boundaries, then, are those that encourage the holiness of each person, protecting the body as the blood-bought temple of the Holy Spirit. There should never be pressure to cross boundaries, nor should the question ever be, "How far is too far?" That question illustrates that gospel-motivation has already been abandoned in favor of selfish ambition.
What is considered most helpful for each person might vary, as some have a weaker conscience than others, but overall, bringing glory to God through our physical bodies should be our underlying motivation and purpose. Christ died so that we would be made holy.
Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other (Romans 12:10).
So what happens if two people differ in what they believe is most helpful and pure? This could be regarding physical boundaries, theological beliefs, or other life issues. I think a great question to ask ourselves is, "How would I want to be treated?" The love of Christ compels us to no longer live for ourselves, but for him who died for us. How we honor the people around us, especially in dating, will reveal if we are responding to Jesus' love as demonstrated through the gospel of grace.
How can we best honor the person we are dating? Honor their time, their commitments, their talents, their opinions, their comfort levels, their other relationships, and their walk with God. Honoring a person involves seeking out what speaks love to them, what builds them up in the Lord, or perhaps discovering ways to serve them. It also means being honest with them by speaking the truth in love, especially regarding physical and emotional boundaries.
Really, we should be honoring every person, not just the person we are dating. Anyone, single or dating, can start practicing genuine affection and familial love right now.
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too (Philippians 2:3-4).
Responding to Christ's love means that we lay down our own agenda and desires for his call upon our lives. As Jesus took the form of a servant in humility, so we are called to live humbly as his people and to think of others before we serve ourselves.
Humility can be demonstrated in dating in many ways, but two major examples are self-control and delayed gratification. When we set aside our immediate wants to glorify God and honor the other person, we are humbling ourselves and exercising faith. When we use self-control with words, thoughts, or actions, the humility of Christ is transforming us.
When the point is to glorify God with our dating relationships, helpful boundaries become much more freeing. Our dating can now be a response to our identity as God's people, rather than a constant battle to get what we want as individuals.
Let's finish with this truth from Paul:
You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial. Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others" (1 Corinthians 10:23-24)
May that which is most helpful and beneficial for building others up and bringing God glory be our desire in dating, as we respond to the love and grace of Jesus Christ.
Kristen Wetherell is a writer, speaker and the Content Manager of Unlocking the Bible. She's married to Brad, loves exploring new places, enjoys cooking, and writes music in her spare time. Her desire is to glorify Jesus Christ and edify believers through the written word. Connect with Kristen at her website or on Twitter @KLWetherell.