Perhaps you are in a romantic relationship and things are getting serious. You are excited about your relationship, but you or your partner have a sexual past. How should you think about this topic as a couple?
Here are some questions that are discussed in this podcast:
What if I am not a virgin? What if my boyfriend or girlfriend is not a virgin? Should I tell them?
When is a good time to talk about sexual history?
Is your relationship ready for this conversation?
How should you approach this conversation?
How does the gospel of Jesus Christ impact this discussion?
What practical advice should I know before discussing this?
I (Sean) sat down one night in the Harmon home to have an informal conversation about dating, courtship, and the Bible. We recorded several podcasts in Spencer’s upstairs loft. This conversation was impromptu and unscripted.
This 10 minute podcast includes questions such as:
What does the Bible have to do with dating?
Are you against courtship?
Should couples feel pressure when dating?
What should a first date look like?
Where did you and Taylor go on your first date?
We plan on releasing several more of these conversations in the months ahead. You can subscribe to the new “Unspokenblog” podcast on iTunes or listen via SoundCloud. As always, if you have any questions you want us to discuss, we would love to hear them.
We have been working on a project together over the past two years. We have been writing two books that are expanded versions of our Letters to a Young Engaged Man blog series. These books are being published by P&R and will release simultaneously in the Fall of this year.
The book On Dating begins with topics related to singleness and then covers a wide range of topics such as breaking up, physical affection, early marriage, and discussing sexual history. Some chapter titles include:
Marriage vs. Singleness
Should We Be in a Relationship?
Do We Have a Bad Relationship?
What if I am not a Virgin?
Should I Guard My Heart?
The book On Engagement walks couples from the time right before a proposal all the way to their wedding night. Some chapter titles include:
The Length of Engagement
Till Death Do Us Part
Loving Your New Parents
Should We Elope?
On Birth Control
The chapters are designed to be short and can be read individually or together as a couple. Even though we don’t know the specifics of your situation, we have made a concerted effort to make each chapter as practical as possible. It is our prayer that this content feels immediately helpful and comes from a refreshing peer-like voice. Our wives have also contributed to many of the letters and provided their own warm touches throughout the books.
Our prayer is that your plans for dating and engagement would begin aligning with God’s plans to glorify his Son in the world. We pray that these letters will tune your ears to hear God’s voice in his Word and that these letters will provoke many conversations between you, your partner, and godly mentors in your life.
We are not relational gurus. Quite the opposite. We would be the first to admit to you that when we follow our own wisdom… we get lost. We are sinners who are desperately in need of God’s illuminating Word in every facet of our lives. We have simply tasted the goodness of God’s shepherding voice in our romances, and we want you to taste it too. We pray that you fall in love with hearing his voice in the Bible so that it guides you in singleness, dating, and engagement – and every other season after that.
In the meantime you can check out the recent Truth in Love podcast with Dr. Heath Lambert and Sean on the topic of Physical Boundaries Before Marriagethat discusses a controversial portion of the dating book.
As we continue to write to you, we always want to hear your letters. Don’t hesitate to send us your feedback and share your story with us.
Perhaps you are reading through an Advent devotional this Christmas season or focusing on the Gospel accounts of the Christmas story in Matthew and Luke. The Bible never ceases to amaze and there are always new insights to discover in old stories.
This year I was struck by a small unexpected sentence in Matthew 1:24-25. It reads:
When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Mat 1:24-25 ESV)
This text teaches that Joseph obeyed God by marrying Mary (even though the child within her was not his offspring) but he did not have sex with her until after she gave birth to Jesus. The ESV uses the language of “but knew her not” as a euphemism for sex. There are other translations that read:
NAS Matthew 1:25 and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. (Mat 1:25 NAS)
NLT Matthew 1:25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus. (Mat 1:25 NLT)
There are several things to point out from these couple of verses.
First, this is a unique situation in redemptive history. The main point of this verse is not to communicate that you should avoid sex after your wedding. There are several factors that make this situation unique – not the least of which is that the Holy Spirit conceived a baby in the womb of a virgin. There are also other Scriptures that command regular sexual activity for married couples. (1 Corinthians 7:5)
Second, the Bible (and Joseph) wanted it to be crystal clear that Jesus was not the offspring of an earthly father. Jesus is God in the flesh. His birth was miraculous. Joseph and Mary had a wedding but did not consummate their marriage until after Jesus was born. They knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was not conceived by human relations. This was a divine act.
Third, this verse also teaches that Joseph and Mary had sex after Jesus was born. Mary was not a perpetual virgin. Joseph didn’t have sex with her until after she gave birth. There are also verses in the book of Matthew that talk about Jesus’ brothers and sisters. (See also Mark 6:3)
Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” (Mat 13:55-56 ESV)
These are all important things to point out from these verses, yet these were not the things that struck me this Christmas. What caught my attention was the self-control of Joseph.
Think about it. Joseph was a righteous man who followed the law (Matthew 1:19). He was presumably chaste and had no blemish on his record. He had waited his entire life to have sex until the proper context. He had been self-controlled because he wanted to obey God and follow the Old Testament law.
Then it comes out that Mary is pregnant with a baby that does not belong to him. He is told in a dream by an angel of the Lord that he should remain committed to Mary and take her as his wife. Joseph marries Mary… but still remains self-controlled.
He could have had sex with her and we have no indication that it would have been sinful. Yet, he chose to wait until after the birth of Jesus in order that it would be crystal clear that Jesus was not of earthly descent. Since he had a character of a righteous man and knew this was a unique divine circumstance, I conclude that he wanted to answer any possible claim that he was the earthly father of Jesus.
Joseph lived with Mary. He loved her. He saw her naked. He took care of her. He traveled with her to Bethlehem. And yet, he waited to have intercourse with her until after he helped her give birth to a child that was not his own.
Would you have been as self-controlled as Joseph? Would you have complained? Would you have grumbled? Would you have been bitter?
I don’t want to read more into the text than need be. Nor amy I trying to advocate for anything bizarre. I’m not advocating using Joseph as an example to refrain from intercourse within marriage. If you have followed my other blogs, you know I believe married couples should enjoy sex on a very regular basis.
I am saying that Joseph exerted a lot of self-control and truly loved well in a difficult and unprecedented situation.
Perhaps you need the grace of Jesus this Christmas to grow in the area of self-control. Are you single and struggling with pornography? Are you dating or engaged and struggling with purity? Are you married and having difficulty remaining sexually committed to your spouse? Use this Advent to ask God for the gift of control. Only the Holy Spirit who conceived Jesus can give us this spiritual fruit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal 5:1 ESV)
The Holy Spirit did a miracle in the womb of Mary. The Holy Spirit did a miracle in the heart of Joseph. And I am more than confident that the Holy Spirit can do a miracle in our lives and enable us to replace any sinful desires with steadfast love.
Sean is the Chief of Staff at the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors and the author of Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement (P&R, 2017)
Dating is a complicated dance. Especially when you are trying to avoid sin.
For Christians, dating pulls you in two opposite directions. First, you experience the tug of your affection for your significant other. You spend more time together, and your heart swells with warmth and care. You rejoice in the presence of your significant other, and, naturally, you want to express that joy. In addition, because God created you as an embodied person you usually expresses your emotions physically: You hug the people you love, you cry over losses, you eat the food you want, and sometimes you even jump with joy. You have a body. You were made for this.
Enter the second (and opposite) tug.
Although your heart swells with love and you desire to show your love physically, you also feel the tug of biblical truth. Even though God gave you a body, he wants you to control it (1 Thessalonians 4:4), he didn’t make it for sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:13), he wants you to flee immorality at all costs (1 Corinthians 6:18), and he wants you to keep the marriage bed undefiled (Hebrews 13:4). Although you feel the pull of the desire to express your affection physically, you are pulled in the opposite direction by God’s word.
Many single Christians live within the tension of these seemingly opposing desires. To add to the confusion, when Christians talk about affection during dating, we typically talk about it in negative terms. “Don’t be alone in the car”, “Don’t kiss each other”, “Don’t touch her there” Although these specificprohibitions are important , they are not the full story.
Outside of knowing what not to do, is there a way forward? How do you kindle appropriate affection in your relationship while honoring God with your body?
Transform How You Think About Boundaries
The temptation of the serpent in the Garden succeeded by blurring the purpose of boundaries. Why are you not allowed to eat of the tree in the Garden? Because God doesn’t want you to grow in your knowledge, and he’s holding things back from you (Genesis 3:5). The first couple were convinced by the serpent that their God given boundaries were not given to them for life (Genesis 2:17) and so they broke them. This insidious lie took root in their hearts, and the curse pulsated through the world.
How do God’s righteous boundaries sit in your heart? Are they a pointless burden meant to keep you in line? Or are they lamps that light the path to life? But even more specifically, how are you thinking about the boundaries of your relationship? Do you think of them as a burdensome prerequisite class of purity before the elective of marital intimacy? This is that ancient lie of the serpent that plunged our race into the dark waters of the curse.
The best way to combat the lie of the serpent, is to renew your mind with God’s good purposes for your relationship. When you discuss your boundaries with your significant other, talk about them as a means to store up pleasure, rather than a temporary misery that must be endured. Not: “We can’t do this together because the Bible says we can’t”; but: “We choose to save this to be enjoyed within the covenant of marriage”
To be sure, the call to purity will be difficult. However, comfort and joy are found when we view our difficulties through the lens of God’s good purposes and promises for us as his children. This starts in your heart. Meditate on the goodness of God’s purpose behind your boundaries. You’re storing up pleasure for later. Very soon, you will experience God’s good gifts in God’s good time under God’s good smile. Transform your thinking.
Patterns Become Permanent
Although intimacy is a vital part of marriage, it is a relatively small part when compared to the various aspects of your relationship with your spouse. So much of marriage happens outside of the marriage bed. So during this time, when this fruit of marriage is forbidden, explore the other trees in the garden. The memories you make now, the habits you are cultivating, the relationships you pursue – all of them are patterns that will affect the fragrance of your marriage.
Some couples miss the wonderful “yes’s” of their current season because they are so focused on the “no’s” of their relationship. When we are convinced that the only way to show affection is through physical intimacy we never see the potential for love in the other areas of life: Long walks, road trips, serving saints in your church, eating with friends, adventuring through your city, asking questions. These habits of pursuing one another outside the marriage bed will become patterns in your relationship. Furthermore, they will serve to bind your hearts together through shared experiences and memories. Make patterns now while you wait for intimacy.
Trust The Divine Sequence
In fact, the patterns you create while waiting for intimacy will actually improve your marital intimacy. The joy of the bride and groom in the Song of Solomon is a symphony of emotional, physical, and relational delight. They experience the security of belonging (Song 6:3), the joy of friendship (Song 5:16), and the intensity of physical intimacy (Song 4). The poem is composed of all these elements. This is the divine sequence.
It makes more sense to touch each others’ hearts before you touch each others’ bodies. The sweetness of the wedding night – the reason why they call it consummation – is found when it is the rightful climax to a million shared moments, memories, joys, sorrows, conversations, experiences, and adventures. And when you do finally touch each other, you will find that you are participating in a divine sequence – one that compounds your joy and intensifies your pleasure.
In this season of pursuing the heart rather than touching the body you are nurturing deep roots. If God blesses your relationship with marriage you will discover that your friendship and intimacy are weaved together. The cultivation of friendship solidifies the foundation of your marriage. So, don’t lose sight of the beauty of the garden because you are obsessed with the forbidden tree. Explore, cultivate, and adventure in the current stage you are in. Soon you will find that the exploration never ends.
The content for this post has been expanded into Letters to a Romantic: On Dating which will be released in 2017 by P&R Publishing.
A playful smirk can be hard to shirk – no matter who it comes from. A “harmless” smile from a handsome guy can often be memorable – regardless of whether he is a believer or not.
In your last letter you mentioned to me a romantic interest who is becoming hard to resist in your mind. All the right factors seem to be in place – cute charm, dreamy looks, social suave, a pleasant appeal and even conservative convictions. The only thing missing is… Jesus.
They don’t necessarily oppose Jesus, he just isn’t present. There is not a hostility towards God, the Bible, church, or even moral living. It just is not something they talk about much or “get into.”
There even seems to be a remaining shell of religion from times past. Perhaps dating a Christian is just what they need? They are so close to the truth and they love so many good things the Bible supports, surely they would be compelled to follow Christ fully if they were enticed by a godly companion.
I am glad you are wanting to reach out with the gospel, but I am not convinced this is the way to go about evangelizing. I don’t think the way to share Christ is through candle lit dinners and gushy love notes. The way of the great commission isn’t “flirt to convert.” Dating an unbeliever is actually one of the most unloving acts we can do towards them. I believe there is a better way to display the love of Christ and serve the lost.
Here are three truths I would like for you to consider:
True love is soul deep.
What do you find romantically attractive in someone who is not a believer? It would be unbiblical and frankly ridiculous if I were to say that all unbelievers are repulsive. Every human is made in the image of God and bears his beautiful thumbprint. Unbelievers can be kind, generous, endearing, and attractive. This is not the issue. The issue is: do you understand true love? If the Scripture is true that God is love, then how can someone truly understand love apart from knowing Christ intimately? (1 John 4:8)
Take a good look at them. What makes them tick? What consumes them? Is it a red-hot love for Christ and his Scripture? Do the pages of the Bible leap out to them with joy and delight? Are they moved to tears by the mercy and wonder of God?
Do you catch them washing the feet of those who can never repay them this side of heaven? Do you find them praying for you and have you seen God answer their prayers? Are they willing to be spit-upon and laughed at for the sake of the cross? Are they willing to stand for the oppressed even when it is not popular? Has the glory of God set their heart ablaze with passion to see Christ reign over every human heart?
True love is soul deep. You want the kind of love that still stirs at old wrinkles. You want to clasp hands in the nursing home with a committed believer who has lived vigorously for the glory of God. An unbeliever doesn’t have what it takes to keep cultivating long term attraction to their wrinkles. Charm is deceitful, and beauty is fleeting, but a man or woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Dating isn’t the place for darkness.
God is the author of romance and to be in a romantic relationship is to involved in how God created this world. God is the fiercest lover of all and his love is the purest we can possible imagine. Romance is one of the most intimate pursuits we can know as humans. Since it is so deeply personal and life altering, there should be no room for darkness in our dating life. What do light and darkness have in common? Nothing. Light is designed to put away darkness. (2 Corinthians 6:14)
We are called to be lights to the world, but we are not called to let darkness into our lives – particularly in the areas in which we covenant together. To date an unbeliever is to invite darkness into a room in which only light is meant to dwell.
It is one thing to share a meal with an unbelieving friend, but it is a completely different matter to contemplate swapping vows of marriage together. The believer has nothing in common with the unbeliever regarding the most important reality in the universe. Dating an unbeliever brings shadows and dimness where there should be brightness and clarity. This leads to the final point to consider.
Romance isn’t offensive
Flirting to convert ultimately fails because it is not offensive enough. The Apostle Paul says the cross is offensive (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). The cross is gruesome because it calls the world to forsake all and treasure God first and foremost. The cross requires repentance on our part – this is offensive to our selfish desires.
But Holding hands is not hideous. Red roses are not repulsive. Whispering “sweet nothings” is not offensive.
Dating an unbeliever is actually one of the most unloving acts we can do towards them. It is actually the opposite of evangelism. It says, I value you more than I value what Christ says. It brings confusion where there should be a clear call to repentance. I am not saying that God cannot use romance to bring about the salvation of a soul. Our God is in the heaven and he does whatever he pleases (Psalm 115:3). But for every person who is saved through an intentional dating relationship, it is in spite of it and not because of it.
Evangelistic dating is dangerous because it can exalt the gift over the Giver. Who wouldn’t want to convert in order to marry the person they are crazy about? Who wouldn’t want to say “yes” to Jesus in order for their significant other to say “yes” to them?
God doesn’t want to be a carrot on a stick. He wants people to come and die at his feet in order to find life. (Luke 14:26)
What should you do if you are in a relationship with an unbeliever?
I highly recommend seeking advice from your local church in how to best end the relationship. The call of the hour is to speak the truth in love to the one you care about (Ephesians 4:15). The call of repentance must be clear and you must not be the prize if they turn from sin. You will need to spend time explaining the gospel and pointing out the deep chasm of worldviews between the two of you. They need to know how different you think on the most important issues in life and why it is a deal breaker. Ending a relationship does not mean ending a friendship, but it does mean ending all romance. It will serve them best to point them to Christ instead of continuing to kindle feelings for each other.
Who knows? This obedience to God may be the means Christ uses to revolutionize their life for the gospel. If so, praise God and don’t immediately move back into the romantic relationship. Growth requires time and baby trees need more than one night to bear fruit.
That is all I can write for now, I look forward to hearing more from you soon.
The content for this post has been updated and expanded in Letters to a Romantic: On Dating which will be released in 2017 by P&R Publishing.