Can’t We Live Together Before We’re Married?

*This is part three of a series I  am doing on the Bible and sexuality. You can find part one here and part two here.*

The young couple sat across from me at the local Starbucks. They had attended my church for a few months and had now decided to meet with me to discuss becoming members. We were an hour into our conversation and things were going splendid. They were theologically sound, well spoken, and had a desire to serve the church with their talents. Then the conversation turned incredibly awkward. He lived locally and she was soon to move to the area but was still commuting to visit on the weekends. “So, where are you staying when you are here,” I asked the young lady. “well,” she shrugged, “I stay with him.” There was, what seemed to be, an hour long pause as I tried to figure out what to say next. Finding no easy way around it I simply, and as gently as I could, conveyed that one of the marks of a Christian is that we wait until marriage before moving in and having sexual relations with another person. To my dismay both were highly offended by my conviction. I tried to reason with the couple but it was becoming obvious that they were wanting the conversation to end. So, I asked to pray with them, and I never saw them again.

The Cultural increase of Cohabitation

That story reveals a common trend within our society today. What years prior was looked at as dishonorable, has now become the norm. One research group found that our culture is viewing cohabitation and premarital sex as completely normative behavior, they write:

“Cohabitation is the new norm. Shifting gender roles and expectations, the delay of marriage, and a secularizing culture are leading more American adults to believe that moving in together before tying the knot is a good idea. . . The majority of American adults believe cohabitation is generally a good idea. Two thirds of adults (65%) either strongly or somewhat agree that it’s a good idea to live with one’s significant other before getting married, compared to one-third (35%) who either strongly or somewhat disagree.”

Cohabitation in the life of the Church

But I fear this is not just a secular opinion; these views are finding their way into the church. I only can speak of this trend within the church anecdotally but I’m convinced that more and more of my peers are viewing cohabitation as a normative and decent decision. Those in my generation (Millennials) are the highest percentage of the population that view living together before marriage as a good idea. Moreover, the main “reason cohabiting couples are shacking up is in order to test the waters before taking the plunge.”

But while the culture shifts their views, on issues regarding sexuality, like moving shadows God’s Word remains the same. The Bible is completely clear about cohabitation—Sexual union is for one man and one woman in the bond of marriage for life. All other sexual activity is a transgression against God. Therefore, the call for the single Christian is one of abstinence, until they enter into the covenant of marriage. Many Bible passages could be cited to offer the backing for this thesis, but I’ll offer just three:

Genesis 2:24

In the opening pages of Genesis we read these familiar words: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:24)” The biblical worldview offers no picture of “testing the waters” before committing in a covenant of marriage. Marriage is the only context wherein sexual union should take place.

1 Corinthians 7:9

Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7 show that if someone is single it may be beneficial for them to remain as they are, because they can be more productive in working for the Kingdom. However, if one does not have the gift of singleness they are to marry, because “it is better to marry than to burn with passion (1 Corinthians 7:9).” For Paul, cohabitation was not an option. Either the believer practices abstinence or they pursue marriage—there is no third option.

Hebrews 13:4

Finally, the writer of Hebrews offers a helpful reminder about the importance of marriage and the danger of defiling it. The writer admonishes, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous (Hebrews 13:4).”

Notice first that marriage is to be held in honor among all. This seems to imply that we should not even give the appearance that we are living with the opposite sex. I hear couples say often that there is nothing wrong if they are living together as long as they are not having sex. I think this is a fallacy. If two Christian people are dating they should be very cautious about even the wrong perception. If two people are living together it gives the allusion that they are married, and most people are assuming that they are having sex. The Hebrew writer seems to suggest that even the appearance of marriage should only be for those who are married.

Secondly, notice that when two people defile the marriage bed (i.e. have premarital sex) they will face divine judgement. Premarital sex is no small thing to God. Those who are in the midst of it should repent and either get married or move out.

A Call to Sexual Purity

Sexual purity is sadly becoming disregarded by most in our culture. In pursuit of testing the waters before committing to a life-long partner, many are choosing to live together and have sex before marriage. This activity is to be expected in the world; they neither have the Spirit of God nor desire the things of God. But for Christians to live this way is unacceptable. We are to be Holy as God is holy and that includes sexual purity until marriage.