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.

How should we view homosexuality?

In the last post found here  I sought to outline four areas in which the Bible brings clarity on human sexuality. Here I want to discuss one particular sexual issue that has grown increasingly divisive in not only the world but in the church, namely homosexuality. As elders and church leaders one of our main priorities is the protection of our church from false teaching (see Acts 20:28-31). Therefore, one of the obligations church leaders have  before God involves clarifying clearly and directly what the Bible teaches on this important and sensitive topic.The following are 5 points regarding homosexuality that I believe are essential for Christians to unify on.

1. The Bible is clear—homosexuality is a sin against God.

I think it is important to clarify from the outset that homosexuality, like any sin, is wrong, a transgression, and should be rejected as a Christ-follower. We reject any modern connotation that homosexuality is something different than what is spoken of in scripture, and that any sexual activity outside the realm of biblical marriage, which consists of one man and one woman for life, is to be denied. Below are the most prominent passages in the NT that speak to this issue and make it clear that God opposes all forms of sexual immorality, including homosexuality.

“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done (Romans 1: 24-32).”

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.(1 Corinthians 6:9-11).”

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted (1 Timothy 1:8-10).”

2. Christians are called to love all people, including homosexuals.

It is abundantly clear that many in the church have failed to express genuine Christ-like love to the LGBTQ community. Too many lives have been destroyed by a Christians unloving and judgmental spirit. We have used the Bible as a club instead of a gift. And as a result many who could have found freedom in Christ have been totally turned off by it. This is simply wrong! Many times we have elevated the truth of the Bible above or without regard for our love for people. We must remember that Jesus came full of grace and truth (John 1:14), and Paul said that we were to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We must maintain both truth and love when it comes to how we treat those in the world. 

3. Christians are to speak the truth to all people, including homosexuals.

So, does this mean we are to accept those who live openly homosexual lifestyles without exception ? Absolutely not. On the contrary, we are to show them the love of Christ by calling them to repent of their lifestyle and surrender their lives to Jesus. When Jesus said that true discipleship involved “denying oneself, taking up your cross, and following him (Luke 9:23),” that involved turning away from all sins of the flesh and being “born again (John 3:5);” to “walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25).” Loving the world by accepting people where they are without calling them to repent is the opposite of love. True love is telling people the truth, and for those living a homosexual lifestyle it means calling them out of that way of living. The great news we have for those living in sin is that they can be forgiven! As Paul plainly put it in 1 Corinthians 6:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, emphasis mine)

Therefore, we can love someone while  not condoning their behavior. Loving someone is not synonymous with agreeing with everything they do. So, we love all people. Like the good Samaritan we are to help those in need no matter their cultural background or sexual orientation. But Like Jesus and the adulterous woman, we meet the need, but reply “go and sin no more.” We are to  love the broken, the sinner, the outcast but our love moves us to tell them the truth. If we condone their sinful behavior, forsake to tell them the good news of the Gospel, and call on them to trust Jesus with all their brokenness, it would bring into  question our sincere love for them. As Paul said: speak the truth in love, you can’t have one without the other.

4. We must remember that God is both loving and Just

God is love, and God is grace. But, we must never forget that God is also holy, perfect, and righteous. He is a wrathful God. Because God is holy and just it creates a predicament in us as unholy human beings having a relationship with Him. In all reality, God’s justice and holiness demand that we as an unholy people receive death. So, what hope is there for us? This is the good news of the Gospel. Because God is both holy and loving he desired for his creation to be in relationship with him, but it was impossible because of our unrighteousness. Therefore, he sent Jesus, his one and only son, to die in our place. Jesus’ death on the cross is where God’s judgment of sin and love for his creation collide. Jesus as a perfect sacrifice took on our sins so that we could stand justified in the sight of God. It’s not our works that save us, its His!

Nevertheless, we still have a choice to make. We can either except Christ’ sacrifice by faith, or we can deny him by rejecting Christ and remaining in our sin. This is where the rubber meets the road. For someone to stand justified in God’s sight, one must put their faith in Christ, repent of their sins and be transformed. This is the only difference between the open homosexual and the Christian—a change of mind, to repent and trust in Jesus. Christ demands a change of heart. 

5. Those who call themselves Christians have a higher standard than those who are of the world. 

One major area of confusion for many is the difference between the saved and the unsaved. When one becomes a Christian they have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit empowers each Christian to live holy and sanctified lives. This does not mean that when one becomes a Christian they are automatically “perfect,” without sin. But it does mean that one is in a continual denying of oneself, repenting of sin, and a pursuing of Christ-likeness. One aspect that stems from this is that each Christian has a responsibility to help their fellow Christians grow in Christ (e.g. Gal. 6:1-2, Heb. 10:25).

Sometimes this means that when a fellow Christian is living or teaching falsely, it is the responsibility of the church to call them to stop and repent of their actions; this is called church discipline. Underlying this idea is a fundamental difference between those “in Christ,” and those “outside of Christ.” Believers are called to live holy lives. Unbelievers are unable to live holy lives simply because they have not been regenerated and saved by the Gospel. Believers need to live out the Gospel; unbelievers need to believe the Gospel. The best illustration of this is in 1 Corinthians 5 in which the church was openly condoning sexual immorality. The apostle Paul was appalled at such behavior and admonished the Church to remove the offender from membership. He then offers an important differentiation between those in the world and those in Christ:

 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—  not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church[b] whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”(1 Corinthians 5:9-13)

As you can see Paul realizes that inevitably those who are in the world are going to live unholy lives. Thus, we as Christians have an obligation to take them the Gospel. To associate with those of the world does not mean condoning their behavior, but rather,  calling them out of it. However, for those who call themselves Christians, yet live in open and unrepentant sin, they are to be removed until they repent and acknowledge their sin. The reason is because such people are in danger of influencing other Christians to follow their false teaching/behavior. As Christians then, we have a responsibility to hold each other accountable for what we teach and how we live. 

Closing comments

We as Christians are called to love all people as God has loved us. However, sometimes love involves  speaking the truth even though it may sting. Someone who is living a homosexual life or teaches that it is ok to live a homosexual life is in error. Therefore, we as Christians have an obligation to speak the truth in love. For the unbeliever it means calling them to receive Christ by denying their sin and seeking salvation through the blood of Jesus. For the believer it means that we confront them in their error and call them to repent of their sin. If one calls himself a Christian and yet still lives in continual and habitual sin, they are called to leave the fellowship of the church, with the hopes that they will come to their senses and return to Christ. In the end we desire all people to come to know the joy that is in Christ. Amen. 

Pursuing Biblical Sexuality in a Sex-Crazed World

 

Our culture has become enamored with sex; it’s everywhere. From the shows that are deemed popular to the posts on our social media pages–sex is on the minds of a lot of people. But seemingly in an unhealthy way. C.S. Lewis in his popular work “Mere Christianity” suggests:

Chastity is the most unpopular of the Christian virtues. There is no getting away from it; the Christian rule is, ‘Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.’ Now this is so difficult and so contrary to our instincts, that obviously either Christianity is wrong or our sexual instinct, as it now is, has gone wrong. One or the other. Of course, being a Christian, I think it is the instinct which has gone wrong (Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity, 95.).

If Lewis is correct and our human instincts have led us astray to the purpose and parameters of sexuality then what is the proper understanding of it? I want to discuss four areas the Bible addresses in regards to sexuality: (1) the creation of sex, (2) the purpose of sex, (3) the context of sex, and (4) the corruption of sex. 

The creation of sex

The first thing to realize is that sex, like all good things, was created by God. In his epistle James writes: “all good and perfect gifts come from the father.” Everything we see that is good—the beautiful sights of creation, the gentle touch of a newborn baby, all of the wonderful attributes we share (love joy, peace, kindness etc…), everything good is from God!  This is truly the most fundamental point concerning sex—God created it (and I’m glad he did!). At the very beginning he designed man and woman to participate in the activity of sexuality. In the Genesis account we see this clearly:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”—Gen. 1:27-28

Then the man said,“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.—Gen. 2:23-24

Sex is from God. 

Now because God is the creator and designer of sex, we must conclude that sex, as he intended it, is a very wonderful and marvelous gift. Sex is to be enjoyed by his creation—not to be suppressed or looked down upon.  But why? Why did God create sex? This leads us to our second observation:

The purpose of sex

Why did God create sex? Let me offer four reasons:

1. To create life.

One of the first duties given by God to his creation was to have sex in order to “fill the earth (Gen. 1:27-28).” What is significantly beautiful about this act, is that we as God’s creation, get to participate with God in creating life! This is what I love so much about our father—He has always longed for us to have a relationship with him, and by giving us the gift of sex, we are able to join in with him in the act of creating sacred life. 

2. For pleasure.

God has given us an entire book (the song of Solomon) in order to communicate this point. Throughout the book of song of Solomon we are given insight on one of the main purposes of sex—to have pleasure with our spouse. Here’s a quick sampler:

  • Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth – for your love is more delightful than wine. (1:2)
  • Your breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies. (4:5)
  • Listen! My beloved! Look! Here he comes, leaping across the mountains, bounding over the hills.(2:8)

      3. Intimacy

Sex brings forth an intimate oneness and unity. It’s interesting that the Biblical writers, in expressing the act of sexuality, used the word “to know.” So, for example the Bible says that Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived…” The idea “to know” someone in the Bible carries more than just mental assent. Rather, it carried the idea of intimate relationship with another. 

Sex, therefore, is much more than a physical act—it is a spiritual and intimate act that brings two people together—so much so that the Bible pictures sexuality as the union between two people. When two individuals come together in the act of sex, they enter into a dynamic and supernatural oneness. 

4. An illustration of Christ and the church

This pertains to marriage as a whole, but definitely involves the act of sex between the husband and the wife. One of the most profound teachings concerning sex and marriage is the idea that the covenant union between husband and wife is synonymous with the covenant union between Christ and the church. Paul points this out in Ephesians 5:

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church (Ephesians. 5:31-32).

Therefore, one profound purpose of sexual union and marriage in general is to display and illustrate, in a powerful way, the picture of our relationship with Christ.

The Context of sex.

Does the Bible teach that sex is to be done in a certain context, or is sex open for anyone and at any time? The simple answer is that sex is to be enjoyed solely between one man and one woman in the context of marriage. 

The biblical teaching on this is severely clear from my perspective. For starters, the sexual relationship between a man and a woman is grounded in the Genesis narrative. From the beginning God has defined godly sexuality as being between one man and one woman; and as goes Genesis 1-3, so goes the rest of the Bible. As one sifts through the Biblical story it becomes evidently clear that sex was never to be exercised beyond the boundaries of covenantal marriage. In fact, a good portion of the Bible involves God’s rebuke and correction over the misuse and abuse of sexuality. For example, one of the earliest accounts of God’s judgment was on two cities (Sodom and Gomorrah) who had severely corrupted the purpose of sexuality. 

As one moves into the NT the teaching of sex within the context of marriage becomes even clearer. Jesus taught emphatically about the issue of sexuality stating that for one even to lust within the heart is a form of adultery (Matthew  5:27-30). By saying this Jesus raised the importance of sexuality.  

The apostle Paul dealt a good bit with the issue of sexuality. In 1 Corinthians for example, the church had gone in two extreme directions. On the one hand there were those who were abusing the gift of sexuality to its extreme. They were openly and proudly, having promiscuous sex in every way imaginary (5:1-6:20). On the other hand, there seemed to be those who rejected sex all together, even within the context of marriage. Sex was seen as a bad thing. Paul’s instruction for both these areas is sexual purity—that is, sex within the exclusive context between a husband and a wife. This is seen in 1 Corinthians 7:1-5:

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control (1 Corinthians 7:1-5)

Many other passages could be mentioned here but suffice it to say that both the OT and the NT communicate that sexuality is to be enjoyed exclusively in the context of the covenant union of marriage. Hebrews 13: 4 summarizes well this teaching:

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)

The Corruption of sex

We come now to our final observation, the corruption of sex. In the beginning sex, like all good things, was undefiled and just as God had intended it. However, the Biblical story describes an event we call “the fall.” Because of humanity’s free choice to rebel against God, creation as a whole became tainted and marred. As a result of sin, the world now experiences brokenness. This is also true of sexuality. Sexuality, as we have seen was designed by God for the enjoyment and intimacy of a man and a woman. However, because of the birth of sin we are now prone to abuse God’s good gift and use them for our own pleasures and desires. Whenever we as God’s creation act contrary to the nature and will of God it is called sin. God, in his sovereign plan has revealed to us how we are to live. Unfortunately, enticed by our own desires, humanity rebels against that will and chooses to live out their own ambitions. 

In short, any sexual activity outside of the marriage union of one man and one woman is outside of God’s desired will for us and therefore is sin. The Bible actually has a word that sort of envelopes all of these sexual activities into one, it is called “porneia.” Porneia (usually translated “sexual immorality”, or “fornication”) includes any sexual activity outside of marriage: sex before marriage, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, pornography etc…. To say it concisely, all sex outside of marriage is simply wrong from a biblical viewpoint. 

Grace and the Spirit.

Before I conclude let me briefly offer a reminder about the Grace of God and the power of his Spirit. I am very aware of the numerous and complicated situations revolving this topic. Furthermore, I understand that while these various biblical principles have been presented, these issues are not abstract; they involve real genuine human beings. I know personally individuals that fight daily the battles of sexual temptations and desires. So, as we discuss these topics, I think it is wise to know that if someone is dealing with sexual struggles, they need to know they are not alone. God is a God full of grace and he longs to fill you with his Spirit. And while it seems almost unbearable to overcome certain desires and temptations, God’s grace can and will give you the power to overcome any difficulty. This is exactly the point of Paul’s words in Romans 6:

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.  Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace (Romans 6:12-14).