Dating, Relating, and Fornicating
Christians worship a single guy who died a virgin. Perhaps that should be listed among his many miracles.
For the first time in our nation’s history, there are more unmarried than married adults. And people are waiting longer than ever to marry—women in their mid- to late twenties on average and men closer to thirty. The closer you get to a major city, the more singles you will find—most of them dating, relating, and fornicating.
This trend includes Seattle. Recently, Mars Hill Church Seattle was listed by theSeattle P-I as one of the best places in Seattle for singles to meet somebody. So, if you’re looking to get hitched, Mars Hill is apparently a good place.
One of the reasons I believe we were named among such places as gyms, bars, and (naturally) dog parks—there are more dogs per capita in Seattle than kids—is because we tend to verbally beat boys who can shave (men who are adults chronologically but kids in terms of responsibility) like drill sergeants. The ones who don’t leave to blog about their hurt feelings tend to stay, grow up, man up, and eventually get married to a nice gal who would like to have babies but does not want to be married to one.
Over the years, we’ve seen thousands of singles come to Mars Hill, become Christians, find healing from past abuse, trust Jesus, start dating a godly guy or gal, get married, and have kids to the glory of God. I personally know hundreds of women who were sexual assault victims at the hands of some loser boyfriend/porn-head find help, healing, and hope in Jesus, get married to a guy who was previously a train wreck, and by God’s grace become new people with a fun, free, faithful marriage. Nothing beats the front row I enjoy for the Holy Spirit’s power in the lives of people whom Jesus loves.
And though we have many families at Mars Hill, over half of our church is single and in their twenties. Naturally, there are many questions about dating.
So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to speak to those of you who are single in both our church and in the church at large.
The History of Dating
Most likely, you view your experiences regarding dating as normative. Because you were born in this day and age, dating seems not only normal but also the only way in which to meet someone you could potentially marry.
We must be careful, however, not to take our current experiences and make them the norm. It’s important to view the times in which we live through the lens of both history and Scripture.
The reality is that dating, as we know it today, is a relatively new idea. In fact, prior to the 1900s, “dating” was a slang term that referred to prostitution. A man who was going to pay a woman for sex told his buddies that he was “going on a date.” Interestingly, while dating isn’t overtly a euphemism for prostitution any longer, for many men, the process is similar. In our culture, a man takes a woman on a date, spends lots of money, and by the world’s standards expects the woman to “put out.”
The cultural history of dating is interesting. In the early 1900s “calling” was the primary means of marrying. A young man would call on a young woman by going to the parlor in her parents’ home. Her parents carefully oversaw these meetings, and expectations for everything from dress and food to length of time of the call was regulated and spelled out. This protected women from the kind of sexual assault that is common today by involving the parents on every level of the courtship process. It also limited the opportunity for a woman and a man to be alone and sin sexually.
By the 1930s, however, the social landscape changed dramatically with the rise of the automobile. Cars gave young people freedoms and mobility they never had previously, resulting in increased opportunities for men and women to go out alone and increased temptations for drunkenness and sexual sin.
Socially, the rise of the car resulted in women being interested in men who were rich enough to afford a nice car and take them on nice dates, and men in turn pursued women who were the prettiest and most sexual.
By the 1940s, dating took on aspects of prostitution—as I said earlier, men treated women to nice dates, and in return they expected sexual favors. Naturally, those women who obliged were taken on more dates, and those women who didn’t weren’t asked out again.
Things really changed in the 1960s with the onset of the sexual revolution. This resulted in the greatest change in the social dynamics of singleness in the Western world, with orgies, casual sex, homosexuality, lesbianism, and bisexuality becoming increasingly socially acceptable. Additionally, that decade saw the first widely available pornography magazine, Playboy, resulting in a shift in the way our society viewed the body and sex.
The 1970s cemented the concept of dating and casual sex as normative by removing any physical consequences through the legalization of abortion in 1973 and making no-fault divorce legal in 1974. Add to that the birth control pill and other contraceptive measures, and most of the cultural and practical reasons to restrict sexual activity outside of marriage were obliterated.
The end result of all this is that today we live in a society that is overly sexualized, sees nothing wrong with experimenting, and views regular, unmarried sex as not only normal but also healthy. Those who are younger were born into a world that resulted from a massive sexual and gender experiment. Today, even young teens are involved in “sexting,” junior high girls are expected to send naked photos of themselves to their boyfriends, and the number one consumer of online pornography is twelve- to sixteen-year-old boys, which means they will expect girls not old enough to drive to punish their bodies and do the kind of extreme things that porn stars do.
Culture and Dating
Sex outside of marriage is now the norm, a huge change from just a century ago. Today, over 5 million couples cohabitate. This is up from 1 million in 1978. And this number doesn’t take into account the number of couples who don’t live together but who still stay over at each other’s places enough to be classified as cohabitators.
Here are some shocking statistics taken from my book, Religion Saves:
- An estimated quarter of unmarried women between the ages of 25 and 39 currently live with a partner.
- Half of unmarried women in the same age group have lived with a partner at some time.
- Over half of all first marriages are now preceded by cohabitation.
- The most likely people to cohabit are those aged 20 to 24.
This is problematic first because it is sin and against God’s design for sex, which is to be enjoyed in the context of marriage, but also for a number of practical reasons.
- Studies almost always find that cohabitation is associated with a higher divorce risk, with estimates ranging from 33 percent to 151 percent increased risk of divorce.
- Annual rates of depression among cohabitators are more than three times higher than married couples,
- Women in cohabitating relationships are twice as likely as married women to suffer physical abuse.
- Two studies found that women in cohabitating relationships are about nine times more likely to be killed by their partner than married women.
- Couples who cohabitate before marriage report less marital happiness and more conflict when married.
This is in contrast to couples who marry as virgins:
- Men who marry as virgins are 37 percent less likely to divorce.
- Women who marry as virgins are 24 percent less likely to divorce,
- Those who wait to have sex until marriage and remain faithful in marriage report higher levels of life satisfaction compared to adults who engage in premarital or adulterous sex.
- Those who wait to have sex and are faithful to their spouse also report notably higher happiness scores.
The bottom line of all this is that Satan is still a liar. Though our culture wants to make cohabitation and casual sex seem normative and healthy, the statistics tell the truth—it’s destructive. God’s plan of chastity before marriage and fidelity in marriage is still the best plan.
I speak as the chief hypocrite. I was not a virgin when I met Grace at the age of seventeen. We were sleeping together until God saved me in college and I got some decent Bible teaching about sex. We stopped sleeping together until we were married between our junior and senior years of college. I wrongly thought we’d pick up where we’d left off, but I was wrong. We had set in motion a pattern of guilt and selfishness that took years to break and hurt the first years of our marriage. For those like me, there is hope. God does forgive, and things can improve. For those unlike me, keep pursuing purity by grace because God’s way is the best way.
With that in mind, I share with you here some thoughts on being single in the church and pursuing a godly spouse.
Be the right person
Too many singles have a list of what they are looking for in a spouse. The problems with this are many. First, most singles don’t know what they really need for fifty years of God-glorifying marriage. Second, the list is usually just their resume and a form of idolatry, as if marrying someone just like you is necessarily a good thing. Third, the list usually does not account for the future, like the guy who told me it was very important that his future wife love rock climbing, until I explained to him that if they had as many kids as he was hoping for she would not be rock climbing much since it’s not the ideal activity for a pregnant lady. Fourth, how about a list NOT FOR THE PERSON YOU WANT TO MARRY BUT RATHER A LIST FOR YOU! It seems very selfish to make a list of what someone else needs to be for you if you don’t have a detailed list for yourself and what you need to be for them.
As a single person in the church, one of the most important prerequisites to dating and marrying is being the right person. This means having your identity firmly rooted in Jesus rather than in your identity as a single person, what the culture says about being single, or what the culture says about marriage.
Singles in the church generally need to fight the propensity for idolatry in one of two forms: independence or dependence.
Some single people value their independence above all else. The idea of committing to someone is something that scares them to death. Rather than commit, they prefer to stay single, not because they feel called to honor God in singleness, but because they worship their independence above all else. Sometimes, the underlying root of this fear was witnessing their parents’ own marriage fail.
Other singles are like needy puppies that can’t be alone. They worship other people’s relationships and long to have someone they can be with—again, not to glorify God, but instead to feel secure and to find their identity in a relationship. They worship dependence above all else.
Rather than finding your identity in either independence or dependence, you need to find your identity in Jesus, serving him and his church well, and trusting him to provide the right spouse at the right time.
First and foremost, we must place our identity in Jesus and we must desire what he desires for us. If you’re single and worship your independence, you need to ask for forgiveness and ask Jesus if he has a spouse for you to pursue. If so, do so obediently.
Likewise, if you’re single and dread being alone, you need to find your identity in Jesus and be content with the season of life he has you in. Use your singleness to glorify God by serving him and his church and trust that he’ll bring the right person at the right time.
Marry the right person
Some people have a list so long and so specific for a potential spouse that they’ll never find anyone who measures up. Be reasonable in your expectations and understand that oftentimes God brings someone much different into your life as a spouse, both for your holiness and your happiness.
Too many people have unrealistic expectations of who they want to marry, which often results in not seeing someone God has put right in front of you. Rather than looking for the perfect person, open your eyes to see whom the perfect God may have in your life right now. Holding people up to unrealistic expectations will only result in frustration on your part and the part of those who wish to pursue you, and may cause you to miss out on a great potential mate.
The greatest love story in the Bible after Jesus and the church is Ruth and Boaz. Their story is perfect for singles in our day. They were older. He was a successful and godly businessman and community leader. He could have married any number of women. But he picked Ruth. Her family descended from incest, she was a foreigner from another country, and she was not a virgin but a widow, as well as a new believer, homeless (gleaning for food, which is our equivalent to the food bank or dumpster diving), and came with a mother-in-law who had changed her name to “Bitter.” I’m guessing this was not the list Boaz had made for his future wife. But she was amazing and from her womb came the line of Jesus Christ according to Matthew 1.
That being said, you must have standards still. First and foremost, a potential spouse must love Jesus, love his church, and be theologically sound.
Since identity is rooted in Jesus, dating someone who isn’t a Christian builds a relationship apart from the source of identity and leads to much trouble and heartache down the road.
First, a non-Christian can’t even begin to understand who you are since they don’t know Jesus. Second, since Scripture is the highest authority in a Christian marriage, a relationship with someone who doesn’t trust the Bible leaves you in a position to have two value systems that often contradict each other as the basis for a relationship. Third, when tough times come, and they will, you will have no means of dealing with sin that comes between the two of you.
But dating someone who is a Christian is just the baseline. In order to consider spending your life with someone in covenant marriage, you need to also share the same theological values.
While we can have friends with whom we disagree on primary theological issues, it’s not wise to date someone with whom you disagree on fundamental issues such as the inerrancy of Scripture, the divinity of Jesus, gender relationships in marriage, children, the Trinity, and more. This will only set you up for great conflict when you are married and especially when you have children.
In the right way
Ladies, the Bible teaches that the man should lovingly lead as the head of the home. Because of this, any romantic relationship should start with the man taking the initiative to kindly and respectfully ask for the opportunity to date you.
Men, the Bible teaches us in 1 Timothy 5:1–2 to treat Christian women as sisters. This means that you respectfully get to know a woman you’re interested in without pressure and without sexual contact. Also, since you’re called to lead your family once you are married, you need to muster up some courage and ask out a woman you’re interested in. Too many Christian men are timid and need to have the courage to face rejection in pursuit of a wife. Finally, if a woman is not interested, you should respect that answer and trust that God will bring the right woman into your life.
Also, when dating someone, remember that the goal of Christian dating is not to have a boyfriend or girlfriend but to find a spouse. Have that in mind as you get to know one another, and if you’re not ready to commit to a relationship with the end goal of marriage, it’s better not to date but simply to remain friends.
At the right time
Often, there are many things you need to work on before you’re ready to marry. Sometimes there are habitual sins, such as porn addiction, that need to be addressed. Other times, you need to work on establishing yourself to be in a position to provide for a family or grow stronger in your spiritual life.
Accept that singleness for a season affords you freedom and benefits you won’t have when married. Use it wisely to finish your education, travel for missions, serve the church, establish your career, and create a solid financial base free of debt. Until you are ready to marry, focus on those issues, and then pursue a relationship. Live your single years to God’s glory. Don’t waste them.
In the right community
First and foremost, be part of a Jesus-loving, Bible-teaching church. Serve that church, humbly learn from those who have more life experience than you and who have developed a life-long relationship with Jesus, and grow as a Christian under solid, qualified elders and leaders.
Second, if you have decent families, honor them. Allow them to speak into your relationship and know the person you are considering. This is doubly important for young women who have Christian parents who love them. Any man who wants to be with you should want to get to know your church friends and your family, live openly before them, and gain their approval. Any guy who takes a woman away from godly family and community is dangerous and up to no good.
For the right reasons
The Bible commands that both a husband and a wife love each other (Eph. 5:25; Titus 2:3–4). There is nothing sadder than a marriage that is devoid of love or not growing in love. If a man and woman don’t love one another and are not devoted to building love over a lifetime, they shouldn’t marry.
Also, it’s not enough to date someone whom you think is only attractive on the outside, and it’s also not enough to date someone whom you think is only attractive on the inside. Rather, you should be attracted to the entire person inside and out.
Marriage is lifelong journey with many ups and downs, and many seasons of life. Grace and I met in high school, married in college, and then graduated and started Mars Hill Church together a few years later. She quit her job to stay home and raise the kids, and we’ve been together over twenty years.
Today, life is busy with the church growing, lots of travel, and many projects on top of building a godly home and family. Grace and I love each other more than ever and genuinely enjoy each other’s company as both best friends and lovers. We work together, not against one another, and support each other through every season. One day, our five kids will be grown, and Grace and I will still be together as older and hopefully wiser friends and lovers. The point is that life changes and seasons come and go. You should marry someone fit for every season of life and seek to be the right person for them in every season of life.