A Black and White answer to the question, “How far is too far?”
Within Christian dating, the most popular question still remains to be “How far is too far” as it relates to physical intimacy and what is permissible in God’s eyes. Before I had developed PLUM as a baseline for understanding God’s design for sex and defining sexual sin, I had always been unsatisfied with the majority of the answers that were being given to this question to Christians who genuinely wanted to do what was right in God’s eyes.
Many of these unsatisfying answers included ambiguous sayings, like:
“Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in front of your parents”
“Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t want someone else to do with your future spouse”
“Don’t do anything that will lead to something more”
“Don’t kiss on the lips, instead kiss on the cheek or forehead”
“Remember that God is in the room with you, and He is watching!”
Even though these types of answers are well meaning, they lack any kind of Biblical support as far as defining the point of sinning sexually. As far as I can tell, the line that defines adultery (sexual sin) is the same line that defines “how far is too far”.
Jesus said that whoever even so much as looks at another person lustfully has already committed adultery in their heart. This means that even looking can be going too far! For dating couples who are striving for holiness in their relationship, they will “go too far” anytime they even look at one another lustfully.
So what’s the answer to the question, “How far is too far?”
As soon as you’ve looked lustfully at someone else, YOU’VE GONE TOO FAR!
It doesn’t matter how long a couple has been dating, whatever is unacceptable between a man and woman that are not married to each other is ALWAYS wrong. The secular (sinful) worldview of dating would teach that a gradual increase in physical affection between a dating couple is a healthy sign of a growing relationship. However, God’s standard is that all affection that is driven by lust qualifies as adultery (a sin worthy of death under the Law of Moses) when it is not between a husband a wife.
The next question to answer would be, “What is lust?”
The meaning of the Greek word that is used in Matthew 5:28 is similar to the meaning of the Hebrew word for “covet” in the Ten Commandments. It means “to passionately desire”. This lust combined with what is forbidden in the Law of Moses in regards to not uncovering the nakedness of another person (unless it is a spouse) give us a good idea of what it means to sinfully lust after another person.
When any form of physical affection (hugs, kisses, snuggling, etc) is driven by a lustful desire towards the other person’s body, it is committing adultery. Also, according to Jesus, to even look at another person with that kind of lust qualifies as committing adultery.
At this point people will usually respond with, “This standard is impossible!”. Remember, it is not necessarily a sin to hug and show simple signs of physical affection. In fact, physical affection is encouraged in the Bible between all Believers! This is when people must be honest with themselves and their sinful nature when evaluating their hearts and their intentions when it comes to showing signs of physical affection in dating.
When considering the impossibility of dating without any sort of sinful lust, we must even more remember the entire foundation of our salvation: faith in Jesus Christ! It is the righteousness of Christ that is imputed to all Believers, because they all fall short of God’s holy standard. It should not be a surprise to the Christian of the inevitability of stumbling in sin in the process of dating and singleness. All the ways that we so easily stumble in temptation should be another reminder to us that we are constantly relying upon the righteousness of Christ, not our own, to save us from our sins.
The simple fact that even looking at a person with lust is committing adultery, whether it is on a computer screen or in person, should give us a clue as to how easy it is to commit adultery during the various stages of dating and friendships.
So when teenagers ask me the question, “How far is too far” and they are concerned with pursuing godly boundaries for their dating relationships, I tell them, “Just looking at your boyfriend/girlfriend lustfully is going too far”. They will often shockingly respond, “Then what can we do!?”
If we understand the line for sexual sin in this way, it should help dictate the dating philosophy of a committed Christian who is seeking to honor God with their body. Here are a few practical ways this can change the way someone would date:
1) Dress appropriately, and seek out those who do the same
One of the biggest struggles in our culture is the custom of dressing in a way that seeks to draw the attention of other people. Christians who are seeking their future spouse should dress in a way that is conscious of this, and seek a wardrobe that does not intend to boast about their body. One of the ways I was attracted to my wife Mandy was when I noticed that she dressed modestly and it spoke volumes about her security in Christ. The best part is, after we got married was when we got to truly enjoy each other’s bodies and know that we had exclusive access to each other intimately! A man or woman who desires to reserve their bodies for their spouse should be an extremely attractive quality for a Christian.
2) Dating/hanging out in groups of Christian friends
This is one of the most practiced forms of accountability in the Christian-dating community, and for good reason. Getting to know someone within a group setting provides several important benefits in seeking a spouse-for-life:
- You can see how the person treats others, both whom they get along with and those they may not.
- You can see how the other person relates to others of the opposite gender. If they are too touchy-feely or have questionable boundaries with “friends” of the opposite gender, those can be red flags to watch out for
- The group can act as a buffer zone or even a healthy distraction that will lessen the temptation to become overly affectionate (1 Corinthians 6:18)
- Your other friends in the group can share their observations and feelings concerning the person you are dating or getting to know. Feedback from trustworthy Christian friends is extremely valuable! (Proverbs 12:15). Both Mandy and I had mutual friends that thankfully had very good things to say about us to the other person as well as our relationship together, and that was one of the most significant ways that we were confirmed in our desire to marry each other.
These are just a few of the ways that dating and hanging out in groups is a healthy option for Christian dating. I’m sure there are more, and I encourage you to ask other trustworthy Christians about some of the other benefits as opposed to the 1-on-1 dating method that is so much more common in the American culture.
3) Remembering where the line is
Christians should be constantly dragged back behind the line that firmly defines sexual immorality, and each time they mess up they can be reminded of the holy standard that God has set for them, but also be at peace in their salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sin. This is the Gospel; that we are far more sinful that we ever thought, and God is more loving than we could ever imagine. There is no one that is pure in God’s eyes, let alone sexually pure, and it is only through the blood of Christ that we are purified and forgiven of our sin.
So, how far is too far? Anytime anyone looks at another person with lust, they have gone too far. Let us not compromise the holy standard that is set before us by a holy God, and to remember His great grace upon those whom He has called, we were all once children of wrath but are now made children of God through Jesus Christ.