If you’re not married yet, you may have a longing to be someday. The marital covenant will be the closest human relationship you’ll have to the union you have with Christ. Beforehand, however, you may inadvertently disrespect and dishonor your future spouse by “pretending” or “playing house.” To pretend is to speak and act so as to make it appear that something is the case when in fact it’s not. Pretending can manifest itself through words and behavior in a dating relationship in the form of emotional vulnerability coupled with sexual intimacy. In a culture saturated with sexting, flirt-apps, self-objectifying selfies and media messages proclaiming “do what feels good,” it’s often expected that dating will involve sexual activity, and it’s naïve to believe those within the body of Christ are immune to such temptations.
“Pretending” is a deceitful serpent hiding in the tall grass of Christian dating, proclaiming the lie that God’s commands are archaic and that committed couples are entitled to sexual intimacy before marriage. Vulnerability and self-disclosure are critical for relationship development. But when mishandled, these can catapult couples into premature sexual intimacy (Afifi & Faulkner, 2000; Afifi & Burgoon, 1998). Often, tolerance for sexual behavior is manipulated through loyalty and emotional vulnerability. Then, as the behavior recurs, many Christian couples fabricate Biblical loopholes to accommodate their behavior to satisfy their fleshly lusts. This is evident in such rationalizations such as, “That’s not how we interpret Scripture,” “We’re married in God’s eyes,” “It’s only sexting,” or “That isn’t sex.”
The consequences of such irreverent living are reflected in current research. Cohabitating before marriage exponentially increases the risk of divorce (Brown, Manning, & Payne, 2015; Perreli-Harris, Berrington, Galezewska, 2017). Furthermore, cohabitating or not, premarital sexual activity, sexually-explicit conversations, and even sexting often damage relationship growth (Wysocki & Childers, 2011). And to engage in premarital sexual activity is to disrespect and dishonor one another’s future spouses.
We are called to observe Jesus’ admonition, “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15). That Christ’s commands pertain to sexual conduct is evident in the following Pauline passages:
Paul speaks to the Thessalonians saying, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God” (1 Thess. 4:3-5, NIV).
Paul furthers this discussion with the Corinthians, emphasizing that sex is reserved only for marriage, as he tells us that “since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband” (1 Cor. 7:2, NIV).
In order to achieve the above, Paul pleads with the Corinthians to exercise cognitive and behavioral self-control. He says:
I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you now know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Cor. 6:12-20, NIV)
Cognitive self-control requires active self-monitoring (Phil 4:8) to produce consistent obedience and behavioral submission to God’s Word (James 4:7; 1 Tim. 3:16). Creating rationalizations for satisfying the flesh rips sexuality out of God’s creational context for sex and amounts to abuse of God’s daughter or son for the satisfaction of one’s own lust.
So, stop pretending and get serious. Loving the opposite sex demands dual responsibility (Rom. 12:5). If dating, ask: “How can we respect and honor our future spouses through what we say, text, share, snap, click, post, wear, and view?” If you two eventually marry, well, then it’s a win-win. As for past sexual sin, remember that God forgives, redeems, and restores: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NIV). Dying to existing sin, however, is vital. As Paul notes, “you were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:22-24, NIV).
Honoring your future spouse begins now. It’s time to put away your pretend rationalizations and begin carrying your cross.
Afifi, W. A., Faulkner, S. L. “On being ‘just friends’: The frequency and impact of sexual activity in cross-sex friendships.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 17 (2000): 205-222.
Afifi, W. A., Burgoon, J. K. “‘We never talk about that’: A comparison of cross-sex friendships and dating relationships on uncertainty and topic avoidance.” Personal Relationships, 5 (1998): 255-272.
Brown, S. L., Manning, W. D., Payne, K. K. “Relationship quality among cohabiting versus married couples.” Journal of Family Issues, 38 (2015): 12.
Perelli-Harris, B., Berrington, A., Gassen, N. S., Galezewska, P., Holland, J. A. “The rise in divorce and cohabitation: Is there a link?” Population and Development Review, 43 (2017): 2.