As I sat in the waiting room thumbing through the only magazines available–women’s magazines–I skimmed an article intending to prepare young women for having sex on a first date. There were no prohibitions for doing so, only precautions about the kind of men with whom a woman should allow herself to have sex. No moral concerns surfaced, just the usual, “Be Careful!”
Recreational sex is by now an acceptable part of life as advertised on television and throughout our culture. From this lifestyle, it naturally follows that living together before marriage is no big deal. In fact, if a couple is heading toward marriage at all, it seems only natural that they share bed and board as they plan for the wedding that may or may not happen. Parents who are uncomfortable about a son or daughter living with someone before marriage may hesitate to voice an objection for fear the confrontation will alienate them from future participation in their children’s lives.
In contrast to this acquiescence to sexual behavior outside of marriage, one psychiatrist recently shared his concerns with me that female clients having experienced a breakup after “living together” are often seriously harmed by such transient relationships. Women are often looking for attention, acceptance, love, and a caring relationship. Men are looking primarily for sex. Women are hurt most by relationships when the man suddenly leaves, she is pregnant, or has acquired a sexually transmitted disease or has suffered abuse. Moreover, statistics have long confirmed the higher incidence of divorce in marriages where couples lived together previously. The illusion of intimacy in “living together” cannot match the reality of the oneness that comes about through years of commitment in marriage, where sex comes with marriage, not before it.
As I wrote in Marriage Is Like Dancing: “Sexual desire … is part of God’s design for human beings, but God intends that a man and woman wait until marriage [not engagement] to fully explore their own sensuality and have sexual intercourse. My wife and I recently had dinner at a nice restaurant and were compelled to listen to two men at the next table comparing their sexual encounters aloud. One said to the other, ‘I lived with Marie for a year to see if we were sexually compatible, but found out we were not, so we split.’ I wanted to interrupt and say, ‘You’ve got it backwards. You have to work at the relationship in the commitment of marriage for years before sensuality and sexual intercourse fully mature as an expression of the relationship.’ Cultural behaviors and attitudes vary in time and place, giving approval or disapproval to sexual intimacy and intercourse before marriage, but God’s people are called to be faithful to God in trusting that He put marriage before these for a reason.” Sexuality cannot be separated from relationship and relationship is built on commitment, a commitment to God and to marriage where confession and absolution are a way of life for both. Living together sexually before marriage is a violation not only of our bodies, but of marriage itself and of our relationship with God reflected in marriage.
Silence Is Golden?
The word fornication, also translated as immorality, is the biblical word for sex outside of marriage, yet there has been a remarkable silence on the part of the Church in general and congregations in particular on the immorality of living together before marriage. Pastors may discuss it with couples during premarital counseling, but are often hesitant to take the initiative to discuss “living together” with their congregation, or make a pastoral-care visit on parishioners when this occurs. Even parents in a congregation sometimes respond with a shrug of the shoulders and a look of helplessness that merely assents to such sexual behavior as inevitable. Many parents lack an open relationship with their children that allows them to speak lovingly about the reasons for abstinence long before sexual temptation occurs. Consequently, when a child does give in to immoral behavior, parents do not know how to call their children to account and point them to the need for repentance and God’s forgiveness.
In the Shadow of the Cross
Yet, it is not enough for parents to lay down the Law and merely say, “Don’t have sex before marriage!” As Christians, we live under both Law and Gospel as Paul writes: “Flee from sexual immorality [Law]. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price [Gospel]. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:18–20 ESV, italics added).
The “price” of our ownership by God was the Cross of Christ and His death for us! That good news is better than sex itself! It is this good news that transforms lives that the Law cannot change. There is forgiveness for sin, and it is ours when we confess our living in sin and trust in His forgiveness! When we let forgiveness be ours, a new life in Christ emerges. “Living [in sin] together” is the way of the world; it is not the way of Christ’s people. Living a life of daily confession of sin and forgiveness in Christ and waiting until marriage for sexual intimacy is our calling as Christians. In doing so, we have a chance to build a marriage that is rich in God’s blessings. For those who have not done so, the Lord waits with open arms for a return to His way with us.