4 Basic Guidelines for Christian Dating

Dean Inserra
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Given that we are not provided with a biblical script for our cultural creation of dating, I believe “no regrets dating” is the best approach. Dating is a prevalent part of our culture and a modern-day prerequisite for engagement, so we must learn how to approach it as Christians. The answer is not to “kiss dating goodbye” or try to overhaul a central component of our society, but rather to embrace the fact that following Jesus will interfere with our lives—even our dating lives—and that this should cause us to approach relationships differently. Again, as Paul said to the Thessalonians, we should not act like those who do not know God. “No regrets dating” can be summed up in four guidelines.

1. Stop acting like you’re married when you are not.

We tend to treat exclusive dating relationships as though they are quasi-marriages, giving them a measure of security that God never intended (and that isn’t really there). For the Christian, if the only thing that changes when you get married is that you start having sex, something is wrong. When we read the common thread of Scripture, from Genesis to Jesus to Paul, we read that “a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh . . . so they are no longer two, but one flesh” (Matt. 19:5–6). Should we really be giving ourselves away emotionally and romantically to someone who is not our spouse? To give credit where credit is due, I think Harris was right in this regard in his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Giving your heart away four or five times by the age of twenty-seven is not healthy. When a dating couple functions as a package deal—when they give joint presents at parties, post the equivalent of engagement pictures on social media, and declare anniversaries of their “define the relationship” conversation—they mirror the world’s idea of casually-committed relationships, declaring a pretend marriage that God does not recognize. The world at large may exhibit this kind of boundary-pushing union with sex, cohabitation, etc., but this can (and does) happen within the church, even among couples who abstain from sex before marriage.

“Christians must get serious about sexual sin.”

There must be a better way to date than acting as a married couple minus sex. Especially because we’ve seen that many Christians have entered these kinds of relationships with several different people. Making out with someone every night and saying “I love you” is not what we find in the Scriptures for the unmarried. That’s not really a brother/sister-in-Christ relationship. I can’t see how Christians can make the case that a sort of quasi-marriage should happen with multiple partners in a lifetime. There is a way to still date someone and not be so intense. And this intensity can exist even if there isn’t sexual tension present—think of the sweet Christian boyfriend and girlfriend who come as a package deal. If you invite one to your house for dinner, it means you invite both; they learn each other’s “love languages,” travel, and “do” all the holidays together. They aren’t around their friends as much anymore, and if they are, the other is with them. If that relationship ends, there will be regrets. So much time given, life altered, and emotion invested. It is also essential to understand that the boyfriend is not the leader in the relationship. That is a duty reserved for husbands. A boyfriend should not have pressure placed on him to be a “spiritual leader” in a dating relationship, nor should a girlfriend feel any obligation to be under his leadership. The practice instead should be two individuals who treat each other as siblings in Christ, because this is the category Scripture places them under as unmarried men and women. So, to sum it up, pump the brakes and chill out.

2. Make intentions known in dating.

Vocalizing your intentions is not the same as courting; it’s being considerate of the other person. To the eager guys, don’t freak a girl out by bringing up marriage during your first conversation. Nonetheless, you should exercise clarity and be intentional. Here is what that looks like:

  • Intentional: “I’d like to take you out on a date. Are you free next weekend?”
  • Unintentional: “Wanna hang out sometime?” (Extra loser points if you take this road and then try to kiss her at the end of the night.)

Intentional clarity allows the man and woman to know what is or is not happening. If you think it is a date, and the other person thinks you’re just hanging out as friends, you are creating weirdness from the start. If intentions are clear, and the first date goes well (leading to a couple more dates), then you can start to ask basic questions that will provide helpful answers. If the guy or girl you are dating says, “I don’t want to get engaged until after grad school,” and you aren’t planning on waiting that long for what could or could not happen with the relationship, you can say “no thanks,” and nobody is mad or taken advantage of because intentions were made known. An awkward conversation about intentions at the beginning is much better than heartbreak later.

3. Foreplay is not in play.

There is one purpose and one purpose only for what is known as “foreplay.” (I don’t even think anyone calls it that anymore, but I’m going with it because it seems the most appropriate.) Its purpose is to prepare you for and lead you to sexual intercourse. It was not designed to stop before a climax. Foreplay between two unmarried people is absolutely what the Scriptures would designate as “sexual immorality.” You must put standards in place—my best advice is that when the date is over, the date is over. Guys, walk her to the door, drop her off, and go home. If there are other people there, sure, go inside. If not, know yourself and where you are tempted and be wise! Jesus said, “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matt. 5:30)! Better to do something as non-sacrificial as cutting the night off early than to sin.

“What does it really mean to be committed in dating, anyways? It means that you are committed until one of you decides you aren’t anymore.”

Christians must get serious about sexual sin. Sex, foreplay, nakedness, etc. are not for dating people, in-love people, or mature people, but for married people. One does not have to kiss dating goodbye to understand this. In the world’s idea of dating, sex is expected. Taking that off the table immediately in a dating relationship sets a man and woman up to have no regrets if a breakup eventually happens, because they treated each other first as brother and sister in Christ.

4. Realize that you are not really committed.

There are two things that can happen when you date: either you get married, or you break up. Not counting unexpected tragedies, every dating relationship either ends with a breakup conversation or results in a wedding. So please understand, if you are in an exclusive dating relationship, you are not bound by it or forced to stay in it. The biblical boundaries for marriage and divorce don’t apply here. What does it really mean to be committed in dating, anyways? It means that you are committed until one of you decides you aren’t anymore.

It reminds me of college football recruiting. Few things get college football fans to pay attention to every waking moment of a high school kid’s life other than when their favorite team is recruiting a star player. The goal of the coaching staff is to get that player to commit to their school. But even after the high school athlete commits, he can still change his mind until national signing day, when he signs an official letter of intent. A player announcing his commitment to a certain school creates a frenzy among its fan base, but his commitment isn’t really a commitment. It’s all pretend until the student athlete signs his name on the dotted line. It is commonplace in the college football recruiting world for someone to claim he is a “soft commitment.” Yes, he is committed to Auburn, but he’s still checking out Alabama and Clemson. He is committed, but not so much.

This is dating in a nutshell. You are in a committed relationship unless and until one of you decides otherwise. That is perfectly okay. In fact, it’s a good thing. There is no biblically binding commitment for a dating couple, even an engaged couple! You might be labeled a bad guy, lose your deposit on a reception venue, or realize you spent way too much money on Valentine’s Day, but you are simply a “soft commitment” until you sign your letter of intent by getting married. This is how dating should be viewed. You should never feel stuck or trapped in a dating relationship. Chances are, the more emotional and physical intimacy that is exchanged, the more you will feel stuck. The reality is that God does not tell us in His Word that a boyfriend and girlfriend are His design and that nobody should separate the two. That claim is reserved for marriage. You can call it dating or courting, but it still applies the same; it is a house of cards commitment that isn’t binding.

Married Christians should keep this in mind when walking through life with other believers who are dating or engaged. Dating is a time to evaluate the character of another person, and godly community should be part of that, but we shouldn’t treat our dating friends like they are married or make them feel guilty about getting out of a dating relationship that isn’t headed towards marriage. What a shame if church community is the reason someone feels like he or she can’t rightfully end a dating relationship.

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by Dean Inserra

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