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How Far Is Too Far?

What does intimacy look like for singles? I spent over a decade pastoring unmarried teens and young adults. Dating/courting and sex were among the most repeated topics I was asked about. There is a powerful magnetic attraction to the opposite sex, and when two people have shared feelings for one another, as single believers of all ages, we want to know God’s heartbeat on how to honor Him, honor the other person, and exalt holiness in the relationship.

“Whenever someone involves themselves sexually outside of marriage they strip themselves of purity and push someone else away from God.”

A wise king decided to interview peasants from his kingdom to find four men to carry him on his portable throne. He asked each candidate, “If you were carrying me along a dangerous path, how close would you go to the edge of a cliff with me seated on my throne?” One man bowed and answered, “Your Majesty, I am very strong. I could go within a foot of the edge of the cliff.” Another man said, “Your Majesty, not only am I stronger than the other men here, but I have near perfect balance. I would go within six inches of the edge of the cliff.” One man replied, “Your Majesty, I wouldn’t go anywhere near the edge of a cliff. Why would I want to endanger your valuable life by leading you so close to danger?”

Who do you think got the job?

The truth is we protect those we care about. If you care about the person you’re with, you’ll protect that individual’s purity. Purity is something precious. It’s different from virginity. You may have lost your virginity, but you can still become pure. Purity is being right with God, having had your soul cleansed by His holy hand; it’s abiding in Christ, walking with Him along His righteous path. Whenever someone involves themselves sexually outside of marriage they strip themselves of purity and push someone else away from God.

“The question, ‘How far can we go?’ is nowhere near as important as ‘How far should we go?’”

The question, “How far can we go?” is nowhere near as important as “How far should we go?” Physically you can go all the way, but you shouldn’t. God forbids premarital sex. When you do anything sexual, you are ripping a petal off the rose of someone else’s purity. If you really care for each other, you should show it by protecting one another from the dangers of sin. Don’t take them anywhere near the edge.

“What Can I Do Without Feeling Guilty?”

Purity is a heart issue before it’s a physical one. Speaking about sexual purity, the Bible says:

God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor…God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (1 Thessalonians 4:3–8, NLT)

Making out, etc., isn’t taking someone close to the edge of a dangerous cliff; it’s pushing the person off it! That passage we just looked at tells us that God wants us to be holy and stay away from all sexual sin. Sexual sin is not only intercourse; it’s all the “fooling around” stuff too.

“Purity is a heart issue before it’s a physical one.”

God commands us to chase after purity. The question, “How far is too far?” is often asked with the wrong motive. The real question usually being asked is, “How much can I get away with?” Purity doesn’t ask that; purity asks, “How can I honor God in this relationship?” It’s about protecting one another and nurturing each other toward Christ. Is your heart in pursuit of purity?

God tells us to “be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). You’ve gone too far when you compromise holiness. Keep your hands to yourself; don’t get physical. Save all physical intimacy for marriage.

“The question, ‘How far is too far?’ is often asked with the wrong motive. The real question usually being asked is, ‘How much can I get away with?’ Purity doesn’t ask that; purity asks, ‘How can I honor God in this relationship?’”

The Bible says, “fornication and all uncleanness…let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints” (Ephesians 5:3). If there’s a tiny speck of sexual sin involved, skip it. Let’s put it another way. If there’s a tiny “spark” of sexual sin involved, that spark can start a fire that will burn out of control. Sex is for marriage only and so is all the touchy-feely stuff. The Bible instructs us to “flee sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18) and to “run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts” (2 Timothy 2:22, NLT). We are literally to run away from sexual sin—as Joseph did when tempted by Potiphar’s wife. If you sense you’re getting yourself in a position where things might get physical…sprint!

The Bible says that the devil is walking about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). He will make sure Potiphar’s wife shows up regularly to tempt you. So don’t be caught with your guard down. Your stance should be one of preparedness. Be ready for temptation, and when it comes get yourself the legs of Joseph.

Flirting with Blurry Lines

Where did God draw the line? What can we do and not feel guilty about? No intercourse? Nothing below the waist? Nothing below the neck? No, Jesus’ line is above the neck. He said, when it comes to sexual sin, nothing in the mind.

Jesus’ definition of sexual purity is not even dwelling on thoughts of sex. Jesus said, “Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). We may think of adultery as only cheating on our spouse, but Jesus raised the bar; in God’s eyes, having sexual fantasies about anyone we’re not married to is the same as committing adultery. Even to the unmarried, lustful thoughts are just as much a violation of the Seventh Commandment. Sexual purity includes skipping intercourse, and all the rest, but that’s not all it means. Sexual purity means not allowing your mind to have sexual fantasies. You should honor and respect the opposite sex in thought, word, and deed.

A lot of people feel like the line between right and wrong is blurry, and they don’t totally know what’s okay and what isn’t. But Jesus gave us a very simple definition: no dirty thoughts. You can’t do dirty deeds without dirty thoughts. Don’t let the spark ignite. Not only is sex before marriage wrong, anything that gets you or the other person aroused is way out of line.

No doubt by this point you may be feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. You may be thinking, “It’s too hard to be a Christian! I just can’t live the way I’m supposed to! I just can’t do it! Arrrghhh!” Don’t crack. And you’re absolutely right—it is really hard to follow God’s ways, to deny natural fleshly passions, and to be crucified with Christ, but you can do it. If you’re a true follower of Christ, the Holy Spirit lives within you. God has given you the power to overcome temptation. That strength is inside of you. And God promises to help. “The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations” (2 Peter 2:9). First Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” The thing is, you have to decide you’re going to surrender to God’s will. He knows best. Just think about what you would say to a two-year-old who wants to play with matches around a gas stove. With humility you must submit to God, knowing that He’s far, far smarter than you and has your best in mind.

Love Isn’t About Butterflies

In the Bible there are two letters written to the church of Corinth in ancient Greece. In 1 Corinthians 13 the world’s most famous definition of love is given. Now if anyone thought they knew what love was, I’m sure it was the Corinthians. Corinth was a huge city of over 300,000 people who had Aphrodite, the goddess of love, as one of their chief gods. Her idols littered the streets, and at least three temples were dedicated to this queen of love.

It’s said that at one point there were over 1,000 prostitutes who worked in one of Aphrodite’s temples selling their bodies to raise money for the temple. In Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians he warned about incest, adultery, premarital sex, prostitution, and homosexuality. Perhaps the Corinthians were raised to believe the lie that sex and love were the same thing. God felt it was so important to correct their understanding of love that He devoted a chunk of one of those letters to explaining what real love is.

Let’s take a quick look at 1 Corinthians 13:4–8, God’s definition of true love:

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

Just as fire is known by its heat, love is known by its actions. Notice that God’s definition of love isn’t about butterfly feelings, it’s not about romance, it’s certainly not about sex…it’s about actions. True love shows itself in the things it does. Love chooses to be patient, to be kind, not to envy, etc. Love isn’t a passing emotion that comes and goes like the tides of the sea. True love goes past emotions. It’s a commitment to seek the good of the other person. It goes beyond looking for the best for “me” and looks for the best for “them.”

“Notice that God’s definition of love isn’t about butterfly feelings, it’s not about romance, it’s certainly not about sex…it’s about actions.”

If you feel pressured to have sex or “fool around” by someone you’re dating, the person isn’t showing a whole lot of love for you. Love is selfless, not selfish. Love pursues and protects purity. Love patiently waits for marriage. Someone who really loves you will have your best interests at heart and fight to keep you away from sex before marriage.

Purity Isn’t Spontaneous

Purity doesn’t just happen. You must commit to following Jesus Christ, which includes committing to live a sexually pure life. A key to protecting your purity is setting boundaries. A boundary is a clear line that you will not cross no matter what.

To make sure she honored God in a new relationship, an older girl in my youth group wrote out a purity contract with a guy she just started dating. It said exactly what they would and wouldn’t do (they would study the Bible over the phone together, they wouldn’t be alone in a room together, etc.). They both signed it, and she had her mother sign it. They were married a few years later and today have two children.

Talk about boundaries before you hold hands. You could say something like this:

I really like you. I’m looking forward to getting to know you better and seeing if we are who God meant for each other. Since you’re a follower of Jesus I’m sure you can fully understand the need to honor God at every level of this relationship and protect our hearts and purity. Of course, I’m saving all physical intimacy for marriage, and as far as boundaries, a conviction I personally have is that the next person I kiss will be on my wedding night [or whatever standard you’ve set], and thus any touchy-feely stuff will also be only for marriage. I just wanted to share my heart on that and see what your thoughts and convictions are. What are the boundaries you’ve set to honor God and protect each other?

Awkward conversation? For sure. Will it greatly glorify God and protect you from something “just happening” in the heat of the moment? Absolutely.

Set clear boundaries and stick to them. Don’t allow for any sort of compromise. Mutually agree that if either of you push those boundaries you will go separate ways. You will not allow each other or pleasure to become an idol.

Here is a list of ideas for healthy boundaries. These are by no means meant to be legalistically applied for all; they are purely some ideas to help you prayerfully brainstorm what boundaries you feel are appropriate to set for yourself.

“Loving your neighbor through verbally sharing the gospel with the lost is one of the healthiest, most sanctifying, and spiritually invigorating things a couple could do together.”
  • Only date a serious follower of Jesus Christ. This is the Lord’s requirement. God’s Word says, “Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols?” (2 Corinthians 6:14–16, NLT).
  • God is always #1. If either of you find your devotion and zeal for the Lord wavering (often evidenced in slacking off on Bible reading, praying, or going to church; picking up sinful habits; choosing entertainment with dirty elements; etc.), you will help each other. If the other person doesn’t snap back right away, you will separate until God is seriously the focus again.
  • You’ll only date/court for the right reason: to see if this is the person you’ll one day marry (not because you’re bored, lonely, etc.). If you discover the person isn’t “the one,” you’ll quickly and graciously break up.
  • No being alone in a room or a car together. The best “way of escape” (1 Corinthians 10:13) is to avoid a potentially compromising situation in the first place.
  • Pray and study God’s Word together. A list of boundaries isn’t just about what you won’t do, it’s also about what you will do. You won’t just avoid sin, you’ll also spur one another on to flourishing in Christ. If you’re not seeking God together now as close friends, why think you will later after you’re married?
  • No touching each other’s bodies (no shoulder massages, “sweet” caresses, etc.). Why rev up a car that you don’t intend to drive? (While ladies tend to be more turned on by what they emotionally feel and touch is one of their common non-sexual love languages, men are more sensory and are stirred up by what they visually see and touch, making this often take on a sexual overtone to them.)
  • No kissing until marriage. Kissing tends to be a “gateway drug” that leads to more, so you could cut it off at the pass. It also helps you avoid smooching what may be someone else’s future spouse.
  • Avoid being together after 10 p.m. Most first-time sexual encounters happen after 10 p.m.1
  • Share the gospel together. If the individual you’re dating/courting doesn’t care that billions are blindly sprinting toward Hell, the person may be one of them. How cruel do you have to be to quietly stare at a child drowning and offer no help? Evangelism is the lifeblood of the believer. Loving your neighbor through verbally sharing the gospel with the lost is one of the healthiest, most sanctifying, and spiritually invigorating things a couple could do together.
  • Only go on dates in public (wholesome movies, restaurants, parks, etc.).
  • Don’t talk about sexual stuff. Outside of boundary setting, you want to keep physical intimacy off the radar, and maintain your focus on Christ. Chatting about such things inadvertently stirs up desire.
  • Anything else that you think will help you protect each other’s purity. Pray and brainstorm about it with your boyfriend/girlfriend, and your parents, godly friends, and mentors. “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14).

Remember, any potential mate shouldn’t just tolerate your boundaries, but should share them. If the person is only agreeing to your boundaries out of respect for you, but doesn’t have a passion for personal purity, you need to break up immediately.

Guilt-Free Ways to Show Affection

Sometimes “How far is too far?” is asked not out of a selfish desire for pleasure but in the sense of “How can I show I really like someone without crossing any sinful lines?” Now, that’s a great question. While I would caution anyone about doing too many “special” things too early in a budding relationship—you don’t want to super-charge or romanticize things and play with people’s hearts—those who have been together for some time can find great ways to honor God and show a healthy measure of affection. Show your love through thoughtfulness.

Here are some healthy ideas:

  • Write her a poem or make a homemade card.
  • Hide a thoughtful note where he’ll find it later.
  • Take her somewhere special. Go nuts. Take her to the zoo, go ice skating, or play on the kiddie swings at the park.
  • Bake anything (please, only if your baking tastes good).
  • Make her a video slideshow.

Get creative. Find out what the person likes and dislikes (favorite color, flower, animal, food, smell, whatever) and give a gift as a surprise. Do something that will be meaningful. Invest into your steady something more meaningful than money: thought. Think about what unique way you can express your affection for this special person.

“Remember, a healthy relationship isn’t about you first, it’s not about them first, it’s about God first.”

Make a game out of it. See how you can top your last witty date night or homemade present. Come on, guys, get inventive. Do a scavenger hunt. Leave a clue that leads her to another destination, where she gets another clue, that leads her somewhere else that finally leads her to a classy picnic at a park. Dust the cobwebs off your brain and use that melon for good. Seek God for creative ways to express your fondness for the person as you chase after glorifying Him in the relationship.

Don’t settle for anything less than purity. Remember, a healthy relationship isn’t about you first, it’s not about them first, it’s about God first. It’s not just about pursuing them, firstly it’s about pursuing Christ together.

  1. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, “Science Says: Where and When Teens First Have Sex,” Child Trends, Number 1, June 2003, 2

Allen Atzbi

Allen Atzbi is the Vice President of Operations & Outreach at Living Waters. He is also an Executive Producer of the award-winning Way of the Master television program and the Director of the Ambassadors’ Academy. He holds a Master of Theology degree and has written four books. Allen has trained churches in evangelism and led weekly street witnessing teams for years. His parents are both Jewish: one from Israel and one from the other holy land, Brooklyn.

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