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Guest Blogger: Chip Cogan, former Campus Staff member at University Reformed Church

It will always be a struggle for Christians to figure out what it looks like to live holy lives in an unholy culture. It seems to be especially difficult for dating couples to handle themselves in such a way as to not be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. Over the last six years I've interacted with many college students who, from all I can tell, are walking with the Lord and pursuing holiness, but as soon as they start dating they seem to surrender to sexual sin.

Why is that? There are many reasons, but here are three dangers to avoid.

Acting Like A Non-Christian
This should seem so obvious that it's almost not even worth mentioning--except that it's biblical. I've found that most Christians struggling with sexual sin are ignorant of Paul's implication in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5. The passage is worth reading:

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God…

Look at verse 5 specifically: Paul's implication is that when you indulge in the passion of your lust you are acting like a non-Christian. So here's the reality: when you sin sexually you are acting like you don't know Jesus. Are you a Christian? If so, why would you intentionally act like you're not?

Acting Childish
Like little children, we often prefer the immediate satisfaction of now over the greater fulfillment of later. It's hard to wait. More than that, why wait when I can have what I want now? Oh yeah, because someone in authority over me told me "no." And his name is God. But oh how we hate not getting what we want when we want it!

Just like a parent with a child, God knows better than we do and he desires our good even more than we do. When I tell my son not to run into the street it's not to kill his joy but to increase and prolong it. When God reserves sex for marriage and encourages self-control, it's not because he's a prude or a killjoy, but because he is a loving Father.

Acting Arrogant
We often like to play with fire and push the boundaries. Let's do a quick Q&A session:

Q: Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned?
A: No.
Q: Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched?
A: No.

Adventures can be fun and rewarding, but adventuring with sin always leads to death. God created our bodies for sexual pleasure and intends for us to enjoy it, but there are God-defined boundaries to which we must submit. A fire in the fireplace is beautiful and enjoyable, but take it out of its designated place and you will burn your house down.

We often think too highly of ourselves. I don't always hear it said but I often see this lived out: people think they are the exception to the rule. Some people really believe that they are the ones who can play with fire and not be burned. So they think they have no need for clearly defined boundaries or regular accountability. Where others have failed, they are convinced that they are going to succeed.

You are not as awesome as you think, and while your graduation speaker probably told you that you were exceptional, you are certainly no exception to the rule of the scriptures. The world says that we need no boundaries and we can take care of ourselves. Wisdom says otherwise in Proverbs 14:16:

One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless.

Let Lecrae instruct you on this:

If you wait ’til you’re alone on a date night
To figure out what’s wrong in the late night
It’s too late, right? You got caught up again
And now you back in sin feel like you can’t ever win

The point is this: you are not the exception, but Christ is. So let's repent of our sexual sin, childishness, and arrogance, and seek to glorify God with our bodies as we live and date as those who have been redeemed by his blood.

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6 thoughts on “3 Pitfalls to Avoid When Dating”

  1. Michael McLaughlin says:

    Chip, thanks for taking your watch on the wall and your willingness to write strong words, words of life for singles wanting to jump the gun with sex. But let me offer that just saying “No” because God says so, because he’s God and we’re not, because he knows what’s best for us, like parents of young children (because I told you so) doesn’t appear to be working, does it?

    If singles who want to please God are going to turn away from sin – from doing what God forbids, then it might help to motivate them by helping them understand God’s blessings in doing things his way, especially when there are so many perhaps not so obviously blessings for those who do obey. Here are three that jump to mind!

    1. Trust. Delaying sexual gratification until marriage builds trust. Without trust, no marriage can survive. How will either spouse fully trust that their partner will be faithful to them over the course of their entire marriage if they were unfaithful to God (and to each other) before marriage? In a sense, when we engage in premarital sex, we are thumbing our noses at God and saying “I don’t care what you say. I want the goods right now.” So, you’re going to trust your future spouse to wise up and fly right after you get married? Perhaps, but are you willing to bet your marriage on it?

    When a couple demonstrates restraint, refraining from something as tasty as sex when it’s there for the taking, they prove their commitment to God, and to each other. They justify that they can be trusted, even when a future event might indicate otherwise.

    “I know my husband/wife would never step out on me. I trust his/her integrity because I know s/he has proven character and I have witnessed it in very difficult circumstances (i.e., waiting until marriage to have sex).

    2. Sexual Bliss: Enjoy a lifetime of sex without guilt by waiting until you get married. Many men can engage in premarital sex and when they’re done, put that event in a box, put a lid on it and file it in their brain. After they get married, they never open that box again. But not so for women. Everything they do and have done is connected in a wonderful and weird way that often invites guilt right into bed after a couple marries. If a man wants to have wild and wonderful and frequent sex with his wife, then he should do himself a favor. Show restraint. The wait will be worth it.

    3. Pure Sex: If a man or a woman is willing to have sex with one person before marriage, then why not two or three or more? Every sexual encounter one has slides into the marriage bed from time to time. Every memory of how another person “does it” sets people up for comparisons and unmet expectations. “ J___ did it this way.” “G___ never expected me to do that!”

    We dilute our sexual experiences with the memories and expectations that we generate when view porn videos or have sex with anyone not our spouse.

    So, men and women, if you truly want the best sex possible, listen to God who says, “Wait until you get married.” Perhaps that means getting married sooner than your peers do these days.

    Parents, do your kids (and you) a favor and have a serious talk with your son or daughter. Perhaps the best thing is marriage much sooner than you thought they should. They can do college and grad school better if married, especially if it means that delaying marriage might dangle this strongest of temptations in front of your kids – and put their future marriage in jeopardy.

    “Just say no” motivated some kids to avoid drugs, but not nearly enough. Just saying no to sex before marriage doesn’t seem to be working, even though God knows best. So, let’s share the joys of sex bliss and a marriage built on trust by telling the stories of those chose to obey God, giving them a motivation strong enough to do as God has instructed.

  2. Julian Leong says:

    Cogan responds to the phenomenon of young Christians, who are otherwise pursuing holiness, suddenly surrendering to sexual sin when they date, by saying that young Christians are unwittingly acting like childish, arrogant, non-Christians. But my guess is that they have already heard the advice to be patient, to not walk into danger, and that sex outside of marriage is ungodly. It’s not that they haven’t heard them; it is more likely a trust issue. And that requires counsel, not mere chastisement.

  3. Melissa D says:

    This is so true. When I was engaged I had a friend tell me, “I just want to see one couple not go further than they said they would before marriage.” It is a real battle, and it really is arrogant to play with the fire of it and not expect to get burned.

  4. David Miller says:

    I became a Christian while still single in my mid-twenties and have a couple of general observations on the subject of Christianity and dating.

    1) Single Christians are are (by and large) asking the wrong questions. If you are asking the question, “How far is too far?” You are almost certainly going to end up going too far. I think this article essentially addresses that kind of error. Yet I see another problem:

    2) Pastors and Christian writers (by and large) only offer vague advice on this subject. While temptations haven’t changed since the era in which the Bible was written, social norms surrounding courtship have – radically. Single people have sincere questions that Scripture doesn’t directly address. How ought Christians to date in the modern world? I have stumbled upon a couple of ideas:

    a) Build a relationship around God’s Word. Beginning early in a potential courtship, a Christian man and woman should be regularly reading and discussing God’s Word together. Some will respond, “that’s weird!” Perhaps they are not serious about godly dating.

    b) To the extent possible, only spend time together in public. Coffee shops, restaurants, outdoor recreation, ministry, service projects, etc. There are many places and contexts in which a Christian man and woman can get to know each other, yet where the possibility of sexual sin is very low. This requires thoughtful planning.

    I can already hear young Christians complaining, “Rules! You’re making it all about rules!” But Christian couples who fail to plan wisely how they will date (I think men should gently and confidently take the lead here) will fall into sexual sin the overwhelming majority of the time. This leads to couples dragging unconfessed sin into their marriages in many cases. It is no secret that many Christian marriages are a mess and an established pattern of sweeping sin under the rug is often a major part of the problem.

    Sadly, purity in dating is not the norm for Christian couples. Not even close at this time. Keeping grace front and center, I would encourage Christian leaders to address this thorny subject with greater specificity and clearer guidance. The details will vary for every couple’s approach to dating, yet “with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape” (Hebrews 10:13b). By God’s grace, we can change the status quo.

  5. Miffy says:

    David Miller, you are SO on the money! My husband & I were friends first. He asked me to start dating & laid it out: in 6 months, we were either going to break up or get engaged. Our ground rules were that we were never together past midnite, no kissing – nothing more than hugging and holding hands. Our focus was getting to know each other & God. Our first kiss was our wedding day.
    I was his first serious girlfriend – he had never met anyone else he had wanted to get to know well enough to marry – he was 31 when we married. I had lived a far more regrettable life with several past sexual relationships when I was not walking with God. God’s grace & forgiveness brought me back; my husband has often told me that I would not be the woman he loves without that past. I’m a rich woman – God has blessed me with an incredible husband. I strongly – deeply – regret my past choices, even though my husband is so loving & gracious. I was 38 when we married.

  6. Evan Kline says:

    I’m going to express some frustration with your post and my hope and prayer is that it does not come across in an offensive way, but one that leads to mutual up-building, the pursuit of truth, and of healthy Christ-centered community.

    First, I’m 27, unmarried, but dating a wonderful, beautiful, godly woman whom I hope I will be blessed to call my wife. This topic of Christian dating is very close and real to me because I’m in the middle of it and strive to do this weird dating thing well. Additionally I work closely with my church youth group and disciple 2-5 of our young high school or college boys, depending on the season and need of the church/presbytery (As a side note, when I say “church” my experience has been almost exclusively within the PCA, being a member or working in churches in WI, TN, GA, FL, and NC). Therefore I also walk through this topic frequently as a mentor/counselor, and again, strive to be faithful to God, Scripture, and my boys in that. I begin with that just to say this isn’t a hypothetical discussion to me, but one I have “in the trenches” that bears a great emotional significance to me. One of the most grievous things I see in the church is when a proclaimed Christian “boy” sins against his sister in Christ in the midst (but also outside) of a romantic relationship.

    My frustration begins with your choice of pitfalls. I recognize and assume that if you were in a room counseling a Christian couple on dating, you would not be as reductionist to only give 3 points of advice. But in a one-off post, if we’re going to talk about what’s most important for a casual reader, these are not the most important pitfalls, especially considering you only actually gave one pitfall: sexual sin; and just approached it from three angles. Our culture is fascinated with sexuality, and I’ve found, this post being no exception, that the church has fallen into the same “pitfall,” if you will. We erroneously focus on avoiding sexuality (as much as culture focuses on pursuing it) to the exclusion of Christian truth that would actually be beneficial to a holistic, healthy relationship. As many pointed out already- the problem isn’t that Christians in our church aren’t hearing “sex outside of marriage is sin.”

    So, for example, I heartily agreed with your first pitfall. I hadn’t considered that scripture in particular and found it a good exhortation for how we conduct ourselves in relation to non-Christians. Also echoing in my head as I read were Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:3, “Among you there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality… these are improper for God’s people.” (NIV) (Yet notice “these,” Paul includes sexual immorality with uncleanliness and greed- are we equally speaking against these alongside sexual immorality as Paul does? Maybe those should be the three pitfalls?)

    Then you moved on to childishness which gladdened my heart to read. But your choice of how to address childishness was not scriptural in the same way your first “pitfall” was. Scripture does directly address childish ways in 1 Corinthians 13. And here Paul even addresses it in the context of love, a perfect passage for the reflection of those dating and moving towards love for each other. While I whole-heartily agree that childishness is a pitfall to avoid in dating, I find that – while perhaps echoing a sentiment of Scripture- you addressed it in an unhelpful and very different way from how Scripture clearly and directly handles that “pitfall” in particular. Instead of focusing on sexuality again for the second time, wisdom and Scripture would have us move on to other areas that are vital to a healthy Christian relationship, and, in fact, give a mature faith from which sexuality within a relationship becomes much more easily understood and handled. I’d go as far to say that a study of 1 Corinthians 13 is more helpful to avoiding pitfalls of sexual sin than simply saying “sexual sin is bad for these reasons, don’t do it.” Reorienting our affections towards Christ and each other is what’s needed.

    And again, I think a conversation about arrogance is vital to Christian relationships. Our default mode as humans is arrogance, I find. And that can be so destructive to relationships (again, 1 Corinthians 13, “love is not proud…”). But I shudder to think that someone would read this post and think, “I’m not sexually active in my relationship, I’m listening to God, I’m not an arrogant person.” Then turn around and get mad at his girlfriend/fiancé/wife because they didn’t text him back within 5 minutes, or belittle and shame them because they “get too emotional,” or refuse to pursue a woman’s heart and only expect them to cater to his desires (non-sexual). These are all things I’ve seen sexually “pure” Christian boys (note: not men) do in relationships well into their 20’s, that I find are arrogant, abusive, and equally destructive and hurtful as sexual immorality. And the biggest factor is that, when it comes to romantic relationships, the church only feels the need to speak out against pre-marital sex and then believe they’ve done their due-diligence, when all they’ve done is enabled un-discipled, destructive boys to enter into relationships and feel like they’re doing “good,” simply because they haven’t been sexually impure.

    Perhaps I’m reacting too harshly here. But, Chip, you did post something about dating saying you had three things to talk about, but only talked about sexual impurity. This only feeds into my observations, experience, and fears that the church continues to poorly handle this with our young (or old, or middle aged!) men and women and is no different than our culture in that it has a fascination and single-mindedness with sexuality that is simply unhealthy.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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