Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Dating: A Gospel Response

By Kristen Leigh Evensen
What do you mean "kiss dating goodbye"?!
I was flaberghasted and altogether a little shook up, as I progressed through the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye about four years ago. Flaberghasted, because of my amazement that couples existed who waited to kiss until their wedding day. Shook up, because, if God commanded this, then I had already blown my chance over a high school romance...

Even still...something was not sitting right with me about this premise. So I went to my pastor.

We sat in his office and talked for a solid hour about the purpose of this book and the thoughts it advocated on dating. I still have the email he wrote to me, finishing up our conversation. He said:

"I also think we need to be wise about our dating approach. To go out to dinner and a movie with a "date" is one thing. To go for a weekend trip to a cabin in the woods is putting oneself in a situation where one is more removed from helpful boundaries..."

Helpful boundaries. Let's talk about them. Because, quite frankly, the Bible does not give us a clear-cut, set-apart chapter called "God's Way To Date". In the Old Testament, we Isaac pursuing Rebekah as a response to a specific prayer...but we also see Ruth laying herself at the feet of Boaz's bed!

So how do we handle boundaries in dating? First, I think we should diagnose a problem that tends to run rampant with the mention of "boundaries":

THE PROBLEM: When we do not relate helpful boundaries to the truth of the gospel, they manifest themselves as legalistic "rules"...and drudging rules are bound to be broken.

In other words, there must be a deeper point than simply "being moral people" during dating. Without a purpose, a foundation to rest upon, our "moral efforts" will be aimless and easily compromised. For example, it is motivating to run a race when you know there is a finish line; it is not motivating to run forever to no end. I know I'd get tired real fast and find myself taking a long, lazy breather on the sidelines. Why not, if there's no point to the race?

But, see, there is a point to boundaries.

The point is the glory of God! 

16 But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. -2 Corinthians 3

God knows what is best for us. He knows what will transform us into His image. He knows what will sanctify us to look like Christ. And when we look like Jesus, God gets the glory. 

THE SOLUTION: The gospel of Christ means that even dating can be a response to what Jesus has done for us on the cross. Our identity in Christ frees us from "motivation-sucking" boundaries to boundaries as glorifying to God! Put simply, as Dr. Henry Cloud says, "Boundaries keep good things in, and bad things out."

So what does Gospel-responsive dating look like? First, let me throw out a disclaimer: I do not fully know the answer. I am not married. I am not engaged. But I am in daily prayer about this. Because I want to date as a response to what Christ has done for me! In all my praying and processing and reading and experiencing, I believe the following holds true.

Gospel-responsive dating involves:


HOLINESS: "I do not belong to myself, for God bought me with a high price" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you. God gave you this gift of holiness. Realizing that we are now eternally promised to the Lord gives us a different perspective on how we treat our bodies while on earth.

Helpful boundaries, then, are those that promote the holiness of each person, protecting the body as the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. There should never be pressure to cross boundaries, nor should the question ever be, "How far is too far?" That question illustrates that boundaries are already being pushed. What is considered helpful to each person might differ in areas, but overall, bringing God the most glory should be our underlying motivation and purpose.

HONOR: "Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other" (Romans 12:10). So what happens if two people differ in opinion or belief? This could be regarding helpful boundaries, theological beliefs, or other life issues. I think a great question to ask ourselves is, "How would I want to be treated?" The love of Christ compels us to no longer live for ourselves, but for Him who died for us. How we honor the people around us, especially in dating, will reveal if we are responding to Jesus' love.

How can we honor the person we are dating? Honor their time, their commitments, their talents, their opinions, their other relationships, and their walk with God. Honoring a person involves seeking out what speaks love to them, or perhaps discovering ways to serve them. It also means being honest with them by speaking the truth in love! Really, we should be honoring every person, not just the person we are dating. Anyone, single or dating, can start practicing genuine affection right now.

HUMILITY: "Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too" (Philippians 2:3-4). Responding to Christ's love means that we lay down our very lives for Him. As Jesus took the form of a servant in humility, so we are called to live humbly as His people.

Humility can be demonstrated in dating in many ways, but two major examples are self-control and delayed gratification. When we set aside our immediate wants to glorify God and honor the other person, we are humbling ourselves to the glory of God. When we exercise self-control with words, thoughts or actions, the humility of Christ is truly transforming us. Dr. Cloud writes, "[Self-control and delayed gratification] are prerequisites for any marriage to work."

Dr. Cloud adds, "When two singles love each other, give to each other, and share something in life, although the relationship has limits of both body and heart, it has value as well". When the point is to glorify God with our dating relationships, helpful boundaries become much more freeing. Our dating can now be a response to our identity as God's people!

Let's finish with this statement from Paul:

23 You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial. 24 Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others" -1 Corinthians 10

May that which is most helpful and beneficial for building others up and bringing God glory be our desire in dating, as we respond to the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

Heavenly Father, You created everything and deemed it good. You made relationships for a purpose, and we want all our relationships to glorify You. Teach us your character, and transform our hearts to be like Jesus. Walk with us as we navigate dating, and grant us godly wisdom. 


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