So you've found yourself the one. Well, maybe not the one, but someone that has caused you to consider changing your Facebook relationship status. You're spending quite a lot of time together, and not just coffee date kind of time. Your friends know you two are an item.
Or perhaps you've made it beyond this point and you are "dating with the intention of getting married." Honestly, it's just a matter of time before he pops the question (as soon as he gets that bonus so he can pay for that shiny rock).
Heck, maybe you're already past all of this and the big proposal has already come and gone, leaving you stuck in the giant wake known as the engagement.
I'm going to jump right out and assume that if you fall into any of these categories (or any other variation of premarital relationship), you have some degree of physical attraction to one another. Therefore, the question looms, "What physical affections are permissible before we get married?" This question is often posed as just, "How far is too far?"
Presupposing that you are a Bible believing follower of Jesus Christ, allow me to say that this question is the wrong question. Our vantage point as a Christian is that of someone who has been freed from the bondage of sin to gaze out into the expanse of life and ask how we may glorify God with our new found freedom. Our vantage point is not that of staring at the ground where the shackles of bondage to sin lay broken for fear that they may clasp back upon us if we make a wrong move. Therefore, if your desire is to ensure that you don't cross the line, I fear you are forgetting your true vantage point as an eternally saved child of our God. (Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 10:31)
“How far is too far? This question is the wrong question.”
If your question (and prayer) becomes "How may we glorify God in our relationship?" then you'll be freed to follow some of the commands we see in the Bible surrounding physical or sexual affection. The Bible has plenty of references to the sin of adultery, that is, committing sexual acts with somebody you are not married to (Exodus 20:14, Leviticus 20:10, Jeremiah 23:10, Matthew 19:3-9). Many at the time of Jesus' earthly ministry (and still to this day) consider adultery to be constrained to outward acts provable by empirical evidence. Jesus wanted to clear up this misunderstanding. He says in Matthew 5:27-28, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart." As with many of the teachings of Jesus, this is a hard one to swallow. Who can actually pursue someone with the kind of affection necessary to know that they are to marry this person, without messing around a little bit, let alone without even letting one's heart go there?
To be fair, this is a question Paul asks, but it is also one he gives an answer to.
"For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:22-25)
Paul is speaking here of more than lusting after another person. He is referring to any sin which holds sway over us. We have to learn that we can't take sin on by staring at it, the line to be crossed, or the shackles broken on the ground. Instead, we must pray and ask that God would lift our eyes away from our sinful passions and transform our hearts so we would desire to glorify him, and not to simply avoid sinning.
Practically speaking, there are no rules when it comes to holding hands, hugging, kissing, or saying lovey-dovey things to one another. You will have to trust what the Holy Spirit puts on your hearts here. Some of you will need to wait until your wedding night to kiss, because you've been convicted that your heart will go too far once you open that door. With that said, stop trying so stinkin' hard to plan out situations in which you won't "slip up." I agree there is wisdom in planning to not cozy up on a couch watching a movie over a bottle of wine at 11pm. I agree there is wisdom in planning date nights with other couples in a similar position for the sake of accountability. However, I would urge you to plan instead for ways in which you could glorify God together. Forgive me if that sounds like a load of idealistic hogwash, but know that when you focus on how you can help your brother or sister in Christ grow closer to the Lord, your hearts will grow closer together, and you won't have to focus so much on avoiding situations that can lead to destruction. (Proverbs 6:32)
Finally, men, I would exhort you to lead in this. Remember how Christ laid down his life for us as his bride. He was not set on getting what he wanted selfishly, but what his Father in Heaven wanted for him. He focused not on the utility he could receive from subjecting his bride to himself, but focused on how he could bring glory to the Father by humbling himself and serving his bride instead. Men, you are establishing the kind of leader you will be in marriage well before you ever say your vows. Your lady wants to be loved, and wants to come alongside you as a support. Don't wait for her to put her foot down and say, "Too far." Be the freed, redeemed man that can lead in humble submission to what will glorify your God in Heaven. (Matthew 26:39, John 5:30, Revelation 21:9-10)
Ladies, in that, don't mess with your dude's head. Look pretty (as it is so easy for you to do), but don't flaunt it. He wants you, but he wants to wait for the wedding night. Support him as he learns what it looks like to be a Christian man. Communicate with him on how he can wisely pursue you without toeing the line you are free to avoid staring at.
“Until you are married, you are not married.”
Until you are married, you are not married. Before you get married, if you get married, and after you're married, you are brothers and sisters in Christ. Consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. (Hebrews 10:24)