How Far is Too Far: Sexual Integrity for Singles

Bob Parkins

Not many Christians debate God’s instructions against premarital sex. However, there is still not a consensus or a shared understanding regarding what constitutes acceptable physical affection and what is sinful. The Bible uses words like adultery, fornication, lust, and purity, all words that have very clear meanings. Yet many Christian singles, teens, and even parents remain confused. Many Christian singles and teens struggle to maintain sexual purity while abstaining from sexual intercourse, yet many are engaging in sexual acts. They deceive themselves by legalistically reasoning they haven’t violated God’s boundaries because they haven’t technically had sex.

While the Bible does not appear to clarify exactly what other acts for singles are and are not acceptable in God’s eyes, it is very clear about the guidelines we are meant to judge these acts by.

When asked by young couples, ‘how far is too far?’ I generally ask them to search their hearts and examine what their intention and motivation in asking is. Usually a couple who asks ‘how far,’ is also struggling to maintain sexual purity. Those struggling with sexual purity or addictions are in the habit of pushing limits and boundaries. They want to know what is the maximum they can get away with. They look for loopholes in attempts to satisfy the desire for immediate self gratification.

The Bible warns us about being deceived and worshiping idols (Deut 11:16; Exo 20:14), and sex can be an idol to those who struggle to maintain purity. Scripture also tells us that God sees what truly is in our hearts and we will sow what we reap (Gal 6:7). If you have ever asked ‘how far,’ and have patterns of pushing limits, it is likely you are not truly interested in purity and really want to get away with as much physical affection as possible. When you put it that way it seems silly to consider the technicality of sin. If you discover your motive is to selfishly seek your own physical gratification, instead refocus on what is pure (Phi 4:8).

When you flirt with sin, you put yourself in a position to sin. To answer the question more directly, anything that causes you to sin is ‘too far.’ This is probably the best litmus test for determining limits since the Bible doesn’t tell couples specifically how they can show physical affection, at least not in the manner many look for. There are several scriptural examples of expressing affection through treasuring chastity and virtue and abstaining from sexual immorality (Isa 62:5; 2Col 11:2), a counter-cultural perspective in most increasingly permissive/promiscuous societies. Jesus models surrendering personal desires to the Father (Luk 22:42), and encourages us to ask for God’s intervention in maintaining victory over sin in The Lord’s Prayer (Luk 11:4). If you are willfully sustaining a desire that cannot be righteously met, you are deceiving yourself (1Thess 4:3-8).

Determining limits may be a little different for different couples, but be cautioned against any propensity to justify pushing limits. If you get excited to the point that you struggle with lustful thoughts or fantasies from kissing, or if you have difficulty respecting boundaries (yours or hers), you may not be able to handle more. Consider then abstaining from kissing or other applicable acts. Some may not struggle with kissing and will need to set limits accordingly. I suggest also abstaining from any physical activity or show of affection that you are not comfortable doing in front of her father. There are several genuine and appropriate displays of affection that pass this test.

It is important that couples talk about setting physical limits early in their relationship. We live in a backwards culture where single men often push women to/beyond their sexual limit. This is not what God intends or requires of us in marriage, so it certainly cannot be condoned in dating. Men are to cherish and protect their wives, not take advantage of them for their own pleasure (Eph 5:25-28; Col 3:19). Just as a father is to protect the innocence of his daughter, so are we to protect and respect any woman we are dating. Sexual desire for her is not bad, but respecting her virtue means protecting her from these desires (yours or her).

Men, it is up to you to initiate this conversation and establish boundaries. This may be the very first act you exhibit of spiritual leadership in a budding relationship. Any potential spouse who is worth spending your life with will respect your integrity because they will feel safe and cherished. Two scripture verses that are helpful in maintaining focus on purity are:

– (2Ti 2:22) Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

– (Phi 4:8) Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Be encouraged by the peace God promises those that live pure and virtuous lives

For more help in the battle for purity, see Every Man’s Battle.

The Loophole of Denial

Fred Feliciano

I love a good story. Good stories catch us off guard. A good story has the power to show us what we believe about the world and how we think things ought to be. They stretch our minds, challenge our beliefs, and move us towards change. That is why I love Jesus’ stories. His stories move me, jolt me and propel me towards facing and embracing the reality of who he is and who I am. In short, his stories catch me by exposing me. That is why I also struggle with his stories. They expose me and my thoughts. His stories bring me back to facing my self whether I want to or not. So, I find ways around his stories in order to avoid stepping into his light. I just focus my attention on something else, anything. I use denial as a loophole. A loophole is a term used to describe a way around a particular obstacle with little to no negative effect to oneself. We find ways out of situations where we anticipate feeling shame.

The loophole of denial assists us in avoiding the light of God in two ways. First, denial provides us a way of alleviating the stress of our shame by refusing to face it. Shame can be defined as an intense fear of being exposed based on a corrosive belief that one is fatally flawed, unlovable and deserving of rejection from others who are deemed worthy and perceived as merciless all at once. As long as we do not have to face what we do that’s wrong, we don’t have to confess or own up to others in honesty and we find relief from the burden of our shame momentarily. Good shame allows us to focus attention on the welfare of God and others above our own.

Confessions made in the light of good shame lead us to restore relationships with loving dignity and help to develop true self perceptions in light of God’s true view of us which does something better than provide relief from the shame we feel. It provides us a deep sense of rest in our minds and hearts. The cost of not facing our shame is too high a price to pay.

Secondly, the loophole of denial provides us a way of avoiding painful truth by creating an alternative to the truth. Alternatives to the truth are simply lies. Lies help us to maintain the illusion that we can avoid rejection and increase the chances of acceptance by presenting ourselves as someone we are not. The problem with creating alternatives is that acceptance is never fully experienced and we are never fully known because the truth of who we really are remains hidden underneath the lies;  we remain distanced from others. Those who are closest to us never experience us as we are. They experience a false self. The alternative at first seems like it will increase acceptance and decrease rejection but in the end it isolates us further by taking us farther away from the truth of who we are, others are, and who God is. We wind up never trusting or being intimate with anyone.

Christ provides us a way out of our shame-based loopholes of denial by reversing the path our loopholes have taken us. Traveling in reverse back into the loophole of denial transforms it into a doorway. A doorway that leads to a redemptive path of trust for prodigal sons. Prodigals who, in repentance, come home, face the truth of their guilt in relation to their legitimate failures and face their longings for acceptance never received. But most of all are able to trust, face, and receive the Father’s healing embrace. His embrace declaring to us, ‘Not only are you forgiven but you are my son. You were dead but are now alive!’

I want to encourage you to read in Luke 15 about the transforming power of the Father’s deep love for his ragamuffin sons. Let that story catch you, expose you and shake you loose from your denial and fear.

For help facing your denial and experiencing God’s transforming power, see Every Man’s Battle.

Transparency, the Next Step Beyond Accountability

Mark Sellers

There is this old Russian joke from the Cold War days of the former Soviet Union. It goes something like this:
– ‘Moscow has only two television stations.’
– ‘Oh, really?’ someone asks.
– ‘Yes. One is the government station with the official Party line.’
– ‘Well then, what is the other?’
– ‘There’s this guy in a KGB uniform telling you to go back to the first station.’

I thought it was funny the first time I heard it, but the more I thought it through, the more I found parallels for what passes today as accountability.

The idea of accountability partners has been a staple in the Christian men’s movement for some time. Having an ‘accountability partner’ has a momentum of its own, one many of us accept without question, yet one that falls short of what I believe is really needed.

In many circles it is seen as a major piece of sexual sobriety. You and your partner meet weekly, usually at a restaurant, more often than not for breakfast. You ask each other the tough questions, ones typically pointed and direct. They often go like this:
(1) Have you been sexual with yourself, or with someone besides your spouse?
(2) Have you viewed pornography?
(3) Have you purposely lingered over sexually-suggestive programming on television and/or cable? and the real killer
(4) Are you lying to me now?

I probably have my questions around somewhere, folded up in one of my Bibles. Yet such meetings had a strange feel. I felt pressured to give good news each week to keep my partners as friends. Fortunately I know them now, and know our friendship is intact no matter what, but back in those early days our energy was wrong.

Let’s be honest. Men struggling with sexual addiction are terrible at investing in mutual relationships. We are instinctively secretive, we pull back a lot, and we give ‘happy news’ because we don’t want to be seen for who we really are. We are Marlboro Men, riding the prairie alone, keeping our worlds to ourselves.

Fortunately my partners are exceptional men, and we have pushed past accountability to a better place. We couldn’t sustain our friendship on the shaky platform of a question list. There has to be more than a KGB officer directing us back to the Party line.

Unbalanced partnerships form when one person is identified as the addict and the other is seen as the healthy one. These usually don’t survive the long haul.
I once had to console a man who was dumped by his partner because he wasn’t ‘serious.’ Certainly there are two sides here, but what killed it from the start was the lack of mutuality and its unbalanced nature.

Another time a man shared his story with his partner, and it was good. But the partner heard that the man’s wife had not been sexual with him for some years, and passed the information on to his own wife, who in turn passed it on to the man’s wife. We almost lost a marriage then and there.

One former pastor I know confided with an accountability partner about his struggle with pornography; only the partner had different ideas. The pastor wasn’t moving fast enough in his eyes, so he reported him to the other pastors. What could have been wonderful grace-driven restoration instead became a dramatic platform dismissal.

To be honest, the picture I laid out is not that bleak. God continues to move in all their stories, and they are seeing restoration despite such setbacks. More importantly, God is receiving the glory for it. Still we can do better. Accountability partnerships based solely on asking the hard questions cleans only the outside of the cup. Jesus said, ‘First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.’ (Matthew 23:26 NIV)

I suggest caution before we move into accountability relationships. We can seek out men who are also in recovery, who have had their lives broken, who are not spiritual superstars, but who will sit with us through our worst storms. We need partners who will love us even if we mess up and act out. Such men should earn our trust, and we theirs.

I suggest an even higher standard. How about ‘transparency partners.’ ‘ men with whom we can walk in the light together, experience mutual Godly fellowship and not demand an immediate external fix? God heals in our openness. We already know that (1st John 1:7). Still we must discern the wolves out there hiding in sheep’s clothing. With a transparency standard we can be mutually open, and move beyond our false selves, see the dirt inside each other’s cups, and celebrate together as God begins to clean those cups.

For more help see Every Man’s Battle.