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.