The question of ‘how far is too far?’ is on the minds of most teenagers and college students in evangelical churches. Programs like True Love Waits have been somewhat helpful in urging people to not have sex. The problem is that they often stop at that point rather than giving students a Christ-centered worldview in which sex outside of marriage is not pleasing to Him.
The primary reason premarital sex is wrong is not because it dishonors your future spouse but because it dishonors your heavenly spouse. Premarital sex destroys the picture of Christ’s union with the Church that permeates scripture. If we ever caught this vision, we would no longer be asking ‘how far is too far’, but the question would then be ‘how pure can we be?’ Colossians 2:20-3:3 is instructive in this area:
20If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations– 21“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22(referring to things that all perish as they are used)–according to human precepts and teachings? 23These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. 1If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Paul criticizes the Colossians for living like the world. According to Paul, the world’s path to purity is through boundaries (do not handle, do not taste, do not touch), discipline (asceticism), and willpower (severity to the body). But Paul reminds us where that gets them in v. 23–‘these have indeed an appearance of wisdom…but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.’
So, Paul says that the world’s path to purity seems to make sense, but it is of no value in actually gaining purity. Why? It’s all about externals and about what they can do rather than being about internals and what God can do.
If the world’s path to purity fails, then how should we approach it as believers? In 3:1-3, Paul tells us that the believer’s path to purity is this…instead of setting your mind on staying just above the bare minimum of purity, set your mind on Christ!
It involves a shift in the internals that includes a total revolution of your mindset to no longer be driven by earthly things but to be captivated by things above. The reason for this is simple–at salvation we not only gained eternal life (in Christ) we experienced eternal death (to ourselves). If we are dead and our lives are hidden in Christ, then our one passion should be to pursue purity the way that He designed.
Paul tells us that sexual purity is not about boundaries and discipline but a changing of the mind that shifts priorities and perspectives. Does that mean there is no place for boundaries and discipline in dating? By no means! They have their place, but that place must be directed by (and in submission to) a changed mindset.
Whenever you try to maintain purity in dating through boundaries and discipline without an underlying change of heart, it only leads to legalistic rule keeping that will ultimately fail. A change of mind must precede a change of action. The question was never intended to be ‘how far is too far?’ Instead, let us ask ‘how holy can we be?’ so that the picture of the purity of Christ’s union with the Church may be exalted in our lives for all to see.