In most Christian dating literature, there is a heavy emphasis on character development. For example, Alex Chediak promotes character development in this way, “are you becoming the sort of person that would attract the kind of person that you want to be with?”
The whole premise is that singles should be improving their character or else they will be unable to attract someone of the quality they desire. In other words, singles must become the right kind of person if they expect to find the right kind of person. While this sounds good in theory, it misses the point of the Bible’s teaching on character development.
Scripture is absolutely clear that God’s desire is for every believer to become more like Christ. Therefore, it is conformity for the sake of becoming more like Christ that should drive our sanctification instead of character development for the sake of attracting the right kind of spouse. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
Most believers love to talk about how God is ‘working all things together for the good’, but they have no concept of what ‘the good’ is. Some see this as a free pass to name and claim what they believe ‘the good’ to be in their life and expect to receive it from God. If we have a flawed view of what ‘the good’ is, then we will totally miss how God is orchestrating the events of our lives to bring it about.
What does it mean that God causes all things to work together for good? Is it that He is going to give us what we want (like a spouse with the right character)? If the person you thought you were going to marry dumps you, how is that working for the good?
Romans 8:29 gives us the answer, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.” After telling us that God causes all things to work together for our good in v. 28, Paul reveals to us what that good is in v. 29. Our good is to be conformed to the image of His son. Our good is to become more like Christ.
So, if God is causing all things to work together for the good, and our good is to be more like Christ, then God is causing all things to make us more like Christ—including our premarital relationships. Character development should not be driven by becoming the type of person we want to marry. Instead, it should be driven by a desire to become more like Christ. Why? Because when we become more like Christ, we will become more like who they want to marry.
Another pivotal scripture in understanding the role that dating can play in conforming us to Christ is Matthew 6:33: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” In this portion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is in the midst of calling believers not to worry about the uncertainties of life but to trust Him.
For most Christian singles, who they are going to marry is one of their greatest concerns. In Matthew 6:33, Jesus calls us to allow Him to work in us and through us, and He will take care of the things around us—including who we are going to marry.
Therefore, dating is not just about finding the right person but being the right person by becoming more like Christ. God is more interested in who we are than what we think we need. His desire is for us to pursue Christ (seek first His kingdom and righteousness) and trust that He will add all these things (including a boyfriend or girlfriend) to our lives as we are ready.
The problem with most Christian singles is that they are so focused on trying to find the one that they fail to pursue becoming more like Christ. When our focus in dating is more on finding the one instead of becoming the one, it creates the potential for idolatry. A dating relationship is going to either add to God’s glory in our life or rob from God’s glory in our life, and it all depends on how we approach it.
The question then becomes, what are we seeking? Are we seeking the one (our future spouse)? Or are we seeking the One (Jesus Christ)? When we come to the point that we embrace that dating is not about finding the right person but being more like Christ, it will radically change our pursuit of a dating relationship and our pursuit of Christ.
Allowing conformity to Christ to be at the center of our approach to dating does not just cause us to attract the right kind of partner but to be attracted to the right kind of partner. Rick Holland states it this way, “If your character is being conformed more and more into the image of Christ, you will desire the right kind of person.”
As we become more Christ-like men and women of God, then our relationships will bring Him more honor. Our relationships “ought to point beyond us to the surpassing glory of being known and loved by the God of the universe who is our Father.” Becoming more like Christ enables us to pursue the types of relationships that point to this surpassing glory.
When we move beyond character development and begin to focus on conformity to Christ as the driving force behind all we do (including our premarital relationships), then our dating pursuits will be even more magnifying to God. Since dating is a gospel issue, becoming more like Christ should shape our approach to premarital relationships.