Premarriage Sexuality

by Tim Isbell    1/2011

# celibacy, #fornication

I realized early in ministry that sexually active couples would ask me to officiate at their wedding, want an active role in ministry within the church, or want help with a romantic relationship. So after two early experiences forced me to think through premarriage sexuality I wrote this resource. I give it to every premarriage couple I counsel, whether or not they were sexually active. And I talked to them about it. I never looked forward to this conversation, but I was always glad God gave me the courage to have it. As time went on, I discovered a few situations to use this material outside premarriage counseling. So, I offer it to you to use as you please.

One last thing: yes, I know that at least some couples followed this advice, including several months of celibacy. 

Top view

Sexual activity outside of marriage is not just an issue of church rules. It's an issue of whether or not we will follow the clear teaching of Scripture. Since it is axiomatic for Christians to live under the authority of scripture, I wouldn't be much of a pastor if I didn't advise you of the biblical problem of sexual activity before marriage - AND offer you some advice to deal with it if it is in your history.

Pastoral counsel:

Being sexually active outside of marriage is in the category of things the Bible calls sin. This one is not a "disputable matter;" the Bible is crystal clear. It is not a cultural thing; the world of the New Testament was at least as sexually impure as today. But in the early Christian times and all the way to the present, authentic Christians have distinguished themselves within their cultures by living lives of sexual purity. Depending on what translation of the bible you read, you may run into the word "fornication." The dictionary definition of this is voluntary sexual intercourse between unmarried persons. Another common word in this area is adultery, which means a spouse is unfaithful to their marriage partner.

Now that you know all that, here are some biblical teachings about this topic: Acts 15.22-29, 1 Corinthians 6.18 through 7.6, 2 Corinthians 12.21, Galatians 5.18-25, Colossians 3.1-7, Hebrews 13.4.

When Christians discover sin in their life, sexual sin or another sin, scripture instructs us to carry our sin to the cross and confess it to our Lord Jesus Christ. And the Bible says God will forgive us for our sin.  (1 Jn 1.5 through 2.3)

Not only does God forgive us, but he also washes us clean from sin’s contamination. In the case of fornication, I take this to mean that God restores us to a spiritual virginity - though, of course, it is impossible to restore physical virginity. Here are some scriptures to help understand this dimension: Ps 51.1-12, Ps 103.8-12, 2 Cor 5.17, Titus 2.11-12, 1 Peter 1.22-23, 1 John 3.1-3.

It is also true that God expects us to turn away from sin. Confessing our sin is the first step, but turning from it is just as clear a biblical teaching. Over the long haul, we need a strategy to turn from this sin before moving into a Christian marriage (Rom 12.1-2, Eph 4.1, Phil 1.27, 1 Thess 4.1-8). This amounts to sexual abstinence for some period. Then, after abstinence, you could marry and consummate the marriage in the context of being spiritual virgins.

Practical logistics:

There are at least two approaches to abstinence. The best is to live at separate addresses. If that is impossible, then, at least sleep in separate rooms and abstain from sexual intimacy. How long an abstinence period is between you and the Lord. If you are mature in other areas of life and have developed the life skills to put off short-term wants for long-term good, I suggest several months of abstinence. Even if you are immature and have very little self-control, I suggest at least a couple of weeks. The guideline is: long enough to establish spiritual virginity before the Lord, but not so long as to push temptation beyond the breaking point.

The pros and cons:

Cons (there's only one):

1. You must resist the temptation for sexual intimacy during the abstinence period.

Pros (there are several):

1. You will start your marriage in the healthiest of all possible ways: by committing yourselves and your marriage to the Lordship of Christ. This is the best way I can think of to follow the Ephesians 4.20-24 teaching: “... put away your former way of life, ... be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

2. You will set a beautiful Christian example among your family members, work colleagues, and social friends. Though you probably will not broadcast this to your friends, it would most likely become apparent in natural ways (such as you've moved to different addresses). As those close to you become aware of your change, you will be able to share an authentic witness for Christ.

3. The Lord has a way of using our experiences to help others. You will undoubtedly have people come through your lives with similar struggles. Eventually, these will include your kids and, likely, young people you minister to as you live your Christian life. How you handle your premarital sexuality will be a powerful model for them.

4. You will hold up an invaluable model before other Christians, especially young people who are confronted daily with the moral relativism of our culture.

Additional resource: Advice for Couples

Sexuality is just one aspect of healthy romantic relationships. For a broader treatment, please check out the Advice for Couples link (above). It fits anyone who is dating, courting, and even those who have been married for decades.


Pastor Tim

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