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The rules for dating have changed.
I was talking to a friend the other day who told me that she had just started dating a guy a few weeks ago. She went on to explain that they had been friends for five years, during which they talked almost every day on the phone and visited each other occasionally. They were romantically invested in one another. When she told me that, I thought to myself, "You haven’t been dating for a few weeks; you have been dating for five years and a few weeks."
There might have always been a bit of mystery involved in dating, but nowadays the only thing that is clear is that it is complex. There are so many questions for a young single person to try to navigate: What does texting someone mean? What does calling someone mean? Is it ok for a woman to express interest in a guy? Is it ok for a guy to ask a girl out over text? What’s the difference between texting, talking, hanging out, chillin’, dating, and being in a committed relationship? Back in the day, you were either "going steady," or you were single. Now – well Facebook couldn’t have said it better – it’s complicated.
With this being the world in which single people are expected to find love, how is a Christian supposed to navigate these waters with integrity?
To that question, lots of my single friends would say, "Preach it!" As a person who has experienced the dating world before, and spent countless hours talking to young Christians about dating, I would like to offer a few biblical thoughts regarding dating as a Christian.
- Put God first
You must get your relationship with God right before you can ever get a relationship with a guy or girl right.
The apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 5:1-2, "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."
The expectation for Christians is to walk in love. What does that mean? Paul tells us to look at the example of Christ. Jesus came and gave his life for us. He initiated, and he sacrificed. That is what love is: a willing, radical giving of self so that others can benefit. But the real question is, how can a person love this way? Paul answers this with his first few words. You can love like Christ because you are his beloved children. The Christian can walk in love because they know God loves them. A person who is complete in the love of God will be free to love this way, while a person who does not know the love of God will be looking to others for love. Ben Stuart, author of Single, Dating, Engaged, Married, says it this way, "If you have a source you can be a source. If you lack a source, you will be a taker of life."
Before you can ever truly love another person, you must first know the love of God.
- Find the right person
Everyone has criteria they use to help them decide on the kind of person they are going to date. The problem is, they often base this on their feelings or circumstances. Most people look first for someone they are physically attracted to or someone who is interested in them. While these are not bad things, they should not be numbers one and two on your list. This leads to a great question – what should you be looking for?
The apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 6:14-16, "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?"
Paul uses a common farming image to make his point. A yoke was an instrument used to connect two animals together to plow a field. It was important for the farmer to link two animals of the same size and strength so that they would work together rather than against each other. The point he is making is that it is crucial for the closest relationships in your life – the ones that influence you – to be with people who have the same beliefs and serve the same purpose as you. Your belief is the most significant thing about you and should drive every decision you make. If you are yoked to someone who disagrees with the most fundamental thing about you, you will not move effectively together toward God, but rather spin out of control.
The kind of person you are looking for first and foremost should be a believer. Not just a believer though. You want someone who is running hard after Christ. Anyone can call themselves a Christian, but there is a big difference between a Christian who is mature and one who is immature. An immature Christian knows little about God and cares little about incorporating his values into their life. A mature Christian knows much about what God cares about and works diligently to incorporate that into his or her life. In the search for a spouse, you want to find someone who loves God and desires to ingrain his principles into his or her life.
The final thing you are looking for is compatibility. Do you make sense together? Do your major theological beliefs align? Do you enjoy spending time together? Are your lives headed in similar directions? Are you physically attracted to them? Yes, it does matter that you are physically attracted to them. That should be a part of your criteria, just not the most important one.
- Date with intentionality
Dating should not be a guessing game. Many of us know how frustrating and confusing relationships can be, but with the Christian, that should not be the case.
Paul writes in Ephesians 4:25, "Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body." The writer of Proverbs 11:3 writes similarly, "The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity."
What does dating intentionally mean? It means to communicate the intentions of the relationship upfront. The other person should not have to wonder, “what is this” or “how do they feel” but it should be talked about openly and honestly. Communication should be clear and consistent. This is not advice to declare your undying love on the second date, but an encouragement to speak truthfully and honestly to your brother or sister in Christ. If you like them, tell them you enjoy spending time with them and would like to get to know them more. If you do not think there is a future in the relationship, graciously thank them for their investment in the relationship but tell them that you don’t think there is a future. These conversations are never easy – which is why they are often avoided or left to text messaging – but upfront honesty is the best way to respect and care for them.
A common question I get asked, usually by women, is whose responsibility it is to do this? According to Paul, a man is meant to be the spiritual leader in a husband and wife relationship. In the context of dating, however, this would not apply. This means the guy is not automatically the leader in the relationship. However, a woman should look for a guy who models headship and leads with integrity. Women, if you find yourself in a confusing situation, seek clarity, and if the guy is reluctant to provide clarity, RUN!!! Don’t walk, sprint as fast as you can from that relationship. It will only lead to pain.
- Date with purity
Christians are not prudes or sex haters – quite the opposite in fact. God is the creator and designer of sex. It was his idea. He loves sex and he is all for it, but he made it distinctly for one context and one context only – the relationship between husband and wife.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:13, "The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body."
Sex is a beautiful gift for a husband and wife to enjoy, but outside of marriage sex hurts people. It models complete physical commitment without full commitment to the other areas of the person; it also makes the relationship feel further along than it is because sex unites people.
Sex confuses the evaluation process and makes it hard to have the kind of relationship God has intended for you to have.
Now, you may ask, "What if I’ve gone too far?" Please hear me when I say this. You are NOT damaged goods. You are NOT too far gone for God’s grace.
Paul writes this in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."
God is in the business of putting broken pieces back together, and he wants to do that for you. If you have messed up sexually, Jesus’ message to the woman caught in adultery in John 8 is the same for you. "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more."
Dating is no joke; it is hard to do well. But Christians can do it. Their relationships with Christ give them the strength to go against the cultural norms and walk in obedience. Their trust in Christ takes the desperation out of dating and allows them to date with confidence knowing that God is in control. Finally, their love for Christ gives them the right perspective as they enter into the dating process.
If you are looking for more resources on how a Christian should navigate the world of dating, check out Ben Stuart’s book, Single, Dating, Engaged, Married: Navigating Life and Love in the Modern Age.