by J. Budziszewski
Dear Professor Theophilus:
I have a question that may sound a little bit hypocritical coming from a follower of Jesus, but I wanted to ask someone I could trust, who didn’t know me, and who wouldn’t release my name. I’ve really enjoyed the tips and articles here on the Boundless webzine, and my mother listens to Focus on the Family all the time on the radio, so I am really familiar with you guys.
I have been in Christian school for most of my life, I go to a wonderful church, and my family all love and serve the Lord. My girlfriend was responsible for getting me to join my current church; she is truly my gift from God.
This brings me to my point. My girlfriend and I have been together for nearly a year now, and we would get married if not for our remaining years in college. She can envision our future together, as can I, all ordained by God and blessed by our pastor.
We recently decided to engage in sexual intercourse. We both had questions about our decision to do this and we both decided to seek advice before deciding to have sex again. We are truly in love, and we connected spiritually before we even decided to have sex. After intercourse, we felt an even closer bond than ever before. Without a doubt, we are mentally, spiritually and emotionally married; our marriage is only missing a ring, a preacher and a church ceremony to make it official.
If we make sure that we use protection, is it really that wrong for us to engage in making love? The Lord frowns on promiscuity, but we are not being promiscuous. The Lord values lifelong commitment and the two of us are as committed as a couple can be. I would like your opinion on this matter as we are both praying and seeking an answer.
PROFESSOR THEOPHILUS REPLIES
I’m glad you and your girlfriend have decided to seek advice before having sexual intercourse again. Because you’ve been frank with me, and because you’ve asked me to “lay it on the line” for you, that’s exactly what I’ll do.
The situation in which you find yourself is not uncommon. You see, sexual intercourse tends to produce the same powerful feelings of “rightness” whether it’s right or not. That’s one of the reasons your feelings are only a blind guide. An even better reason not to trust your feelings is this: In the Bible, God has plainly reserved sex for marriage. He’s made this so clear that there is no possibility of an honest mistake. When you had sex, then, you weren’t being honest with yourselves about His will. That made your thoughts and feelings even more confused, because you had to start playing even more tricks on your conscience to cover up the first one.
Sexual intercourse tends to produce the same powerful feelings of “rightness” whether it’s right or not.
However, God has been merciful to you and your girl friend. He wants what’s good for you, so He made you just uncomfortable enough about your excuses to write to me. Let me give you a list of your self-deceptions — of the tricks you’ve been playing on your conscience.
Not telling yourselves the truth about commitment. Here’s how you know you have a commitment: When you’re married, you have one, and when you’re not married, you don’t. Before the marriage ceremony, everything is reversible — your thoughts, your feelings, even your intention to get married. As a matter of fact, people who have sex outside marriage usually don’t wind up marrying each other. Nope, not even when the thought of getting married was their reason for having sex.
Not telling yourselves the truth about marriage. Face it: You’re not married. Feeling married doesn’t make you married; having sex doesn’t make you married. What makes you married is a solemn public promise, in front of God and the assembly of His people, to love, honor and live with each other, as husband and wife, until death. The reason you have to do it in front of the rest of your worship community is that at the same time the two of you make a vow before God to each other, all those witnesses make a vow before God to hold you to your promise. You haven’t made yours; they haven’t made theirs.
Not telling yourselves the truth about God’s rules. In the Bible, God forbids all sex outside marriage. You’ve softened this to forbidding “promiscuity.” Limiting your sexual disobedience to a single person doesn’t turn it into obedience. Neither does limiting it to someone whom you think you would like to marry, or to someone with whom you have enjoyed God’s blessings in the past. Neither does calling it “making love.”
Not telling yourselves the truth about God’s authority. When you tell yourselves that using “protection” will make sexual sin okay, you’re trying to go over God’s head. You’re making a guess about the reason for His rule, then thinking that if you can get around the reason, you don’t have to obey the rule. But God hasn’t told you “Use protection.” What He’s told you is “Don’t have sex outside marriage.” Another way to think of it is this: Anything that turns a precious gift like children into something from which you think you need “protection” has got to be terribly wrong.
Not telling yourselves the truth about your own motives. When you ask God in prayer whether it’s okay to have sex outside marriage, you’re only pretending, because you know He has already answered that question in His Scriptures. You see, God doesn’t contradict Himself; He doesn’t say one thing in the Bible and another thing when you pray. If He has already told you what to do, then asking Him “What should I do?” isn’t a way to find His will, but to avoid it.
When you tell yourselves that using “protection” will make sexual sin okay, you’re trying to go over God’s head. You’re making a guess about the reason for His rule, then thinking that if you can get around the reason, you don’t have to obey the rule.
He says to you, “Why do you keep asking me questions I’ve already answered?”
So what do you do now? Before anything else, you and your girl friend need to repent. That means admitting to yourselves, and to God, that you’ve disobeyed Him; it means admitting to yourselves, and to God, that you’ve been playing tricks on your conscience; it means being sorry; it means telling Him that you’re sorry; and it means reversing course. If your girl friend doesn’t want to repent, that doesn’t get you off the hook, because you will just have to repent by yourself. You’ll have to do that even if she becomes angry, even if she threatens to break off the relationship, and even if she does break off the relationship.
After repenting, ask God to forgive you through Jesus Christ. Then ask Him for strength to resist future sexual temptations — because by giving in once, you’ve made it harder to resist the next time. Finally, agree now to avoid the tempting situations — situations like being alone together. I’ll bet you didn’t know that the more time a couple spends alone together, the more likely they are to wind up in bed! That’s true even if they begin with a firm intention of abstinence.
By the way, when you and your girlfriend do pray to God, you should pray separately too — prayer time is probably the worst of all times to be alone together. As Ben Young and Sam Adams write in their book The Ten Commandments of Dating, two of the most powerful drives in human nature are the sex drive and the spiritual drive. If you put both drives together, they’ll be too strong for you. There will be plenty of time to pray alone together after you’re married.
Here are some words of mercy for you to remember as you pray:
“Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you” (Matthew 11:28, KJV).
“God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
“This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).
“If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous; and He is the perfect offering for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2).
One last thing. Don’t make the deadly mistake of telling yourselves, “We’ll sin again, but it will be all right because God will forgive us.” Yes, God does forgive, but there is no forgiveness without repentance. By deliberately sinning, you’re really training yourselves to not repent. If you harden your heart before you sin, how do you know you’ll be able to soften it up again afterward?
Grace and peace,
- J. Budziszewski, “What If We Love Each Other?,” Boundless, 2005, 18 December 2001.
- Ask Me Anything: Provocative Answers for College Students
- The Ten Commandments of Dating: Time-Tested Laws for Building Successful Relationships