In 2008 I wrote a two-part blog post about the Christian dating practice of sleeping over but not having sex. The first was called “Sleeping Over: The Latest Trend in Christian Sketchiness” and you can access Part 2 here. The posts were so popular that I re-posted them again a year later, and those posts have since become two of my most popular blog posts EVER. To this day, I receive frequent e-mails from readers asking questions about them.
I took a pretty hardline stance in those posts, and while I might employ a more nuanced approach if I was to tackle the topic today, I still believe the practice is totally unwise. The reason I might take a different approach today is that my black-and-white position may have implied a legalistic mindset that is, to some extent, unhelpful. Most of the readers who have contacted me want to know if such-and-such scenario is an exception to the position I took. I have received e-mails about numerous sleeping arrangements and dating scenarios, all concluding with some version of the question: “Is this ok?”
In essence, readers have contacted me asking for permission. They want to know if I think God would permit certain behaviors or actions in light of my stance on sleeping over. Given the volume of e-mails that pose some version of this question, I’ve realized that I need to elaborate on this issue further, and perhaps correct myself as well.
As I already mentioned, I believe that sleeping over with your boyfriend or girlfriend is foolish, no matter how controlled you think you may be. However, I have also come to believe that we should be careful about instituting legalistic boundaries in dating relationships. That is not to say that we should not be clear where Scripture is clear, for Scripture is clear on topics like pre-marital sex (ie. fornication) and lust. However, we need to think more carefully about why these Biblical boundaries are in place, and what they mean for subsequent boundary setting.
God’s commands are not arbitrary. He didn’t pick guidelines out of a hat at random. Instead, He provides us with boundaries for our own protection. They are consistent with our created design and His divine character, and for that reason they are inherently good. This is an important starting point as we think about boundaries in dating.
In a recent blog post on the subject of “dating law” versus “dating grace,” an insightful author also noted, “A law can never solve a problem, it can only point it out.” That is to say, God did not provide us with rules so that we can turn off our brains and blindly follow them (or find exceptions that we can get away with). Instead, God’s law and commands open our eyes to the areas of our lives that are not surrendered to Him. They help us to identify areas in need of change so that we can then turn them over to Him. Mindless adherence to dating rules therefore misses the point entirely.
With all of that in mind, I find wisdom to be one of a few helpful Biblical paradigms for dating relationships. Rather than lay out a “Mosaic Law” of dating rules (as the above mentioned post warns against), wisdom is a messier yet more holistic (and arguably less Pharisaical) approach to dating. For one thing, godly wisdom can guide couples through the countless scenarios they will face in dating, many of which are never directly addressed in the Bible.
Second, wisdom guards our hearts against bitterness toward God. It exhorts us to consider the reason and goodness behind His commands, rather than forcing an unquestioning obedience detached from God’s plan or character. This latter form of obedience is likely to result in frustration and even disdain for God’s instructions.
God is not looking for empty-headed robots who perfectly conform to His commands. Yes, obedience is a good affirmed by Scripture, but it is obedience with a very particular purpose and direction, not obedience for obedience’s sake. Instead, obedience is for our protection, for the good of our relationship with God, and with others. The wise individual recognizes this truth and is guided by it.
The next time you find yourself asking, “Is it ok if my boyfriend and I [fill in the blank]?” I would caution you against finding a rule (and then a subsequent loophole), and instead seek the path of wisdom. Based on what Scripture says about things like our created design, human sexuality, and our relationship with God, what would be wise and what would be foolish? What would be life-giving, and what would be shame inducing? What would be true, and what would be false? What would it look like to walk in the light, and what would it look like to hide in the darkness?
Consider those questions carefully, remembering that our sinful nature prefers black-and-white rules, but legalism only brings crushing guilt without deliverance or spiritual transformation. God wants far more for us. He always wants far more from us, not in the way of rules upon rules upon rules, but in the way of a wise obedience that sets God’s people free.