Thank you for your questions, they have always been important, but I find them to be exceptionally important within our cultural moment.
- For your first question regarding premarital sex, I think we as Christians must become more versed in the Christian sexual ethic. When it comes to this topic, we as Christians often dont talk about it enough and so the only thing people think of when they hear “christian sexuality” is ‘Dont have sex before marriage!’ Now, technically this is part of the Christian understanding but its so much deeper than that. If we are ever going to show the world that God’s understanding of sex is best, we have to talk positively about it. This is often far more difficult to do in practice; however, I challenge you to engage in these conversations. The question really that most people are asking is “Why does God care about my sex life? Isn’t it my choice?” The Christian understanding of sexuality is more than just finding someone you love, marrying them, and having sex. So what is the Christian sexual ethic? While I won’t be able to give an exhaustive answer on this medium, I will give you what I think are the most important aspects:
The first thing we have to see is that sex can produce life. I know this seems basic, but Genesis 1:28 is the first scripture we have on sex (be fruitful and multiply). But think about this, humans are created in the image of God (unlike any other aspect of Creation) and yet all human beings are brought about by sex. We find life to be sacred, how dare we not think the very act that creates life also be sacred? Now not all sex produces a child and nor does it have to but we must make sure we emphasize that sex is the vehicle God designed to bring about more image bearers on this earth. He could have created us all at once… but he didn’t, instead he gave us the ability through an intimate act called sex. The moment we just say that sex is simply an act for two consenting adults to enjoy each other romantically, is the same moment we cheapen the true intent of its design.
secondly, we see that sex is about radical self donation. Timothy Keller argues that the Bible shows us that sex is designed for “permanent whole-life self-giving.” The current understanding of sex is that its for “temporary partial-life self-gratification.” But because its designed for permanence and seen as an act of self donation, God says do not use it out of the boundaries that protect its sacredness — marriage. Why? Because just like all good things he can give us, we can destroy its beauty in our abuse of it and typically it backfires on us. There is nothing casual about sex and yet we try to treat it as casual. What is casual about being fully naked with someone else, being vulnerable, possibly creating life, heartache, deep intimacy?? Nothing. Sex is the least casual activity we can engage in, yet we live in a time that says its just another act. But the truth of the matter is we all know its not causal, we just dont want to believe it because it limits our expression (to an extent). But just like in every aspect of freedom and life, it requires the proper boundaries and limitations in order to receive the full flourishing of the desired good.
thirdly, and most importantly, we see that sex and marriage were never meant to be ends in themselves but were meant to point to something much greater! The Bible starts with a marriage (genesis - adam and eve) and it ends with a marriage (revelation - Christ and the church)… all marriages in between those marriages are supposed to point to and reflect the last marriage. This is why complementarity is key (it must be one man and one woman in order to properly reflect the original design). Just like Christ and the church its unity in diversity, its like and unlike, its two distinct different ‘others’ coming together. This is also why in the end (after we are in glory) there is no marriage! Why? Because what human marriage was pointing to will have been fulfilled (the marriage of Christ and the church)
I would argue that those are the three most important points to the Christian sexual ethic. Obviously romance and physical attraction are also important, but they are of less importance in the hierarchy of the Christian understanding of sexuality. Yes, romance and sexual attraction will be in a Godly marriage but they must be placed under and submitted to the three things discussed above.
When it comes to the topic of premarital sex, I think its really unrealistic to pitch towards those who do not call Christ their Lord. Although there is, statistically speaking, wisdom in having a smaller number of sexual partners within your life, the only convincing argument I have seen has to do with whether or not Christ truly is Lord. When Christians are willing to engage in premarital sex, in a sense, what they are saying is “Christ you can be Lord of parts of my life, but my sex life.” The problem is that Christ is either Lord of All or he is not Lord at all (quote from Mark Batterson). As Christians, we dont get to pick and choose what areas of our life that Christ is Lord over. So when talking to Christians I like to go back to the Gospel. Is Christ truly who he says he is? If not, then who cares. But if he is, then what does this say for every aspect of your life? including sex?
The bottom line is that God loves us and he is not withholding good from us. Sex is a beautiful and powerful gift. God does not want us to cheapen its design because it distorts our understanding of his love, the point of it all, and often we get hurt (especially emotionally). Its so important that we show the world His design is best; but this wont be a real goal if we ourselves dont obey his commands on sex. There is no shame in struggling in this area; however there is in justifying sin for your purposes. The body of Christ needs to be a place of confession, seeking help, and reentering our hearts on the gospel so that He empowers us to live according to His will.
I know this is a long answer, but I hope it helps out a little. Please feel free to ask for clarification or if you want to discuss more just ask.
Your second question, on recommendations to a single christian on choosing whom to marry. I am not expert, as I am single, but here are some points I would live by.
There is no unicorn. Meaning, I dont think its a Biblical understanding to think “there is that one special person out there for me and if I dont find her/him then I will screw it all up.” (that’s Disney, not the Bible) Not only is that not biblical, I think it cripples us. And it prevents people from entertaining possible relationships because they think the one they are going to find will be perfect. But think of how ridiculous that is. You are not perfect, why in the world would you assume you would find a perfect spouse? Marriage is about two flawed imperfect people coming together and finding their completion in Christ, not their spouse. Dont put a wait on yourself that you cannot carry, or your future spouse cannot carry.
You must fight to remember that sex, relationships, and marriage do not define you nor is it where your identity should come from. Again, I dont want to diminish marriage whatsoever, but we need to stop treating it like its required for a whole-life. If thats the case, then Christ himself didn’t live a whole-life (which is something I am not willing to say or believe). Do not idolize a good gift of God because it will end up (just like every other idol) failing you.
Find contentment in Christ and singleness. The majority of Christians are going to get married; but, I think we should learn to find contentment in singleness prior-- because if you aren’t content single, I promise you wont be content married. Christ is the bread of life, not your future spouse (even though they will be an amazing blessing from God himself). If you are currently single, I always try to tell people to enjoy that singleness, leverage it for the gospel (because you dont have the same responsibilities as a married person), and allow God to author your life. He will bring that person into your life when he deems fit. Pray an ask for discernment.
Lastly, and practically speaking, I think when it comes to ‘choosing’ a spouse, we need to use wisdom and discernment. Physical attraction (although given to us by God) should not be our primary goal, because it ultimately will fail (we all get old haha) and it cheapens our understanding of people. I am going to go to Tim Keller again for this, but he says that we need to find someone of the opposite sex, see what God is doing in their life, be excited for that, and simply want to go along the journey with them. I know that seems simplistic but I think there is so much wisdom in it.
Also, I think it is very unwise to date someone who is not a Christian. Yes, there are examples of these relationships working out and I would never want to diminish them; however, for every relationship like this that does work out I can list you 10 that didn’t. Its not because a non-christian is a bad influence on you, its because if Christ truly is the foundation of your being, how could you possibly go about your life living for the kingdom meanwhile the person you are sharing your life doesn’t even have the same worldview? Again, I am not saying its impossible and it will always fail, I am saying I think it is unwise.
Sorry to write you a book I hope this has helped a little. Again I am here all week to either clarify or answer any more questions.
I would recommend these three books that cover both of these topics far better than I have in this short post:
The meaning of Marriage - Tim and Kathy Keller
The Mingling of Souls - Matt Chandler
Redefining Sexuality - Dr. Juli Slattery