For testosterone-enriched men, besides the issue of masturbation, there’s no bigger question than where the line is drawn on physical contact in a dating relationship.
As a man, it’s your role to lead in the area of setting boundaries and guarding each other against lust. This means you should initiate the conversation very early in the relationship. You should also be in a position of knowing what type of physical contact is appropriate and what is not. This question of what is appropriate is usually asked as, “Where do you draw the line?” with the inference that if I’m not thrilled with your answer, I’ll get a second opinion.
In most books on the issue, authors usually turn the question around. They tell their audience they shouldn’t be thinking about how close they can get to “the line” but rather they should think about how far they can get from it. This is sound advice and certainly helpful, but we want to suggest an alternative focus. Take a look at the following verses:
“Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings” (Romans 16:16).
“All the brothers here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss” (1 Corinthians 16:20).
“Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss” (1 Thessalonians 5:26).
We would suggest the “Holy Kiss” principle on the physical dimension of your dating relationships, provided your Bible doesn’t translate the word “holy” as “French.”
As infants, as children and as adults, physical contact is the primary way we show care, protection, affirmation, encouragement and love for each other. Where, after all, would sports be in America without the ubiquitous slap on the rear? This is the love language of athletic coaches. But I better keep writing and make my point before you stop reading and think you just got the green light to pat your girlfriend on the tush.
Ponder a moment the different ways physical contact expressed care to you when you were growing up. Here are a few of my ponderings:
When I was discouraged after a miserable athletic performance, my father would often put his arm around me. Walking through a dangerous area at night, I would feel his protecting hand on my shoulder. When I was real young, my dad and I would wrestle. Walking behind me at the dinner table, my mom would do this “rubbing-of-my-head-until-my-hair-looked-like-I-just-woke-up” thing. My list could go on, but I’ll stop. I imagine tears are now beginning to form in the corners of your eyes. My point is that touching was inseparable from my experience of affection.
When we think of a physical standard for dating, it might be helpful to consider how we related to a brother or sister within our family: expressing affection without it ever being sexual in nature (never aimed at causing sexual arousal). This aim, then, is the principle of the “Holy Kiss.” We should not avoid all physical contact because it’s completely alien to our humanity. However, the goal of such contact should be to express affection without causing sexual arousal.
One thing to remember is that whenever God tells us not to do something, it’s because He has a better plan. He doesn’t want us to get hurt by following our own paths. God designed sex and sexual arousal to be amazing and enjoyed with only one other person in the context of marriage. Sex is designed to be the pinnacle of intimacy and connection with our spouse. When we don’t follow this design, we leave pieces of ourselves connected to all the other people with whom we have had sexual contact...whether in past relationships or with the naked individuals you have viewed online.
So, having said that, what are some principles by which we can judge our physical contact using the measurement of the “Holy Kiss”? They should be rather intuitive, which always makes for a good standard, but we’ll spell out some principles to avoid legal problems should someone use this standard to defend the owning and operating of a Christian brothel.
Your degree of physical contact should be appropriate for your level of relationship. Arms that constantly surround your partner show protection and a degree of ownership of one another. That is perfectly natural if it is a serious, exclusive relationship but quite inappropriate if it’s not.
Physical contact is meant to express affection, not to sexually arouse either you or your partner. You have to be honest about your motives. Guard your heart and your partner’s heart from lust. Whenever there is sexual arousal, you have transgressed the guideline of the “Holy Kiss” and have sinned in the use of your freedom to express physical closeness. I love the standard that the biblical author, James, gives us to determine what is and isn’t sin in our lives. This counsel is especially helpful when it comes to sexual purity. In James 4:17, he says, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
You must communicate your thoughts and standards to each other. When you rubbed her elbow, it began to sexually excite her, who knew? Talk about stuff, have a heart-to-heart as the relationship forms. Have a “this, but not that” discussion, and by the name of all that’s holy... stay away from those seductive elbows! Think about your partner. In your communication, it’s critical to have a servant’s heart that is motivated to help your partner avoid sexual arousal. Don’t simply think what does and does not arouse you.
Here’s a good rule of thumb to start with: if the swimsuit covers it, don’t touch it unless you’re married. Why? We’re told to treat women as sisters with absolute purity in 1 Timothy 5:2. You wouldn’t touch your sister in that manner. Also, as much as you may like or love your girlfriend, until you’re married, there’s no telling whether or not she will end up being your spouse or someone else's.
Additionally, think about the locations and times you should avoid spending together. For example, spending time alone in your room late at night with the door shut is probably not the best idea. Invite your Christian brothers into the boundaries and standards you have set in your relationship so that they can encourage you and keep you accountable.
Think about your partner and what will arouse her. I saw one dating couple interacting before going into a social event. The woman was tucking in the front of the guy’s shirt. Four options: first, she knows she’s turning him on and is, therefore, sinning; second, this doesn’t turn him on, and therefore, the man is a eunuch; third, this turns him on, but he’s never communicated that it does; fourth, it was dark, and I couldn’t tell if the woman was actually his mother. If it is a Christian relationship, I’m betting on the third option.
Both are responsible for keeping standards, and the stricter of the standards becomes your standard. Judith and Jack Balswick, in their book, “Authentic Human Sexuality”, add this principle: Both are responsible for standard setting, and it is critical that you don’t do anything to transgress either of your consciences. Your conscience, energized by the Holy Spirit, is a precious gift and guide and protection to you. If blunted, you’ve lost a major layer of protection between you and sexual immorality.
Remember the law of diminishing return. Arousal, like lust, always needs more to stimulate it. Set your standards high, for what expressed your feelings of affection yesterday may seem as bland as toothpaste tomorrow. Once you’ve moved down the road physically, it’s very difficult to step back.
The standard of the “Holy Kiss” is not a standard of “How far can I get?” or “How far can I steer away from physical contact?” but “What ways can I show physical affection that are appropriate to our level of commitment and do not cause sexual arousal?”
Due to Christ’s death on the cross, your sins have been forgiven. But you will continue to sin. So, what should you do when you sin?
Having purposed in your heart to pursue sexual purity, you will need to employ some very basic, but crucial tactics to guard your heart from lust.
When we put our faith in Jesus Christ and invite Him into our hearts, it is the person of the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Christ), not really Jesus, who comes to dwell in us.
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