In 1998 I was getting a little bored with my middle-aged Ford Probe. Mercury had come out with a new Cougar that was very sporty, so I went over to the dealership to check it out. Of course, I wanted to see how it felt, so I asked for a test drive- after all, how would I know that this car was right for me unless I took it for a spin first? The V-6 engine roared with enthusiasm as I hit the pedal to the metal. Delighted, I bought the car. Many have the same attitude about marriage that they have about cars: “Shouldn’t I take her/him for a test drive before tying the knot?” Today in the U.S. over 50 percent of couples who marry have lived together beforehand.i
I was surprised to pick up an article in Psychology Today that contradicted this worldly wisdom of co-habitation outside of marriage. The author Nancy Wartik wrote, “I couldn’t imagine getting hitched to anyone I hadn’t taken on a test-spin as a roommate…In my and my husband’s case, the prematrimonial experiment seems to have worked out well.” ii Yet in contradiction to this, she wrote, “According to recent research, our year of shacking up could have doomed our relationship. Couples who move in together before marriage have up to two times the odds of divorce, as compared with couples who marry before living together. Moreover, married couples who have lived together before exchanging vows tend to have poorer-quality marriages than couples who moved in after the wedding. Those who cohabited first report less satisfaction, more arguing, poorer communication and lower levels of commitment. Many researchers now argue that our penchant for combining households before taking vows is undermining our ability to commit.” (Emphasis mine)
One woman she interviewed said, “you have this faith that you’re moving in with someone in order to deepen the commitment, and it doesn’t necessarily happen at all. Those two things are not correlated… Living together is a waste of time and energy… My living-together experience was a catalog of lost and broken things, never mind my heart.” She later realized commitment was the key to a happy marriage, “There was no take it or leave it…the commitment was the foundation of the marriage. Alas, my only experience of living with someone is that when you leave the door open for quasi-commitment, quasi-commitment is what you get.”
Another article stated, “in 2000, sociologists Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher surprised the marriage-defying liberal community with their book The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier and Better Off Financially. Waite and Gallagher argue from a pile of studies and statistics that married people experience far greater emotional, physical, economic, and sexual benefits than those who are single, cohabiting or divorced.” iii
Sex and Covenants
Sex without a lifelong covenant is a minefield, leading to devastating results. University of Texas professor J. Budziszewski stated: “Sexuality is like duct tape. The first time you use it, it sticks you to whomever it touches. But just like that duct tape, if you rip it off and then touch it to someone else, it isn’t as sticky as it was before. So what happens when you pull it loose from one partner after another? You just don’t stick anymore, your sexual partners seem like strangers, and you stop feeling anything.”iv Our God is a covenant keeping God, and He has created us in His image- we ought to be covenant-keeping people.
Physical Consequences of Sex without Covenants
Consider a few statistics from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention:
- 65 million Americans are infected with an incurable STD.
- 15 million people become newly infected with STDs yearly.
- 80% of people infected with STDs are unaware that they are infected.
Former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop wrote, “When you have sex with someone, you are having sex with everyone they have had sex with for the last 10 years, and everyone they and their partners have had sex with for the last 10 years.”v No wonder the Bible speaks of having sex outside of marriage as drinking from a polluted well. God wants what is best for us, thus He warns us about the consequences of sexual immorality: “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men …God gave them up to vile passions… receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due…”vi Sexual sin can have dire physical consequences with both sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. Since 1973 over 50 million babies have been sacrificed through abortion on the altar of sexual promiscuity, because it is our choice, our right, our body and our economic hardship- selfishness even to the point of murder. Fifty years of studies have firmly established that breast cancer is 3 times as likely to develop in women who have had an abortion.vii God is not mocked- we reap what we sow.
Spiritual Consequences of Sex Outside the Marriage Covenant
The Bible warns, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body…flee sexual immorality.”viii Our God is a covenant keeping God. He created us in His image to have fellowship with Him. Does it strike you as strange that throughout scripture God is called a “jealous God”?ix He created us to enter into a relationship with Himself, yet like the Israelites, we have prostituted ourselves spiritually to other idols- our lives of sin demonstrate our going after other lovers. Marriage is a covenant that is a shadow of an eternal covenant. As men and women created in the image of God, Jesus challenges us to complete integrity regarding our vows and promises: “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’”x Preceding this verse is discussion of how lust is adultery of the heart and how divorce causes our spouse to commit adultery. God is serious about covenants and wants us likewise to be covenant keeping people- both our thoughts and our actions before and after we get married. The only bed that is a pure bed is the marriage bed: “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”xi
God calls a spade a spade- He says that sex before marriage is selfishly taking advantage of another, “You should abstain from sexual immorality…not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such.”xii
Sexual immorality has devastating spiritual consequences, because God says it is a form of idolatry- while we’re focused on meeting our own lustful desires, we are serving an idol instead of the Lord. God says, “Fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you…For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”xiii “…Their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur.”xiv Instead of the selfish pursuit of pleasure, God wants us to mirror His own heart and character- the heart of a giver instead of a taker, the heart of commitment and covenant.
An Ancient Love Story
I want to transport us back to a 10th century B.C. love story in Israel in the book, “Song of Solomon.” Imagine yourself in this story as the virgin bride or groom to be who has never been exposed to immorality. You get to know a person of the opposite sex with whom you are attracted to and in due time the two of you decide with your families that you would make a good match for marriage. Every time you see each other in public, the bride to be is modestly dressed. The groom to be is respectful of her, never meeting with her privately- to protect her reputation. Passion is building in the hearts of both of them before marriage- but it is a passion with restraint. The bride to be reminds herself before her friends not to “arouse or awaken love until it so desires.”xv
Finally, the wedding comes. Love has been building in their hearts as they realize that they are entering a permanent, safe and secure loving covenant before God, family and the people of the community. Wedding night arrives. She’s in the bathroom getting ready to present herself to her husband for the first time. The room is charged with electricity. All thoughts are towards each other. Neither have memories of another sexual encounter. There is no one to compare against, no performance bar to meet. Both are fumbling around drunk on love as they learn a new art together- the art of pleasing and of giving. They have managed self-control with each other through months of powerful passions leading up to marriage. They have seen the restraint in each other before marriage and trust each other to exhibit that same restraint throughout their married lives.
The groom undresses her the first time, starting his gaze at the top of her head and moving downward from there, describing her features. He takes off her veil, “How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful!”xvi There is no comparison going on in his mind of previous sexual encounters or playmate centerfolds- all of his attention and affection are focused on her. “Your eyes behind your veil are doves …Your lips are like a scarlet ribbon; your mouth is lovely…”xvii
His gaze continues, “Your two breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies. Until the day breaks and the shadows flee, I will go to the mountains of myrrh and to the hill of incense.”xviii There was no dulling of the excitement of that wedding night through previous knowledge- her body was a mystery unveiled in the proper time- at the time of life-long covenant.
He is completely entranced and delighted by her untarnished beauty, “All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you…you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes”xix In gazing into her eyes, the window to her soul, with all the physical arousal that is going on, his greatest joy is his love for her- that is the prize that will grow even as her physical body slowly fades in glory over the coming decades. He then rejoices in her purity, “You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride; you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain.” Single ladies- don’t rob your future husband of this praise and gift! Single men- give your future wives the purity and passion that they deserve as your first intimate love. If it’s too late for that, repent and ask God to do the healing work in your heart and mind, to quash the memories, and to begin a lifelong pursuit of purity.
The bride then gives the invitation to her groom: “Awake, north wind, and come, south wind! Blow on my garden, that its fragrance may spread abroad. Let my lover come into his garden and taste its choice fruits.”xx His response is, “I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice. I have eaten my honeycomb and my honey; I have drunk my wine and my milk.”xxi My friend, when two lovers enter into the holy marriage bed with self-control and purity beforehand in love, and marriage is a place of refuge, security and strong covenant, then the physical will follow. No test drive is needed. God has made it work that way.
The bride summarized her covenant heart toward her husband, “Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned.”xxii
My friend: let your love stick. Don’t give it away outside of the marriage covenant. Take the bride’s advice: don’t sell out for love through illicit sex. God has a plan for your love life. Stick to His plan and be blessed. Reject His plan and be cursed. Be a giver, not a taker- be a covenant maker and keeper. Live a life of self-control and purity that you may attain to a love as strong as death, a love that sticks and sticks for good. Marital love is the strongest and most invincible force in the human experience. It is a shadow to the world of an even greater love- the love of God for those He purchased with the ultimate sacrifice of love- the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. “God demonstrates His love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”xxiii His love sticks for eternity- it is a covenant that goes beyond, “till death do us part.”
I can’t write about sexual immorality without looking into my own heart and past- a heart that chased other idols. At times my passions, instead of being directed toward God, were enslaved in the idolatry of lust. I cried out as the Apostle Paul cried out in realization of his utter sinfulness, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”xxiv The deliverer is Jesus Christ my Lord, as I chose to let go of idols and my own selfish desires and follow Him as my Savior and Lord.
Jesus rescued me from all my sinful idolatries, and each day is a new day of grace to depend on Him to rescue me from the idols this world offers and draw me closer to Himself and teach me how to be the husband He has called me to be- a giver and not a taker. Sexual sin before marriage has consequences- before, during and after wedding night. I write this having recently celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary- our marriage has been through much, but God’s grace has abounded. We are learning what it means to be in a covenant relationship and Jesus Christ’s faithfulness has been a beacon of light especially in dark times. Have you entered into an eternal relationship with the Lord?
Entering into an Eternal Covenant With God
Jesus was eating at the house of a religious leader. A desperate prostitute recognized Jesus as the Savior. She ran with a jar of expensive perfume into the house and knelt at Jesus’ feet wetting them with her tears, wiping them with her hair, kissing them and pouring perfume on them. She had recognized the utter sinfulness of her life and impending judgment- she yearned for forgiveness. Jesus touched her, “Your sins are forgiven…your faith has saved you; go in peace.” The religious owner of the house was disgusted with Jesus for having contact with such a vile woman. Jesus rebuked him saying, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.”xxv Have you come to a point in your life where you see your sin as the prostitute did- worthy of judgment, and cry out to the Lord Jesus Christ in genuine repentance and faith to forgive you? If so, like the prostitute, your genuine faith will result in God’s transformation in your life as God forgives your sin.
The Lord of Covenants
Ever since the first rebellion of man, God has unveiled a plan to bring people back into a covenant relationship with Himself. He is described as a groom seeking an eternal bride. In the Old Testament the bride was Israel. The call to Israel was to turn from her spiritual adulteries, repent and follow her Lord as her covenant husband. Through Israel was born the Lord Jesus Christ, who paid for the sins of the world through His death in our place to bring us to God. The eternal cry of Jesus and His followers (the Bride) is found at the end of the Bible, “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.”xxvi The good news is that though you have miserably failed God and His standard of righteousness, deserving God’s wrath for it, God has sent His Son to pay the price in your place if you’re willing to let go of sin and follow after Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
A False Gospel
There’s another gospel going around that says that all we need to do is pray a prayer and “believe” what Jesus did for us and we’re saved. This false gospel ignores repentance and misunderstands what it means to truly believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you will perish.”xxvii Many say they’re saved who haven’t repented of sexual sin or other sins, but continue in them willfully, rebelliously and repeatedly. Regarding adultery, Jesus said if a man looks at a woman with lust, he has committed adultery in his heart.xxviii Jesus tells us what to do about lust, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.”xxix Are you enslaved to porn? Is it an idol? The Bible speaks of a number of people at a church who turned from their sexual sin to follow Jesus and inherited eternal life: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites…will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”xxx If you haven’t repented yet, the Bible makes clear that you are still an enemy of God because of wicked worksxxxi and are one missed heart beat away from an eternity in hell, separated forever from the presence and glory of God. If you claim that God’s grace covers your continual, unrepentant sin, you are deceived: “If we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.”xxxii Some say, “I know I’m living in sin, but I believe in God, so I’m going to heaven” but God says, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.”xxxiii Jesus warned, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not …done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”xxxiv
God’s plea to you now is to turn from sin and turn to follow Jesus. If you repent and follow Jesus, you will be born again and God will give you the power to live for Him. If you’re living in continual sin, it is evidence that you haven’t yet been born again. God says, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep sinning because he has been born of God.”xxxv Compare this to marriage: would you say a man was truly married who went out the week after getting married and slept with several women? Neither can we say we are saved and in fellowship with God if we’re unwilling to repent and follow Him. God’s urgent plea is that we not be deceived- today is the day of salvation- get right with God before time runs out and you die in your sinful unbelief and idolatry.
Pray to God: confess your sins to God (name them) and confess your honest desire to turn from them and follow Jesus Christ as your Lord (Master) and Savior, and then follow hard after Jesus- read your Bible and obey what you read- He will never let you down.
Acknowledgements & Further Reading
i Psychology Today, “The Perils of Playing House”, July/Aug 2005, p44
iii Chuck Missler, K-house eNews, August 24th, 2004
iv Ask Me Anything: Provocative Answers for College Students, J. Budziszewski.
vi Rom 1:18-32
vii Worldnetdaily.com, “Matters of Life and Death”, May 16th, 2005.
viii 1 Cor 6:13,18
ix Ex 20:5, 2 Cor 11:1
x Matt 5:37
xi Heb 13:4
xii 1 Thess 4:3-8
xiii Eph 5:3-5
xiv Rev 21:8, cf. Gal 5:19-21
xv SS 3:5
xvi SS 4:1
xvii SS 4:2-4
xviii SS 4:5-6
xix SS 4:7-11
xx SS 4:16
xxi SS 5:1
xxii SS 8:5-7
xxiii Rom 5:8
xxiv Rom 7:24
xxv Matt 21:28-32
xxvi Rev 22:17
xxvii Luke 13:3
xxviii Matt 5:28
xxix Matt 5:29
xxx 1Cor 6:9-10
xxxi Col 1:21
xxxii Heb 10:26-27
xxxiii Titus 2:11-12
xxxiv Matt 7:21-23
xxxv 1 John 3:9