I received an email from a man who asked a very particular question. He is a Christian, divorced, and in his forties. He met a Christian woman who seems to be an answer to prayer. Over time they have fallen in love and hope to get married eventually. But they can’t marry right now because of financial reasons. Meanwhile they have started having sex together. He used the term “being intimate” to describe it. “We have been intimate and are feeling guilty that we DON’T feel convicted by the Holy Spirit that it has been wrong.”
He goes on to say waited to have sex until they knew they were in love. Here is his question put another way: “Why do we not feel convicted by the Holy Spirit but do feel convicted by people? People make us feel guilty but at the same time, the Lord has blessed us and used us in some truly amazing ways.”
He wants to know if there is a different standard for premarital sex for those are divorced. After all, they aren’t virgins anymore. They’ve both been married before so their sex is not “premarital” in the literal sense of never having had sex before. They don’t want to lose the intimacy they have enjoyed.
So why would God forbid sex before marriage when you’ve been married in the past, had sex, and have children? And why don’t they feel guilty?
The email says (and I do not doubt) that they have struggled with this issue. He says they are not just young adults looking for a free pass to have sex. For the first time they both feel they have found a partner that they love and enjoy in every way.
So why shouldn’t two adult Christians who happen to be divorced and have fallen in love–why shouldn’t they sleep together?
There are many ways to answer that question. My own answer begins in a way that may surprise you, but I hope you will read through all the way to the end. Your comments are most welcome.
My Answer to This Question
Thanks for your note. I appreciate your forthrightness in writing so openly. Many people would not be as honest as you are. I thought a great deal about the question you raised and decided that I would answer you the same way I would answer an old friend. I want to shoot straight with you and say exactly what I would say if we were old and dear friends and had gone to high school together. Please know that I am not upset with you nor do I have a frown on my face. You have asked a good question that deserves an honest answer.
If we were lifetime friends, I would say something like this:
1) It doesn’t really matter whether or not you and your lady friend (for lack of a better term) sleep together. In the great cosmic scheme of things, it just doesn’t matter. Compared with the economic crisis, Russia’s invasion of Georgia, a national election coming up, and soldiers fighting and dying in Iraq, on one level, it just doesn’t matter whether or not two people sleep together. It’s not a big deal. The world goes on spinning whether you guys sleep together or whether you don’t. Odd place for me to begin, but it is undoubtedly true.
2) The world certainly expects that if you love each other, you will sleep together. People assume that in some discreet way, having fallen in love, two people in their forties will have sex.
3) And even in the Christian world, there is a great deal of winking at this point. I am not naive about this. I understand that Christian singles sometimes date and then have sex. I don’t approve of this nor do I think it is wise, but I cannot deny the reality. Not that every Christian couple in your situation sleeps together, but it does happen.
4) And that leads to the point about your friends making you feel guilty. How do they even know? Do the two of you talk about it? This isn’t a spectator sport.
5) I’m not surprised that the two of you enjoy being intimate. “Being intimate” makes fornication sound romantic. Words mean something. “Being intimate” seems a lot more acceptable than “fornication.”
6) There is a great deal of biblical support for regarding sex as a gracious gift from God, meant for procreation and as part of what it means to become “one flesh.” God designed sex for our enjoyment–but only within marriage (Genesis 2:24-25; Hebrews 13:4). Fire in the fireplace is a good thing. Outside the fireplace, that same fire will burn down the house. It’s not wrong to have sex and it’s certainly not wrong to enjoy it. And of course, if you have sex with someone you care about, you’ll enjoy it and feel good about it. That’s how God wired up the situation.
7) But your feelings don’t matter in this case. They just don’t matter because they will always lead you back to the bedroom.
8) I gather that your real issue is, “Why don’t we feel convicted by the Holy Spirit?” But I think you do or else why would you write me? And why would you take the time to justify yourself? You don’t write and say, “I am convicted that I spent too much time cheering for the US team to win the women’s water polo gold medal.” No, the very fact that you write is more or less the answer to your question.
9) Here’s something you may not have thought about. You say the Holy Spirit hasn’t convicted you but maybe he has. God often speaks to us through the witness of the church. And it sounds as if the church—the great Christian church—has spoken through your friends who have made you feel guilty. God often uses others to speak to us when we can’t clearly hear his voice any other way.
10) If you are truly in love, then get married and make it legal. Those are basically the rules we all have to follow. Not just the Bible rules, but the common rules of the Christian faith. To be sure, lots of people break the rules but they remain in force.
11) Don’t say, “Hey, I’ve got money issues so I can’t get married now but I still want to have sex.” It doesn’t work that way. You can’t rewrite the rulebook to satisfy your own desires.
No Time to Mess Around
But there is a deeper issue at work here. When I read your note, I was reminded of a book I read 25 years ago. It was a story about how many Jews in Romania were saved from the Holocaust by some Romanian friends who spirited them out of the country at great personal risk. Here is the part I recall most vividly. The heroine of the book was a beautiful young woman, well placed in the country, a friend of powerful people, who took up the cause of the Jews as her own. Time and again she risked everything to save them. Somewhere along the way she met and fell in love with a gallant young man who joined her in her mission. They were nearly caught and captured again and again. It was clear that they were falling in love with each other. And on some level, you kept thinking they would sleep together. But they never did. Not once. And the reason given was something like this. “Our work in saving the Jews is so important that our own desires must never interfere.” And it never did. They never slept together. Not even one time. The cause they served captured all their attention, and they knew that they had no time to have sex. And that’s why they didn’t. It wasn’t biblical at all—their reasoning, I mean. Yet it was immensely biblical.
I thought of that book for the first time in many years when I read your note. I think the meaning is, “As long as you and your friend have time to think about sleeping together, you aren’t serving the right cause.” I dare to venture that Christ and his Kingdom simply have not captured your heart. When Christ’s global cause and serving others in his name becomes your priority, you won’t have time or energy to think about sleeping together. Or you may think about it, but the higher calling will overrule your desires.
There is a huge truth for you to consider. I can say, “Don’t sleep together,” and you either will or you won’t. I don’t have the power to compel obedience. You and your lady friend have some important decisions to make. As I said, I have spoken to you this way as if we were lifetime friends because among friends you can be blunt. When I said, it doesn’t matter, I meant it. Who’s going to know if you sleep with her tonight? Not me. I don’t know and don’t want to know. The world rolls on, assumes that two people in love will sleep together, and the church sometimes looks the other way and too often shrugs its shoulders. I simply say, find a higher cause and give your energies to that cause so unreservedly that you will prize that cause above your own earthly desires.
Symptoms vs. Root Issues
We need to distinguish between causes and symptoms. Sleeping together is a symptom. It’s not the root issue. The deeper issue is committing yourself unreservedly to Christ’s great global cause to bring Good News to everyone, everywhere. Last week one of the presidential candidates said that America’s great failing is that we have lost the concept of giving ourselves to a cause greater than our own self-interest. He’s right. And in the church somehow we have lost sight of the incredible adventure of serving Christ with nothing held back–to be so consumed in the Lord and his holy cause that lesser things fall away.
It comes down to this. Do I believe that the rules of life were made for my ultimate benefit? If so, then I’ll find a way to live by those rules and wait until I get married to have to have sex. And no one—not the teenagers who fool around on a date nor the older divorced guy and gal who feel very attracted to each other and enjoy “being intimate”—will successfully say no unless they have a higher reason to do so. My advice is, find that higher reason in Christ and his great global cause. Give yourself with unrestrained passion to helping others in Jesus’ name.
I do not doubt that you and your lady friend truly love each other. If that is true, my counsel is, Don’t wait!
Don’t wait to serve the Lord.
Don’t wait to give all that you have for a cause greater than yourself.
Don’t wait to follow Christ wherever he leads.
When your heart is captured by a higher calling, you won’t have to write and ask me, “Should we be sleeping together?” You just won’t do it.
Nothing Better to Do
There is much more that could be said about setting proper boundaries, building hedges, finding accountability, and so on. I am putting all that aside to stress the central issue of your heart. I leave you with one final thought.
We sin because we don’t have anything better to do.
Ponder that for a while. This applies not just to sexual sin but to gluttony, pride, sloth, envy, bitterness, and every other evil inclination. We sin because we are bored and can’t think of anything better to do. As long as we are bored, we will justify anything we can think of simply to keep us occupied. Remember that David sinned with Bathsheba precisely because he had nothing better to do. He stayed home when it was the time of year when kings go out to war (2 Samuel 11:1). We focus on the adultery, but that was the result of his own boredom. He didn’t have anything better to do that night, he took a walk, he saw Bathsheba, and the rest is history.
Right now you don’t have anything better to do so of course the two of you sleep together. But how can you do that when the world is dying, millions are suffering, and people everywhere need the Lord? Why do you lie in bed with your lady friend when the King has called for you?
Many years ago we used to sing the old campfire song, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.” One verse in particular comes to mind:
The world behind me, the cross before me.
The world behind me, the cross before me.
The world behind me, the cross before me.
No turning back, no turning back.
If the cross is before you and the world behind you, there will be no turning back. When your heart is consumed with the pleasure of knowing Christ supremely, sleeping with your lady friend won’t seem so appealing. Until that happens, until the eyes of your heart are opened, nothing I or anyone says can make much difference.
I started off by saying that it doesn’t matter. And I stand by that–in the sense that the world isn’t waiting to find out whether or not you are sleeping with a woman before you are married. The world thinks you are–and doesn’t worry about it. But on a deeper level, it matters greatly because what you do or don’t do sets a course for your own life. We don’t have two different standards–one for our teenagers and one for our divorced adults who fall in love with each other. It’s one standard across the board. What you do impacts your walk with God, your relationship with each other, the standard you set for your own children, and your testimony to other believers who may struggle in this area. Finally, it matters to the world because the world is waiting and watching to see if what we believe makes any difference in the way we live. If we live like the world, how will the world ever see the true life-changing power of Jesus Christ?
I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t date your lady friend or that you shouldn’t someday get married. But for the moment, that is not the issue. The greater matter is the state of your own heart and your commitment to Christ’s cause in the world. Ask God for a new vision, new eyes, a new heart and new desires. Ask him to set you on fire for his work in the world. Ask the Lord to replace the boredom of your heart with an unquenchable passion for him.
I have actually quoted any Scripture verses because it’s not about this verse or that verse. But if you want one, here it is. “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). I urge you to join the great band of Kingdom-seekers who for the sake of Christ have committed themselves to his global cause. Do that and in his time, everything else will be yours.
I have spoken to you as a friend to a friend. I hope these thoughts are helpful.