Everyone has had to ask or answer the question at one time or another: When it comes to the physical component of a dating relationship, how far is too far? Can we hold hands? Can we kiss? Can we do a little bit more than kiss? Should we even explore the physical relationship a little bit to ensure we are compatible?
I am accustomed to giving the easy answer: “It’s not about how far can we go, but how holy we can be. You are asking all the wrong questions!” That may make me feel smart and a little bit godly, but it’s not exactly a satisfying or helpful answer.
In their book Sex, Dating, and Relationships: A Fresh Approach, Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas offer an answer. They are aware of the long history of legalistic answers and the many slippery slope or fear-based approaches that have more to do with avoiding sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies than pursuing holiness. They do not want to create a new law, but draw out an implication of the deepest meaning of marriage. They are convinced that the Bible offers us exactly the answer we are looking for. How far is too far? “Contrary to popular opinion, the Bible does speak with clarity—objective clarity—about what is physically appropriate between an unmarried man and woman in a pre-marriage relationship.”
They premise their answer on the fact that the marriage relationship, and hence the sexual relationship, is meant to be a portrait of the relationship of Christ and his church. (Click here to read about the gospel and marriage.) In that way they begin not with law but with gospel.
The authors say there are three God-ordained categories of male-female relationships and believe “understanding these distinct categories is the key to overcoming much of the subjectivity surrounding sexual propriety, helping us to build proper boundaries of sexual expression.”
The Family Relationship. God’s guidelines for sexual expression between blood relatives evolved over time. Adam’s children had no choice but to have a sexual relationship with a sibling, but when God gave the Old Testament law he forbade any kind of incestuous relationship. While the reasons for God’s ban are not made clear to us, the command is: “no sexual activity is to occur between blood relatives.”