Christian Dating

Our church family has a growing number of single young adults, or those about to enter that status. We also have a few single parents. They are all precious to me as their Pastor. I have watched most of them grow up. Many of them were literally children when I came here 12 years ago. And now they’re graduating high school, or going off to college, or entering the full-time workforce. I realize every Pastor is biased, but I really think our young adults are exceptional. And I mean that in the way that matters most – spiritually. Our young adults, by and large, have been raised in homes where Dad and Mom saturated them in the gospel. Led them in regular family worship. Prayed for them, with them, and over them. Read the Bible to them and with them, and taught them to read the Word of God for themselves. These young adults were disciplined biblically as children, and equipped by parents and pastors serving alongside each other for the glory of Jesus in the lives of children and young adults. All glory to God!

Having served as a Youth Minister / Pastor for five or so years, and a Young Adult / Family Pastor for five years, and now as a Preaching Pastor for 12 years, I can tell you unequivocally that one of the most neglected areas of discipleship in both the home and church pertains to dating (or courtship, I care not what one calls it). And shame on us! Who a Christian chooses to date is one of the most potentially life-altering decisions a young person makes. 

Granted, previous generations of church parents totally ignored this matter with their children. When I was a teen, I dated and shopped around, pretty much basing my decisions on nothing more than physicality and popularity. And very few, if any, boundaries were taught or enforced when we went out on dates. As a Christian young man, I knew that fornication was forbidden by God, but I was never counseled or discipled in how to apply myself by God’s sanctifying grace to such a radically self-denying venture. I knew not how to “make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its lusts” (Romans 13:14). Sadly, for too many of us for too many generations, our dating was recreational, following the cultural pattern that has made The Batchelor and The Bachelorette smashing TV hits. 

Well, praise God, a newer generation of Christian parents seems determined to give closer attention to such matters in their child-rearing. Products of “Christian divorce” and unwed pregnancies and rampant birth-control and abortion culture (yes, even in evangelical churches) has put spiritual re-bar in our spines. By God’s powerful Spirit and Word, we intend to prioritize this in our own homes as we teach and train our children. 

So, for the sake of those parents in our church who are raising young children, expecting to have young children soon or in the future, and for the sake of our precious young adults who want to follow Jesus, I offer this brief summary of a biblical approach to dating. 

  • A foundational text is 2 Cor 6:14-18. “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” While the context is general separation from idolatry / worldliness, the obvious application to dating leaps off the page. Indeed, Paul follows up with "Since we have these promises beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of flesh / body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God" (2 Cor 7:1). And then he goes on to speak of the man disciplined for sexual sin (1 Cor 5), who is now exhibiting a godly sorrow unto repentance! If the purpose of dating is to pursue one another as potential spouses (and this is the only biblical purpose for dating), then for a Christian to date a non-Christian is a blatant disregard of this command from God; for what could be more rightly defined as “yoked together” than marriage? This has obvious implications for the sexual sin of fornication, but it really applies long before that leap into the realm of lust. Make sure the one you pursue in dating is a born-again lover of Jesus who demonstrates saving faith by a fruitful life of progress in holiness. 
  • If you have any doubts about the salvation of a potential date, stop! Do not go on a date with that person until you are assured of evidences of saving grace. And yes, this will likely entail many friendly conversations with the potential date regarding doctrinal beliefs, spiritual disciplines, church engagement, views on critical topics such as marriage, parenting, missions, work, money, gender roles in the home and church, modesty / purity of heart and body, etc. And yes! You really should discuss these things, and involve other mature believers you trust (parents, pastors, mentors, friends) in those conversations, well before you ever go on that first date. If you question the wisdom of God in this matter of not being unequally yoked, just have coffee with someone in your church who is (or has been) married to an unbeliever. Ask them what that’s been like. Then, listen to them! 
  • God has always commanded His covenant people to refrain from pursuing marriage (the purpose of dating) with unbelievers (Deuteronomy 7:1-6). While the context here is quite different from our world today, the principle is the same. God cares about the souls of His people and He knows what is best for them. God knows the spiritually-draining and potentially idolatrous influence an unbelieving spouse has upon a believer. King Solomon is a prime example of disregarding this command and the spiritual havoc it wreaks (1 Kings 11). 
  • The Doctrine of Total Depravity strongly informs our view of Christian dating / courtship. "Those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom 8:8). Why in the world would a believer date someone who literally has no ability nor desire to obey God's commands pertaining to relationship, sexuality and/or marriage? Read Ephesians 5:22-33 and 1 Peter 3:1-7 to non-Christians and see what kind of response you get. The Christian life is supernatural. Jesus commands us and empowers us by His Spirit to deny our natural, fleshly desires and to live under His gracious rule (1 Corinthians 2; Galatians 5:16-26; Titus 2:11-15). Truly, “what fellowship has light with darkness?” 
  • Marriage is a covenantal relationship before God created to manifest and magnify Jesus and His Church in every aspect, but especially in child-rearing (Mal 2:13-16; Eph 5:22 - 6:4). Here again, to whom we are yoked is monumentally significant in God’s kingdom! Take your precious time discerning the godly character, or lack thereof, and the commitment to a comprehensive biblical worldview, before you ever go on that first date with the man or woman. 
  • God determines who is a "forbidden woman" or man, and pursuing such leads to death (Prov 5-7). This is true regardless of how strongly one "feels" about a partner. And, in today’s confused and promiscuous culture, it must be said that God’s design for marriage and sex therein is one man (born / biological) and one woman (born / biological) for life (see Genesis 1:26-27; 2:24; Matthew 19:3-6). Any dating relationship or desire for such outside these God-given parameters is sin, and must be confessed as such, repented of, and mortified by the Spirit and the Word (Matthew 5:27-30; Romans 1:18-32; 8:9-17; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). 
  • The Christian life is one of self-denial. “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Prioritizing any person over and above Jesus and His commands is always grievous and spiritually dangerous (Luke 9:57-62; John 14:15; 15:10). It's what started this whole mess called sin, as Adam loved himself and Eve more than God, and willfully transgressed God’s good boundary (1 Timothy 2:11-15). 

Now, for those of you thinking dating God’s way sounds like a horrible bore, you are mistaken! “His commands are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). Developing Christian friendships with potential dates / spouses, when done with the wisdom of God and in the caring community of saints, is the pathway to true freedom, peace, and fullness of joy. The accountability of genuine Christian friends as they begin to date prepares them for a lifetime of friendships founded upon the Rock of Christ and His Gospel, and relieves young men and women of undue pressure to “perform” or “put on airs.” When a young girl sees Jesus first in a young man, the friendship and love she will develop for him over time will be unquenchable (Song of Songs 8:7). Or vice-versa. When a young man latches onto the view of Proverbs 31, he will happily choose a date who is sure to bring him lasting joy as a reflection of her Savior. “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.”

When Christian men and women know what they’re supposed to be looking for, and are seeking the Spirit’s grace to patiently wait for the Lord to bring it to them, they shall “soar on wings like eagles” (Isaiah 40:31).  

So, dear young follower of Jesus, or single parent hoping for a future godly marriage: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones” (Proverbs 3:5-8).   

That’s the best dating advice anyone could give.

by Keith McWhorter