With a pen and paper in hand, Zack and I sat down to write out a list of physical boundaries we wouldn’t cross. Our relationship had recently shifted from being “just friends” to officially dating. With a desire to pursue sexual purity, we both thought it would be helpful to write down some specific physical boundaries. After several hours of talking about various scenarios and specific situations, we finalized our list. With a premature sense of accomplishment, we each pinned the list in our rooms and smiled at our apparent wisdom and godliness.
However, as good as our lists may have seemed, we quickly realized how easy it was to bend the rules when nobody was looking.
After several months of mostly sticking to the boundary list, we knew something was missing. Something wasn’t right. And it wasn’t something missing from our list. We were missing something in our hearts. With a zealous passion for “creating the boundaries,” Zack and I both realized that we were counting on the rules to make us righteous. We were striving to obey God with our actions, but our hearts weren’t in it for His glory. We thought we could achieve purity without the strength and grace of Jesus.
Creating boundaries for a romantic relationship was a good idea; we just needed to get our hearts in the right place. We needed to realign our hearts and motives with the gospel. We began to realize that rules apart from honoring Christ will always take us down the path of self-righteousness (Matt. 23:27). When it came to our romantic relationship, we both learned that glorifying Christ must be at the center of what we do and why we do it.
From the time Zack and I got married (2011) until now, I’ve seen many Christian couples making the same mistakes we did. If I could go back in time and give my younger self some advice, this is what I would say: Don’t pursue boundaries without also pursuing a genuine relationship with Christ. Ask Christ to give you a humble heart and genuine desire to honor Him in the relationship. Make it your aim to glorify God in everything you do (1 Cor. 10:31).
I would also encourage my younger self (and you) to make sure these three foundational elements are in place in your life before jumping straight to a boundary list:
- Worship of Christ (Phil. 2:9–11).
- Purity of Heart (1 Thess. 4:3–5).
- Holiness in Life (1 Peter 1:14–16).
First, we must strive to worship and esteem Christ above everything else (Ex. 34:14). Christ must be at the center of our heart’s affections. We must cultivate a love for Him that is far greater than our love for our boyfriend/fiancé (Ps. 42:1) The more we understand God’s great love for us and the price Christ paid for our sins on the cross, the more compelled we will be to live our lives for His glory in our romantic relationships.
Secondly, we need to understand that biblical purity isn’t about just following the rules but about pursuing a heart and mind that are free from sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:18). Sexual purity is ultimately rooted in your mind, your heart, and your soul. As sinners, we desperately need the transforming power of Christ to change the desires of our heart.
We are called to pursue a life of holiness in every area of our lives (even when nobody’s looking). To pursue holiness means to live a life that is “set apart” for God’s glory. As God’s children, He calls us to be holy because He is holy (1 Peter 1:16). Whether it’s in our conversations, actions, or thoughts, we need the power of Christ to help us pursue holiness.
In my new book, Love Defined, I put it this way:
To embrace holiness and purity in our relationships, we must seek to worship God alone. We must steer our personal affections to loving God most. Our actions must be driven by our love and obedience to Christ. Only when we’re worshiping and seeking to glorify our Creator will we be able to maintain genuine purity and holiness in our romantic relationships. By pursuing Christ first, we can experience a beautiful romance without regrets.
Once we are passionately worshiping Christ, humbly pursuing purity, and intentionally living a set-apart life for God’s glory, then we will be ready for a boundary list. Until then, the boundaries will only become legalistic rules to be followed.
Once these three essential elements are in place though, our physical boundary list will be more like loving guardrails, gently reminding us to stay on the right track—all for God’s glory.
For more on this topic (and for some examples of what physical boundaries may look like), grab a copy of Love Defined. Log on to the giveaway widget below before leaving us a comment for your chance to snag a free copy.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
- Do you struggle to be more of a rule-follower than a Christ-follower? Why do you think that is?
- When it comes to romantic relationships, why do you think physical boundaries alone aren’t enough to keep a couple pure?