Why Rules Aren’t Enough to Keep You Pure

Recently I heard from a girl who was struggling to remain pure. She had just started dating a guy long distance. After her first weekend visit, she wrote:

The physical temptation is so real. Even the smallest thing will set off a wildfire in my heart. . . . It’s a war I didn’t realize I would struggle with. I wish I had been more prepared to guard our hearts in the most heart-racing moments.

I can relate.

My Rule Making Strategy

Before Trevor and I married, we also dated long distance. I’ll never forget my first visit to spend time with him over Christmas. Unlike this girl above, I did anticipate that it would be tough physically. So I set a couple rules for myself before boarding the plane:

  1. No lying down horizontally.
  2. No kissing on the lips.

And while I technically didn’t break either of those rules on that first visit, I found myself flirting at the very edges of those boundaries, like a hummingbird hovering near sweet nectar.

I kept “the letter of the law” while ignoring “the spirit of the law.” I observed my literal rules but not the intent behind the rules: purity, so I might see and enjoy God (Matt. 5:8).

Don’t just run from sexual immorality, though. Run to Christ.

It was soon blazingly obvious: Rules weren’t going to do the trick of keeping me pure. For example, if I had set a boundary, “I won’t be in a bedroom with him with the door closed,” my flesh would surely have countered, “Okay, I’ll go to the garage instead.”

Pastor and theologian Gerald Hiestand describes this well when he writes, “Every ‘objective’ boundary can be worked around by sin-inspired creativity.”

Colossians 2:20–23 also explains that boundaries and rules aren’t enough to keep us from doing wrong. On our own, they’re not capable of getting to the root issue—they don’t deal a deathblow to our ungodly passions and desires.

What, then, is to be done?

Your Dating Strategy

First, as 1 Corinthians 6:18 says, “Flee from sexual immorality.” Get your running shoes on and start sprinting like mad! Don’t just run from sexual immorality, though. Run to Christ.

  • Flee sexual immorality and fly to Christ, in whom every treasure is found.
  • Ask God to send His Spirit to help you see and despise your sin.
  • Be brutal with your sin. Don’t just exile it; cut its head off!

I’m not saying there is no place in dating for boundaries. But even if you do set rules, don’t rely on them alone to keep you pure. You aren’t strong enough to battle your ungodly passions in your own strength. Run to Christ. Only He is strong enough.

Be brutal with your sin. Don’t just exile it; cut its head off!

How about you? Have you set any rules or boundaries for yourself once you begin dating? If so, what will you do when your flesh doesn’t cooperate with your good intentions? Then what?

About Author

Paula Marsteller

Paula Marsteller no longer tries to catch guys' attention by swallowing live goldfish, arm wrestling, and jumping down flights of stairs. (She's married to a wonderful man now!) She spends her days caring for her two young sons and seeking to practice "radically ordinary hospitality." She's the author of Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl: On Her Journey from Neediness to Freedom, and she and her family live in Central New York. You can catch her writing on PaulaWrites.com.

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