Living Together before Marriage

In the past weeks I’ve addressed some aspects of modern weddings (you can read about those here and here). Today, let’s consider living together before marriage.  Why has it become so common and accepted?

The short answer is because living together is easy and speaking against it is hard.  The long answer is very long, requiring a careful tracing of events since Adam’s failure through modernism and post-modern times. That answer will come when time permits.

For now, what if we use the lifeguard approach? What is going on in the mind of a drowning person? A desperate sense of loss of life. That desperation has brought about a reversal of most relationships of cause and effect.

God’s creation, including life infinite and everlasting, has this chemistry: purpose à cause à effect 1 à effect 2. For example, purpose = fullness of life  à bearing of children  à union of woman and man = conception  à  extraordinarily powerful, pleasant experience.

Desperation makes living for God and others seem impossible or foolish. What does make sense is to skip to the extraordinary sexual experience. (Similarly, people eat for appetite’s sake rather than for energy to serve others, sleep for sleep’s sake rather than for refreshment to serve others, etc.) Thus, in modern times, as more and more people feel that sense of drowning/loss of life, a majority of the population are skipping to self-gratification.  Feelings vs. purpose or feelings as purpose.

The problem with skipping to physical gratification as purpose is that doing so makes two gigantic problems.  First, skipping God’s purpose for human union robs that union of its profound, divine, eternal significance. The sexual experience alone does not have the power to preserve and empower a union. Thus, sex becomes casual and more frequent, by various means, various partners, even multiple partners at the same time. Second, the way of this world of desperate people has swept away so many young people, but because of the faith they have and bring to their relationship, living together often “works.” But it often doesn’t. Living together appears as public affirmation of pre-marital sex, which often leads to experimenting with people and in ways that turn out to be mistakes. Evidence of this problem has always been apparent in my ministry, both in the parish and on university campuses. Consider why 99% of pop music is about trouble with relationships.

Where is the hope here?  A Green V, three-dimensional worldview centered in a soul regenerated by Christ and animated by His Spirit embraces and appreciates the significance of life God gives us as His caretakers and means of creating new life. This significance in our unions is the rock beneath our feet that orders our life and makes it a joy, full of lasting significance. Sex devoted to child-bearing provides clarity about the good or evil of human sexual conduct. That clarity also brings us to increasing appreciation for the rest of human experience in God’s grace and creation that we would otherwise miss. The great fatigue of raising a family is a blessed fatigue.

Lifeguards already understand what they are swimming toward and bring a flotation device to offer. Understanding God’s creation through this worldview and the redeeming power of God’s means of grace inspires us to reach out to so many who feel hopeless, confused, disappointed, and hurt.

For more on worldview and God’s divine life-savings means, check out more on wordwithoutwalls.com or these podcast episodes: “A New Way to See”, “Defining Redemption”, and “Forgiveness is just the tip of the Iceberg”.

8 thoughts on “Living Together before Marriage

  1. Is living together, as an isolated idea/topic, not recommended? Or is it that living together tends to lead to the physical gratification you discuss here? I don’t see a clear distinction in the article, and I agree with and understand the lifeguard analogy as it pertains to physical gratification, sleep, eating etc. But if one distinguishes between living together and engaging in physical gratification with each other, is the “living together” aspect of that still contrary to the green-V? Or is it something neutral that can be either Red or Green depending on what fruit comes to bear?

    1. My two cents: I do believe the two are/can be distinct. His line, “Living together appears as public affirmation of pre-marital sex…” seems to address this question, too. I would add my own comment that living together–once made known to people/the public, at least–signifies participation in the Red-V world regardless of the reality of the situation. Semiotically, that is the message given and received. The cultural situation as is assumes, permits, encourages, celebrates sexual (all physical, really) gratification, liberation, etc. And the refusal to participate in such an arrangement is an attempt to “right the ship,” to correct a (relatively recent) cultural shift. In which case, Jesus’ words such as “whoever causes one of these little ones to sin,” or maybe Paul’s exhortation to love the weak, etc. comes to mind for me.

      So basically I think the answer to part of your question is related to the witness.

      1. Interesting. That seems to leave open the possibility that the combination of living together pre-marriage, but still waiting until marriage to have sex, would be a great demonstration of not only a rejection of the physical gratification for its own sake, but also the demonstration that “hey, we’re completely capable of doing this one thing without it leading to the other,” of just chilling in the Green-V whilst living together (perhaps for reasons other than “let’s do it because we love each other” e.g. financial) without succumbing to red-V participation in something the old Adam/current culture actively encourages?

        I think, yes, the public at large presume a couple living together also have sex. But I think more interestingly is the presumption Christians make: that two people cannot live together without having sex, even if their intention is not to do so. Of course, there’s some logic to it: if you want to refrain from having pre-marital sex, don’t live together where you’ll be more tempted. But there seems to be some interesting, even more radical, rule-breaking in choosing to live together for one reason or another and still not engaging in pre-marital sex that speaks even more than choosing not to live together?

    2. Thank you for your question. What if we are able to distinguish between topics, one from another, while always remembering that all topics are inter-related? All kinds of things can be done without sin for those involved, but the kingdom of God and ambassadors of that kingdom are ever concerned about how we affect others. Paul speaks about this at length regarding eating meat sacrificed to idols, etc. Love of God directs us to love of neighbor as a much higher calling and better purpose than just pleasing ourselves.
      We might also consider the narrative of Joseph and Mary. Joseph was permanently bound to Mary as husband even though they had not yet been together or even alone. First the man committed to husband the woman, then the other men, especially elders, watched to see if his life and conduct were consistent with his public committment. If his talk was “cheap,” then the woman would not be surrendered to suffer from his lack of care. If the man was true to his word, then there could be a public celebration and thereafter they could be alone together and in private. That seems like a good practice and entirely consistent with God’s own approach to us and a green V world.

  2. Interesting thoughts. And kudos to any who take on such a challenge and succeed, I say!

    Unfortunately I’m ever the pessimist (I regularly score low on “Optimism” for personality tests; not desirable for a ‘Pastor’ profile, apparently) and tend to be skeptical of one’s ability to overcome sin, especially self-indulgence, when regularly presented with the opportunity. Not that I think it’s impossible. There are exceptions to the rule–exceptional people.

    I think the Church has wisely and properly put certain practices, traditions, etc in place (or maybe rather cultivated certain social conventions, both cognitive and behavioral), to guard against what she has witnessed throughout time to be an utter certainty: fallenness. Concupiscence. Original sin…what Chesterton called the only empirically verifiable doctrine lol. Whatever one wants to call it. Guarding against it–and also putting oneself above any kind of reproach, back to the witness aspect–seems wiser. No amount of practicality or convenience or whatever surely logical or economical reason could, in my opinion, outweigh not only the potential risk but also damage to the witness such an arrangement involves.

    Again, not that I see Christians living together as necessarily “sinful.” But I certainly don’t see it as a kind of radical witness of impressive self-control, love, or some other fruit of the Holy Spirit; more so an easy, convenient, even comfortable option before the public commitment of the covenant of marriage.

    Hope all’s well, Anthony!

    1. Yeah, I suppose there are two ways one can take the “radical witness.” I suppose the “above reproach” aspect doesn’t really hit home for me since only those who are already Christians would reproach someone for living together before marriage: the outer world, those to whom we witness, in our own culture at least, would either not care or only find that individual more relatable? I suppose I see the issue as far less important than sex before marriage, but still as a potential barrier to witness since it appears as more law-thumping than gospel to those who might not be as familiar with the underlying reasons for it in a gospel-centered relationship.

      And I suppose my other approach is this: I know all too many couples from many generations who, while believing in abstinence until marriage, failed to do so though they never lived together. Perhaps the true pessimism is believing sin will find a way whether two people live together or not, and attempts to “guard against it” are naive subconscious attempts to convince ourselves of our ability to fulfill the law in some way, to achieve sanctification without Christ’s intervention on the cross? Perhaps believing that with a few guards placed in the way, sins can be avoided, as if there is some goodness deep within us that can prevail if we avoid enough of the external temptations, is the true optimism, and ignores the depths of our sinfulness and need for Christ?

      Like Kierkegaard wrote, it is only those with a “sickness unto death” that can recognize their need for Christ, and those believing they can make some headway by themselves–such as these guardrails–remain in some sort of despair until they recognize the futility of doing so.

      I hope all’s well with you too, and I appreciate the discussion.

      1. I, too, appreciate the discussion! It’s reminding me of my desire to read Niebuhr’s “Christ and Culture”, especially your first paragraph…

        But wait a moment, Anthony–call me a pietist, but are you indicating that any attempt to guard against sin, or maybe even grow in sanctification, is a fool’s errand?! Well then…who will deliver me from this body of death?! Ha. “Written is the story | Empty is the grave,” Hallelujah.
        Our fight may be futile, but by golly I’ll be damned (lit.) if I give up the good fight. One can (naively) hope. I think we can both agree these things are rightly held in tension. One can recognize the depth of their sin/ever-present need for Christ, and yet also actively resist evil/unhelpful practices, pursue holiness, use their serpentine cunning to protect oneself from spiritual danger, etc.

        I should clarify that I would never advocate that seeking to avoid potentially compromising situations could garner anyone a few extra sanctification points. I think, ever since my original comment, I’m simply seeking to give due consideration to satan who prowls around like a roaring lion; or, to the sin that lies waiting at our doorstep; or, to the narrowness of the way to life; or, to Paul’s regular commands to flee sin, especially of the sexual variety (i.e., run away from it, stay far away from it, etc); or, to not be unequally yoked; yada yada…And I must say that it is precisely BECAUSE of God’s only Son and His activity on the cross–and the feelings that such an act of love can evoke–that one would refrain from playing with fire.

        It is only in gospel joy and freedom, even obedience (cf. obedience of faith), that I for one would put some form of limitation on my own behaviors or freedoms.

      2. And I think there we can rightfully agree 😊 In terms of Christian Ethics, I would probably try and frame the situation within “how do I best love my neighbor,” rather than “how do I guard against sin,” but I’m aware this can boil down to semantics. My issue with “guarding against sin” is that it points towards myself and not the Other, the object of Christ’s love, especially in this context of romantic relationships. And of course, I believe we can always strive to better love our neighbor (what else are we supposed to do?) I think with those semantic differences aside, we’re essentially in agreement and come from the same place.

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