Physical Boundaries Part 2
Practical Guidelines for purity in courtship

Of all things, physical boundaries is the area most people struggle with in courtship.  If you’ve grown up believing that sex before marriage is sin then violating your convictions about purity can lead to extreme feelings of guilt and shame. And you won’t naturally want to reach out for help or accountability because you’ll feel like it’s too dangerous.

  • They’ll just judge me

  • I’ll be branded with a bad reputation

  • I might get fired! (if you’re in a ministry position)

  • They’ll just tell me to break up because the relationship is causing me to sin.

None of these responses are very helpful, so you and your boyfriend/girlfriend keep having discussions about it and keep crossing your physical boundaries. You feel defeated and ashamed to even pray for forgiveness because your repentance hasn’t brought forth any fruit yet. You either have to change your behavior or change your theology to get rid of the cognitive dissonance.

I know how you feel because I’ve been there and I’ve counseled other couples going through these feelings and thoughts too.

Why can’t you just keep your hands off each other? It seems so simple, but so hard!

Contributing Factors

  1. Culture - It has never been harder to live in purity while immersed in a culture that values hyper-sexuality over wholeness.  “According to a report last week in The Atlantic Wire, 92 percent of top ten billboard songs contain strong sexual themes. Young adults are surrounded by sexual influences, and Christians are not immune.” (source)

  2. Extensive courtships - What God designed as a special expression of love and affection between married people feels like an evil monster that defies restraint in courtship. It’s like pulling the pin out of a hand grenade. It’s only a matter of time before it explodes. When you first establish romantic interest in someone, you’ve pulled the pin. Most courtships and engagements are too long. People used to get married before they were 20, now the average age is 27 for women and 29 for men. Education requirements have become longer and with birth control available, the ability to be sexually active and single has increased. Maintaining physical boundaries for so long feels nearly impossible.

  3. Misunderstanding of biology – There’s a prevalent belief that sex is the insertion of a penis into a vagina. This is simply not true. Sure, that may be the grand finale but any married couple will tell you that they don’t sit on the couch and just make out. That’s considered foreplay. Caressing and kissing propels your mind and body toward the culmination of sexual intercourse. You may feel like you’re not doing anything wrong but once your body crosses the line and is turned on it will neither know nor care about your Christian convictions. As Randy Alcorn shares in his book The Purity Principle, “If one of you begins to be stimulated by even apparently innocent physical contact, then both of you should back off immediately. If you don’t you’re choosing to stay in a canoe headed toward a waterfall. Those who engage in sexual stimulation should not be surprised when they finally have intercourse. It’s simply the natural, predictable result of the choices they’ve made. If you want a different outcome, make different choices.” (page 72)

As godly and sincere as you or your boyfriend/girlfriend may be, you were still created by God with a sex drive and should not be surprised when your sex drive wants to come out and play. Remember that David was a man after God’s own heart, Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived, and Samson was the strongest man who ever lived and they all of struggled with sexual temptations.

With humility and a prayer for grace, I recommend setting some physical boundaries as safeguards to help you maintain purity in your courtship.

1. Fill the heart with God, His Word, His life.

Discussed in Physical Boundaries: Part 1, the difficulty in maintaining purity does not stem from not setting enough rules. The Pharisees took that approach and got rebuked by Jesus. The real target area is the heart. Jesus said that nothing without defiles a man, but the things that come out of him are what make him impure. 

Let's make this practical. 1 John 2:15 says, "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If any man love the world the love of the Father is not in him."

So, if I love the world, what is lacking in my heart?  Love of the Father. 
If the love of God fills my heart, how much love of the world do I have? None.

Imagine that I had a glass jar. Is it empty or full?

It’s full. Of air.

The air represents the impurity of the human heart. How do you get the air out? The Pharisees among us want to put a cap on it, but that just keeps more impure air from getting in. It doesn’t deal with the impure air already there. You can’t suck it out. That would create a vacuum and cause the jar to break. If you want the air to get out, just fill it up with something else. Replace it.

If the love for the Father is in the heart, love for the world won’t be there. When the heart is filled to the brim with all the measure of Christ, we can walk into the very depths of sin without any contamination IF God sends us there. If we go for curiosity or personal desire it would be impure because it would be an outworking of self rather than a leading of the Holy Spirit.

Purity and impurity are issues of the heart not conduct. Christianity is not defined by what you eat or don’t eat, what you watch on TV, what activities you don’t indulge in, when you go to church, what articles of clothes you wear or don’t wear, what percentage of income you return to the Lord, or how much time you spend in Bible study. It’s defined by the WHY not the WHAT. For more on this read Part 1 of Physical Boundaries: Paradigms and Purpose of Purity

The greatest command is to love the Lord with all your heart, mind, and soul, and strength. This is what we are to teach and live. If this is lacking, all the rules that govern behavior won’t do anything.

In John 14:30-31 Jesus says, "The prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me, 31 but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me." (NIV)

Why didn’t he have a hold on Jesus’ life? Because Jesus’ life was filled with love for God and there was no room for anything else. So when the day of temptation comes in your courtship, there is no contamination unless there is something in the heart that responds.  Can you say that today? Can you say, “I can walk the pathways of life surrounded by evil, temptations and all the rest. The prince of this world is coming but he has no hold on me?” 

If you have not been having devotions or spending time in prayer, you have already set yourself up to cross your physical boundaries. You must stay connected to the Vine or you will not have the spiritual strength to resist temptation.

2. Enforce YOUR boundaries

You should each have YOUR physical boundaries. You are responsible to God for you. If you discuss it in terms of “our physical boundaries” then you’ll feel tempted to allow the other person to change them in the heat of a moment. If they are crossing YOUR boundaries, you must say no firmly with your voice and body language (with no giggles or mixed signals).  Your response must leave your boyfriend/girlfriend with the impression that they have disrespected you and are not welcome to cross that line again. Of course it feels good and this may not come naturally, but you must internally view the situation different. Consider this:

“The slightest insinuations, from whatever source they may come, inviting you to indulge in sin or to allow the least unwarrantable liberty with your persons should be resented as the worst of insults to your dignified womanhood.”  (White, Adventist Home, 335)  

3. Avoid Set-ups (Anticipate and Prevent Temptations)

It's always easier to avoid temptation than to resist it.

Especially refuse to be alone on a couch, in a car late at night, in a house or bedroom together. Period. "But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof." (Rom 13:14) KJV

Plan your time together in advance with no gaps. As the old proverb goes, "Idle hands are the Devil's workshop." 

Set a "curfew" for yourself. Night and early morning are vulnerable hours because you're usually more tired. When you're tired, it's easier to compromise your physical boundaries. 

This video has a common scenario application on what making provisions for the flesh looks like.

4. Stay away from the edge

Randy Alcorn shares a story in the opening of his book "The Purity Principle" about a guy who came into his office saying he was mad at God for not answering his prayer to keep him from crossing physical boundaries and committing adultery. For several months he had been praying for victory over the feelings he had for someone he worked with but he went out to lunch with her almost every day. Randy Alcorn slowly started pushing a big book across his desk. He prayed out loud, "O Lord, please keep this book from falling!" He kept pushing it and praying. God didn't suspend the law of gravity. The book went right over the edge, smacking the floor. "I'm mad at God" he said to the man. "I asked Him to keep my book from falling...but He let me down!" (p. 10)

When it comes to physical boundaries, sex is the book slamming on the floor but all the little touches and caresses are the book being pushed toward the edge.

In the book Boy Meets Girl, Joshua Harris shares the physical boundaries he developed to protect his purity in his courtship. His list is specific because they are for "the moments when your resistance is weak and your sense of conviction dull. In those moments of weakness, you don't want to start having to decide what you should and shouldn't do. If you make your choices then, you'll wind up in compromise." (p. 159) In light of this, here is his list:

We will not caress each other.
For us this excludes
Rubbing each other’s back, neck or arms
Touching or stroking each other’s face;
Playing with each other’s hair
Scratching each other’s arms or back

We will not “cuddle”
For us this excludes:
Sitting entwined on a couch watching a movie
Leaning or resting on the other person
Lying down next to each other
Playfully wrestling with each other

We will guard our conversation and meditation
. For us this means.
Not talking about our future physical relationship.
Not thinking or dwelling on what would now be sinful.
Not reading things related to physical intimacy within marriage prematurely

We will not spend undue amounts of time together at late hours

A specific area of concern or us is time together late at night. We're more vulnerable when we're tired. Even if we haven't compromised, please ask if we're spending too much time together at late hours.

Appropriate physical expressions during this season include:

Holding hands
Putting his arm around her shoulder
Brief “side hugs”             

He shares that these physical boundaries are “fences to keep us from violating God’s commands. Our greatest concern is the direction and intention of our hearts. Even if we’re following them to the smallest detail, please inquire if any action or activity is stirring up inappropriate desire or awakening love before it’s time." (p. 158)

Here's a shorter, 7 minute video where Joseph Solomon, from Cut to the Chase on ChaseGod.TV addresses the issue of kissing as a physical boundary. This brother keeps it real.

5. Talk back to the Devil

When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness He used Scripture, the Sword of the Spirit, to defeat Satan. Rehearse in advance the devastating consequences of immorality. It can cut like a knife through the fogs of rationalization. Count the cost of compromising your physical boundaries.

Crossing physical boundaries will lead to…

Disappointing Jesus
("How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? Gen 39:9)

Losing self-respect
(Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck. 1 Tim 1:19 )

Losing respect in potential mate and trust in them
– How do you know they won’t compromise in other areas of life when temptation comes or with other women/men in marriage? (The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her. Pr 31:11)

Losing confidence in the message of victory over sin
. (But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. 1 Corinthians 9:27)

Allowing an opportunity for Satan to beat you over the head with guilt and shame
. (And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. Rev 12:10)

Bringing pleasure to Satan, God’s enemy.
(Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour. 1 Peter 5:8)

Possibly losing a future position in leadership in any line of ministry
. (A bishop must be blameless. 1 Tim 3:2 )

Injuring credibility for being an example to others you love and want to protect
. (And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? Job 1:8) – Job was a testimony to the whole universe

Let this be your motto: When he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. (Job 23:10)

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