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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

28 August 2006

How Far Is Too Far?

Kissing, Touching, and Fondling

Two young people from different parts of the world come with similar questions involving relationships with the other sex.

Q: I am a 16-year-old male with a large problem on his hands. I know this may not sound important to you because you have many other more important things on your hands but a quick response would be appreciated. I was brought up in a home where, when I was younger my dad was a Baptist pastor, but now is a principal of a Christian school in Australia. So I have been brought up a good child but I’m going out with a girl and want to know what the Bible has to say on how far I can go with her (if you know what I mean). I will never have sex before marriage, but how far is too far?

Q: Is kissing a sin? I’ve heard it is not from friends as long as it doesn’t “get into the pants,” as they say. What is your response?

Holding HandsA: These questions are both important. And whether a boy or a girl asked either, they both need good, honest answers. Since the second question leads into the first, let’s start with kissing and go from there.

If you want to know the sum total of what the Bible says about kissing, you’d be hard pressed to find an instance of men and women kissing. Most accounts specify that it is one man kissing another as a sign of friendship or peace. While some passages (such as the liturgical “kiss of peace” mentioned in several of Paul’s epistles) don’t specify the sex of those kissing, they were also likely same-sex instances. Kissing between a man and a woman wasn’t something that people did in the open; it was part of their private lives.

Kissing, like many other activities, is innocent in and of itself. But like a mild drug that can lead to something stronger, romantic kissing may lead to going steady, to sex, or even to marriage! Actually, marriage is where God intends all such activity to either lead to or flow from. As singles, Christians should ask, as we are encouraged in so many things, “Is this a good thing? Is this a right thing? Is this the best thing to do?”

Scripture doesn’t give a measuring stick that you can use on your girlfriend or boyfriend. You can’t turn to a chapter of the Bible that says, “Thou shalt not kiss except upon the lips, neither shalt thy hands grasp flesh normally covered by clothing.” When you ask what is too far, you’re trying to get as close to sin as possible without actually falling into it. In so doing, it may be that you are already sinning. In whatever kissing or touching you now practice, does such activity “Lord your God to the test” (Luke 4:12)?

One thing that almost all young people must face is that sexual maturity (and its attending desires) usually occurs well before emotional maturity. Even as our bodies start crying out for adult intimacy, our spirits are still reconciling with not being able to sit in Mom or Dad’s lap anymore. Because we live under the curse handed down from our first parents, the good urges that God designed to bring people together may overtake the rational thought that He planned to govern our behavior. In sexually charged situations — as in most of our other adolescent experiences — we may at one moment act wise beyond our years and in the next be trapped in childish folly.

I’ve discovered that “pre-planning” helps. Knowing what is right, thinking about it when by ourselves or with trusted peers or parents, and planning to follow through all help us keep our eyes open when desire starts calling. Planning to behave ourselves normally delivers better results than will either planning to misbehave or not planning at all. However, all of our personal strength of will and every bit of our good intentions can be washed away in the emotional flood of an intimate situation — especially if we’ve put ourselves in a position where there are no external checks.

The strongest of these anchors against drifting into sin is, of course, God Himself. Be consciously aware of His presence and knowing that you have His grace and guidance. “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour,” says 1 Peter 5:8. If Satan can use sexuality to lead us away from God, why would we ever put ourselves where he can so easily tempt and mislead us?

Of course, I don’t mean that you shouldn’t have fun nor enjoy the young, vital body God has given you. However, God calls His people to act decently and responsibly. Through the apostles, He commands, “You are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light. (Ephesians 5:8)” This doesn’t mean don’t have fun. It means be responsible and act responsibly. It means think before you act and act the way you’d expect other good, decent people to act.

Allow God to teach you the tremendous freedom you gain by saying, “No.” If you’re uncomfortable shouldering all the responsibility for not giving in to lust, then “blame” God or your parents. Don’t lie to yourself or the one you’re with by saying something like, “My folks will kill me.” If you topple the illogic of this lie, it becomes that much easier for you to ignore the real barriers that should stop you from having sex until the proper time. Instead, tell the truth, along these lines: “God wants me to wait until I am ready to completely and permanently bind myself to another in a life of marriage.” Or, “My parents trust me and I want to keep and grow that trust.”

As you commit yourself to these thoughts, God also trains you to make them your own. You’ll find yourself more and more able to say before things get out of hand, “That’s not right for me,” or, simply, “That’s not right.” Know ahead of time that you must intentionally plan and actively decide to avoid awkward or emotionally supercharged situations. Be convinced yourself that this is right before you try to convince a boyfriend or girlfriend.

CourtingTo help in all of this, “group dating” and related practices, where you can enjoy the company of the one you love with the protection of others surrounding you, can be profitable. Of course, this only works when the group is committed to working together to keep a loving eye on itself. Similarly helpful might be a return to the “in-home dating” (or courtship, as it used to be called) of yesteryear. Couples can then visit in each others homes with the parents around but not hovering overhead. This requires a commitment from parents to respect their children’s privacy and grant a certain degree of freedom while still making sure that the visits are not abused. It also needs young people who respect their parents and honor their decisions.

No matter what else, unless and until you are blessed with the privacy and privilege of the marriage bed, what happens in private shouldn’t be much different from what happens in public. The presence or absence of parents, bright lights, or a warm, cuddly body shouldn’t make any difference. When you act like the lights are on and all eyes are on you even when the lights are off and only the two of you are around, you are walking as a child of the light. Protect yourself and the one you love by doing all you can to avoid tempting circumstances.

Finally, remember that Satan uses many weapons other than sexual sin to trip up and entrap unwary believers. Among the most effective are guilt, doubt, and worry over what we’ve done. When young Christians do succumb to temptation and do what they know is wrong, they often flee God’s presence. Many times, they aren’t led back to repeated sexual encounters by the promise of pleasure as they are driven by guilt. They become so ashamed of what they’ve done or so upset over their lack of self-control that they listen to the devil’s lies and believe that God cannot or will not forgive them. Of course, this is nonsense — God is more ready to forgive than we are to ask Him! Yet our confused minds and troubled hearts can make this nonsense seem more real than the truth of God’s love. So if you have fallen or if you do stumble in the future, know with absolute certainty that you have the guarantee of His full and free forgiveness.

This brings us back to the way in which we plan to live our lives. Paul asked, then answered his own question, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2)” Later in the chapter, he wrote, “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. (v. 13)”

When you date someone who has the same plans and goals, it can make it easier for both of you to continue presenting yourselves and your members to God. At the right time — and with the right person — God will then allow, encourage, and bless you as you also offer yourself and your members to another person for a lifetime of marital commitment, sexual fulfillment, and Godly service as husband and wife.

Readers also might be interested in Can a Christian Have a Boyfriend? and the posts to which it links.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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