The first step is to change your attitude toward relationships. Easier said than done, right? But in Ephesians 4:22-24 (New Living Translation), Paul shows us how we can transform our lives: "...throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life, which is rotten through and through, full of lust and deception. Instead, there must be a spiritual renewal of your thoughts and attitudes. You must display a new person because you are a new person, created in God's likeness—righteous, holy and true." Until we renew our way of thinking about love and relationships, our lifestyles will continue to flounder in the mire of defective dating.
I'd like to clearly state the perspective that I believe God wants us to have toward romance. What follows are five important "new attitudes" that will help us break out of dating's negative habits. Each of these flows from our view of three areas: love, purity, and singleness. The attitude changes described here give a glimpse of the practical alternative God offers those who want His best.
1. Every relationship is an opportunity to model Christ's love. Bethany, an outgoing freshman at a Christian college, has a reputation as a bit of a flirt. Unfortunately, much of her interaction with guys is fake—it focuses on attracting attention to herself and getting a reaction from whoever she currently likes. Bethany invests more energy in getting a guy to like her than she does in spurring him toward godliness.
But when Bethany changes her perspective and realizes her friendships with guys are opportunities to love them as Christ does, she takes a 180 degree turn from flirtatiousness to honest, sincere love that treats guys as brothers, not potential boyfriends. Instead of viewing herself as the center of the universe with other people revolving around her, she can begin to look for ways to bless others.
The world will know we follow Christ by the way we love others. For this reason, we must practice love as God defines it—sincere, servant-hearted, and selfless—not the world's brand of selfish and sensual love based on what feels good.
2. My unmarried years are a gift from God. Michael is twenty-one years old and has an engaging personality that matches his good looks. As the intern for his church's youth ministry, he has more than enough opportunities to meet and get to know Christian girls. Although he realizes his potential for ministry as a single and doesn't feel rushed to get married, he has developed a pattern of dating one girl after another. Although Michael has done nothing immoral, his pattern of short-term dating potentially robs him of the flexibility, freedom, and focus of singleness. He still operates from the old dating mind-set that he's incomplete without a girlfriend.
But when Michael adopts a new attitude that views singleness as a gift, he learns to be content with friendship during the time God wants him to remain single. As a result, Michael can clear his life of the clutter that short-term relationships contribute to his life. With this newly freed time and energy, Michael can pursue more effective ministry and deeper friendships with people of both genders.
Until you realize God's gift of your singleness, you'll probably miss out on the incredible opportunities it holds. Perhaps even now you can think of an opportunity you could grasp if you let go of the dating mind-set. As a single you have the freedom right now to explore, study, and tackle the world. No other time in your life will offer these chances.
3. Intimacy is the reward of commitment—I don't need to pursue a romantic relationship before I'm ready for marriage. Jenny is seventeen and has dated a boy from her church for over a year. They're both strong Christians, and they want to marry each other someday. The "someday" part is the problem—realistically, they can't get married for quite a few years. Both have specific things to accomplish for God before they can take that step.
The old attitude would say that intimacy feels good, so enjoy it now. But the new attitude recognizes that if two people can't make a commitment to each other, they don't have any business pursuing romance. Even though it isn't easy Jenny tells her boyfriend that they need to limit the time and energy they invest in each other. Trusting that God can bring them back together if He wills, they halt their progression of intimacy until they can match it with commitment. Though they struggle with the separation, missing the closeness they once enjoyed, they know in the long run—whether they marry each other or someone else—they've made the best choice for both of them.
God has made each of us with a desire for intimacy and He intends to fulfill it. While we're single He doesn't expect these longings to disappear, but I believe He asks us to have the patience to wait and, in the meantime, seek close relationships with family and deep, non-romantic relationships with brothers and sisters in the Lord.
This doesn't mean you have to marry the first person with whom you find both romance and intimacy. While I do know some people who have married the first person with whom they developed an intimate, romantic relationship, most of us won't follow this path. Each of us will probably develop intimate relationships with several people before God clearly indicates who to marry. But we can't use this reality as an excuse to pursue romance for its own sake. I believe this mind-set is misguided and selfish. If you're not ready to consider marriage or you're not truly interested in marrying a specific person, why encourage that person to need you or ask him or her to meet your needs emotionally or physically?
4. I cannot "own" someone outside of marriage. In God's eyes two married people become one. And as you continue to mature, you'll often crave the oneness that comes from sharing life with someone. Perhaps you feel that desire even now. Yet I believe that until we're ready to commit our lives in marriage, we have no right to treat anyone as if he or she belongs to us.
Sarah and Philip are both seniors in high school and have gone out with each other for six months. Their relationship has reached a fairly serious level. In fact, for all intents and purposes, they might as well be married. They rarely do anything apart— they monopolize each other's weekends, drive each other's cars, and know each other's families almost as well as their own. As well, their physical relationship is fairly serious. In fact, it's in a precarious position. Even though they haven't had sex, they constantly struggle with going too far.
The old attitude says we can "play marriage" if we really love someone. But the new attitude views a claim on another person's time, affection, and future before marriage as unwarranted.
Sarah and Philip realize they need to end their relationship as it now exists. By staking a claim on each other, they've stifled their individual growth and needlessly consumed energy that they should have directed into service and preparation for the future. They've planned their lives around each other when they don't really know that they'll get married someday. And in reality if they are like most high school couples, each of them will probably marry someone else.
Even if Sarah and Philip had kept their physical relationship completely pure, they still would have made unwarranted claims on each other's spiritual and emotional life by continuing the relationship. If God wants them together in the future, their current decision to halt their involvement won't endanger His plan. Right now they need to obey God and break up a relationship that has them stealing from each other.
Are you making unwarranted emotional, spiritual, or even physical claims on someone? Ask God to show you whether you need to reevaluate a current relationship.
5. I will avoid situations that could compromise the purity of my body or mind. Jessica, age sixteen, is a good girl who is unfortunately very naïve. Even though she's a virgin and has committed to saving sex for marriage, she places herself in compromising situations with her older boyfriend—homework at her house when her mom's gone, hiking alone, ending their dates in his parked car. If Jessica were honest, she'd admit that she likes the excitement of these situations. She thinks it's very romantic, and it gives her a feeling of control over her boyfriend who, to be quite honest, will go as far in their physical relationship as Jessica will allow.
But when Jessica takes on a new attitude, she sees that purity consists of more than remaining a virgin. When she honestly examines her relationship with her boyfriend, she realizes that she has left the direction of purity. To get back on course she has to drastically change her lifestyle. First, she ends the relationship with her boyfriend because they focus on the physical aspect. Then she commits to fleeing those settings that lend themselves to compromise.
Where, when, and with whom you choose to spend your time reveals your true commitment to purity. Do you need to examine your tendencies? If you do, make sure that you avoid placing yourself in settings that encourage temptation.
Adapted from I Kissed Dating Goodbye © 1997, 2003 by Joshua Harris. Used by permission of Multnomah Publishers, Inc. Excerpt may not be reproduced without the prior written consent of Multnomah Publishers, Inc.
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