My wife and I love the beach.
She lived near a dozen beautiful beaches outside of Los Angeles until I ripped her away to snowy Minnesota. We have water in Minneapolis; it’s just frozen half the year. Part of enjoying the beach, at least in California, is enjoying the sunshine. We have weather like theirs here, too, blue skies, burning sun, light breeze — at least for two or three weeks every year.
More than half of enjoying the beach, though, is being able to stand that close to something that big. Something happens deep inside of us when we walk up, let the water splash over our feet, and stare out over endless waves, extending far beyond our imagination can run.
It’s estimated that the Pacific Ocean holds 187 quintillion gallons (eighteen zeroes) of water. Scientists have discovered at least one place in the ocean that’s almost seven miles deep. And we can safely play there in its wake at Newport Beach, wading carelessly into seemingly infinite power and mystery.
He Drew a Line in the Sand
How is something that big that safe for us? Because God holds it back with a word. The Lord says to Job,
“Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?” (Job 38:8–11)
He created something as massive and powerful as the ocean to show us a little picture of his power. He wanted to give us categories for his bigness and his majesty. And then he drew a line in the sand and told the waves they could go no farther.
“He established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth” (Proverbs 8:28–29). He set a boundary. Why? To show us that the waves are his, to tell us that he is sovereign, creative, and wise — and that he can be trusted.
Gallons of Mystery
God does the same kind of work in marriage and dating. As we walk up to the edge of marriage, we draw close to something so much bigger than ourselves. There’s a power and a mystery in love like this. It’s a vibrant picture of the love God has shown us in sending his Son for us, a love wider and deeper than the Pacific Ocean.
God designed love in marriage, like gallons and gallons of ocean, to show us how unsearchable his love is for us. We could never contain it or know it completely. And because love within a covenant is so large, so intense, so captivating, he established a boundary, a shoreline. He drew a line in the sand for our safety, and to secure our greatest happiness in marriage.
Setting good boundaries in dating will rest on recognizing and even appreciating God’s one massive boundary. Any woman who is not your wife is not your wife. Any man who is not your husband is not your husband. “Each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). No almost-husbands, not kind-of-wives, no probably-one-day marriages.
God intended for one man to be joined with one woman in the promises of marriage, and he intended for us to enjoy marital intimacy and pleasure, especially sexual intimacy and pleasure, only in the context of those promises. Sex is reserved for the ocean deeps of marriage, not the safe wading depth of dating.
Is God Stingy?
Satan’s still telling the same lies he was telling in the garden when he convinced Adam and Eve to eat the fruit. God says to Adam, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16–17). You may eat of every tree, but one. Satan takes the infinite creativity and generosity of the Father, and makes him sound stingy.
“He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden”?’” (Genesis 3:1). Do you hear the manipulation and deception — making freedom look like slavery?
Why did God tell them not to eat from the one tree? “For in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” He wasn’t trying to deprive them. He was trying to save them. Satan takes the infinite wisdom and love of the Father, and makes him sound overprotective. “The serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die’” (Genesis 3:4). He makes suicide seem harmless. And he’s still telling the same lies in dating today.
Satan takes the wisdom and love in good boundaries and makes them look stingy, overprotective, and unnecessary.
How Far Is Too Far?
“How far is too far before marriage?” That’s where most of our conversations about boundaries begin.
Where do we need to draw the line?
What are we allowed to do now?
How much should we save for marriage?
Many couples get boundaries wrong because we’re asking the wrong questions. What if you and your boyfriend (or girlfriend) started by asking a different question? What are we really after in dating (or in all of life)? What are we trying to secure or enjoy in this relationship?
If the honest answer is affection and intimacy, no number of boundaries can guard us completely. We can put up all the fences we want, but the brokenness hides inside of us (and all our fences), and it waits to strike when we’re at our weakest and most vulnerable.
But if we’re able to answer that we’re after more of Jesus in dating and in marriage, the boundaries that once looked so stale, boring, and old-fashioned suddenly become our best friends in the fight. They’re the courageous, faith-filled steps we take to find more of Jesus together. They’re the battles we win together against all of Satan’s worst attacks.
Acts of War in Dating
We get so defensive about dating — always on guard against evil, always fighting against temptation. But what if the boundaries we keep were really meant to help us fight for something? What if, instead of fence-building, they were acts of war in love?
Boundaries are hard to keep, at least in part, because Satan convinces us we’re only sacrificing and never gaining, that we’re holed up in this dark, cold, damp cave called Christian dating. He makes Christian dating sound like slavery. Christ came to us not to enslave us, though, but to liberate us. “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). A life in Christ is a life of freedom. A relationship in Christ — believing in him, following him, submitting to him, obeying him — is a relationship filled with freedom, not slavery or oppression.
There is sacrifice in relationships like these, but it’s not worth comparing with our reward. There is patience and self-control, but they don’t quench love. They nourish and strengthen the kind of love we’re really longing for. The boundaries — these spiritual acts of war — are not stealing anything from us. They’re the tracks on which we run the fastest and freest with Jesus (and each other).
Every act of obedience, in life and in dating, is a free act of defiance in the face of Satan’s schemes and lies. We’re not just guarding ourselves from him by setting and keeping boundaries; we’re seizing territory back from him in dating.