Q: My boyfriend of three months and I are both Christians and really love God. Even though he isn’t a virgin, he loves me, respects me, and doesn’t want to have sex until we’re married. But I still feel myself compromising for him, and I don’t want to always be the one stopping us from going further. We set clear boundaries, but over the last week we went past those boundaries, so now we’ve set even stricter ones. I’m scared that we’re going to go farther again. We’re only 16. I don’t think we’d be able to get married for at least two years. If a guy has a problem with lust, is that a reason not to be with him?

I absolutely believe you when you say that you love God and want to keep Him at the center of your relationship. And I believe, too, that your boyfriend also does. That’s why I’m not going to advise you whether you should stay in this relationship. The Bible tells says that if you seek God for wisdom, He will give it. James 1:5-8 (New Living Translation) says,

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask Him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.

I sincerely believe this verse. But pay close attention to the phrase “divided loyalty”… Here’s my paraphrase of James 1 for you:

If you need wisdom about your relationship–whether to stay with your boyfriend or not–ask God, and He will give it to you. He won’t look down on you for asking! But when you ask, make sure that your faith is in God alone, not in your relationship, and not in your boyfriend. His voice can be very difficult to hear when we’ve given our heart to anyone other than Him. When you hear the Holy Spirit’s answer–through God’s Word, through your prayers, through wise counsel, or through that unsettled feeling or indescribable peace–don’t question it. If He asks you to set stricter boundaries, or even to let go and move on from this relationship, don’t waver in your obedience. A girl who wavers between devotion to God and a desire for her boyfriend is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. If you chose a boy over complete obedience to God, don’t expect to receive God’s wisdom, or anything else for that matter. Your loyalty can’t be divided between God and your boyfriend.

With that in mind, take some time to pray, read Scripture, and really seek God’s heart about where to go from here. I’ll throw out a few thoughts to consider as you start this journey:

  1. I’m glad that the two of you have been open about your pasts and have set “clear boundaries” for your relationship. Those are good things. But even the best laid plans aren’t worth a hill o’ beans if you don’t stick to them, right? I’m going to risk sounding like a total mom here and remind you that you’ve only been dating for three months. I realize that you’ve been friends for a long time, which can make you much closer in that short time than other couples, but if you don’t see being able to get married for another two years, and he’s already crossing boundaries at three months, you’ve got a long battle ahead of you!
  2. A guy whotruly respects you will do more than say nice things and open doors for you. Respecting you physically is where the rubber meets the road; it’s where a guy’s deepest thoughts and intentions play out.
  3. In most relationships (though not all), the girl is usually the one to put on the brakes when the heat starts to rise. Of course, girls wouldn’t feel the pressure to have to “break” if the car was parked in the garage. In other words, once you start getting physical with a guy, it’s much harder (but not impossible!) for a guy to think clearly and do the right thing. Girls are more level-headed when things heat up, so they’re usually the ones to stop a couple from going further. But if you, as a couple, decide that you’re not going to go anywhere physically, there would be no need for girls to feel this pressure.
  4. It’s human nature to want to “start where you left off” physically. I talk about this more in my book Respect: How to Get it, How to Give it. Here’s the sum-up: If you kiss in one relationship, it will be that much easier to kiss in the next one and get a little more intimate. If you end up breaking off that relationship, in the next one you’ll start by being a little more intimate and going on from there. It could be that your boyfriend is already pushing boundaries that you’ve set together as a couple because he has already had sex. It will be much easier for him to cross those boundaries than for you. His history doesn’t make it impossible for him to stay strong, but harder.
  5. You’re right to be scared that you’ll cross your new “stricter” boundaries. Statistically, that’s very likely, especially (again) since you’ve got a few years before you could get married. So many girls I’ve talked with are caught in a cycle of setting boundaries, crossing them, feeling bad, setting stricter boundaries, crossing them, feeling terrible, setting stricter boundaries, etc. I’ve been there before too. One of the problems, I think, is that instead of setting boundaries on what we can and can’t do with each other physically, we should be setting boundaries that will keep us from going anywhere at all. For example, instead of saying “We’re not going to touch each other in intimate places,” someone who’s serious about their purity should probably be saying, “We’re not going to be alone together after dark” (or “at all” for those of us who need even stricter boundaries! lol).
  6. You asked, “If a guy has a problem with lust, is that a reason not to be with him?” Jesus took the sin of lust very seriously. In Matthew 5:27-28, He equates lust with adultery: “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Pretty serious stuff! I’m not saying that you need to break up with any guy who has ever struggled with this sin. Just about all guys have struggled with lust at one point or another. (We girls need to keep in mind that we have our own secret sins, too. We’re just wired differently. I’m much more apt to struggle with vanity and pride than lust, but they are equally sinful!) Lust for physical pleasure is a serious sin, and can be very dangerous in a relationship. You have to ask yourself whether you want to be in a relationship where that is a constant struggle.

Those are just a few things to think about, sis. Again, I don’t want to say whether you should be in this relationship or not. That is between you and the Lord. Keep that in mind as I share this personal story…

I was in a serious relationship for three years in high school, and know first hand how crippling it is to be caught in the cycle of setting boundaries, crossing them, feeling terrible, trying to do better, failing, and going through the whole thing again. After three years, even though we were fairly close to being at “marriage age,” and even though I cared deeply about my him, I finally had to end the relationship. My conscience couldn’t take any more. God had been telling me–sometimes whispering, sometimes shouting–that we were in dangerous territory for a long time, but I chose loyalty to my earthly love instead of my Heavenly Love all those years. Looking back now, I wish I would have been stronger in the outset of that relationship. I know this may come as a shock, but I wish that we had committed to not do anything physically that we wouldn’t have done in front of our parents. Yes, I’m sure most every girl who reads that statement (and certainly every boy) is gasping in horror and shock that I would even suggest such a thing! lol But in all seriousness, how much better that would have been. How much freedom would have followed if we had committed to that freeing boundary!

One last thing: I’ve never, ever, talked to a girl–not a single girl!–who regrets demanding stricter physical boundaries, or one who regrets ending a relationship because she and her boyfriend were too physical. I’ve only ever heard regrets (and plenty of them) from girls because they didn’t demand more respect, or didn’t end it soon enough, and ended up giving pieces of their bodies and hearts that they can never get back.

I promise to pray for you for the next three days, sis, as you wrestle through these thoughts and questions. Please email again if you want to talk more about what I’ve written!

Love,