This series of blogs comes from FAQ’s from the guys in Summit’s “Preparing for Marriage” ministry. They represent a conglomeration of questions from many different husbands-to-be during the Engaged Discovery Weekend. If you are interested in serving as a marriage mentor or are engaged, click here to learn more about Summit’s “Preparing for Marriage” ministry.

How do I keep my thought-life pure leading up to the honeymoon? What about masturbation—is it sinful? How do you navigate from the sin of lusting for your fiancé to the lusting of your spouse (or is that a sin)? How does attraction change when you get married and begin having sex?

These questions are more than (but not less than) practical. They require more than a “how to” answer; they presuppose “what is it” questions. What is the difference between a single person’s lust, an engaged person’s anticipation, and a married person’s delight? What is purity at each stage: dating, engagement, and marriage? Until we define what each of these things are, we will not effectively answer any “how to” achieve or avoid questions.

It is easy to think of purity as the absence of lust or sexual desire. But it is wrong to think of purity as a mere void of activity, desire, or thought. When we think of purity this way it tends to lead towards passivity, legalism, prudishness, and an idea that Christian romance (at all stages) is boring or less than secular romance.

Purity is the full engagement and enjoyment of all that is wise and godly at a given moment. Purity is active, engaging, grace-filled, celebratory, and exciting. We should ask the question, “How has God allowed me to enjoy my fiancé or spouse at this time?” rather than “What won’t God allow me to do yet?” In the latter question, we presuppose that God is holding out on us before we even consider an answer or application.

When we fully engage (body, soul, mind, imagination, emotion, affection, will) and enjoy what God calls good, we are pure. We must remember that marital sex is good; not just the act itself, but all the planning, preparation, anticipation, imagination, and conversation that leads into it. This may even include the thoughts, desires, and conversations of one fiancé towards the other.

At this point, I think we have to introduce a new category of thought in order to proceed well. The conversation is now moving from “what is good” to “what is wise.” We are not talking about pre-marital sex, but about anticipation of marital sex. This anticipation is not wrong. However, the timing, duration, and type of thinking may prove unwise if it leads to sin (sexual activity – intercourse, fondling, or masturbation) or conflict (from sexual tension or trying to change the other’s standards).

I would go so far as to say that the anticipation of marital sex (both for pre-marital and married couples) which does not lead into sin meets every criteria of thought given in Philippians 4:8 – true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. This realization is part of the transition from viewing sex as shameful to viewing sex as good (see previous post in this series).

With this in mind, the principle to be applied is found in I Corinthians 10:23-24.

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.

If the exercise of my freedom leads me to sin, it does not take my freedom away; rather I should lay down my freedom to pursue the true life God has for me in the Gospel (Luke 9:23-24). For instance, if anticipating marital sex leads to the expression of sex contrary to God’s design – either outside of marriage pre-martially or self-sex through masturbation – what is lawful (joyful anticipation) is no longer helpful and does not build up.

Practically, this requires giving up something that is permissible to be abstained from until it can be practiced in a way that does not harm another or violate the conscience (that is the whole point of I Corinthians 10:23-33, but there it is applied to food sacrificed to idols). However, no longer is this abstinence rooted in guilt, fear, or shame. Rather, abstaining is now a matter of worshiping God (declaring Him more valuable than the desired object) and love for others.

This is the essence of how attraction changes as you get married. No longer is attraction a mere feasting on the body, voice, and character of another person for my own delight (which is all sexual desire can be outside of marriage) and the satisfaction of my own desires. Now affection is a way to “build up” your spouse through affection and appreciation and to celebrate the unique good pleasure that God has provided for the two of you to exclusively enjoy.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Sex and Sexuality” post which address other facets of this subject.