It can take quite a bit to develop a new “norm” in culture. Take the last 40 or so years of the way people listen to music for example. With billions and billions of dollars to be made and musical and tech minds working around the clock, we’ve moved from vinyl (or gramophone) records for most of the 20th century to cassette tapes in the 80s to cds in the 90s to iPods carrying mp3s in the early 2000s. It’s an incredible change when you think about it. We’ve gone from having rooms dedicated to controlling the music we want to listen to, to now having portable, miniature music studios that file 100,000 miniscule song files that we can carry on our waistband as we work out. We’ve come so far in 40 years that we almost have to consciously look back to realize what a change in “norms” it’s been. And the current generation learning only the new “norm” might never know what a vast change it was.
A similar argument could be made for the way intimate relationships are approached today in contrast to 40 years ago. The most recent info I could find through a little digging (a USAToday.com article) indicated that 30 years ago there were less than 1 million couples “living together” in a non-married relationship. In 2007, that number was over 7 million couples (or 14 million people) and at the time was expected to start going up at the rate of nearly a million per year. Keep in mind this info reflects couples who are living together, not couples who have lived together or people who would be willing to live together with another person outside of marriage. That number would obviously be significantly higher. Non-married co-habiting couples now make up 10-20% of all opposite-sex U.S. couples. Shrink the demographic down to those 40 and under and the percentage skyrockets. Is it safe yet to say there is a new “norm”?
How has this affected faith in America? Well, let me ask you this, how many couples 30-40 years ago do you think would have been comfortable openly living together and then going and talking to a pastor and asking him to offer God’s blessing through a wedding in a church? That would have taken some guts. (Granted, there have always been plenty of proverbial “shotgun” weddings when young couples became pregnant, but that’s a different issue – that’s mistake and repentance vs. living in sin – apples and oranges.) Today, if a couple comes in and sits down with me to talk about getting married, and I don’t know their background, I have to make an unfortunate assumption – there’s more than a STRONG possibility they’re living together. It’s the new “norm” that kids are learning and society is totally okay with.
And I guess I’d like to make one more statement of clarification here – when we say “living together” let’s not be so naive as to think there’s a possibility that a sexual relationship is not taking place. “We’re regularly having sex outside of marriage and we’re okay with everyone knowing that” never really caught on as a way of describing it. Understand, the terminology “living together” is somewhat the mind’s way of placating the conscience. It’s like saying we’re “sleeping together”. Really?! What you’re doing together is more than an extended nap. Call a spade a spade – you’re having “not God-pleasing” sex. You call it “sleeping together” because when you honestly label it what it is, your conscience makes you uncomfortable. Collectively, over time, a society’s conscience tends to numb.
Obviously it’s a case by case basis, but one way that I deal with couples who are living together, rather than just say “they shouldn’t be doing that” – which is true, but can come across as me (or the church) trying to control their life, moralizing, or simply becomes an argument of my opinion vs. theirs – is that I begin by acknowledging that “living together” makes some good sense from the standpoint of logic. Yes, I could make a convincing argument that people with the morals that tell you it’s okay to live together before marriage are consistently the same people with morals who think it’s no big deal to get a divorce, and this is the reason why studies reveal that those who live together before marriage indeed have a MUCH greater likelihood of divorce. (If you’d like to take a look at other compelling logic of not living together pre-marriage, there’s a pretty extensive list at http://www.leaderu.com/critical/cohabitation-socio.html). However, despite that logic, the couple could retort by making a number of arguments as to why co-habiting makes good sense. Most of these co-habitors that I meet are intelligent, ambitious, friendly, likable people. Dismissing their logic outright probably wouldn’t be respecting them as humans. So, I start by agreeing – there are a bunch of “logical” reasons to live together before marriage. I’ve narrowed it down to 5 here.
Reason#1 – It’s financially responsible. Where I live, an apartment can run you somewhere between $700 and $1400. Dropping an extra $1000/month seems like throwing your money down the drain. If you’re a particularly “committed co-habitor” (yep, I like the term too :)), you might even be building up equity in a home you’ve bought together. Saving for retirement, paying off student loans, or who knows, maybe even giving it to charity all sound like considerably more responsible things to do with your money than pay double rent (not to mention utilities).
Reason #2 – You spend all your time together anyways. Like wasting money with rent, wasting time is equally frustrating. You drive to each other’s places many times during the week. You help each other with cooking and cleaning and laundry and bills. Traveling back and forth, virtually living in two places, is kind of like the inconvenience of living out of a bag on a business trip. It’s annoying. If you want to be together, why all the running around?
Reason #3 – It seems like a good next step in the relationship. Consumers that we are in America, everything exists with a try it before you buy it clause. Every infomercial promises that you can try it and return it in 30 days for a full refund. And the bigger the purchase, the more you want to make sure it’s just right. What kind of fool would buy a car before thorough inspection and testing? Thankfully, marriage in our society today does, to a degree, maintain some semblance of “a big deal”. Couples don’t want to rush into that. Well, what about a “____ day money-back” transition period to see if this relationship truly feels right? These test periods make sense in every other aspect of our lives, why not our relationships?
Reason #4 – It’s so common. By definition, nothing will make something seem like “not a big deal” faster than commonality. I guarantee you know couples that are living together outside of marriage. In fact, many of you, especially if you tend towards the younger generations, might know more couples that are living together than not. It’s the age old, after-school-special argument of “How can it be that bad if everybody’s doing it?” It was not, at least statistically speaking, common 40 years ago though. Imagine that, after the sexually open-minded 60s, co-habitation was still considered fairly taboo. People that lived together outside of marriage (particularly women – a strange double standard in our society that’s more appropriate for another article) developed reputations. People don’t like bad reputations. Regardless of ethnicity or religion, there is one word out there that young women don’t want to be called more than any other word. Young people don’t call young girls promiscuous or even “skanky” anymore. They call them this word – a word that will make a girl feel more worthless than any other – a destructive word that I guarantee is used at your child’s school. 40 years ago, living together with a man would earn a woman a label like this. Not anymore. In fact, if she’s only sexually active with one man, marriage or not, she’s virtually safe from labels today. It’s just so common that it won’t warrant a subjective label like that.
Reason #5 – We love each other. Love is a funny word. It’s a fascinating biblical word. When a young couple chooses to live together because they love one another, I have no doubts that they truly do feel very, very strongly about one another. I feel very strongly about many things in my life. I love Diet Coke. I drink it all the time. I love good movies. In fact, there are few moments, oddly enough, when I feel more like myself than when I’m engrossed in a nail-biting movie. However, though I love them, I haven’t professed lifelong commitment to them. I’m actually drinking Diet Mountain Dew as we speak, a tasty alternative that I’m not ready to give up. I’ve only professed lifelong commitment to one person in my life. Lifelong commitment would seem to indicate a greater love. I have no doubt that many of the couples living together sincerely love one another. I don’t doubt that they would even be willing to die for their partner. It makes good sense to be with someone you love. However, in a very non-committal world, if a couple is not willing to commit to a lifelong love in marriage, they either are misunderstanding what relational love truly is designed to be, or they don’t have it to the degree that they profess. Moving in together might seem like a greater step in commitment, but young couples also need to recognize what it’s not – a statement that I’m willing to commit to love you for the rest of this life.
I’ve heard all of these and many more as logical reasons for couples to live together. I’ll admit, rationally speaking, I can see where they’re coming from. However, I’d like to throw in just one better reason NOT to live together.
Only Reason Necessary – Living in sin paves a road to eternity in hell. It’s interesting to me that when I sit down with couples or email with them I don’t usually have to lay out 20 passages from Scripture that indicate that premarital sex is not okay in God’s book. I do for some. By and large though, most already understand from the God-given moral law written on their hearts that “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer (i.e. married people having sex with someone who isn’t their partner) and all the sexually immoral (i.e. unmarried people having sex with anyone, since they don’t have a marriage partner yet)“ (Hebrews 13:4). Unfortunately though, and largely due to the logical reasons listed above, many couples just don’t seem to think God will actually do what he says he’s going to do – judge those who dismiss his will, and therefore Him. We are a people that are so myopic, so engrossed in instant gratification, that we often fail to think about the consequences of our actions – a sign of immaturity in general as well as spiritual immaturity. The Apostle Paul writing about a group of people who were clearly struggling with the issue of premarital sex, said in 1 Corinthians 7:9 “if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” Notice the interesting double entendre – “burn with passion”. If it’s not clear, I’ll spell it out: 1) lusting for immoral behavior, 2) burning in hell for repeated willful sin that kills faith. Sometimes God’s law is simply to (pardon the expression) “scare the hell out of us”.
Couples that are “living together”, being okay with the regular abuse of God’s gift of sex, are in danger. Premarital sex is not the unforgivable sin, but willful sin is not compatible with faith. When Jesus appeared to convert a murderer of Christians named Saul, who became a faithful Christian named Paul, he said to him, “I am sending you to them (unbelievers) to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:16). God wants us to turn from our disobedience to his will and he wants to personally forgive us for our sins. However, if we’re not repentant of our sins, but living happily in them, faith is clearly not there, nor then is the hope of eternal life. Another way of putting that is……hell awaits. Brutally harsh. No one wants that. And if you truly love your partner, how can you contribute to that for them too?
If you know someone stuck in this sin, pray for them. Let them know how much you love them and care for them and want to exist in relationship with them forever. Let them know that you’re certainly not perfect, that you’ve made many mistakes, but that you’ve asked God for forgiveness and are so thankful for Jesus love and payment for your sins that you don’t ever want to fall into them again.
If you happen to be someone reading this who is caught in this sin or was caught in this sin and hasn’t yet confessed it, forgiveness is sitting right there and waiting for you. And then the sin is gone forever. The angels in heaven love to sing glorious songs over repentant sinners. God loves to welcome home his lost children. Simply pray, “Lord Jesus, I’m sorry. I want to be with you in heaven. I need your help right now in this life to get me out of this.” Forgiveness awaits. Heaven awaits. The eternal marriage of Christ and his bride, his believers, awaits.