The Guided Approach

The approach I take to dating relationships is called "guided."  I call it this because people who follow it are guided through relationships by honoring principles given in the Bible.  But I want to make it clear:  These are guides, not formulas.

The New Testament addresses a battle for balance between two extreme approaches to godliness:  legalism and libertinism.  These two extremes have a parallel in the dating debate.  Dating without a plan can easily become too loose.  Courting without wisdom can easily become legalism.  In its extreme, dating becomes an anything-goes free-for-all in which the man and woman concern themselves with the pleasure of the romance instead of the good of each other.  Courting in its extreme becomes an infatuation with a process instead of an evaluation using biblical principles.

The Purpose of Premarital Relationships

Premarital relationships should serve one purpose:  to test the relationship for marriage.  Let me say it another way:  There is no good reason to have a girlfriend or boyfriend until a person is ready to get married!  I hope the implications of this statement are obvious.  Readiness involves being old enough and mature enough to assume the responsibilities of marriage.  No romantic relationship should ever begin unless marriage is the possible - even probable outcome.  That said, it is difficult to justify the romances of junior high and high school.  If one is not ready to get married, he or she is not ready to date or court.

So what about Jenny and David?  They are juniors in high school.  They are both Christian and involved in their church.  Both get that funny feeling in their stomachs when they are around each other.  Add that to their friends' constant nagging about them making a good couple.  What should they do?

This may not be what they want to hear, but they should forget about it!  No romantic relationship should be developed unless the couple can get married if all goes well.  If they are not ready to get married, they are not ready to date.  Dating without marriage on the radar is an unnecessarily risky business. 

Jenny and David should continue to cultivate good, biblical friendships with each other - and with others - as spiritual siblings.  But I would encourage them to wait until they are ready to get married before they consider dating.

So if you are not ready to be married, how can you get ready?  Whether you are too young or too immature to enter into a relationship that could lead to marriage, a path to a God-honoring marriage can be paved if you will look to God's Word.

I believe that the following ten principles can help any person in any context honor God's relational values and in turn become godly people ready for godly relationships.  In fact, these guidelines can be followed regardless of the model you choose.

The Ten Principles for a God-Centered Relationship

1. The Character Principle

It is the pattern and practice of God to judge a man's or woman's true character by looking inside at what is in the heart.  Externals reveal only so much about the true person.  If we are to be faithful imitators of our heavenly Father, evaluation of a potential spouse should be based first on character.

The Character Principle is about being the right person more than finding the right person.  If your character is being conformed more and more into the image of Christ, you will desire the right kind of person.  There are numerous texts informing the believer how to live a life that pleases God.  The second chapter of Titus is an exemplary passage that gives a blueprint for training the character of succeeding generations.  Because it speaks to both men and women, it provides a succinct summary of what God desires for our lives.

Paul was instructing Titus how to put things in order in the church (see Titus 1:5).  An important part of getting the church in order was to ensure that older believers were discipling younger believers to be men and women of godly character.  Much of the apostle's instruction to Titus as both a pastor and a young man was directly related to relationships.  As he addressed the older men and women, a clear example of godly character came into view.  And as he spoke about the next generation, a clear exhortation of godly character emerged:

Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.  Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine.  They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.  Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled.  Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. (Titus 2:2-8)

Notice that godly character is a product of spiritual discipleship.  One of the best ways to prepare for a marital relationship is to maintain a mentoring relationship with an older, wiser, and godlier member of the same sex.

In addition to what Paul told Titus, godly character consists of qualities such as humility (see Philippians 2:3-11), holiness (see 1 Peter 1:14-17), godly love (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-8), selflessness (see James 3:14), the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-25), and, of course, Christlikeness (see Ephesians 4:13).

The Character Principle has another dimension:  recognition.  Not only should godly character be pursued personally, but it should also be recognized in anyone a person might date or court.  King Lemuel crystallized the Character Principle with his contrasting words:

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.  (Proverbs 31:30)

2. The Conformation Principle

One of the many potholes of recreational dating is that it often finds affirmation and confirmation from the wrong sources.  I know that many who date submit themselves humbly and willingly to the authorities in their lives, but sadly, many others do not.  The Confirmation Principal is the commitment to submit one's life and relationships to the spiritual scrutiny of God's authority, care, and protection represented here on earth.  Who are these authorities?  Let me outline three.

Parental Confirmation.  God has given parents authority over their children (see Exodus 20:12; Leviticus 19:3; Deuteronomy 21:18-21; 27:16; Matthew 15:4; Romans 1:28-32; Ephesians 6:1-2; 2 Timothy 3:1-5).  Therefore, to ignore this authority is to ignore God.  But what does this mean in premarital relationships? 

First, parents should be involved from the beginning.  Many parents desire to be involved with all aspects of a relationship in the initial stages, including who is to be pursued and considered for marriage.  Unfortunately, some do not.  Regardless, it should be the heart of a son or daughter to submit his or her decisions about relationships to his or her parents.  This involves getting their thoughts, listening to their concerns, proceeding at their pace, and applying the brakes if they say, "Wait" or "stop."  But what if you and your parents disagree?  Ravi Zacharias shares this wisdom:  'The chances are that if you marry someone in violation of your parents' will, you are playing a high-stakes game as you enter your new future.  Any time you violate an authority that has been put in place by God, you need to be twice as sure you are doing the right thing."45  How can you know if you are doing the right thing?  There is another level of authority.

Church Affirmation.  One of the most neglected sources of wisdom in the Christian life is church leaders.  Pastors, elders, deacons, and other leaders should be intricately involved in any budding relationship.  This is especially important if the parents are deceased, far away, or out of the picture for other reasons.  It is a curious fact that more is said about the role of church leaders in our lives than even the role of our parents (see Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Timothy; 2 Timothy; Titus; Hebrews 13:7, 17).  Only a fool would disregard this arm of God's authority.

I am often asked what should be done if there is a disagreement among children and their parents about relational issues.  Paul answer this in principle in 1 Corinthians 6.  Two believers were having a disagreement they could not resolve, and it resulted in a lawsuit.  As the apostle shames them for appealing to a secular court, he makes the passing comment that disputes among believers ought to be resolved by wise leaders in the church (see 1 Corinthians 6:4-6).  This is true of relational disagreements as well.

What should you do if your plan for your life and romance differs from your parents?  Let me offer some guidelines for honoring your parents when you disagree with them.46

Be prayerful, humble, and ready to be corrected by their concerns.  Don't assume that they are wrong and you are right.

Try to be as objective as possible in evaluating the relationship in light of biblical principles instead of your emotional desires.  When emotions are high, good judgment is rarely present.  Discuss the disagreement in a respectful way.  God gives parents - Christian and non-Christian parents - wisdom and instruction.  Remember, there are no qualifications in the fifth commandment. 

If there is no resolution, seek counsel - with them if possible - from church leaders.  When you seek counsel, never speak of your parents in a way that is dishonoring to them.  Seek to change your heart rather than your parents!  Only go against your parents when all biblical and church resources have been exhausted and the church leadership counsels you in that direction.

We live in a world of Bart Simpson, a world in which obeying and honoring parents is considered uncool and even archaic.  But this very fact should bring us all to our knees.


45 Ravi Zacharias, "I, Isaac, Take Thee, Rebekah:  Moving from Romance to Lasting Love" (Nashville, TN, W Publishing, 2004) 22.
46For a helpful discussion about obeying and disobeying parents regarding whom to marry, see J. Douma, "The Ten Commandments:  Manual for the Christian Life" (Phillipsburg, NJ, P&R Publishing, 1996), 174-175.


Taken from "5 Paths to the Love of Your Life" by Lauren Winner, Jeramy Clark and Jerusha Clark, Douglas Wilson, Rick Holland and Jonathan Lindvall.  General editor:  Alex Chediak.  This content is used by permission of Th1nk Books (NavPress), and the book is available at your local bookstore or at www.navpress.com.

Dr. Rick Holland is the pastor of College and Student Ministries at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, and an instructor at The Master's College and Seminary.  Rick is a regular conference speaker, both nationally and internationally, and preaches weekly to a ministry of over one thousand collegians.  Rick and his wife, Kim, have three sons.