We rarely talk about it.

We figure that if we do it right, nobody else will see, and nobody else will know. Or, we’re so jaded by the culture around us, we don’t even think about it.

What is it? Maintaining an appearance of sexual propriety while dating.

Time was, even the glimpse of a woman’s ankle was supposedly enough to make a male heart flutter with excitement. If you were single and traveling with another person of the opposite sex, you went with a chaperone. Shucks, even sitting together in a parlor required the presence of a chaperone.

These days, most men have to see a lot more than ankles before their heart starts fluttering with excitement, and only the most provincial of cultures still require the accompaniment of at least a third wheel when unmarried people are together.

Indeed, the loss of privacy isn’t an entirely new phenomenon!

Keeping Up Appearances?

Changes in cultural standards can be both good and bad. One of the reasons the BBC’s Downton Abbey television series has so beguiled Americans likely involves our bemusement at arcane codes of presumed modesty that were more charade than conviction. Evangelical singles today can progress through a healthy dating relationship without gratuitous rules designed to enshrine the presumption of sexual purity. Nevertheless, although our popular culture tells us otherwise, should the way we do the things we do—whether it’s dating, or anything else—still retain an accommodation for how other people think things look? Even if that’s different than the way they really are?

It sounds so legalistic, but perhaps that’s because we’re taking more of our dating cues from the world around us, rather than the God who desires our good and his glory.

For example, if you and a good friend of the opposite sex decide to take a road trip together, just the two of you, the complexities of sexual attraction and compromising situations may never come up. The fact that you could appear to be a sexually-active couple, according to the standards of conventional contemporary society, may be the farthest thing from the truth.

But if truth can be defined as the impression we convey to others, then how far do we need to go to keep up moral appearances? To say nothing of allowing ourselves to slip, however unintentionally, into a sexually provocative environment?

Should we bother with appearances and assumptions, anyway? Believers in Christ enjoy grace, so who cares what other people think?

Depends on who the “other people” includes, doesn’t it? Even if the impressions we convey are unintentional, and nobody else on Earth is watching, God still looks at our heart. Is sexual purity only a consideration when it comes to intercourse, or is there more to it? God says there is. And even though his grace saves us, it’s not a license to sin (Romans 6:1-6).

God wants us to “avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22). And the key word here is “every,” not just the convenient or obvious.

God wants us to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). This doesn’t mean we dawdle on the periphery of sexual compromise, but that we run in the opposite direction.

God commands us, “Do not cause anyone to stumble” (1 Corinthians 10:32). If your friend is going to get exasperated with you because you want to advocate for your sexual integrity, then how much of a friend are they?

Let’s face it: we modern evangelicals don’t like contemplating passages like these because they’re so countercultural. Countercultural in the sense that they seem anachronistic compared with not only secular culture, but also modern churched culture.

Most of us have become experts in justifying how and why we do the things we do. If we’re not careful, however, can’t we risk changing the intent of scripture? Instead of humbly evaluating overly-harsh, Puritanical interpretations of Bible passages on sexual modesty because they’re too old-fashioned and unpopular, we assume our general respect for progressive nonchalance will suffice. Even in our churched culture, it’s easy to assume that since we’re saved, we don’t need rules to tell us how far we can go without becoming sexually compromised.

Why should I care if other people stick their nose into my business, anyway? If I know my intentions are honorable, isn’t that all that matters?

What if we can’t afford—or don’t want to waste money on—two hotel rooms if we take a trip together? Isn’t frugality a biblical virtue?

Why does sexual purity matter so much anyway?

The Frog in a Pot of Water