Q: I have a particular question about unmarried couples living together who claim to be Christians. I am given the impression that if such a couple gets married, all is well, but for some reason that does not set right with me. Would you please give me your take on it?
A: There are various issues confronting people today in regard to living together versus choosing the sacred institution of marriage. Sadly, much of the attitude about moral living and sacred institutions such as marriage and family in the church comes from the world making great inroads into the church. We live in a world that encourages liberal thinking and immoral practices even when it comes to the kingdom of God. Add to this the various enticements and justifications for buying the presentation of the world, while selling a bit of the soul for nothing but crumbs, you will create an unholy mixture that will most likely prove to be a total affront to righteousness. Sadly, we have heard of different Christian couples opting to live together, instead of marrying. The reasons for it are few and the excuses and attempts to get around it are interesting, but all the reasons or finagling around this matter does not stop the confusion about it, the division and hurt it causes in the family of God, or genuine concern for these people’s spiritual well-being.
There are financial reasons for avoiding marriage, especially for older couples. The Bible refers to money as mammon, clearly stating that you cannot serve two masters, you must be prepared to choose who you are going to serve and obey (Matthew 6:24). Marriage for some of these individuals would mean losing some of their Social Security or pensions, which would cause hardships for them. Others see themselves emotionally married because of their love for each other. There are those who point out that in America before the government and the courts got involved, marriage was signified by the presence of a clergy, some witnesses and it being recorded in the family Bible and not in county courthouses, which has rendered it into a legality that has enriched lawyers while leaving the institution of the family in utter ruin. There are those who are being taken care of by the opposite gender because of unhealthy family dynamics and feel leery of becoming a possible inconvenience to the church they may attend, because people who feel put upon and are void of grace towards such struggles prove to display what I call cruel mercy. In some of these situations, the couple’s relationship is platonic. However, if you study the majority of the reasons for not marrying, it comes down to money or youthful lusts.
We can understand the reasons for such actions but it always comes down to what is God’s view on people living together? It does not matter how sympathetic and understanding we might be of a person’s plight, if God deems a certain conduct as being sinful, then it is up to His people to agree with Him and trust Him to work out the details. Whether we agree or not, cultural practices and the laws of the land influence what is deemed as marriage, not only in the sight of the Creator but in people’s worldview, ultimately determining what constitutes an act of binding marriage. These customs and laws are meant to stipulate what actions must be taken to recognize the union between a man and a woman as a marriage, and is also meant to maintain the integrity of it. We know we are to adhere to the laws of the land as long as they do not undermine our responsibilities towards God.
However, for people who are faced with overwhelming circumstances, choosing the way of faith proves to be the greatest test when the world offers obtainable options and the church remains indifferent and silent. Whether such a relationship is simply platonic, the Bible is clear that as Christians we are to abstain from all appearances of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22). It is vital that we keep our testimony free from any suspicions and accusations, which is the right thing to do but can prove to be hollow to those who see no other recourse because of their circumstances.
God considers all illicit sex outside of ordained marriage as fornication. Fornication is an abomination to God, a sin that is committed against the body, not only physically but spiritually as it comes into spiritual agreement in an unholy union (1 Corinthians 6:15-20). This body is also considered a temple that is to belong to God and must be kept pure from such unholy agreements, which is also considered to be whoredom or prostitution. It is also clear that one of the church’s disciplines is that we as believers must separate from such people until they repent, for such sins defile others and will ultimately keep people out of His kingdom (Leviticus 18; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 5:7-13 Galatians 5:18-21).
Couples who have given way to fornication and then married later on have not necessarily addressed the sin of fornication by their action. Granted, they may have covered up their sin and changed the outward appearance of their relationship, but there is only one way to address any sin and that is through genuine repentance (Luke 13:5; 2 Peter 3:7). Only Christ can take away the mark, stain, and stench of sin and bring cleansing to souls and consciences to ensure reconciliation with God (1 John 1:5-10).
Repentance entails agreeing with God about how He views personal attitudes and conduct towards sin. Such agreement will bring Christians to a state of humility that will be expressed in brokenness over the sin, as well as making a 180-degree turn in attitude towards the sin and ensuring the integrity of present and future conduct.
Through the years I have come to crossroads in my trials and tribulations. I had to learn that I must make decisions. It is easy to say we need to choose God, but when the giants are big and there is no hope on the horizon, we will naturally wrestle with whether we are going to trust God with each trial and situation or justify a matter according to the world. We can excuse ourselves over questionable issues, but God can only receive us at the point of the justification wrought by Jesus on the cross. Justification can only find a sure foothold when sins have been confessed by us as we seek mercy and forgiveness from the Lord who is quick to show us grace by restoring us and reviving us with His abundant and eternal life.