More and more couples are choosing to live together without being married. Some move in together just before the wedding, others move in to see if they want to get married, and others move in without any thought to marriage at all. Some are asking, “What difference does a piece of paper make anyway? If I love someone, it shouldn’t matter if we are legally married.” Some believe God doesn’t care about a marriage license. I believe Scripture teaches differently.
In our very individualistic culture, we have a tendency to think marriage is just a relationship to fulfill us and make us happy. But the biblical view of marriage is so much more glorious than that. And because it is so much more glorious than that, it makes living together outside of marriage a more serious issue.
What is Marriage?
The biblical view of marriage is a covenant. Marriage is a spiritual, legal, and social contract that a man and woman make with one another. What I mean is, when a couple marries, they commit to “love, honor, and cherish” one another until death do they part. If they are unfaithful to their commitment, there are consequences with God, with the state, and with the community. This was true in ancient Israel and it has been true in nearly every Christian civilization.
If a man dealt poorly with his wife, he wasn’t just sinning against her, he was sinning against the family, against the community, and even against God. The prophet Malachi records the words of the Lord:
“Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the Lord of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously” (Malachi 1:15b-16, NASB).
In our culture, we try to have it both ways. We want a big “church wedding.” We invite our friends and family to witness our big event. We invoke the name of God. We sign a license. And then we want to tell everyone, “Our marriage is none of your business. It’s a private matter.” We want to be able to break our vows without any legal, social, or spiritual consequences. But marriage doesn’t work like that.
Marriage isn’t just for the couple getting married. It is created to bless the family, society, and the church. Paul says the secret about marriage is that the relationship between a husband and wife “refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). In other words, marriage is an “illustration,” for all to see, “of the way Christ and the church are one” (NLT).
What is Sex?
The sexual relationship is a special part of the marriage. It is God’s way of allowing the husband and wife to fully and completely give themselves to one another within the context of their covenant relationship.
Sex in a Christian marriage is not about taking, or even about receiving. It is about selflessly giving to one another in order to express oneness. It is God’s way of allowing a husband and wife to express physically what they have agreed to spiritually, legally, and socially – to be one flesh. Once a man and woman have made a covenant with one another, it is godly and right for them to express things like love, devotion, loyalty, respect, and admiration through their sexual relationship (see Song of Solomon).
Because of this high view of sex, Christians are commanded to “honor” marriage and keep the marriage bed “undefiled.” The marriage bed is “set apart” for the covenant relationship between a husband and wife and for nothing else. The Hebrew writer says, “God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13:4).
Does God Care About a Marriage License?
Different cultures have different ways of sealing a marriage covenant between a man and a woman. In our culture, sealing that covenant includes a license, an officiant, witnesses, rings, etc. To bypass that and say, “We love each other and that’s all that matters” is to dishonor marriage and to dishonor the marriage bed.
Love is NOT all you need. You need commitment. You need societal, legal, and spiritual accountability. That’s what making a marriage covenant is all about.
“Can’t we just make up our own ceremony?” you might ask. I don’t think so. I think that ignores the whole purpose. The purpose is to call your family, friends, the church, and even the legal powers that be to bind you to the other in marriage.
Marriage is true self-less love expressed. It is saying, “Everyone witness this, I am mine no more. I am binding myself to my beloved until death do we part. If I do not keep my covenant to my beloved, I understand and accept the legal, spiritual, and social consequences.”
It is similar to the law concerning a freed slave, who could choose – out of love – to stay in his master’s house. The slave would say, “I will not go out free” and his master would bring him to the doorpost – in the sight of God – and would bore an awl through his earlobe. That slave would then belong to his master for life (see Exodus 21:1-6).
When you are legally joined together in marriage and you keep your vows, you honor the marriage covenant. When you sleep together or live together without being legally joined together, you defile the marriage covenant.
The Bottom Line
It isn’t that you can’t be forgiven if you have already slept with someone outside of marriage. Please don’t hear me saying that. There is bountiful grace for you in Christ. But you do have to repent of your sins. You can’t continue in sexual immorality and expect to be forgiven (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Hebrews 10:26).
We’ve all sinned. Many of us have sinned sexually. And we have found forgiveness and mercy in Christ. We invite you to find that forgiveness as well.
I love you and God loves you,