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Rules vs. Guidelines
It's the heart that counts

As humans endeavouring to do God's will, we often seek rules to live by. But as humans, we look for any loophole in the rule and exploit that loophole. God doesn't live by rules, He lives by the Spirit of the Law -- principles. God wants us to follow His principles, not to be robots following a series of rules.

A principle will help you decide what is right or wrong in any situation. A rule can be bent or broken according to your will.

For me, the difference between rules and principles is this -- rules tell you what to do and not to do, but principles give the reason and rationale behind the rule -- if you live by the principle, the rule will be a consequence rather than an objective. For example, if the rule is 'don't hit your little brother', we could instead follow the principle 'love your neighbour'. As well as stopping us from physically hurting him, it may lead us to do other positive things for him too. Rules are limiting, but principles are empowering.

So, in terms of physical intimacy, I see a fairly strong principle in the Bible: intimacy is a privilege of covenant. If you aren't in covenant, then you don't get the priviledge of intimacy. The problem is, we are so used to having all the priviledges without the responsibilities. Covenant (ie. marriage) brings many responsibilities with it -- a life-long commitment, a priority to spend time and develop relationship, etc. On the other side, it provides priviledges in return, like sex and having children (a bit of a responsibility too, I guess :-), etc.

So, I don't draw a line, I don't have a rule (kissing? hugging? holding hands?) -- intimacy is something I'm saving for my wife. It's just like getting into a car at the top of the hill, only the car has no brakes! And God designed it that way. He never meant for us to inflame desire in each other, only to stop and get out of the car half-way down the hill -- He meant for us to consumate such expressions with sexual intimacy.

Boundaries are so hard to live by because the commitment in dating is so ill-defined. Are you really going to get married? The only way to be sure is to sign the papers! And so, we allow some of these priviledges because we're pretty sure we'll get married. But then something comes up, and we decide it wasn't meant to be. You've just had a mini-marriage and divorce! You've given yourself -- heart, and body (in various degrees) to a woman who is not your wife -- if you were married, that would be adultery, but because you're single, it's okay?!?

For example -- if you caught me passionately kissing your wife (after you are married), you would be incensed (furious)! Why? Because you feel that passionate kissing is a privilege of your marriage covenant -- something only you and your wife share in. And yet by today's standards, we feel free to partake in it with a person who isn't yet our spouse.

Having said all that, if you still want some rules, here are a few (of varying degrees) to consider that may be effective:

  • Make a commitment to each other before the emotions start rolling. Keep to it. Something to consider in such a commitment is how you would expect someone to treat your spouse. Treat this lady/gentleman the same way!
  • If you are in a room together, definitely keep the door open!
  • Always be in a place where you can be easily interrupted.
  • Never be alone in a room with someone of the opposite sex. Billy Graham always takes a friend along with him when he travels. Why? Two reasons -- one to avoid any allegations of impropriety, and secondly to protect him from seductive woman -- I believe they once walked into a room where a naked woman was waiting for him!
  • Avoid romantic relationships completely until you are ready to commit to marriage. Only engage the romance after your commitment. You will have the pleasure of learning romance with the one person whom you will practise it with for the rest of your life!

It's all about your heart -- are you trying to get as close as possible to God, or just trying to get by?


Copyright 1997-2000, Nathan Bailey, All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to print these articles for personal use, in whole or in part, provided the extract references the original URL,, so that people can find the latest version. Thanks to Jonathan Lindvall for the 'car on top of the hill' analogy.

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