What does the Bible say about sex before marriage and cohabiting?

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What does the Bible say about sex before marriage and cohabiting?

May 20, 2024 -

Young couple moving in together sharing an intimate moment. By Kay Abrahams/stock.adobe.com

Young couple moving in together sharing an intimate moment. By Kay Abrahams/stock.adobe.com

Young couple moving in together sharing an intimate moment. By Kay Abrahams/stock.adobe.com

When we think about the ways in which our culture has rejected God’s view of sex and sexuality, LGBTQ+ issues are often the first to come up. But while those sins are increasingly prevalent among the younger generations, they still only apply to roughly one in five Gen Z adults and less than eight percent of the overall population. As such, the more pertinent issue for Christians today—and the area where the church is most often failing its young people—is the idea that sex is no longer something that should be saved for marriage. 

61 percent of Americans believe that casual sex among consenting adults is alright, and half of those who identify as Christians share that belief. And those numbers only go up for adults in a committed relationship. As such, it should not come as a surprise that cohabitation before or in place of marriage has become increasingly common. 

Adults 44 or younger are now more likely to have lived with a partner than to have gotten married. And roughly 70 percent of those who get married lived together before taking that step.

Sadly, it’s become conventional wisdom that one of the best ways to prevent divorce is to test the relationship by moving in together first. 63 percent of adults under the age of 30 believe “couples who live together first are more likely to have a successful marriage.” Yet that’s simply not the case. 

As we discuss in the book Sacred Sexuality, while couples who cohabit before marriage are less likely to get divorced in year one, they are nearly 50 percent more likely to get a divorce after that point. 

So why do so many continue to believe the lie that cohabiting is not only permissible but beneficial? 

Why people move in together

When unmarried adults were asked why they chose to move in together, the top two reasons given were love (73 percent) and companionship (61 percent). And there was a large gap between those answers and the next highest: finances at 38 percent. 

What makes those motivations particularly troubling, from a biblical perspective, is that you don’t need to live together to love one another or to feel companionship. Moving in together and having sex before marriage are not the only—much less the best—ways to demonstrate those values. 

One of the primary pitfalls with normalizing what the Bible calls sin is that it greatly shortens the gap from permissible to essential, and we begin to see sin as an important part of normal life. And the pervasiveness of sexual sin—even within the church—offers a stark reminder of those consequences.

That said, we shouldn’t be surprised to see the culture go down this path. After all, it’s the same pattern we’ve seen play out since the Garden of Eden, with the same tragic consequences.

Satan’s oldest temptation

In Genesis 3, Satan could have attempted any number of ploys to convince Adam and Eve to sin, yet he chose a tactic that worked then and has continued to work ever since: 

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate (Genesis 3:1–6)

Did God really say that? Are you sure that’s what he meant? Why would God want to limit you like that? 

These are the questions Satan whispered to Adam, Eve, and every single one of their descendants on down to each of us. And it is folly to think we are any more immune to them today than Adam and Eve were in the garden. 

Satan is seldom more convincing than when he is tempting us with what we want to believe is true. 

For many in our culture, the lie they want to believe is that sex can play whatever role in a relationship that we want without risking any real consequences. The truth, however, is that God created sex to be far too powerful of a physical and emotional force to use for any purpose other than that for which it was created. 

And God created sex to serve as a consistent reminder for husbands and wives of the commitment that they made to one another; a commitment that unites them as one flesh in a way meant to exemplify the commitment Christ has made with his church (Ephesians 5:25–32).

The most important question about sex

While cohabiting is far from the only way people reject God’s plans for sex and relationships today, in many ways it epitomizes the culture’s rejection of that plan by offering a cheap and insufficient replacement for what marriage was meant to represent. 

One of the major reasons it’s become such a problem is that the church isn’t doing enough to teach our young people not only what the Bible teaches about sex and marriage but why. And it’s impossible to overstate how important the “why” part of that conversation is. 

So take some time today to ask yourself if you truly understand why the Bible teaches that sex should be limited to the relationship between a husband and wife. That understanding is one of the main reasons we wrote Sacred Sexuality, but our ministry offers other resources that speak to the issue as well. 

Please, take the time to understand what the Bible teaches and why on this important subject. And if you or someone with whom you’re close are currently living with a partner that is not your spouse, know that there is grace and that it’s never too late to choose the more biblical path for that relationship; one God can fully bless. 

Will you choose that path today?

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