It’s easy these days to gather arguments to justify the practice of living together unmarried. Consider: the practice has almost become mainstream; society no longer attaches much of a stigma to the arrangement; because of “the pill” it’s less risky than it used to be; urban life is more anonymous so people don’t care; the custom to marry later in life makes the period of waiting for full sexual gratification too long; no one should enter a lifetime relationship like marriage without a trial run.
Against all these arguments, the major Christian response is God’s inspired and authoritative word. To be sure, there are supplemental arguments that bear out the trustworthiness of the Scriptures on this matter. But at core and in the moment God’s word speaks with finality. Consider a verse written to early Christians that fits the present situation.
“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterers and the sexually immoral” (Heb. 13:4). Ponder five nuggets of truth embedded in this verse.
First, “marriage” can be defined. The word stands for a singular covenanted relationship between one man and one woman which the Scriptures assume from beginning to end to be ordained by God. Of the union of Adam and Eve they say, “The two shall be one.” (Gen. 2:24). In support, Jesus said, “Therefore, what God has joined together let man not separate” (Mark 10:9).
The Bible from the start holds this to be a sacred truth, however much it was attacked throughout Bible history by bigamy, polygamy, divorce, prostitution, etc.
Second, our verse says that within this union the marriage bed should be kept pure. Here’s how Eugene Peterson paraphrases that in THE MESSAGE: “… guard the sacredness of sexual intimacy between wife and husband.” The intimacy of which the verse speaks is to be restricted. It was not to be defiled before or during marriage by illicit relations.
Third, there are two words that label such intimacy sinful if experienced outside a covenanted marriage. The first is “adultery.” This word stands for sexual sin against a marriage by the intrusion of a third party. The damage it exacts can be seen everywhere in our broken society – it sparks distrust, recurring rages, family breakups, divorce, and violence even to the extent of murder.
Fourth, the writer adds, “sexual immorality” (fornication) as an offence. This word stands for sexual relations between unmarried persons of the opposite sex. Thus, what is blessed by God within marriage is strongly forbidden as sinful outside of that bond.
Finally, the verse looks beyond the passion of the moment. It says men and women who choose to live together unmarried with someone single or already married may escape the judgment of society but will suffer the judgment of God. It may be judgment in this life through self-acting moral laws (Gal. 6:7,8). Or it is certain to be judgment at the Great White Throne judgment at the close of history (Rev. 20: 11-15).
How seriously should we take such words from the Scriptures? In the closing words of the Bible Our Lord speaks of the Eternal City into which his righteous ones will be invited. But, he says, “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Rev. 22:15).
But these sobering words are followed by a great invitation to be saved from such judgment: “The Spirit and the bride say ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Rev. 22: 17).