This entry is part [part not set] of 6 in the series Why Christians Are Bad at Dating

Of all the myths about dating we have explored this week, perhaps this one is the most difficult to shake: “Successful dating results in marriage.” Says who?

Let’s start by asking an important question: What is the goal of dating? Dating is all about getting to know a member of the opposite sex better. Marriage will probably be somewhere on the horizon, but I wouldn’t say that marriage is the goal of dating. Maybe it’s better to say it this way: The goal of dating is to get to know someone better, and while we’re at it, we will at some point determine whether or not it would glorify God for the two of us to get married.

Assuming you won’t be locked into a dating relationship until the day you die, a successful dating relationship could end in one of two ways: (1) You discover that God would be most glorified by you marrying this person, or (2) You discover that God would be most glorified by you not marrying this person. Either discovery is equally valid. Either discovery means that the dating relationship was successful.

Here’s something you may not hear every day: breakups are okay. I mean it. They’re not fun. Often, they’re very painful. But if you get to know someone well enough to discover that God is calling the two of you to different things, or that you’re not as interested in marrying that person as you originally thought you might be, or if you simply become convinced that God doesn’t want you to be married to this specific person at this specific time, then a breakup is a good thing.

If your dating relationship has been more of a test-run for marriage, then your breakup is going to feel more like a divorce. But if your dating relationship has been about God’s glory, if you have been relating to each other more like a brother and a sister rather than a pseudo-husband and pseudo-wife, then you can end the dating part of a relationship and still maintain a healthy relationship.

I know I’m being idealistic here, and relationships rarely end well. But I believe it’s possible. I’ve seen it happen. Though we will make mistakes and things will be more painful than they should be, God’s grace can saturate our breakups as well and we can avoid the division and devastation that so often accompanies breakups.

So how do you determine if your dating relationship should end in marriage? I have no clue. That’s as situation-specific a question as I can think of. But here are a few things to consider. Can you honestly say that you could glorify God better together than apart? What would you be compromising in order to marry this person? What would be gained through marrying this person? Can you read 1 Corinthians 7 and still be convinced that marriage is the best decision for you?

David Powlison offers five helpful questions for couples who are considering marriage:

  1. Are you both pursuing the Lord? (If not, you’re heading in radically different directions and should reconsider.)
  2. Are you both making decisions biblically? (This doesn’t mean either of you is perfect, but your goal is to glorify God by apply His truth to your life.)
  3. Are you both moving in the same direction? (Does one of you have a God-given calling to minister in Uzbekistan while the other has a God-given calling to minister in Seattle?)
  4. Do other people who know you well think you should get married? (Ultimately, the two of you have to make this decision, but there is incalculable wisdom in heeding the counsel of the solid Christians in your life.)
  5. Do you have the desire to accept this person for who he or she is and get married? (This should be obvious, but you don’t HAVE to get married to this person (or to anyone), so your own desire to marry this person or not should play into the decision.)

Dating is fun and exciting. It can also be awkward as all get out. It can be done to God’s glory, or it can be used as a means of pursuing your own passions and ambitions. My desire is to see Christians less stressed out about dating. The way we date is incredibly important, but I think that most of the pressure that we place on dating relationships comes from peripheral issues (e.g., what we call it, how long it lasts, how often we pray together). Biblically, we are given a lot of freedom about how a dating relationship looks and functions. Our relationships should be as diverse and idiosyncratic as the people in them.

If we are driven by a desire to see God’s kingdom come and His will be done, then we don’t have to sweat the details of dating. We don’t have to be scared about the what-ifs. Is your life about furthering your own kingdom or God’s? If you are pursuing God’s kingdom, then you can trust Him to guide your relationships for His glory and your good.

If you’ve come to the end of this blog series and want to go deeper, I highly recommend this book: Altared: The True Story of a She, a He, and How They Both Got Too Worked Up about We.

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  1. I think this was pretty helpful mark thank you. I ‘kind of’ understand what it means to be a brother to my sister. But i wasnt raised with sisters. How do i treat someone who I am interested in like a sister, when the idea that i could marry my sister seems like incest and not right? Its hard for me to grasp that. Thank you again.

    • Good question, John. For one thing, don’t read too much into the sister thing (at least, don’t take it too literally). It basically means that you treat her as you would another member of the body of Christ. So all of the “one another”s in Scripture should govern how you relate to her.

      Also, don’t overemphasize the sexual side of things, even when you think about marriage. A girlfriend shouldn’t be someone you’re thinking about potentially having sex with down the road, she should be someone you’re considering joining yourself to for God’s glory. Sex is a small (though important) part of marriage.

      Maybe it would be helpful to take the sexual connotations out of it, at least for the dating relationship. Then when you get married, the idea that sex is suddenly a permissible way to glorify God will seem strange, but you get to figure that out with your new spouse.

      Does that help? Or is that more confusing?

  2. Could you maybe clarify what it means for a couple to “glorify” the Lord? It seems like this is a very confusing point for myself and many of my peers. Can you distinguish a biblical definition of glorification of God in our lives from unhealthy worldly pragmatism (even when applied to ministry or whatever)?

    An example of the kinds of pragmatism I’m thinking of might be: “if we’re not perfect for each other in every way, then it’s not meant to be,” or “if her gifts don’t help me to become an evangelist who reaches a million people then someone else will,” “if it’s not easy, then it’ll distract me from the ‘real’ business of glorifying God,” etc. Does it make sense what I’m asking?

  3. Hey Alex!

    What a great question/clarification! I have seen/heard the exact types of pragmatic thought processes you mentioned, and I agree that they’re misguided and potentially very destructive.

    I think those five questions by David Powlison should help in this direction. For example, if the potential spouse isn’t pursuing the Lord, then no, joining yourself to him/her is not going to glorify God. And then you could add others. Am I viewing this woman as a potential tool to ministry fame or effectiveness? If so, I’m viewing her as less than human and not glorifying God. Do I view her as someone I can spend the rest of my life serving, or is she a potential servant to help me accomplish my goals? That sort of thing.

    A God-glorifying marriage would look like Ephesians 5, but you’ll notice in reading the passage that many of the practical details aren’t there: what gifts does each spouse have, how precisely do we relate to each other, how naturally compatible are these two? Etc. So the God-glorifying side is probably much less situational (how can I be sure this specific person is the one?) and far more relational (am I truly ready to play my part in serving this human being to the glory of God?).

    Does that help at all? I know that’s not a direct answer entirely, but I still there will be a beautifully diverse aspect to this. We’ll all have to wrestle with it for ourselves. But I think what we’ve done in these comments is at least refine it a bit and remove some lame definitions, so that’s helpful…