Why Rules Aren’t Enough to Keep You Pure

Recently I heard from a girl who was struggling to remain pure. She had just started dating a guy long distance. After her first weekend visit, she wrote:

The physical temptation is so real. Even the smallest thing will set off a wildfire in my heart. . . . It’s a war I didn’t realize I would struggle with. I wish I had been more prepared to guard our hearts in the most heart-racing moments.

I can relate.

My Rule Making Strategy

Before Trevor and I married, we also dated long distance. I’ll never forget my first visit to spend time with him over Christmas. Unlike this girl above, I did anticipate that it would be tough physically. So I set a couple rules for myself before boarding the plane:

  1. No lying down horizontally.
  2. No kissing on the lips.

And while I technically didn’t break either of those rules on that first visit, I found myself flirting at the very edges of those boundaries, like a hummingbird hovering near sweet nectar.

I kept “the letter of the law” while ignoring “the spirit of the law.” I observed my literal rules but not the intent behind the rules: purity, so I might see and enjoy God (Matt. 5:8).

Don’t just run from sexual immorality, though. Run to Christ.

It was soon blazingly obvious: Rules weren’t going to do the trick of keeping me pure. For example, if I had set a boundary, “I won’t be in a bedroom with him with the door closed,” my flesh would surely have countered, “Okay, I’ll go to the garage instead.”

Pastor and theologian Gerald Hiestand describes this well when he writes, “Every ‘objective’ boundary can be worked around by sin-inspired creativity.”

Colossians 2:20–23 also explains that boundaries and rules aren’t enough to keep us from doing wrong. On our own, they’re not capable of getting to the root issue—they don’t deal a deathblow to our ungodly passions and desires.

What, then, is to be done?

Your Dating Strategy

First, as 1 Corinthians 6:18 says, “Flee from sexual immorality.” Get your running shoes on and start sprinting like mad! Don’t just run from sexual immorality, though. Run to Christ.

  • Flee sexual immorality and fly to Christ, in whom every treasure is found.
  • Ask God to send His Spirit to help you see and despise your sin.
  • Be brutal with your sin. Don’t just exile it; cut its head off!

I’m not saying there is no place in dating for boundaries. But even if you do set rules, don’t rely on them alone to keep you pure. You aren’t strong enough to battle your ungodly passions in your own strength. Run to Christ. Only He is strong enough.

Be brutal with your sin. Don’t just exile it; cut its head off!

How about you? Have you set any rules or boundaries for yourself once you begin dating? If so, what will you do when your flesh doesn’t cooperate with your good intentions? Then what?

About Author

Paula Marsteller

Paula no longer tries to catch guys' attention by swallowing live goldfish, arm wrestling, and jumping down flights of stairs. (She's married to a wonderful man now!) She spends her days caring for her son, Iren, and writing for Revive Our Hearts. She's the author of Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl: On Her Journey from Neediness to Freedom, and she and her family live in New York.

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  • Anonymous Sister

    Dear Heavenly Father, I just pray right now for all of your Daughters fighting to stay pure of heart, not awakening the passions of love before the appointed time. Lord, this world is full of every temptation. Everywhere we look, we are being encouraged to look, to lust, to give in to our “natural” drives. But you have called us to a pure life. Let us turn our eyes and thoughts away from anything that is evil or tempting. Holy Spirit, convict us of our sin, and give us the grace to stand up against temptation. Let us make every impure thought or desire obedient to Jesus Christ; let us run to Him so that He may make us clean by his blood. Lord, for any of us who have fallen, let us take refuge under your wing, so that we may soar high like wings on Eagles. Take our sin and shame and throw it as far as the east is from the west- you have given us victory! Thank you Lord for your patience, grace, and purification through the blood of Jesus Christ. Thank you Lord. Amen

    I don’t know what you have gone through, but no matter what, it’s not too late to give God your heart, even if you’ve let impurity in. He will take your story and turn it into something beautiful for his glory and honor. Sisters, pray for each other. Pray for your Christian sisters across the world dealing with temptation. I have struggled and fallen too, but God always catches me in His grace, and I am learning more about His love and plan for me. Have a blessed day.

  • Anonymous Sister

    Dear Heavenly Father, I just pray right now for all of your Daughters fighting to stay pure of heart, not awakening the passions of love before the appointed time. Lord, this world is full of every temptation. Everywhere we look, we are being encouraged to look, to lust, to give in to our “natural” drives. But you have called us to a pure life. Let us turn our eyes and thoughts away from anything that is evil or tempting. Holy Spirit, convict us of our sin, and give us the grace to stand up against temptation. Let us make every impure thought or desire obedient to Jesus Christ; let us run to Him so that He may make us clean by his blood. Lord, for any of us who have fallen, let us take refuge under your wing, so that we may soar high like wings on Eagles. Take our sin and shame and throw it as far as the east is from the west- you have given us victory! Thank you Lord for your patience, grace, and purification through the blood of Jesus Christ. Thank you Lord. Amen

    I don’t know what you have gone through, but no matter what, it’s not too late to give God your heart, even if you’ve let impurity in. He will take your story and turn it into something beautiful for his glory and honor. Sisters, pray for each other. Pray for your Christian sisters across the world dealing with temptation. I have struggled and fallen too, but God always catches me in His grace, and I am learning more about His love and plan for me. Have a blessed day.

  • Laura

    Dude….this is exactly what i needed. Thank you so much.

  • Andrea

    As always, these posts come at just the right time <3. I was just sharing with my single friend the physical struggles my fiancé and I are having and I said that rules don't work anymore! They worked in the beginning, but now…they are the last things on our minds. And we made a lot of rules, too.
    Now, it comes down to this….If I truly love him, I won't cross our boundaries because that will be hurting him and taking away something that belongs to his future wife. Of course, now that we are engaged, it's like "well, we're going to get married anyway", but NO, we still need to treat each other with respect.
    The other weekend, we were successful in not crossing a certain boundary that we struggled and are still struggling with. What was different? I had been very much in tune with God's Spirit that week. I was keeping my thoughts and flesh pure. And as I looked into his eyes…yes I felt the temptation, but above that was the overpowering feeling that "I love him too much to do this." I shared this with him and we finished our movie with no regrets. Thank you Jesus.
    God bless and strengthen us as we fight the Devil in this area.

    • Thank you for your honesty, Andrea. I can tell you I am SOOO grateful this side of marriage that the Lord (and Trevor, really) helped keep us pure before marriage. It makes me trust my husband so much more this side of marriage. May you fight for time with God every day in His Word and in prayer. You’re so right–abiding in Him is key to fighting this temptation–and to everything else in life. “Apart from me you can do nothing.”

      Praying for you now. How long til your wedding?

      paula

  • Lauren Purser

    I cannot agree more! My ex and I broke up about a month ago…after he confessed to a serious addiction and to “wanting to push my boundaries”.

    They were never “our” boundaries. That should have been my first sign to end the relationship. I had decided no kissing and no time alone in his apartment (or any apartment/house). While the grace and protection of God was upon me, I now know that we were always a step away from sin. Was I tempted? Yes. Was I praying for The Holy Spirit to give us strength? Yes. Accountability is key. I didn’t have enough of it. I was very vulnerable to this potential predator. (He admired to that “other side”).

    Ladies, you are want a man who LEADs with purity and has a heart after Jesus-not just a mind after rules.

    If he is just “agreeing” with you and is constantly coming “to the line”…stop and consider. If he is like this now, what kind of husband will he be?

    As for myself, I had to be careful, because my flesh and my spirit were at battle constantly. I would pray and ask others to pray. But it was a one-sided effort.

    Thank you for this post.

  • Rose

    Thank you so much for this, I really enjoyed reading it and it has blessed me a lot. I have boundaries that I have set for when I start courting,(that’s what I call it), and its a real blessing reading about other people who have also set boundaries and even though they struggle, they still rely on God and his strength to overcome the temptation ahead. Thank you so much, and God’s biggest blessings on you and your husband!

    • Thanks so much, Rose! Glad you have your boundaries set and that you know you’ll need God’s very real presence and power to succeed. Praying for you now in advance. 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Rose! Glad you have your boundaries set and that you know you’ll need God’s very real presence and power to succeed. Praying for you now in advance. 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Rose! Glad you have your boundaries set and that you know you’ll need God’s very real presence and power to succeed. Praying for you now in advance. 🙂

  • Aubrey

    I relate to this so much. Before I was in a relationship I thought the battle of purity would be rather simple, you just don’t do things I thought (kissing, laying horizontally, being overly physical). I grew up reading Elizabeth Elliot and Leslie Ludy books since the age of 13 and was mentored through their words. More than anything I desired a pure relationship that would honor God. With a heart that was so in love with Jesus and a calling to the missions field, I thought that I would have the strength to resist. I had a 5 page list of what to look for in a Godly future husband and thought that for the most part, I had things pretty well under control.

    When I entered a relationship for the first time, I realized just how real the battle is. After two years of being in a dating relationship heading towards marriage, God really opened my eyes to the battle for purity. I wanted nothing more than to please the Lord, yet I found myself time and time again compromising my purity and falling into temptation. I would write and lay out detailed boundary plans, lists, and even created a “purity pact” to frame on my wall, but it took me quite some time to realize that the guy I was dating did not have the same convictions I did.

    No matter how hard I tried and even with all my rules, nothing seemed to work. I would pray and cry time and time again, begging the Lord for forgiveness and feeling so dirty and unworthy of being Christ’s princess. The man I was with did not LEAD me to purity, but would often encourage and lead me to compromise and sin. I discovered that he had a past addiction that largely influenced his views on purity and did not hold to the same standards that I did. He was just agreeing with me, there was no heart conviction, only words. I was in constant torment over this issue, but the attempts at purity were very one-sided.

    Thankfully our relationship has recently ended and the Lord opened my eyes to many things that I was blinded to before. I sought the Lord, running back into the arms of my loving Savior. He showed me Psalm 119:9, “How does a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word”. I’ve learned how incredibly important it is to hide the word of the Lord in my heart to guard against satan and his minions. The Bible is our sword, and such a vital piece to slaying the lies and temptations of the enemy! Even if you have fallen, the Lord can take your hurt and use it to bring Him honor and Glory. It’s never too late to go back to living a set-apart life for Jesus. <3

    Thank you so much for your post and the truth it proclaims. God bless! 🙂

  • Avigail

    Great post! Was defiantly a good eye opener for me! I guess I always thought if I set up anough rules, there won’t be any temptations or at least the battle won’t be so hard! Of coarse there has to be rules. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be any temptation! We are human and there are always temptations! So thank you!
    https://avigailife.wordpress.com/

  • Tiana

    Is it wrong to kiss (cheek or lips) your boyfriend before your wedding day?

    • Megan Smith

      Hey Tiana! As the post title says, rules aren’t enough to keep you pure – and the Bible never says “thou shalt not kiss before marriage.” BUT we are told to honor marriage (Hebrews 13:4) and to flee lust and sexual immorality (2 Timothy 2:22, 1 Corinthians 6:18). But what does that all mean for kissing? Like many gray areas, it has to come down to your personal conviction and commitment to purity. I know happily married couples who have waited for marriage to kiss, waited for engagement to kiss, and some who kissed pretty early on in their relationship. The important thing is not whether or not you kiss but whether or not Jesus is at the center of your relationship. If you can glorify God with your relationship and kiss your boyfriend, so be it. But if kissing your boyfriend causes you to stumble or want more physically, it’s probably best to wait.

  • NotSoChey

    Thank you so much for this post, this is exactly what I need right now!