When we hear the word “doctrine” as Christians, often times we can associate it with other words like “boring,” “complicated,” or “irrelevant.”
Doctrines are only boring, however, when we are unable to see their importance in real life. Legalism uses doctrine like a rod to beat people with, but when we are walking in the Spirit God will uses doctrines to guide us in every part of our lives.
God’s truth must saturate every part of our lives. Doctrine is not a subject like History or Geography which are refined to the four walls of a classroom. Learning doctrine should be viewed more like Basic Training for a soldier. If you don’t learn these lessons you will die out on the battle field of real life.
One area where I believe doctrine has been forgotten and left under applied is in Christian dating. So in this article I am going to take 6 core Christian doctrines and explain why they are important to apply in the context of Christian dating.
- “God Is”
If you start reading your Bible from the beginning and working your way through it, when you get to Exodus 3 something very important happens. When Moses is getting to know God, he asks God for his name. As we know, in the Old Testament, names are not just ways to identity people; rather they carry meaning in them that says something about the person with that name. In Exodus 3:14-15 it says:
God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’ God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”
In our English Bibles the phrase “The LORD” is in all caps and when that is the case it is translating the Hebrew word that would be pronounced something like, “Yahweh.” This name is built on the phrase “I am.” So when God first began to reveal himself to his people, one of the first things God taught us was that “God is.”
This truth is such a logical place for God to begin teaching us about himself. If God “was not” then any statement made about God would be irrelevant to real life. Because God is real and actually exists, however, this truth demands that we all live differently and in submission to him. If this doctrine of “God is” did not exist, our moral laws and need to live in a certain way would be nonsense.
So if God didn’t exist, it wouldn’t matter how you dated. But because God does exist, Christians are required to date in a way that is submissive to his desires for us.
(For more on this doctrine, see John Piper’s article, 10 Things “Yahweh” Means.)
- “God Is Love”
Core to authentic Christianity is the doctrine of God’s love. For as 1 John 4:7-11 explains:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
When we consider the doctrine of “God is love” and how it should affect Christian dating, I can think of at least three very important effects it should have. One: No matter what happens in any relationship, God’s love is always completely enough to sustain us. The human heart was made for a perfect love, and the only person who can love us in this perfect way is God himself. So no matter how strong of a desire you have for marriage, we must always remember that our hearts’ greatest need is always God himself.
The second way this doctrine must impact the way Christians date is how we treat each other in the midst of dating. If you truly know God, the Bible says you must love the people in your life because God is love. If you do not love others, this means you do not really know God.
In the context of dating, this does not mean you must commit forever to the person you are dating as a sign of your love. That’s how you express your love in marriage, but not in dating. Rather, in dating, you must put the other person above yourself and refuse to use them in selfish ways. Whether you are dating towards marriage or you are about to breakup, everything you do in dating as a Christian should be done in the most loving way possible.
Finally, the third way I believe the doctrine of God’s love should also impact Christians in dating is in the decision to date and get married at all. Many times we struggle to commit and date because we fear the level of pain marriage might cost us in the future. People are often afraid of the responsibility marriage will bring and so they avoid it completely.
We often fear trying and failing. We fear the possibility of having a difficult marriage. And we fear being betrayed. While singleness is a high calling and should be pursued if someone feels led to it (1 Corinthians 7:7), those who choose singleness for selfish reasons rather than selfless reasons are not acting in the way God wants.
If you choose a life of singleness, it must be rooted in a desire to love God and people. If you feel singleness will better enable you to love, that is good and biblical. But likewise, if you feel marriage would be a better context for you to express selfless love for God and people, then marriage should be pursued.
Love must be the motive in whatever path you choose in life and dating. For as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:3, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Paul is not referring to a romantic love here. Rather, he is referring to a sacrificial love.
Just as Christ died for us because he loves us, we too must live lives of sacrificial love as we bear God’s image. So the doctrine of God’s love should guide your decision to pursue dating or to pursue singleness with a motive of sacrificial love for God and people either way.
- “God Is Holy”
In some circles all you ever seem to hear about is the love of God, but in other circles the holiness of God is the primary emphasis. The Bible, however, teaches us that God is love and that God is holy. If we neglect either of these truths, we will have a severely damaged view of God that will impact the way we live in dramatically negative ways.
If all you ever learned was that God is love but you did not know that God is also holy, the doctrine of God’s love would morph into something very different than what it actually is. Instead of God showing his love through sending Jesus to pay for our sins, we would believe that God loves us so much that there is no need for atonement of sin. Like a loving grandpa who lets his grandkids do anything they want, a loving god without any holiness (which is actually an impossible combination) would just let his people do whatever they wanted.
But God is not just love. God is also holy. And when you understand the holiness of God you will realize that you are not free to do whatever you want even though God will always love you. There really are consequences for sins. And when someone does not receive the gospel of grace, not only are their consequences for sins, there is also eternal condemnation for sin (Romans 6:23).
In summary, we must never emphasize the love of God over the holiness of God nor vice-a-versa. While God loves us immensely and will always give us more and more grace because of the gospel (Romans 5:20), the fact remains that God is holy and this must shape the way we live our lives. For as 1 Peter 1:14-16 explains:
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”
When we apply the doctrine of “God is holy” to dating, this means that Christians must date in a way that reflects the purity, integrity, and righteousness of God. Christians must avoid sin, repent of sin when it does happen, and do everything they can to depend on the power of the Holy Spirit so they can date in a holy way that is honoring to God.
The word “holy” means to be set apart. When you date in a holy way, it means you date in a way that is set apart from the sinfulness of worldly dating. The practical nuts and bolts of Christian dating can be very similar to the way the secular world dates. A man asks a woman out, they go on dates, they get to know each other, they become a couple, they grow closer, and then they eventually get engaged.
Those things are not “holy” or “unholy.” But as Christians there must be no sin in those dating steps. No lying, no sexual activity, no idolatry – in short, Christians must date in a holy way because God is holy.
- “God Is All Knowing”
While a season of Christian dating can be very fun and exciting, it is a universal experience for it to also be extremely stressful at times. One of the main sources of stress in Christian dating comes from our lack of knowledge about the future.
Does this person like you as much as you like him or her? Should you just wait or should you do something more proactive? Is she not calling you back because she doesn’t like you or did she just not see your call? Is this person the one God wants you to marry or not?
Dating is inherently confusing because it is a season of “in-betweens.” You are in between friendship and marriage. You are in between fully committed and not committed. You are in between expressing your feelings and guarding your heart. All of the unknowns are why the doctrine of God’s omniscience (all knowing) is so important during your season of Christian dating.
You will not know what will happen in the future and if all you do is dwell on the unknowns you will be filled with immense fear and doubts. But your season of dating does not need to be like that. While you may not know the future, you do know the God who holds the future. He knows everything and therefore he has the ability to guide you towards exactly where he wants you to be. For as Psalm 139:3-5, 16 states:
You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me . . . Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
Dating is hard. It brings so many unknowns. But as Christians, we can take comfort in the doctrine of God’s omniscience. He knows everything, including the outcome of every relationship. Therefore he can perfectly guide you towards his will for you.
- “God Is All Powerful”
Knowledge without power does not bring much comfort. Therefore, it is important to remember that God not only knows what will happen to you, he also has the power to stop, allow, and even cause whatever he wants to happen in your life. As Romans 8:28-31 (NIV) teaches us:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
The doctrine of God’s omnipotence (all powerful) is critically important for Christian singles who desire to be married one day for at least two reasons. One, as we have been saying, the road to marriage is filled with all kinds of trials and temptations. It is hard to meet someone godly and it is as equally hard to date in a godly way once you do meet someone. So when you know that God is the one who is ultimately in control of the outcome of everything, including every dating relationship, we can rest in this truth and overcome all anxiety.
The second way the doctrine of God’s power can shape the way you date is that it can empower you to take healthy action steps that will be needed for any relationship to actually begin and continue towards marriage. The classic misapplication of God’s sovereignty is to think that because God is all powerful and will accomplish his will, we do not need to do anything but sit and wait for him to do it all.
Biblically, however, that application of the doctrine of God’s power is totally incorrect. In the Bible we consistently see this knowledge of God’s power used as a reason for Christians to take steps of faith rather than using it as a reason to passively sit and do nothing. Because God is in control of the outcomes of our actions, this should empower us to act and actually do things in our life.
So when you fear interacting with the opposite sex, asking a woman out, or going on date with a guy, when you remember that God will control the outcome of everything, you will be emboldened to actually walk with God in real life. For as James 2:17 (NIV) famously says, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
If you want to dive more into applying the doctrine of God’s sovereignty to dating, that is the subject of my book called The One: How to Know and Trust God’s Sovereign Plan for Your Future Marriage.
- “God Is Immanent”
There are so many more powerful doctrines that must guide Christians in dating. But the last one we will discuss in this article is God’s immanence. When you read a systematic theology book, you will always learn about God’s transcendence and God’s immanence.
God is both. When we say that God is “transcendent” we are referring to the fact that God is reigning over the earth in heaven as the supreme King that he truly is. In 1 Timothy 6:15-16 God is describe like this, “. . . he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see.” This is God’s transcendence.
While the truth of God’s power and complete authority should bring immense peace in dating, we also must remember that God is near as well. This is God’s immanence. While the Bible teaches us that God is sovereign and reigning over the earth, the Bible also teaches us that God is intimately close and involved in the very smallest details of our lives as well. As Psalm 145:18-19 explains:
The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them.”
Dating is not theoretical when you are actually doing it. From the outside we can study it safely, but when you actually begin to interact with the opposite sex in a season of Christian dating, it can be deeply emotional. There are highs and there are lows, but as Christians, we must always remember that no matter if we are on the mountain top or in the valley, God is right there with us. As Psalm 139:7-8 says:
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.”
The truth of God’s immanence just makes everything better. When you are happy in dating, you will be able to rejoice with the Lord and celebrate with him. And when are sad and confused, God will still be right there, comforting you, healing you, and guiding you forward into his will for your life and relationships.