Monday, February 24, 2014

The Gospel for Dating Part Two: Implications

(This is part three of a five-part series entitled “Dating Law vs. Dating Gospel”. Today is a continuation of my post yesterday about Gospel identity with a focus on the implications for dating relationships)

If you missed yesterday’s post, you can check it out here. Today we’ll build on part one of “The Gospel for Dating”, so if you didn’t get a chance to check it out, I’d suggest reading it before jumping in.

When you anchor your life in the reality that God has rescued you from slavery by giving His Son to make you righteous and free, you are free to stop obsessing about your life because it’s not about you, it's about Jesus. This then leads us to the following conclusion:

Gospel-centered dating is about the good of the other, not the needs of ourselves.

This has generated three profound implications in my own life. I share them with you in the hopes that they will set you free as well.

1. Who you date does not define you.
All of the pressure we take on when we set out to find “The One” disappears when we apply our identity in Christ to the idea of what our “perfect partner” would be like. And let’s face it, they don’t exist ok? Tim Keller says in his book The Meaning of Marriage that “you never marry the right person”, and, because dating is the precursor to marriage, that statement applies to dating as well. You will never date the right person. Find someone who you can let into the mess of your life ,and see if you can stand to be around them for more than ten minutes at a time. Don’t set out looking for Michelangelo's David, just look for a good piece of marble, and let God shape you both into the people He made you to be. When you give up all of your dating laws and start embracing the Gospel in light of your relationship, it starts to become less about your wants and needs and checklists. You can finally, selflessly give to the other person, serve them, and care for them instead of using them. When you realize that they do not define you, you can stop trying to control your relationship and start working on it, letting them be them, and learning together how to help each other become all that God has created you to be.

2. How you date does not define you.
Because God has set you free from any self or culturally imposed law, from all the electric fences, from all the do’s and do nots, you are now free from any preconceived notions about how this dating thing is going to work. Grace is your defining measurement of and requirement for your dating relationships. When you start believing in and proclaiming unfettered grace, people will inevitably start asking, “So does that mean we can do whatever we want and God will forgive us?”, and your answer will be a resounding “YES! But you won’t want to!” If you think that is an overestimation of grace, I would ask you what you think grace accomplishes. Is grace a sort of rug that you sweep all your junk under? Or is grace a radically transforming reality that changes everything about you, including your desires and motivations? If you were hesitant about my earlier “YES!”, than I would submit that you have actually, tragically underestimated grace, and that you would probably fall in the former category. Grace isn’t neat, it isn’t orderly, and it most definitely ISN’T controllable. Grace makes you do ridiculous things. Grace leaves all paranoia of “are we doing this right?” in the dust and chases after the broken-hearted and those hopelessly wounded from not measuring up. It grabs them, embraces them, shakes them silly, and messes up their hair. Grace messes up your hair. And when it’s done, you can brush the dust of Dating Law off your clothes and freely, adventurously pursue someone in hopes that they’ll experience the same hair-raising grace that you have.

3. Why you date does not define you.
One of the saddest products of Dating Law has been an overly pious and spiritualized assessment of our motivations. I cannot tell you how many times I was asked after expressing interest in someone, “so why do you want to date them?” like what I was describing was nothing but carnal. Many of us want pious and glib answers to make us feel like we’re in control, but truth is, we want to date because we want the opportunity to experience love. It’s as if we didn’t trust ourselves to be in any sort of place where we have a deep commitment and experience together with another person without sin getting in the way (which is a sure sign that you are under the Law). Of course sin is going to get in the way, we are all sinners! Do we think that we have to (or are even able to) get to a place of perfection before we ever start even thinking about dating someone? That is pure naivety and another sure sign that we are deeply entrenched in a Dating Law.

Relationships are messy. Whenever you put two sinners together, things are gonna get a bit messy. This does not mean that your relationship is unhealthy (although it will become so without grace), it just means it’s real and not a fairytale. You are going to sin with and against one another, and the only way for you not to idolize the other person or completely despise them is to center yourself around the Gospel of grace as you seek to understand your motivations for wanting a relationship.

God created you to be in relationships. It is not sinful to want the company and affection of another, even if you are not ready for it. God made you to image Him, to reflect Him. This is what theologians call the imago dei, the image of God. Now since God is trinitarian in nature and essence, always and continually in community within Himself with each member of the Trinity loving, serving, and giving to each other, we by our nature image God in our desires for love, communication, and relationship. It’s no accident that God said “it’s not good for man to be alone” after He said repeatedly and emphatically said that everything He made “was very good”. Our desires flow out of God’s nature, so we want relationships because God's very nature is relational. When the Bible says “God is love”, it is saying “God is in relationship”. Trinitarian love is the basis for all human love, so just as each member of the Trinity loves and serves the other, love in a romantic context, or any context for that matter, should seek to do the same because it’s built into the very core of who you are. It’s beautiful and godly to want a suitable companion. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

So let your heart be full of the grace of God, and I promise you, it will begin to flood the lives of others, especially those you date.

(Next week we’ll be looking at some wisdom in dating, and specifically the difference between wisdom and legalism. stay tuned...)


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for going through with the writing of this!! I just started dating two weeks ago and I have been so convicted by this article. I have been under a "dating law" and I yearn for the freedom God has for me to live under instead of my insecurities and woman-made ideologies!! Thank you for sharing you heart on this subject, I am looking forward to finishing the series!
May God bless you for your openness and willingness to be used by Him in this way! :')

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Onnika Johnston said...

There is hardly anything that I anticipate more than the continuation of this series. I've never heard this side before, yet I feel like I've been waiting so long for someone to tell me these things. You've spoken so much truth in this series. So many things I needed to deeply consider. So many things I don't know how I've missed. I'm so thankful for you, and that you've chosen to write about this. I'm going to continue to tell my friends to read it.