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...)

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Gospel for Dating Part One: Identity

Note: This is part two of a five-part series titled "Dating Law vs. Dating Gospel". Today we will look at identity in Christ and grace, and tomorrow we'll flush out some of the implications of this on dating. You can catch up by reading Part One: "Are You Under a Dating Law" here.

Before we dig in, let me say this: This idea has actually been very hard for me to express, and I nearly gave up and scraped this whole series, but some key friends really pushed me to finish this because they believe what I am wrestling with is exactly what God is going to use to help others. In addition to struggling with having a massively crushing Dating Law myself, I have never quite experienced what this blog will describe. I have experienced failure, loss and plenty of rejection, but grace is not something I have seen in my dating life. The Gospel is the only thing that can help me deal with the complexities of modern romantic relationships. The fact that I have trouble believing this doesn't mean it isn't true, it just means that (ironically) grace seems harder to live by than the Law. So would you join this broken and fragile man in seeing how the great story of God's radical grace in Jesus can transform how we view and deal with our emotions, relationships, and immensely broken hearts?

In my last post we looked at the problem of Dating Law, in which we set up a list of rules and standards for ourselves and those we pursue in relationship in order to get what we think we deserve in a potential mate. But this law becomes a crushing weight that turns us into frustrated and despondent people lacking any grace. The development of this dating law looks something like this:

1) All of us want to have some sort of control over our dating relationships in regards to a biblical standard of holiness
2) But we also live in a culture which subtly feeds us a standard based on a self-centered worldview
3) So we have merged our own personal code for holiness with modern dating, in effect creating a dating law.

We saw last week that the biblical Law gave a diagnosis of the spiritual and relational problems of God's people, but was never intended to be the cure. And along the same lines, having a dating law can tell you what you want for yourself and those you wish to pursue, but it can never bring any real and lasting change in the way you relate to them; for that you need the Gospel.

In Exodus 20, when the original Law, the Ten Commandments, were given, God prefaces it with a very important piece of truth that we often overlook, and it has caused a detriment in our thinking, living, and interacting with others, including the precarious realm of dating.

This is how the 10 Commandments begin:

"And God spoke all these words, saying,

'I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.'"

Before God ever told them what to do, how to behave, or what to expect of each other, He gave them a decisive foundation on which to build their life: I am your God and I alone have rescued you out of slavery.

This should absolutely floor us. God has made a people for Himself by rescuing them from themselves, their enemies, and all who would oppress them. No doubt He gave them a mode of conduct to set them apart from all the other people, but before He spoke even one word of command, He told them who He is and what He has done. If the Law is the diagnosis for the spiritual and relational problems of God's people, then Exodus 20:1 is the cure: God has rescued you out of slavery.

This is the Gospel.

J. Alec Motyer, great OT scholar, using the story of the Exodus as well said it this way.

"If you asked an Israelite coming out out of Egypt on the way to Canaan 'Who are you?' they would say 'I was in a foreign land, under the sentence of death, in bondage, but i took shelter under the blood of the lamb. Our mediator lead us out of there and we crossed over and now we're on our way to the promised land, but we're not there yet, but He's given us His Law to make us a community, and He gave us the tabernacle because you have to live by grace and forgiveness. His presence is in our midst and He is going to stay with us until we get home."

Funny, that is exactly what a Christian says.

God has rescued you from your slavery to sin, not by killing all the firstborn sons of your oppressors, but by providing the sacrifice of His one and only Son. He has called you His own, brought you out of the land of slavery and sent you on a journey to the Promised Land. Therefore, your identity is no longer based on obedience or disobedience, success or failure, perfect law-keeping or reckless law-breaking, but in the perfection of Christ's life, the spotlessness of his death, and the glory of his resurrection. All of it. Everything that Christ did is reckoned to you. Every temptation he overcame is now your victory. Every bead of sweat and drop of blood shed as now completely, completely covered all of your sin. When you believe in Jesus, God immediately takes His eyes off of your iniquitous life and turns to look at Christ. And He can't take His eyes off of him. He is no longer interested in keeping track all of your wrongs (and your precious little rights); He is only interested in the matchless record of Jesus, given to you. This is where you stand, and this is what now defines you. You are in Christ.

The cure for our ailments comes before the diagnosis. God gives the answer to all of our woes before He tells us what's wrong.  That's because it's not about us, but about Him and His grace.

This is where we can begin to see the Gospel in relation to dating:

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

Stay tuned tomorrow where we will continue to look at how Gospel identity reorients our dating relationships.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Are you under a Dating Law?

Note: This is the first of four posts of a series i’m entitling “Dating Law vs. Dating Gospel”. Looking at dating through the lense of law and gospel has freed me from the crushing weight I put on myself and those I pursue in relationship, and I hope it will do the same for you.
Have you ever been golfing? It’s difficult. it’s expensive. And yet every weekend, the courses are full of men and women in goofy outfits having minor Turette’s episodes regarding the number FOUR. Similarly, every weekend you’ll find restaurants and movie theatres full of men and women wearing their best outfits and trying to disguise who they really are. Now, pepper some American evangelical nonsense into all that, and it’s enough to turn anybody into one frustrated curmudgeon. I know because I have experienced this first-hand over the last ten years, with little fruit to show for my hard work.

Dating culture in the modern church seems to be lost in-between two worlds: that of the biblical Christianity that we try to take seriously, and that of the secular world which has an invisible grasp on our decisions, standards, and practices. Most of us desire to live lives of holiness (especially when it comes to dating), and so when considering who to date, we have things like purity, trust, and service in mind. What we don't often realize is the world around us is subtly feeding us ideas about what we should look for in a potential mate. These would include social status, income, how they make us "feel", and most importantly, sex appeal. Now these things aren't inherently bad (for example, no one wants to date someone they are not attracted to), but they do need to be assessed biblically in order for them to contribute positively to a healthy dating relationship.

American evangelicalism has "Christianized" this second list, taking all that we want in a boyfriend/girlfriend and justifying it spiritually. For example, "income" becomes "can he provide for me?", "How they make me feel" becomes "Do they speak my love language?" and sex appeal becomes "will she protect me from lust"*. For example, I think somewhere in the mid-90's, many Christian girls I knew were being told that they were princesses; they were "daughters of the King". This led to the only logical conclusion that if they were princesses, then they must be waiting for a prince. This set an incredibly high standard for the average Christian guy, one that many, if not all, felt they could not meet. The qualifications necessary to date a Christian girl became so ridiculous that Jesus himself could've walked into the room and five of the girls would have said, "I don't like beards"**.

So what was the solution?


1) learn to play the acoustic guitar,
2) lead a small group
3) start working out at The Lord's Gym.

I did all of these things fairly early on in my Christian life, thinking that if I could just get these things down, maybe I could snag a nice church girl of my own. When it came to actually taking her on a date, it all had to be perfect. The date had to be elegant, not too cheap, creative, and fun. It had to be approved by your pastor, her parents, your small group, and her BFF's. Everything had to be perfect.

Do you see what we have done? We have created a set rules and standards that nobody in the world could possibly keep. We have created a Dating Law.

We have, in effect, created our own Mosaic Law when it comes to dating. In biblical terms, the Law is a list of 613 rules and practices that God gave to His people through Moses in order that they might thrive in relationship with Him and with each other. It provided a diagnosis of their spiritual and relational condition, but It was never supposed to the cure. A law can never solve a problem, it can only point it out. So, do you have a "Ten Commandments of dating"? I did, and I have only began to see that I thought God did not trust me with any kind of romantic relationship unless there were strict guidelines, which brings me back to my original observation:

We have merged Biblical Law with modern dating, and the outcome is a lot of broken hearts.

You see, the Law works on an "if/then" principle. If you obey these commands, then God will bless you. Dating has subsequently taken on these same parameters; "If" you meet my requirements, "then" I will give you my attention and affection. But does anyone want that? Don't we all feel a little despondent, just wanting to find love without all the stupid rules? Is there a better way?

Well if there is a spiritual answer for those who can't keep the Law, then there must be a relational answer for the same. But that’s for next week...

*I am not saying a woman is responsible for a man’s lust (which she is not), I am just pointing out what happens when we justify worldly ideas with “spiritual” answers.
**This isn’t to say that guys haven't set an incredibly high standard as well, but that doesn’t really flow with the joke.