Is cohabiting for Christians?

According to the 2010 census, approximately 45% of the households in America are unmarried. Since 1960, the number of cohabiting couples has increased by 10 times. In fact, today, most couples who get married have cohabited first. Sadly, this trend is also reflected in the Christian community. On any Sunday, our churches are filled with couples who live together as husband and wife who are not married. It seems that most of us are confused about the spiritual realities of this way of life. Obviously, these are people who need to be welcomed into God’s house and shown the love of Christ, however when we don’t teach them the biblical truth about God’s standard of marriage and sexuality, we imply that their lifestyle choice is acceptable in God’s sight. This leads to normalizing cohabiting as an acceptable lifestyle practice within the church. So, I hope to lay out a clear, concise reply to this growing problem.

Most cohabiting couples I have spoken to offer several reasons for their choice to forego marriage. Each one is based on human logic or emotional pain from an ugly divorce. Their general attitude stems from several thoughts including, “How is a piece of paper going to make my relationship better?!” or “ I did the marriage thing and it was too painful for me to tie myself to someone else again!” or “I saw what my parents went through when they divorced so I want to test the waters first and make sure we can make it in marriage before we get married.” and finally, “ God knows my heart and He loves me unconditionally so He is ok with it.”  However, the all important question is, “ Can a person be in a right relationship with God and cohabit at the same time?”

At this point, it is tempting to discuss the history of events leading to this trend, statistics that verify that this is a faulty and risky plan, and logical arguments for marriage and against the idea of cohabiting, but those don’t address the real concern. The real concern is how God views this lifestyle. Is He really ok with it? Does He care? Is He indifferent? Does He just love and accept us unconditionally no matter how we live our lives or are there consequences for violating His commands? The only answers that matter are found in His Word… the Bible.

I guess the starting point is to think about human sexuality. It is understood that when a man and woman enter into a romantic relationship that leads to marriage or cohabiting, one element of that is physical intimacy. After all, cohabiting couples are not living platonic arrangements. God makes it plain that He has clearcut guidelines on this aspect of life. There are two words that are used hundreds of times in the Bible that have to do with this…fornication and adultery. Fornication refers to all sexual activity outside the bond of marriage and adultery refers to any sexual activity by a married person with someone other than his/her husband/wife. The command against adultery first shows up in Exodus 20:14 as one of the 10 commandments.Think about that for a moment, God is going to give ten commands to govern the lives of His people that will make them different from the surrounding people and He addresses adultery as one of those key commands. This alone indicates that this is an important issue to Him. In Matthew 5: 27-32, Jesus not only endorses the commandment against adultery, but strengthens it by saying that if a person cultivates a strong desire to commit adultery if the opportunity arises, then they are already guilty of adultery. This warns us that lust and immoral fantasy are just as sinful as the act itself. Jesus takes human sexuality seriously. 

We are all familiar with the incident where Jesus intervened to show mercy to the woman who was caught in the act of adultery, but let’s be clear about the facts of this story. Jesus did not condone the woman’s adultery as acceptable because of some extenuating circumstances like low self esteem, a broken past, or a need to be happy and “in love”. He did not give her special permission to practice adultery. He did not decree that adultery was no longer a sin. In fact, He pointed out that she was caught in a web of sin and He offered her forgiveness with the condition that she “go and sin(commit adultery) no more”. The word translated “fornication” and “sexual immorality” is the Greek word “Porneia”. It is used nearly 40 times in the New Testament, at least seven of those are by Jesus in the Gospels. Porneia basically refers to all sexual activity outside marriage which includes a lot of acts. The distinguishing difference between fornication and adultery is that adultery has to do exclusively with married people and fornication has to do with all people. 

In Matthew 15:19, Jesus lists seven things that defile a person… two of the seven are adultery and fornication. So, according to Jesus, it is impossible to be engaged in a lifestyle of adultery or fornication and be in a right, close relationship with Him at the same time.

In Revelation 2:14 & 21, Jesus issues harsh judgement for those in the the church who engage in and encourage “porneia”. His command is to repent and turn away from this terrible sin.

In 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 the apostle Paul says that there should be no fellowship between believers and someone who professes to be a follower of Christ whose life is marked by six sins… the first of which is “porneia” (sexual activity that violates God’s standard). The key issue here is “one who is named as a follower of Jesus”. Of course, those who are not followers of Jesus will engage in anything their flesh craves, but the point is that once we come to Christ, we should bring our flesh into obedience to the ways of the Kingdom of Heaven. We are called to be different and distinctive which is how we become lights in a dark world. When we normalize and approve sin in our midst, we lose our influence and power to reach the world with the Good News of forgiveness and new life through Jesus.

In Galatians 5:19, both adultery and fornication are listed as works of the sinful flesh that should be abandoned by those who are born again. In fact, fornication and adultery are the first two qualities of seventeen listed. Then, Paul goes on to say that those who engage in a lifestyle of these qualities will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. This should alert us to the seriousness of this issue. This should never be normalized within the Body of Christ.

In Ephesians 5:3-11, Paul once again makes it plain that those who live a lifestyle of rejecting God’s standard for the expression of sexuality within the bonds of marriage to engage in whatever they convince themselves is ok will not have a place in the Kingdom of Heaven. Then, He goes on to explain that before we came to Christ this was an expression of our sin nature and after coming to Christ, we are expected to put away this behavior and walk as children of the Light. I hope you see that the repetition of the strong warnings indicates that this is not a “minor sin” that God understands and is willing to overlook because it “really isn’t a big deal”. This is a very big deal to God.

In 1Thessalonians 4:3-8, the apostle Paul states that abstaining from all types of sexual immorality is God’s will for His children. Do you have any interest in finding God’s will for your life? If so, here is part of it…keep yourself pure. Then, he goes on to explain again that this is one characteristic that differentiates believers from non-believers and sums it up by stating that if anyone rejects this concept he is rejecting God not men. Ouch! This clearly states that a person who is cohabiting is not at peace with God but rather their relationship with God is in crisis! It’s time for the Body of Christ to reverse this trend of normalizing this sin and speak the truth in love to rescue them from the consequences of this deception.

In Hebrews 12:16, the writer warns the church not to be like Esau who traded his inheritance to satisfy the immediate craving of his flesh. This again makes it clear that how we handle our sexual appetite has serious eternal implications. 

I have been concerned for several years about this growing trend in the Christian community and the way it is being normalized. I recently saw a show on television that demonstrated the casual attitude concerning this issue. It was one of those live, story – telling shows in which two families that had been torn apart by a traffic accident that left a teenager dead were going to meet for the first time since the accident and try to find forgiveness and help each other move forward. It turns out that the family of the deceased girl are a ministry family. The man had a powerful testimony of God rescuing him from drugs and a life of crime. They quoted many Bible verses and had several prayers on camera. It was quite inspiring…except… these preachers of the Gospel were not married. They were cohabiting and referred to each other as their “partner”. The disappointment was overwhelming.  Have we normalized this idea of cohabiting instead of marrying to the point where even ministers of the Gospel are now practicing this?

God created marriage to be a blessing to humanity. His plan is that a man and woman would get acquainted, develop a deep friendship that includes exclusive sharing of confidences, cultivate a close emotional bond, enter into a covenant of marriage until death separates them, and then begin to experience the overwhelming blessing of physical intimacy and the building of a family. Of course, the children of the devil hate and mock that plan and look for every way to violate and pervert it, but the children of the King of Light should adhere closely to the plan of their Father to honor Him and to receive His blessing.

It’s time to speak the truth in love to cohabiting couples who profess to be born again. The solution for cohabiting couples includes repentance for this sin, rejecting the deceptive thoughts that led to this decision, immediate physical separation, and a wedding as soon as possible. 

A wedding is not simply a ceremony involving some old fashioned rituals in order to get a piece of paper and make everybody happy. A wedding is a gathering of a bride and groom with their families and friends in the very presence of God where they make solemn covenant promises to each other in the presence of God and witnesses who hold the couple accountable for these promises. They are committing to be faithful to each other and help each other through life whether the journey is easy or difficult… through sickness and health, wealth or poverty, and better or worse. It is a swearing of allegiance to each other for life. It is a pledge of undying loyalty and fidelity. It is a public proclamation to put the needs and best interests of the other first. It is a burning of the ship. There is no plan to escape or run away if things get tough. It is a killing of the single life with all the things that involves. These promises are made with the Almighty watching and taking note of every word. The promises are sealed with the exchange of rings and a kiss, then the covenant is consummated on the wedding night when the couple participates in the great mystery of two becoming one spiritually through physical intimacy. When done according to the plan of the Creator, the couple now launches into life together with emotional, physical, and spiritual wholeness and security in the relationship.

God has an order for all things. The basic influence of sin is to ignore, abandon, and mock God’s order and then shake an angry fist of accusation at Him when the violation of his order yields its painful consequences. Jesus came to rescue us from sin and the Holy Spirit guides us to obey God’s order for life. The order of God for relationships is the development of emotional bonds, marriage, physical intimacy, and then children. When we accept and normalize any other order than that among those who profess to be born again, we dishonor the Father and diminish His order in our midst which leads to widespread disregard for His Word and ways.

I hope this article helps you understand clearly what God has ordained for the establishment and progression of relationships. I hope it will bring conviction that leads to change to any who are already cohabiting. I hope it will equip you to answer those who don’t understand the need for marriage.

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