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3 Core Principles of Godly Dating

Relationships are complicated, aren’t they?

As a single girl navigating the murky waters of dating, I’ve found myself crying on my bed more than once over the years, asking, “Why is this so hard?” From a breakup that shattered my heart, to getting ghosted by a guy I admired, to the daily decision of seeking God for contentment and joy in the midst of singleness— I know how complicated, confusing, and emotionally-charged dating can be.

And yet, despite the potential for pain, we keep putting our hearts on the line. We hope against hope that this time it’ll work out and bring us the love we crave. The tenacious hope that keeps us picking up the pieces of broken hearts and dashed dreams is deeply connected to an intrinsic longing within every soul: the desire to be loved.

We want a special love. An unconditional love. We long for a love that says, “I choose you above everyone else and no matter what, I will stay by your side.”  We want love that lasts.

So we look to dating as the way to achieve that kind of love because that’s how society says we’ll find it.  But the world’s way of dating is broken.

From hookup culture that promotes no-strings-attached sex to casual relationships without commitment— our culture’s system of dating looks more like a training ground for divorce than a path to unconditional, lasting love. We’re seeing the devastating effects in a high divorce rate, delayed marriage, increased co-habitation, and the countless broken hearts that live among us.

What’s the purpose of dating?
Is there a better way? Is it possible to find lasting love in a culture clueless on how to love well?
Yes! But before we dig into what God’s way looks like, we need to answer this question: What is the purpose of dating?

This gets to the core of the conflict between our culture’s system of dating and God’s standard for relationships.  To contrast the two: what does the world say is the purpose of dating?

Honestly, often there is no objective purpose. Instead, dating is driven by subjective feelings. We date for fun. We date because someone is funny or attractive and we enjoy how they make us feel. To escape the loneliness of singleness and to experience the intensity of infatuation.

Marriage is a foggy hope in the distance rather than an intentional goal in the present.
On the other hand, godly dating is fueled by intentional purpose. Instead of fun, feelings, or a causal relationship, the main goal of godly dating can be condensed into four words: to find a spouse.

That doesn’t mean we marry the first person we date or that every dating relationship should end in marriage. But if our goal is marriage—a forever kind of love—then shouldn’t that goal change the way we date?

3 Core Principles of Godly Dating
We need to learn how to date better. Not for the purpose of dating better, but for the purpose of building stronger, healthier, more God-glorifying marriages.
Let’s dig into three principles that transform dating and lead to a Christ-focused marriage.

1. Date with intention
The main intention of godly dating is to find a spouse. But that main intention leads to specific intention.  For example, to date intentionally means to know what you’re looking for. Many people go into dating with no idea what they’re looking for. In truth, they’re seeking an emotion and looking for a person who will give them the high-intensity, emotional rush of falling in love. But emotions fade and change— they’re not reliable information on which to build a godly marriage.

Consider their character
In order to date and marry well, we have to know what we’re looking for that will contribute to a godly marriage. Thankfully for us, we have an outline of godly character in biblical love in 1 Corinthians 13. Flip a few pages to Galatians 5 and you find an outline of the fruit of the Spirit. Use these passages as filters for anyone you’re considering dating. Are they growing in these characteristics? Is the Spirit of God evident in their lives?
These qualities of biblical character and love are essential in a godly marriage— so why would we compromise on them in dating? If we desire to marry a person of godly character, we shouldn’t settle to date someone who doesn’t have godly character.

Consider yourself
Dating with intention also means applying these filters to our own lives and evaluating if we’re growing in these qualities ourselves and if we’re ready to get married. We jump on the merry-go-round cycle of dating and breaking up when we date before we’re ready.

The following questions may help you think critically about whether or not you’re ready to be married:
  • Age:  Are you old enough to get married?
  • Maturity level:  Are you mature enough to sustain a relationship?
  • Practical preparedness:  Guys, could you financially support a wife and family? Are you striving to reach that point? Girls, are you responsibly preparing for marriage?
  • Emotional maturity:  Are you emotionally healthy? Have you worked through and healed from the pain of any past relationships? 
  • Spiritual maturity:  Do you have a growing, personal relationship with Jesus? 

If our goal is Christ-focused, God-glorifying marriage, that begins with two Christ-focused, God-glorifying singles.

2. Date with selfless, Christ-focused love
Philippians 2 drops a bombshell of truth that can radically transform the way we view dating.
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4, NKJV)

The world’s system of dating places self at the top. We look out for our wants, needs, and emotions first and foremost. If a relationship doesn’t satisfy those wants and needs, a breakup soon follows. The other person is placed second; their wants and needs are considered after our own are met.

Godly dating inverts this pyramid. God is placed as the top and first priority.
  • How can this relationship honor, glorify, and exalt Jesus Christ? 
  • Am I following God’s standards for purity, sexual morality, and godliness? 
  • Does this relationship pull me closer to Jesus or further away? 
With the priority of God firmly at the top, the other person is placed second.

How can I—
  • Value them as a priceless image-bearer of a Holy God? 
  • Honor and respect them? 
  • Protect their heart and emotions and care for their needs? 
  • Help them draw closer to Jesus?  

This selfless, Christ-focused, “God and you above me” kind of love radically changes the way we date because it radically changes how we value the people we date. Every man or woman we know is highly loved and valued by the God who created them. How we treat them in our dating relationships matters not only to them, but to the God who loves them deeply.

3. Don’t make dating your ultimate thing
Dating can be a good thing. Dating can be a godly thing if we date with Christ-focused intention.   But dating can never be our ultimate thing.

Culture turns romantic relationships into “little-g gods” by saying that a person or relationship can fulfill all our desires. But those things never truly satisfy, do they?
That deep need we all have for love? It’s not a craving for a person or a relationship status. It’s a craving for the God who created our hearts and who loves us unconditionally. Attempting to fill the God-sized hole in our souls with relationships or sex only carves out a deeper emptiness.
Every time we look to earthly and temporary substitutes, we’re confronted head on with their insufficiency to fill the void—and the unfulfilled craving still within us. No human on earth has the ability to play the role of satisfier, provider, savior, and sustainer— in short, the role of God— that we’re all seeking.

We will never be satisfied or fulfilled in a relationship if we’re not first fully satisfied in Jesus Christ. Godly dating looks to Jesus— no one else— to satisfy our hearts because we know that He is the only One who can.

God gave us the good gift of romantic relationships. May we never make the gift bigger in our lives than the Giver. Instead, may every gift God bestows point us back to Himself—the Giver of all good gifts.