I was 17 years old. I was seated at a kitchen table with an Adventist couple as they shared how they encouraged their daughter to sleep with her boyfriends in order to know if they were truly sexually compatible. The idea was to help the young woman choose, based on who was best in bed. Turning toward me and my sisters, they actually said, “You should consider it.” I remember a strong wave of incredulity sweep over me at the suggestion. Although at the time I hadn’t done much research about premarital sex in the Bible, I could not shake the feeling that this advice was not biblical.

On another occasion a few of us from our youth group were visiting another couple who served as our spiritual mentors. We asked them how far it was OK to go sexually before marriage. They responded with “Anything is OK, as long as it is not sexual intercourse.” Once again, I remember thinking about that advice and deciding that this, too, could not be biblical.

Instinctively, I figured that if God created sex, we were to glorify Him in our relationships. But how were we to do that? Where sex is concerned, what glorifies God before marriage?

Not Such a Novelty

Perhaps the “almost anything goes” attitude should be a novelty in Adventist circles, but it might be more common than we think. I am a youth pastor, and as my youth confirm, sex is normalized and everywhere. Many Christian families realize this attitude is destructive; therefore, their teenagers are regularly told, “Don’t do it!”

In many schools sex talks include teaching teenagers about sexually transmitted infections, and how destructive an unwanted teen pregnancy can be. Christian society apparently wants to make sure young people understand that sex is so bad that it is downright dangerous. After all, it is usually brought up negatively, because if young people are scared enough, they won’t do it.

But all we need is to ask teenagers at any school—Adventist included—whether premarital sex is going on among their peers.They often answer in the affirmative. One of the greatest dangers of the scare-tactic approach is presenting sex as something ugly and having the image stay in the mind well into marriage.

Very Good

How does the Bible view sex? As tov me’od, which means “very good.” After God finished creating, He saw that “it was very good.” Everything that God made, including the sexuality of the human couple, God called not just good, but very good. Tov me’od means goodness, wholesomeness, appropriateness, and beauty. Sex is beautiful; God created it that way. He could’ve made it completely unpleasant, something we’d only do to have babies, but He didn’t. He wants us to enjoy it.

God created us as sexual beings. He created us in His imageas male and female.

God created us as sexual beings. He created us in His image as male and female. Sexuality is part of our identity. God brought Eve to Adam and performed the first wedding. In his book, Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament, Richard Davidson points out that the terminology “a man and his wife” (see Gen. 2:24) indicates a marriage relationship.1 The first Friday evening of Creation week was the couple’s first Sabbath, but also their wedding night.

After the marriage ceremony God states, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24, NKJV).2 “A man shall leave [azav]”: the verb literally means to abandon and forsake. Since in ancient cultures the wife customarily left her family, God wanted to reiterate that it is not just the woman who leaves, but the man as well. They are to have a relationship that is guarded and separate.

The verse continues with the words “be joined [davaq] to his wife,” which refers to the marriage covenant and marriage vows. Davaq implies strong personal attachment or clinging to one another, and is used in the Bible for covenant bond with God. Only after that, it says, do they “become one flesh,” referring to sexual intercourse.

Most important, the initial ‘therefore’ indicates that this verse serves as a pattern for all relationships in the future—not just in Eden, but always. The pattern is: leave, get married, then have sexual intercourse. First, it is an exclusive relationship about commitment. Second, it’s permanent. Only then does it get intimate.

Unfortunately, Satan has always tried to destroy whatever God established. He has tried to convince the human race that we can do whatever we want and still be happy. This blinds us to the realization that doing whatever we want leads to bondage to Satan rather than greater freedom.

But Why Wait?

Why should we leave sex for marriage? Because it has consequences. It creates oneness.

Davidson calls the experience of husband and wife becoming one flesh as “wholeness—in all the physical, sensual, social, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of life.”3 Sex is not simply about physical compatibility, but rather about a harmony in all aspects of life. Notice that the verse doesn’t say “be” one flesh, but rather “become.” This is a process. Over time, married couples become one and experience wholeness more deeply.

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Do we have any proof that God’s way is the best?

Jeff and Shaunti Feldhahn and Erica and Lisa Rice interviewed young men and women (both Christian and non-Christian) who had had premarital sex and asked them to share how it impacted them and their relationships. The males first said that for a guy, sex did not equal love or commitment to the girl. They observed, “Girls use sex to get love, and guys use love to get sex.”4 Males reported that as soon as they had sex they began to doubt whether they could trust the girl. Sixty-four percent of guys said they started to wonder whether the girl was trustworthy, and whether that relationship was worth it.5 In other words, for a guy who has had sex before marriage, there is a greater possibility that the relationship is broken off shortly after because the foundation of trust that is important for any relationship was shattered.

What about the impact of premarital sex on young women? Eighty-five percent of girls used negative words to describe how they felt afterward: “clingy, possessive, controlling, regretful, dirty, wanting to change the guy, etc.”6 The theme that emerged is the girls essentially saying to the guys, “From now on you cannot spend time with anyone else; you are mine.” It shouldn’t be surprising that the reaction of the girls is so strong, since as stated above, God created sex to create oneness between couples.

Fascinatingly, the study showed that above everything else, a girl wants a guy who will be her hero and protect her, not push for sex. Seventy-five percent of girls (Christian and non-Christian) stated that in a make-out situation they always hope the guy will not try to go all the way.

But let’s get back to the original question: What should a young person do in order to glorify God before marriage? When speaking with youth on this topic, this is what I recommend:

Set boundaries you will not cross. Nine out of 10 Christian guys agreed they would like to marry a virgin. And 69 percent of all guys (Christian and non-Christian) would like to marry a virgin. Yet 82 percent of guys report difficulty with bringing things to a halt sexually.7 That’s why in a relationship it is important to set a line beyond which you will not go. The line needs to be talked about. Don’t be afraid to bring it up. It’s better to be embarrassed when talking about it than to have to look back and regret the decisions you make. Once you cross a line, it is very difficult to backtrack. Know where you need to go before God, and stick with it.

Help each other out. Don’t just expect the other person to be the strong one.

Don’t believe anyone who tells you, “This is OK, it’s not sex.” No married couple will say, for example, that oral sex is not sex.

Spend time in God’s Word so that your desires are shaped by the character of God.

If you have messed up, ask God for a do-over. Ask for His forgiveness, and believe that He has forgiven you. Then ask for strength every day as you start over. God is a God of grace, but He is also a God of power. He helps us “walk uprightly” (Prov. 15:21, NKJV).

Looking Ahead

Will saving yourself for marriage guarantee sexual and marital bliss? Although the guidance of the Bible is given for our happiness, just because we do everything “right” doesn’t always guarantee everything will turn out perfect. Marriage is a lot more complex and involved than simply doing “everything right” before your wedding day.

More guidance is needed during the course of marriage, and couples should never assume that “it will just work out” if they are not willing to put as much effort into building their relationship once they get married as before. Both individuals should always be about the business of bettering their marriage.

Sexual feelings are normal, created by God. But acting on them has its time and place. Those struggling to stay sexually pure shouldn’t worry; we are not alone. We can commit ourselves to God’s plan and remember that anything worthwhile in life is not easy. But God loves us enough to bless our efforts.

  1. Richard M. Davidson, Flame of Yaweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2007), p. 45.
  2. Bible texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. all rights reserved.
  3. Davidson, Flame of Yahweh, p. 37.
  4. Shaunti Feldhahn and Lisa A. Rice, For Young Women Only (Colorado Springs, Colo.: Multnomah Books, 2006), p. 154.
  5. S. Feldhahn and L. A. Rice, p. 156.
  6. Jeff Feldhahn and Eric Rice, For Young Men Only (Colorado Springs, Colo.: Multnomah Books, 2008), pp. 130-134.
  7. S. Feldhahn and L. A. Rice, pp. 145-160.

Andrea Jakobsons is pastor for youth, collegiates, and young adults at Spencerville Adventist Church in Maryland.

How do I connect with a God who is the Creator of the universe? Should I relate to Him as my buddy? Should I treat Him as my go-to guy? Interestingly, when the Bible tells us how to relate to God, one phrase appears over and over: “Fear God.” What does that really mean?

Of all the rooms in my grandparent’s third-story apartment, I remember best the living room, mainly because of a picture that hung on the wall. Actually, I don’t remember the picture itself, just the words written across it. They read: “Fear God and give Him glory.”

One day we visited our grandparents, and I asked, “Dad, what does it mean to fear God?” I can still hear myself asking that question. I don’t know why it has stuck in my memory, because I don’t really remember when and how I learned most biblical concepts. But I do remember this one. Perhaps because it was such an intriguing subject to a kid who had been taught that God is love. Why fear Him?

The Right Fear

My dad told me that “fearing God” doesn’t mean to be scared of God, and to tremble or cower before Him in fear. Instead, it means to hold Him in high regard and respect Him. Other descriptors would be to be in awe of Him and to treat Him with reverence. Throughout Scripture, whenever God reveals Himself or sends His angel, people fall to the ground in fear. Each time, they are told, “Do not fear.” Clearly God doesn’t want us to be afraid of Him. Rather, when we are told to “fear God,” we look at a loving, holy, and powerful God who wants us to know Him.

One story has especially puzzled me when it comes to the concept of the “fear of God.” The story is found in Exodus 19 and 20. It appears that in this story God does want Israel to fear Him, to be scared, and to tremble before Him. If so, why?

At the Mountain

Three months had passed since the Israelites had left Egypt and had arrived in the Wilderness of Sinai. When they settled at the foot of the mountain, God sent a message to the people through Moses: “If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people. . . . And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:5, 6).1

Is it possible that Moses understood that true holiness can only come from being in the presence of God?

The people answered God: “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (verse 8).

God knew that their pledge was just a promise they made in the “heat of the moment.” It wasn’t a wholehearted commitment, as evidenced by the golden calf episode a short time later. With Moses not being around, they started worshipping a golden idol. Thankfully, however, God never gives up on His people. It was time for God to do something they hadn’t seen before; time for them to experience more of who God really is.

God told Moses to consecrate the people, because on the third day He would meet them at the mountain. God wanted Israel to sense the importance of this moment. Israel had to wash up and refrain from any sexual activity. To add to the sacredness of the encounter with God, Moses also built a barrier under God’s instructions to prevent anyone from coming up the mountain and irreverently “gaze at the Lord.” Apparently, some in the camp of the Israelites had little respect toward God or anything godly.

The long-awaited day finally arrived. On the third day, God came down to meet His people. The mountain was noisy. It was covered in smoke and a thick cloud while thunder and lightning struck over and over as if to tear the mountain apart. Then the trumpet started to blow. The shofar started softly, then grew steadily in intensity. The noise was deafening, and the whole mountain shook. The people, who stood close to the mountain, were terrified. They trembled in fear.

Then everything went quiet, and God spoke. Israel heard God speak as He shared the Ten Commandments. The people had been brought close to the mountain when God came down, but we are told that by the end the people “stood afar off.” They had retreated because of the terrifying encounter.

Ellen White describes the scene: “The awful power of God’s utterances seemed more than their trembling hearts could bear. For as God’s great rule of right was presented before them, they realized, as never before, the offensive character of sin, and their own guilt in the sight of a holy God. They shrank away from the mountain in fear and awe.”2

Following this experience, the Israelites approached Moses, pleading with him to speak to God by himself, then relate to them what God had said. They didn’t want to go through the same experience again. They didn’t want to hear God or meet Him again, because His presence was terrifying. The story ends with Moses telling the people “Do not fear.” Then he continued: “For God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin” (Ex. 20:20).

Be Safe—and Holy

Reading this story made me wonder about God’s purpose in presenting Himself in such a powerful way—and doing so in order that they may not sin. What was God trying to accomplish by allowing the Israelites to experience fear and trepidation? Perhaps God was acting like a father who sees his little 2-year-old boy about to wander across a busy street. In that moment he’s not going to speak softly. He will shout: “Stop! Don’t move!” God used this powerful experience as a way of getting Israel’s attention.

God demonstrates His power and His holiness. He desires for His people to pay attention to how they live—and “not sin.” He wants His people to be holy.

I vividly remember the time one of my friends called me “Ellen White”—and it was not meant as a compliment. Unfortunately, today holiness is frowned upon, even mocked. Being holy means being separate, set apart. It doesn’t mean that we are perfect, but that instead we choose God, act in a way that glorifies Him, and when we mess up we turn to Him for forgiveness and transformation. In fact, we can’t make ourselves holy. We can be holy only because God’s presence in our lives makes us holy.

Intriguingly, there's one part of the story I have passed over every time I read it. The passage ends with the following description: “The people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was” (Ex. 20:21). I had never paid attention to the contrast this verse presents. Hebrews 12:21 informs us that during this experience Moses himself exclaimed, “I am trembling with fear” (NIV). His experience was no different than the rest of the assembly. They all trembled because they were in awe of a holy God and their own sinfulness was stark in their minds as God presented the law. Yet the experience of God’s holy presence being manifested drew Moses to God even more. Unfortunately, the people had the opposite reaction and instead went away from God.

Is it possible that Moses understood that true holiness comes only from being in the presence of God? That’s what God was really telling them. Spend time with Me! I will make you holy when you walk with Me. He was trying to get their attention so they would desire to be with Him.

The Fear-God Lifestyle

This story teaches us that to fear God is a lifestyle. “To fear God” means to cultivate God’s presence in our everyday life, to make our decisions in respect to Him and His law. It corresponds to loving and obeying God. There is nothing extraordinary or magic in the phrase. It simply means to enjoy His presence constantly, and be aware that He is here to help as a caring father watches over his child. We can admire, relate to, and follow such a God.

When God says “Fear Me,” He wants us to draw near to Him so He can work in us. Has God been trying to get our attention lately? He wants to make us holy by His presence. How will we respond?

  1. Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
  2. Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1890), pp. 309, 310.

Andrea Jakobsons serves as an associate pastor at Spencerville Adventist Church in Maryland.