I get this question a lot as a Pastor. It's not just young folks either, even older divorcees and widows ask "How far can we go?"
What I teach is Bible principles.
"Principles" are not "commandments" nor are they "statutes." They are almost NEVER spelled out letter for letter in the Bible, like so many regulations. Principles are broad based truths that are learned by studying and understanding the words of the Bible's writers, prophets, characters, Jesus, and by watching the actions of God in the history of men and women in the Bible. Like "Oh I see how God reacted this way when that man did that thing. That teaches me that God really HATES it when we do that. Or that teaches me that God really LOVES it when we do that." But often the Bible won't spell out "God hates this" or "God despises that." You have to figure it out by learning the Scriptures as a whole.
When you understand the Scriptural Principles about God's Design for sex and marriage then everything falls into place, and the discussion about "how far can we go?"
is easily answered. Principle:
God designed sex for marriage. (This is nowhere spelled out in so many words. But the truth of it is CRYSTAL clear.)
Next always comes the question "what is sex, exactly?"
They really truly already know the answer to that, deep down in their hearts, by the conscience that God planted in them, and the Holy Spirit. They are looking for a "loophole" that they can exploit and do petting and oral sex, plain and simple. They want to rationalize that they can do it.
A better question is "what is petting and what is oral sex?"
The answer is "It is the first stage of sexual intercourse; it is foreplay. These pleasurable sensations were designed by God to prepare a married couple for PIV sexual intercourse. Petting and oral sex were never designed to be "the main course." Sexual intercourse is not just the insertion of a penis into a vagina. In God's design it begins with preparing the bodies to join. So, are petting and oral sex actually "sex?" Yes 100% absolutely. They are foreplay, and foreplay is for married people."
Another Biblical principle
that no one seems to ask about is "Who, exactly, is entitled to sexual privacy?"
The principle is seen in Scripture is that only married couples are entitled to sexual privacy
, and all others are entitled to ZERO sexual privacy, nada, zilch, zippo. Again, this is never "spelled out" word for word in Scripture. To actually teach the principle with all the illustrations, etc is a process of several hours of study because it is very, very broad based... a little here, a little there, a subtle indication over there, etc
When an unmarried "couple" comes into my office and ask "How far can we go?"
I tell them about these principles and we take the time to go over some of the very nuanced teachings that support the principle. Sometimes I chuckle and ask... "OK, what we're really talking about here to start with, what you are REALLY asking is 'where can I put my hands and my mouth?' Am I right?"
Then there are blushes ...
and they look down at the floor and say "Yes pastor, I guess that's what I'm really asking, now that you get right down to it."
I kind of laugh to break the tension.
And I say "Look, don't be embarrassed! It's a GREAT question! You want to stop feeling guilty and you came to me to get Biblical counsel, right? Good on you! I'm very impressed with your hearts! This shows a real desire to please God, and is a good sign in your faith walk! I asked myself the same question when I was in your shoes. And I WAS in your shoes at one time believe it or not."
Then they look up, encouraged, and smile a bit. They are listening. So I continue.
"Friends, this is simple. The Bible principles and logic go together to form a syllogism that is easily understood, and answers your question.
1. Sex is for marriage (principle)
2. Putting your hand or mouth on erogenous zones is the foreplay of sex, so it is sex (God's design of human sexual response)
3. Sexual privacy is for married couples, and for no one else. (principle)
4. You are not married to each other (fact)
5. Therefore you are not entitled to the kind of sexual privacy married couples get while performing sexual foreplay." (conclusion)
Sometimes the light goes on over their heads.
Other times, the light is on, but ain't nobody home.
So I say "OK, let's make this easy. Why don't you two just go ahead and demonstrate for my wife and me here exactly what you want to do to each other's bodies. Just do it in front of us and we'll discuss whether it's "allowed"
(air-quotes) or not."
Me: "Go ahead. You are not allowed sexual privacy because you are not married, so show us what you think is allowed. Do it now, here in the open."Y'see, to the unmarried all sexual acts and foreplay are forbidden, and they have no sexual privacy. To the married, all sexual acts and foreplay are allowed, as is their sexual privacy. But, you already knew that before you came here didn't you? You just wanted confirmation and accountability didn't you?
"Yes," they reply.
Now, here's where you begin to see the differences among Christians. The more liberal Christians will tend to object "You are making all that up! It's not in Scripture! Show me the chapter and verse that states precisely what you just taught!"
Y'see they think they are being good "truth seekers" by demanding a precise chapter and verse reading of "the rule." They think that I am being a "legalist" by "imposing a so-called rule that is not stated in Scripture." They think that I am "adding to the Word of God." But in fact they are the ones who are being the legalists by wanting to have a Book of Rules
where everything is stated explicitly like a Civil Statute. It that were the case, then our Bible would be 50,000 pages long and look like the Law Books in a lawyer's office.
But God teaches us His will, not always as a list of dos and don'ts, but in a gentle way by showing us His actions in human history as shown in the Bible. A believer who is filled with the Holy Spirit doesn't need a Rule Book and doesn't need someone to cite them "It says right here in the Book of Rules, section 12, subsection B, paragraph 4, line 3, subpoint d.1.4, and I quote "It shall be unlawful for any person to ... blah, blah, blah, legalese ... penalties ... punishments ... exceptions ... it shall be an affirmative defense of the aforementioned violation wherein ... blah blah, the heretofore exceptions notwithstanding."
The legalist is unable to see the principle over the broad swaths of Scripture. He needs a concise Bible statement all in a single verse or passage. And I can find no such rules even against torture of prisoners, beating of children, beating of wives, white collar crimes on the internet, copyright violations, etc. But we all know these are wrong, don't we? And we all believe there is a case to be made against them by a mature understanding of Scripture, don't we? Yes! Indeed, how awful would it be for the cause of Christ if the Church believed "I can do anything not explicitly spelled out and prohibited by the Bible." We'd be just like the Pharisees, just like the world.