There are increasing pressures to live together before marriage, particularly for young Christians. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, 59 percent of Millennials and Generation Xers have lived with an unmarried partner, which surpasses the 50 percent who have been married. This is the first time cohabiting has topped marriage in the U.S. These numbers continue to climb, making this a new norm for young Christians.
Many young Christians want to “try out” living together to figure out if the relationship will work long term. With increasing pressures from society, many young Christians are adopting worldly beliefs, which can be problematic for several reasons.
There is no place in scripture that tells us directly that living together before or outside of marriage is a form of sin. As a result of this, many young Christians think that living together before marriage is not sinful. While the Bible does not claim that living together before marriage being a form of sin, there is a reason for this. It was uncommon for two unmarried people to become husband and wife to live together before marriage in biblical times.
It’s important that “living together” is put in context. Bring in the same space, following the marriage model including sexual relations, is problematic and not what God wants for us. We must distinguish that this is not the same as a man and a woman living in the same home without sex. There isn’t an issue with two members of the opposite sex living together if there isn’t anything immoral taking place. Yet, problems will arise when temptation and desire begin to show up in the household.
Scripture says, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people" (Ephesians 5:3). We are taught as Christians the importance of staying away from immorality. The Bible also says, “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body" (1 Corinthians 6:18). When sex occurs outside of marriage, including premarital sex, it is considered fornication. The Bible defines fornication as a sin.
Another problem that will come up for young Christians living together before marriage involves commitment. When a couple decides they want to be married, it is an up-front commitment. We learn in Genesis that a man leaves his father and mother, unites to his wife, and they become one flesh. The Bible says, “And the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh.” This is also referenced in the book of Mark. If a man and a woman don’t share their life as one flesh in a committed relationship that honors God, there can’t be a true foundation of trust. While many people will argue that you don’t need a document to define your love for someone, being in a committed relationship with a profession of marriage is unrealistic.
Some believe that cohabitation, which is defined as an arrangement where two people who are not married live together, puts a man in the driver’s seat and a woman at risk with very little leverage in the relationship. In these situations, a man may get what they want in terms of companionship and sex without giving the woman the commitment they fear. This viewpoint may be a little broad, but it does put a spotlight on an important truth. Most men long not only for sex but also for companionship. They will commit when they find the woman they want to be with, and they are ready for that important step in their lives. Women have little to leverage when they are just living together with a man before marriage. They are giving themselves away before the man makes that commitment. If a man has no interest in a long-term commitment, the relationship can easily fall apart, especially when both parties have different expectations.
Ephesians 5 is a great text for young Christians to review to understand what marriage represents. The Bible says, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But among you, there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things, God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them” (1 Corinthians 5:1-7). When young couples live together, they both have physical access to one another, but that comes without spiritual or emotional commitment.
Ultimately, God wants us to be in spiritually and emotionally committed relationships. Too many relationships, young and old, don’t work out because there isn’t a solid foundation. Too often, physical commitment becomes nothing more than the gratification of the flesh.
Social norms have been shifting for some time now and will continue to shift. Some younger couples are looking for opportunities to save on the cost of living, and fewer people, including Christians, are frowning on cohabitation. While living together before marriage may seem to make the most sense for your situation, consider the benefits and the drawbacks. Marriage is one of the great steps you can take in life. Young couples should consider moving in with someone they are ready to be fully committed to in a marriage union. If there is fear, lack of trust or commitment, it may be time to reevaluate the relationship.