Tim and Jess had only been married for eight months, but the honeymoon was most certainly over. The sweet conversations that once marked their relationship had been replaced with constant bickering. Their laughter had dulled, and their distance had grown. Their sexual intimacy had almost ceased. What went wrong? How had Satan slipped into this young marriage? As I unpacked some of the couple's history, I discovered he hadn't sabotaged them on their honeymoon, nor in the early months of figuring out married life. The Devil had begun his work before they'd even made it to the altar. Though Tim and Jess are Christians, their dating and engagement were marked with sexual impurity.

Though the early days of their relationship had been fine, over time they made consistent compromises that developed into a deeper pattern of sexual sin. Whenever they'd sin, they'd confess to each other and make oaths to never let it happen again. But it did. Because of the shame, they never let anyone else in on what was happening. In hindsight, Tim and Jess admit their courtship was a big cover-up of deceit. Sadly, Tim and Jess's story is all too familiar. Many unmarried Christian couples struggle with sexual sin. This should be no surprise, since we have an enemy set against us and our impending marriage (1 Pet. 5:8). He hates God, and he hates marriage because it depicts the gospel (Eph. 5:32). One of Satan's most effective strategies to corrupt the gospel-portraying union of marriage is to attack couples through sexual sin before they say "I do." Here are four of his most common ploys to attack marriages before they begin.

1. Satan wants us to make a pattern of obeying our desires instead of God's direction.

God's ways are good, but Satan wants us to believe they aren't. This has been his plan from the first call to compromise in the garden (Gen. 3:1-6). His end goal is for us to develop a consistent pattern of resisting the Spirit and following our sinful desires once we get into marriage. He wants us to learn to resist service and to pursue selfishness. If we learn to do what we want when we want before marriage, we'll carry that pattern into the days and years that follow. This, however, is deadly since service and sacrifice are essential to a healthy, Christ-honoring marriage. Love in marriage is shown by a thousand daily decisions to do what you don't want—whether doing the dishes or changing a diaper or watching a movie instead of a basketball game. If your relationship before marriage is characterized by giving into urges of immediate desire, you'll most certainly struggle when you encounter the nitty-gritty of married life.

2. Satan wants us to underestimate how susceptible we are to temptation.

Satan wants us to think we won't take our sin to the next level. He wants us to think we're stronger than we really are. He wants us to think we'll never go that far. This is a powerful trick since it simultaneously plays on both our pride and also our well-intended desire to honor God. You're weaker than you think. You can go where you think you won't. Sin is like an undercurrent in the ocean—if you play in it, you'll be overpowered and swept away into certain destruction. One of the ways Satan works this angle is by tempting you to think purity is a not-to-be-crossed line rather than a posture of the heart. He wants you to think purity before God is not kissing or not taking off clothes or not having oral sex or not "going all the way." He wants you to think that if you don't cross a certain line, you're staying pure. The problem with this kind of thinking, however, is that Jesus says if we just lust in our heart we've sinned and stand condemned before God (Matt. 5:27-30). Purity is much more about the posture of our hearts than the position of our bodies. The age-old "How far is too far?" question may reveal a desire to get as close to sin as possible instead of a desire to flee as our Lord calls us to (1 Cor. 6:18).

3. Satan wants couples to weaken their trust in one another.

When we compromise sexually, we're showing the other person we're willing to use and abuse them to get what makes us happy. Every time we push the boundaries with our fiancée or lead her into sin we are communicating, though we don't mean to, "You can't trust me because I'm willing to use and disregard you to get what I want." This is certainly one of Satan's deadliest strategies, and the one I suspect hurt Tim and Jess the most. They didn't trust each other. They never really did. So much of their dating relationship was engulfed in the cycle of sin, shame, and start-over that they never developed a mature, battle-tested trust for each other. It's important to point out, however, that when we resist sexual sin, God blesses a relationship with the exact opposite effect. Every time we say "no" to sexual sin and turn to prayer, telling one another we value them and their walk with the Lord too much to go one step further, he uses that faithfulness to strengthen trust. My wife regularly tells dating couples that one of the reasons she trusts me is because I literally ran from compromising situations before we were married. We weren't perfect in our courtship, but the Lord used that season to build trust in one another.

4. Satan wants to deceive you with the forbidden fruit of lust.

There's a world of difference between premarital sex and sex within marriage. One reason is that the forbidden fruit of lust portrays sex before marriage as something it isn't always in marriage. Normally, premarital sexual activity is like gas on fire. Passion is high, feelings are intense, and the drive to go further is fueled by the knowledge you shouldn't (Rom. 7:8). Sex in marriage is different. There's still passion, and there's still intense feelings and emotions—but sex in marriage is based primarily on the hot coals of trust, devotion, and sacrifice (1 Cor. 7:1-5). Couples who built their sexual expectations on passion provided by the forbidden fruit are often disappointed and confused when sex is different in marriage. My wife and I laughed at this idea when our premarital counselor shared it with us. We were sure we'd be exception to the rule. But almost six years and three kids later, he was right. Couples like us can have a strong sex life, but it's fueled by deeper characteristics than fleeting passion. Satan wants couples to get used to running on the caffeine and sugar of lust rather than mature love of service and sacrifice.

Few Concluding Thoughts

1. Wait in faith. The Christian posture is always one of waiting. We wait for Christ's return. We wait for an eternity with him. And unmarried believers wait for the blessings of marriage. Say "no" to sin's promises by faith in God's. Renew your mind with God's Word and keep waiting in faith.

2. Guys, you gotta lead. While both persons in the relationship are responsible before God, the man must set the pace for purity. Too often ladies are forced to draw the lines and to say "no." That's cowardly and wrong. It's the man's responsibility to care for his future wife by leading her toward Jesus and away from sin, darkness, and the pain of evil. If he sets the wrong pattern here, he'll be digging out for years afterward—and may never regain the ground he loses apart from God's grace.

3. Involve others every step of the way. Don't let your relationship remain unexamined by other godly Christians. Both of you should have a godly couple or group of faithful friends who hold you accountable. Invite tough questions and give honest answers. God uses transparency to give strength. 

4. If you sin, go to the gospelThe apostle John wrote, "My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One" (1 John 2:1-2). If you sin, flee to the cross. Run to the empty tomb. Look to your Advocate, confess your sin deeply, and repent. God loves to bless this kind of posture (Prov. 28:13). Sexual sin doesn't need to be dagger in the heart of your courting relationship, engagement, or marriage. God is a merciful God who delights in restoring what sin seeks to destroy (Joel 2:25-27). He will not, however, bless ongoing disobedience and presumption on his grace. If you have fallen into sexual sin, today is the day to plead for mercy and turn to Christ in faith. May God give us mercy to pursue purity for his glory and our good.

Garrett Kell is married to Carrie, and together they have three children. He serves as pastor of Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia. You can follow him on Twitter.

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