My girlfriend and I have been dating for over three years now, and it's a given that we've faced sexual temptation. Though we have not gone "all the way" we have done mostly everything else. We've talked about marrying each other and think it's a very real possibility. If this is the case, are the sexual things we do considered a sin, even if we plan on marrying each other after college or even sooner?
"Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Hebrews 13:4).
I'm glad you found someone you are thinking about marrying, but what you have been doing is not right. By saying "we have done mostly everything else" I am going to assume that the only thing you two haven't done is sexual intercourse.
Your rationalization has an interesting twist because you've been engaged in sexual behavior and now that you are thinking of possibly getting married, you are now wondering if your past behavior is not considered sinful. So let's put some perspective on the problem: Though I know you two consider yourselves loyal to each other, let's just suppose for the sake of illustration that your girlfriend went to a neighboring town, met a boy there and did the things you two did with him. Would you be upset. Would you condemn their actions? Why? You see, you and she have no commitment. You are thinking about possibly getting married, but you could just as easily possibly not get married. If you condemn him for touching her when they are not married, is that not what you've been doing? "Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things" (Romans 2:1).
Intentions and plan does not make something a reality. So rather than hiding behind what you are thinking about doing, let's examine what you are doing right now.
Like a number of other people, you are focused on avoiding one sin, but ignoring the many other sins that lead up to it. You know you shouldn't commit fornication so you are trying to avoid intercourse. Paul said to, "Abstain from every form of evil" (I Thessalonians 5:22), not just some of the ones you consider to be worse.
Sexual touching is forbidden to unmarried couples. "Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman" (I Corinthians 7:1). Let's put it bluntly, if things progress further to intercourse, you would not be able to claim it was unintentional. It is like walking along the very edge of a cliff and claiming you have no intentions of falling off. "Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one walk on hot coals, and his feet not be seared? So is he who goes in to his neighbor's wife; whoever touches her shall not be innocent" (Proverbs 6:27-29).
Solomon points out the problem when he asked, "Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?" (Proverbs 6:27). You can show a hot coal all the affection you want. You can cuddle it and dote on it and it will still burn you. Your kindness to it doesn't change its nature. How often do you hear someone say, "But I love her!" Solomon's point is that your feelings toward your girlfriend won't change the fact that both of you have built-in desires and capabilities for sex. Trigger them and they follow the instincts built into you.
Solomon also asked, "Can one walk on hot coals, and his feet not be seared?" (Proverbs 6:28). Using the same example of a hot coal, if you walk on it, it will burn you. You can apologize and say you didn't mean to step on it, but you'll still be hurt because your intentions don't change what it is. Thus, the excuse, "But I didn't mean for it to go this far!" becomes an empty one because your intentions don't change your body's drive.
That is why Solomon concludes, "So is he who goes in to his neighbor's wife; whoever touches her shall not be innocent" (Proverbs 6:29). Though he is talking directly about adultery, the same point is true about fornication. When you start intentionally stirring up sexual feelings, you are never innocent when thing go further than you wanted.
That is why we are told not to make room for lust and lewdness. "Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts" (Romans 13:13-14). Lusts are those thoughts and desires you keep battling about taking things even further than what you have done so far. Lewdness is engaging in sexual foreplay that gets the body ready for intercourse. The Christian must recognize the danger and not start a sequence of events that can't be legitimately completed.
Two unmarried people have no business exposing themselves to each other. The sole purpose of this is to inflame lust in each other. This is why God condemned the Israelites: "Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbor, pressing him to your bottle, even to make him drunk, that you may look on his nakedness!" (Habakkuk 2:15). It shows a lack of respect for the other person because nakedness in front of someone you are not married to is supposed to be embarrassing. Being naked is called shameful by God. "Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame" (Revelation 16:15). In the Old Testament God said He would expose Babylon's sins to their shame and He draws the same parallel. "Your nakedness shall be uncovered, yes, your shame will be seen" (Isaiah 47:3). It was such an embarrassment that God used it to illustrate the exposure of sin in a person's life.
The problem started long before you even started removing clothing. It's been going on for a while in your mental acceptance that it is all right for a couple to engage in lewd behavior if they "love" each other. "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man" (Mark 7:21-23).
Moral purity doesn't mean leaving some things undone. It means not going down that road at all, not even in your speech. "But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them" (Ephesians 5:3-7).