One of the phrases I hear a lot in Christian circles is that dating relationships should be “Christ-centered.” I definitely agree with the notion, but as someone who loves clarity, the phrase often seems pretty vague to me. What does it actually look like to have a Christ-centered relationship? Does it mean you spend a lot of your time discussing faith together? Does it mean you go to church with one another? Does it mean you spend months praying about whether or not to date a certain person?
I think that a “Christ-centered” dating relationship could include any of those things, but all such actions are simply the natural outgrowths of a couple deeper realities– that dating is a process with the end goal of marriage and that marriage is a sanctifying relationship, meant to make both individuals grow in their love for Him. Therefore, one of the greatest purposes of dating is to see whether or not being in relationship with the other person really causes you to love Jesus more.
How exactly does a relationship cause greater love for God? One of the central journeys of the Christian life is learning to live in light of the Gospel– to accept the free and unending grace of God, to stop trying to self-justify, and to appreciate Christ’s sacrifice for what it is truly worth. At the heart of our faith is the reality that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Nothing we do can earn God’s love, since Christ’s death earned it for us. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
As familiar as we might be with those verses and as much as we might know the Gospel, God’s grace can still feel abstract on the day-to-day. We might know that we are forgiven and free, but we might not feel it. When we lose sight of our helplessness to save ourselves, it can be hard to deeply comprehend the wonder of His grace. Amidst our inability to fully understand the Gospel, God has given us human relationships to function as small-scale models of our relationship with him. As we hurt others or are hurt, receive forgiveness or extend it, we gain tangible and emotional experience that allows us to better appreciate God’s grace– which is far greater and more perfect than that of any person.
Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Romans 15:7 says, “Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.” All throughout scripture, we are told that our human relationships should reflect and magnify our relationship with God. And in the end, it is a deeper, magnified understanding of God’s grace that will increase our love for Him.
Of course, all kinds of human relationships can serve this purpose; sanctifying relationships are by no means restricted to the romantic. But because dating tends to be far more emotionally intense than a typical friendship, its potential to deepen our understanding of grace and our love for the ultimate grace-Giver is that much greater.
Therefore, when looking to date, you don’t need Mr. Perfect.
After all, a guy who is “perfect” (or at least seems like it) will have no mistakes to forgive and, by extension, no ability to forgive you when you mess up. As pristine as he might seem on the outside, a person who is “perfect” will not be able to spur you into deeper love for Jesus.
Instead, when looking to date, you need a person who is humble enough to recognize their brokenness, repent, and apologize for their mistakes. If a guy is self-aware about his imperfection, he will not be shocked when time reveals yours. If another person is willing to ask for forgiveness out of their desire to honor you, they will also be ready to extend forgiveness. In this mutual giving and receiving of grace, your dating relationship will naturally help you comprehend God’s grace and grow your love for Jesus.
For a dating relationship to be Christ-centered, perfect godliness is not the key; humility and teachability are.
Of course, this is not a call to ignore red flags in a guy’s character or maturity. This is not an open door to rationalizing another person’s perpetual sin just because they say sorry; after all, genuine repentance includes a turning away from darkness towards holiness. Acts 3:19-20 tell us that repentance leads to the blotting out of sins and a time of refreshment, not a perpetuation of former habits. It is good and necessary to have high standards for those you grow close to; the point is to put humility, teachability and repentance at the forefront of those standards and to see dating as an opportunity to grow in grace.
One of my favorite songs is “Next to Me” by Imagine Dragons. Albeit a secular song, I think the lyrics of the chorus do a beautiful job of capturing grace-filled relationship:
Oh, I always let you down
You’re shattered on the ground
But still I find you there
Next to me
And oh, stupid things I do
I’m far from good, it’s true
But still I find you
Next to me
In dating, there will inevitably be letdowns, mistakes, and hurt. We are all “far from good.” But what matters most is how you– and the guy you date– respond to those negative moments. If the response is one of repentance, humble apology, and forgiveness, then the Holy Spirit is able to use that relationship to deepen your knowledge of the Gospel. And that, my friends, is what makes for a truly Christ-centered relationship.