What would be the impact to your life if you marry a believer vs. non-believer?
Following Christ is the most important decision you’ll ever make. The next most important decision? Choosing a mate who shares your faith and who will support you in your spiritual growth.
In 2 Corinthians 6:14, the Apostle Paul says that believers should not “be unequally yoked with non-believers.” While it’s true that this passage does not specifically mention marriage, it does refer to being bound in a relationship with another person—no relationship is more binding than marriage.
The picture of two oxen bound (or yoked) together is often used to explain this Scripture. The oxen must pull in the same direction. Otherwise, they will fight with one another and experience exhaustion.
The same is true of two people who marry but don’t share a common faith. Like the oxen pulling in different directions, a couple who doesn’t share a Godly foundation will clash and experience conflict.
Perhaps you’re not convinced yet, and you wonder, Two people enjoy one another and are mutually attracted, so that’s enough to sustain the relationship, right?
If you’re thinking about marrying a non-believer, here are some questions you may be faced with answering in the future:
Who will the come first, Christ or your husband? And how will you explain—and help him understand—this?
Will your spouse’s indifference to God affect your own spiritual growth?
How will you explain to your spouse how God guides your decisions if he/she does not know Him?
What if you believe that God wants you to accomplish something together as a couple?
What if God leads you to stop practicing a particular habit? Will your mate understand?
Will she think you’re being unreasonable, especially since “everyone else is doing it”?
If you have children, will your mate agree to let you raise them to know Christ? Will he object when you want to take the kids to church and/or Christian functions?
Will your spouse’s unbelief hinder your children and grandchildren from trusting in Christ and, ultimately, affect their eternal destiny?
When you and your spouse have a disagreement, will your mate have the capacity to forgive? (After all, forgiveness is often a choice that many people find difficult even with God in their lives.)
Even well-meaning Christians can fall into the trap of marrying non-believers. The most important piece of advice is that saying he knows Christ doesn’t mean he has a relationship with Him.
Marriage based on a common faith is for our benefit, blessing and protection. God wants what is absolutely best for you. Make the decision to follow Him and allow Him to help you find the right mate for you.
“I used to think the Bible said that I shouldn’t be unequally yoked with unbelievers, but I went and looked at 2 Corinthians 6 in context and it doesn’t seem to be talking about marriage at all, but rather about how Christians are to be separate from non-Christians within the church. I then tried to find one verse that says that a Christian shouldn’t marry a non-Christian and I couldn’t find one. I spoke to Christians I trust and they couldn’t find one either—not one verse! So, I guess I was wrong, and I’m free to pursue this relationship.
Anyway, he/she is really interested in the gospel and told me that my faith is something he/she finds really attractive and wouldn’t want to change at all. In fact, I think he/she will be more encouraging of my faith than lots of Christians would be.”
Some temptations common to many singles—like struggling with porn—are shaped in such a way that the Christian knows they’re wrong, and so the problem will often be that, in their guilt, they’ll stay hidden. Once confessed, the problem isn’t recognition that they’ve sinned; the problem is the slow, painful process of repentance.
But the temptation to get romantically involved with a non-Christian tends to be framed differently. People tend not to hide it, but instead attempt to justify it—first to themselves and then to other Christians who are trying to warn them of the path they’re taking. If it feels right, then they go back to look at the Bible to try to prove that it’s right.
In this article, I shall not be trying to give a method for counseling people who are facing such a temptation. Such an article would include a clearer picture of what marriage looks like: making decisions about career, where to live, how to spend money, how to raise children, etc. All of this is compounded when you and your spouse are living for different things. To explore some of those things better, consider this article. Above all, such counsel will involve a careful examination of motivation and a re-examination of the trustworthiness and goodness of God who doesn’t call us to compromise in our devotion to him, but to trust him.
Rather, I shall offer a brief biblical theology of dating unbelievers. I want to make the point that it is a matter of obedience to God not to pursue a relationship with a non-believer. I’m going to try and make it as clear as I can that however it feels, those feelings are temptations to call right that which God calls wrong; those feelings are not accompanied by any affirmation from God.
If someone’s rationale for not getting romantically involved with a non-believer hangs on a couple of proof-texts taken out of context, then I’m pretty sure it can be removed by a couple of moments staring into a pair of eyes, some attention, and the excitement of a potentially fulfilling lifelong relationship.
It’s also my painful experience that when the weak foundation of such a conviction is removed at the beginning of a potential relationship, it will not be a time when someone is in a good position to examine more carefully the Bible’s teaching and build a stronger biblical foundation.
A BRIEF BIBLICAL THEOLOGY
My hope is that this article will be of some use to people in such a situation, but of more use to the Christian who, long before the temptation arises, needs to make a stronger resolve not to get romantically involved with a non-Christian.
And just to be clear: getting romantically involved is likely to happen if you spend a great deal of time with someone of the opposite sex one-on-one. I recently had a painful conversation with a dear friend who said he’d never planned to get romantically involved with someone. But he’d spent hours and hours with her one-on-one after midnight over several weeks.
If you don’t want to get romantically involved with someone, don’t spend hours one-on-one. If you’re having good gospel opportunities with someone of the opposite sex, introduce them to some godly Christians of their sex. If they’re really interested in the gospel, they’ll be just as delighted to hear about it from them as from you. If the Lord wants you to be married, he’ll make it clear that it would be possible for you to pursue such a relationship by them coming to faith!
Furthermore, a proof-text for not dating a non-Christian is a strange thing to expect for a few reasons.
First, dating as we understand didn’t really happen in biblical times. Secondly, “whom should I marry?” is something that would flow out of a whole biblical theology of what marriage is, rather than merely a verse or two of rules.
It’s my contention that if it’s forbidden for a Christian to marry a non-Christian, then it is at the very least a deliberate walking into temptation to date a non-Christian. If you can’t marry them without a supernatural conversion wrought by the Holy Spirit in their heart, over which you have no control, then it would be both extremely foolish and very unkind to consider such a marriage in the first place.
Now, I hope to demonstrate how clearly the Bible says it is sinful for a believer to marry a non-believer.
- Genesis 1: Marriage is to display God’s image by obeying God’s commands for fruitfulness and dominion.
In Genesis 1:26–28, God designs marriage to be a partnership in ruling creation under his rule. If we don’t acknowledge that we’re ruling under God’s rule, then we’re ruling under the rule of an idol, or a combination of a whole series of idols.
Practically speaking, this impinges on every single decision you have to make as a married couple. For example, how do you decide what you should do at any point in your life? Should you:
do what pleases the Lord?
do what pleases yourself?
do what pleases others?
For the Christian, number 1 trumps number 2 and 3. For the non-Christian, there is only 2 and 3.
- Genesis 2: Marriage is a partnership in doing God’s work.
Genesis 2 fleshes this out more. Genesis 2:15–17 shows how Adam is prophet/priest/king in the garden kingdom where God has put him to rule within the constraints of God’s ultimate kingship (symbolized by the two trees: blessing and life for living under his rule; curse and death for refusing his rule). The rest of the chapter details how Adam is incapable of fulfilling his calling to be prophet/priest/king alone. He needs a suitable helper in order to do that, so Eve is provided so that together they will fulfill God’s calling to bring glory to his name under his rule.
Therefore, marriage is a partnership. “It is not good for man to be alone” isn’t true primarily because man is lonely: it’s true because he’s incompetent, even before the Fall.
God did not create man alone to be competent to fulfill his calling to image God. He created man and woman in relationship to do that. Single men and women can do that also, particularly in relationship to the church under the love of Christ, the fulfillment of marriage.
So, in a Christian marriage, marriage is a partnership in the gospel. Conversely, marrying a non-Christian necessarily makes marriage a partnership in something else.
Why would a Christian choose to enter such a partnership?
- Genesis 3: Marriage is harmed by sin.
Genesis 3 shows how us how marriage gets messed up by sin. Adam and Eve go from naked and unashamed to hiding from one another.
In the curse, God pronounces how marriage post-Fall is a battle of one sinful will against another:
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you. (Gen. 3:16)
This means all marriages are hard. But in a Christian marriage, spouses have the opportunity to call one another to submit one’s sinful wills to God’s perfect will. When marrying a non-Christian, you lose out on the blessing of having a spouse who calls you to submit your will to Christ, and instead have a spouse who has no interest in being called to submit their own will to Christ.
- The Old Testament warns against marrying unbelievers.
In the rest of Genesis, we see a huge effort made to ensure the people of God would only marry those who trust the Lord.
In Genesis 24, we see the great lengths Abraham goes to—combined with God’s amazing answer to prayer—to ensure that his son Isaac marries believing Rebekah.
In Genesis 27:46–28:9, we see Rebekah and Isaac’s disgust at the marriage of her son to Canaanite/Hittite women. This isn’t racism: it’s religious.
In Genesis 34:8–9, Hamor invites the sons of Jacob to intermarry with the daughters of Shechem (a town that has just proved its character in the mistreatment of Dinah). To intermarry with this town rather than distance themselves from such defilement would have been the ultimate compromise; it would have destroyed the people of God in the first generation.
In the conquest of Canaan, the Lord gives strict prohibitions against intermarriage:
Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. (Deut. 7:3–4)
This prohibition is repeated in Joshua 23:12, and the trajectory of intermarriage never assumes or expects the Canaanites would end up being converted.
Intermarriage is also the downfall of kings: even the super-wise Solomon (1 Kings 11) and most obviously Ahab (1 Kings 16–19). More positively, a sign of repentance for God’s people was their repentance of intermarriage in Ezra 9–10. On the other hand, if a foreigner was already converted, then there was absolutely no prohibition against marrying them. In fact, this is seen as a positive (Zipporah, Rahab, Ruth).
All this biblical evidence makes me think that “I’ll keep following Jesus even with an unbelieving spouse” is a very proud statement that underestimates our own weakness, and presumes upon God’s grace.
- Old Testament positively pictures believing marriages.
Positively, Proverbs 31 calls the young man to look out for a woman of noble character. The climax of the poem, and the source of everything noble about her, is reached in verse 30:
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
What is it that would most attract you to a potential spouse: charm, beauty, or fear of the Lord? With a non-Christian, there can only be there first two: deceptive charm or fleeting beauty.
Ruth and Boaz is among the most beautiful pictures of believers marrying. He provides and protects; she trusts and takes godly initiative. It’s a wonderful love story of how a woman who has come under the wings of the Lord comes within the love of a godly man.
- New Testament texts imply the prohibition to marry unbelievers remains.
In the New Testament, there are a number of asides that make it clear this Old Testament prohibition still stands.
A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. (1 Corinthians 7:39)
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)
Though this second verse isn’t explicitly about marriage and offers a more general principle that the church should keep itself disentangled from fellowship with pagans, what closer fellowship would one desire than the fellowship with one’s spouse? Does one want a marriage that’s not a fellowship? In reality, it will end up being a “fellowship” or “partnership” in something but it will not be a partnership in the gospel, and therefore it will tend to entangle the believer in precisely the way 2 Corinthians 6:14 warns against.
1 Corinthians 9:5 – Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?
This suggests that having an unbelieving wife would at least disqualify from ministry. If you ever aspired to be an elder in a church, then this would disqualify you.
Those who demand New Testament evidence for the prohibition of intermarriage with unbelievers will find these texts. Simultaneously, they will not find a single verse even suggesting that the Old Testament prohibition of such intermarriage is lifted for the New Testament believer.
- A clearer positive vision for marriage revealed in the New Testament.
The New Testament then gives a clearer revelation of marriage: it’s a partnership that pictures the redeeming love of Christ for his church. The whole point of marriage is to picture the gospel (Eph. 5:21–33; Rev. 21:9–27). Beyond that, it pictures the very relationship between the Father and the Son (1 Cor. 11:3).
To marry a non-believer is like two artists trying to paint two different pictures on the same canvas. You’re trying to paint a picture of Jesus and the church, but your spouse is trying to paint something entirely different.
Or, to take a musical analogy, it would be a partnership where one person is trying to sing one song, and the other is trying to sing an entirely different one. You sing: “I want this song to be about Jesus,” while your spouse sings, “It’s just you and me.” There can be no ultimate harmony.
When a believer is married to a non-Christian—either through former disobedience, their own conversion, or their spouse’s apostasy after marriage—that’s the painful, discordant, but ultimately God-glorifying song that must be sung. But it isn’t the song marriage was designed for, and not one a Christian should deliberately seek to write.
What’s the purpose of the life of a believer? Jesus tells us in John 17: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
The believer lives to know—and in knowing, to love, honor, worship, and follow—God through his Son Jesus Christ.
It’s far better to live without a spouse and within the company of the church, than with someone who is living for a life that’s not eternal.
The Bible’s teaching on this question is simple, clear and unequivocal: a believer may only marry another born-again believer. To do otherwise is a sin that carries potentially life-long, negative spiritual consequences and personal hardship. Paul says:
2Cor. 6:14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?
2Cor. 6:15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?
2Cor. 6:16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said,
“ I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM;
AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.
2Cor. 6:17 “ Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,” says the Lord.
“AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN;
And I will welcome you.
The command of scripture is that a believer not be bound together with unbelievers. The Greek word translated into bound is heterozugeo, which literally means to be yoked together in a single team.
When a farmer prepared to plow his field, he yoked two oxen together to pull the plow blade through the soil. The farmer would chose a pair of animals that were similar in size and strength so that they would pull together in unison, creating straight lines in the field. If the oxen team were imbalanced - if one ox were stronger or larger than the other - then the team couldn’t pull with equal power. The oxen team would eventually go astray, leaving the straight rows and meandering off course.
So the concept Paul teaches us is that a believer must not become yoked together with someone who does not agree with the believer’s perspective of God, faith, godliness and obedience to Christ. If we become bound with an unbeliever in a solemn agreement (i.e., a marriage covenant), then we are unequally yoked and likely to be pulled astray from an obedient walk with Christ.
Some Christians marry unbelievers thinking they will be the stronger “ox” in the relationship, pulling their unbelieving spouse into the straight and narrow path of obedience to God, but the Bible teachers that obedience is always predicated on faith in the Gospel:
Heb. 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
Furthermore, no one can persuade or force an unbeliever to become born-again. Spiritual conversation is a change that God alone produces in the heart of an individual, and therefore marrying an unbeliever in the expectation of converting them is a foolish and presumptuous decision. Paul says:
1Cor. 7:15 Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.
1Cor. 7:16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?
Paul advises a believer who is married to an unbeliever that they cannot presume they will “save” their spouse. So if a believer marries an unbeliever with the expectation of converting their spouse, they commit a sin, because they openly disobey the word of God without cause to expect success. Moreover, they are signing up potentially for a life of spiritual difficulty, which carries eternal consequences.
Since the unbeliever cannot please God without faith (and the believing spouse has no expectation of changing their situation), then by necessity the unbeliever will become the stronger “ox” in the relationship. Said another way, the believer won’t steer the unbeliever into godliness; the unbeliever will steer the believer away from obedience. This is why Paul quotes in 2Cor 6:16-17 from the Law in reminding the church that the Lord ordered believers to separate themselves from committed associations with unbelievers to avoid their negative influences.
In summary, a believer may not marry an unbeliever. If he or she does so, the believer is sinning, and the consequences for that sin will be lasting and potentially devastating. Marrying for love is a romantic notion, but romance and physical attraction are fleeting, while the spiritual consequences of disobedience to God’s word are eternal.
- ANY CHILDREN WE HAVE WILL BE ABLE TO EASILY CHOOSE WHAT TO BELIEVE
My whole Captain America going to church routine was designed around my dad—who is a Muslim.
I have a great relationship with my dad, so it wasn’t a secret that I am Christian. What was a secret was that I was going to church on my own by choice under his nose. What was also a secret was the amount of time I spent feeling guilty about choosing my mom’s religion over my dad’s.
Identifying with one parent’s faith more than the other’s always felt like picking sides. Even though my parents stayed married, I could never buy into my parent’s attempts to make us feel like a “normal family.”
Love between parents can’t protect children from everything. When it comes to guilt about choosing one parent’s religion over the other, the fact that your parents love each other doesn’t really help you feel better.
- MY SPOUSE’S FAITH WILL HAVE NO EFFECT ON THE FAMILY’S UNITY
My parents attempted to adopt the live and let live philosophy. They would each follow their respective faiths. They would also give us, the children, the freedom to choose our own beliefs.
This sounded awesome in theory. The practical application, though? Not so much.
Our family ended up going through a phase where we would go to mosque on Friday and then church on Sunday.
This had some unintended side effects.
The more often my parents went to church and mosque, the more serious they became about their individual faiths.
The more serious my mom became about Christianity, the more she wanted to do the things the Bible said. And the more serious my dad became about Islam, the more he wanted to do the things the Quran said.
Sure, Islam and Christianity are similar in some respects, but they are drastically different in other core beliefs, so this was a problem.
The definition of marriage is to live life together with somebody else—in unity. It becomes tricky to live in unity when the individuals in the marriage are getting their ideas about how to live life from different sources.
When the Quran says to do one thing and the Bible says to do another, what’s a married couple to do?
This situation typically means having to choose between happiness in their marriage and fulfillment in their faith. It’s never pretty.
- MY PARTNER WILL DEFINITELY CHANGE ONE DAY
Obviously, people can and do change. It’s a testament to my mom’s die-hard optimism about life in general that, when my mom and dad got married, there was a small glimmer of hope in her mind that he would become a Christian one day.
Thirty-one years into their marriage, I think my mom still has that glimmer of hope that one day my dad will become a Christian. I’m hoping and praying right along with her because I love both my parents.
But you have to ask to ask yourself if you’re willing to go on hoping for something for over 30 years.
I’m not saying it can’t happen. We’ve all heard powerful testimonies of it happening. I’m just saying that’s not an expectation to build a happy marriage on.
It’s one thing to marry a Christian that decides to stop following Christ—there’s not much you could have done about that. It’s quite another thing to marry a non-Christian, grow spiritually, and then have to pray the same prayer every day for three decades.
DON’T MISS THIS
The point of this article is not to say that non-Christians are bad, or even that you can’t possibly have a good marriage with someone who doesn’t share your faith. The point is: Especially if you want to unreservedly follow Jesus and use your life to further the Kingdom, the other person’s faith is just as (if not more) important than being in love.
“Would I still be saved?” is probably not the right question to be asking. If you’re a believer, you can be confident that you are saved by God’s grace. It’s then a matter of persevering in faith and obedience through your whole life.
So before I answer your question I just want to ask if you are this confident in your own salvation? Because you can be! This confidence does not come from our effort (“If I am good enough then I’ll be saved!”) but comes from the fact that there is nothing I can do to be saved and therefore depend wholly on Jesus for my future. This faith in Jesus gives us confidence because we know that not only can God save us through Jesus but that he has. Is this the sort of faith you have in Jesus? Is this the basis on which you say you are a Christian? Come back to me if you ave questions about this and have a look at http://www.christianity.net.au/god.
The Christian life then becomes not a question of being good enough for God but being the person God wants you to be - confidently living your life in obedience to Jesus. So your question should be “what is the obedient thing for me to do in this situation?”
Now at this point I need to be quite frank with you - dating a non-christian and living with a woman you are not married to (And by this I mean having sex with) is NOT living obediently under Christ. The Bible teaches that Christian are free to marry whoever they wish, but they ought to be believers (1 Corinthians 7:39). So if we shouldn’t marry non-Christians, then, we shouldn’t go out with them either. It also is not right for you to be living together without being married, because we are meant to reserve sex for our marriage partner. The Bible teaches us to flee from sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18), and this includes all sex outside marriage.
I hope you don’t mind me being quite frank with you, but really you must confess these sins to God and ask him to forgive you. And you also need to confess to your girlfriend that you’ve been doing the wrong thing by her as well. By living with her, you will have sent a message to her that Jesus is not really all that important to you. It will seem to her that she is more important to you than Jesus is, and that’s unhelpful for her.
Normally I would say you should not marry a non-Christian (1 Corinthians 7:39), but now that you are living together, it is more complicated. My advice is that you should tell her that if you get married, she has to understand that you are going to be serious about Jesus - you will be at church regularly, you will give away money to church and to those in need, and that you will want to raise your children as Christians. (It also means you’ll be a really good husband too!!, Ephesians 5:22-33.) If she agrees to that, then get married, and pray for her every day that she will come to know the Lord. If she doesn’t want to get married, then that is her choice - you should let her go.
If she agrees to get married, then schedule the wedding soon, and one of you move back to your parents while you wait. That might sound like a big cost, but it will make your honeymoon much more special.
Thank you for asking a question which affects you so much. It shows that Jesus is important to you. I have prayed for you that you will do what is right, though it is not easy