Hot Potatoes

Dating or marrying unbelievers

Why you shouldn’t marry or date an unbeliever - Melody Green.

“Do not be bound (unequally yoked) together with unbelievers for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2Corinthians 6:14).

This article is for single Christians who still have the “dating” and marriage question ahead of them. I receive letters daily from women desperately trying to serve God fully, but are unable to do so because their husband loves and serves the world. I am talking mainly to Christian women because, they seem to make this mistake more often than men. However, I am talking to all Christians who are thinking of marrying (or even dating) someone who doesn’t love Jesus.

The term: “Missionary Dating, so appropriately paints the picture. Imagine a young girl, full of zeal for God, goes to a remote tribe to evangelize the lost. She gets a ‘special burden’ for the chief’s handsome young son. He seems interested in God, and so she starts spending quite a bit of time with him in hopes of winning him to the Lord. Then, before you know it, her friends at the Missionary Society receive a postcard saying that she is getting married and won’t be coming back. Was he converted? Well, no - but she has full confidence that he will be shortly. Meanwhile, she’s happily getting ready to set up housekeeping in his hut-full of idols (which, of course, she wouldn’t think of worshiping) and dreaming of the wonderful future they will have together. If you heard of a situation like this, what would you think about this girl’s chances for real happiness - or her professed love for the Lord? Her actions certainly seem to contradict the very things she says she believes in.

I think it is safe to say that every marriage starts out with a simple date. Many Christians are deceived when it comes to this. They feel all right about dating an unbeliever, just as long as it doesn’t “get too serious”. They may think “Well, one or two dates can’t hurt anyone. Besides, maybe I can lead him to the Lord. I just want to have some fun right now, but when it comes to settling down, I will definitely marry a Christian”. Then lo and behold, the next thing they know, they’ve ‘fallen in love’ and desperately try to rationalize their relationship and upcoming marriage, to themselves, their friends and to God. Any Christian foolish enough to date an unbeliever is foolish enough to marry one!

Marriage is the biggest and most important decision you will make after your decision to follow Jesus. All marriages start out with a “first date”. One of the main problems is that too many Christians approach dating with too casual of an attitude. They have adopted the world’s view on this. There is no such thing as ‘playing the field’ in Christianity. Sure it gets lonely sometimes, but remember, every date has the potential of becoming a lifelong relationship. Spending time with the wrong one is opening yourself up to becoming emotionally involved to a point where it is not always so easy to turn and walk away. Once you have given your heart and emotions to someone, you will be surprised how difficult it is to have the desire to take them back - even if you know you should.

Here’s a typical letter I have received from a Christian girl. She has already been counseled and encouraged to do the right thing, but I wanted to share her predicament with you: “I’m 16 and the daughter of missionaries here in the Middle East. I’ve had a really close walk with the Lord, and He has been good to me in so many ways. But I met a guy at school. He’s not a Christian, and we’ve been going out for over 3 months. At the time, I believed it was fine, unless we married, which of course I have no intention of doing because he isn’t a Christian. But lately I’ve spoken with someone who told me it was wrong and that I should never have gone out with him in the beginning. This evening he came over while I was listening to the new tape of Keith Green. Afterwards we were talking, and he laughed at all the ‘weird Jesus, and dumb Christian songs’ that I listen to. I let him know I was hurt by the way he laughed about the name of Jesus, and now I really feel bad inside because of it, and I feel we should end our relationship. But it’s very hard because we really like each other a lot, and I’m afraid my witness will all go down the drain if we break up. I’m really asking the Lord for wisdom now.”

Don’t wait until it’s too late. The time to ask Jesus for wisdom is before you start a relationship - not after. It is much easier than you think for you heart to overule your conscience. Once your own desires are demanding priority, your zeal to put God first starts to quickly fade away. Your emotions are a powerful thing, and if you don’t control them, they will control you! (Jeremiah 17:9)

Unequally Yoked: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers...”
What does it mean to be unequally yoked? Picture two oxen tied together at the neck by a wooden crosspiece so they can pull a plow. They are two animals of the same species who have been joined together to do a specific job. They have been carefully trained to respond to the same commands, and once they are united, they are a team. A wise farmer picks two animals of similar size, strength and temperament because he knows they will work the best together. If one needed to be whipped before he would move, and the other one was terrified at even the sight of a whip, it would seem unwise to tie them together and expect them to work as a team. One “teammate” would frantically be trying to run away, while the other one would stubbornly be refusing to budge. In fact, it seems that disaster might be at hand- with possible damage to the equipment, hurt and confusion to the “teammates”, and of course, the work would never get done. Our beloved Jesus is the best and most loving “Farmer” in all the universe. He knows that we would never be happy if we were bound to someone who was pulling us in the opposite direction from where we wanted to go. Our life would be one continual tug of war, and we would never be able to get on with the work that we were called to do.

That’s why He commanded us to marry ‘only in the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 7:39). If we are going to serve God in our marriage, then both partners must be in agreement about the job that needs to get done, how it’s going to be accomplished and who they are going to be taking their orders from. It is really very simple. I guess that’s why it constantly amazes me that so many choose to ignore God’s wisdom, thinking in vain that “it will all work out fine in the end.”

The Dating Game. I think it should be becoming clear that dating is not be done lightly - nor without God’s approval! This doesn’t mean that you have to feel called to marriage with someone before you can spend any time together - but you must be able to see the qualities of a sincere lover of God in this person, and the fruits of their faith should be evident for all to see. If they pass this most crucial test, you still must seek God to see if it’s all right to take the time to get to know this person better. You should seek the Lord privately on this - that is, not with the person you are interested in. That way, if God says “No”, no one will be hurt.

I am assuming you have already spent time with this person in group situations - but a deeper relationship should only be entered into if and when the Lord gives you His express permission. If you are afraid to hear a possible “No” from God, then you are not seeking His will, but your own. This should be an immediate danger signal that something is wrong, and you shouldn't make a move until you get your heart right with the Lord.

Does all that sound a little strict to you? Well, just ask someone who has chosen the wrong mate due to a lack of patience, counsel and prayer. They will tell you that they wish someone would have told them the same things I am now telling you. So many are bound in miserable, unhappy marriages because they ignored Jesus and let their own desires drown out the voice of God. They have learned their lesson the hard way, and now it is too late for them to turn back and start over. Marriage is forever. Once a mistake is made, you can’t turn around and say “We got married out of God’s will, so now we’ll just get divorced!” It doesn’t work that way. The Bible tells us that if our unbelieving mates consent to remain with us, then we must not send them away (I Cor 7:12-13). Why even put yourself into the position of possibly making the wrong decisions? Since God’s Word commands us not to be “unequally yoked”, it is foolish and openly rebellious to even consider it. You will be heading towards almost certain disaster if you lean to your own understanding instead of trusting God and taking Him at His word.

Values, Goals and Motivations. When I became a Christian, my whole life was turned upside-down. I could no longer deal with things in the same way that I had before, because God’s way was different. Everything changed. I made an abrupt “about-face” and had to sit down and reevaluate every aspect of my life. One of the first things I noticed was that my reasons for doing things had changed. I was motivated by a love for God and a desire to please Him, instead of my own selfish desires. As I drew closer to God, He revealed His heart to me, and I found that some of the things that had meant a lot to me were no longer important. And other things, on which I had put little or no value, began to sparkle like jewels. My eyes looked towards eternity, instead of focusing on the temporary things of this world. It was so important for me to share my excitement, joy and love of God with my husband.

“Do not be bound (unequally yoked) together with unbelievers, for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness or what fellowship has light with darkness?”(2 Corinthians 6:14). This speaks of a lack of true intimacy. Someone who loves Jesus doesn't have that much in common with someone who doesn’t. When it comes to things that really matter, you are miles apart due to having different beliefs. Neither can you share the deepest things with each other, because your whole basis of looking at life - your very reasons for living are totally different. Marriage is a deep, binding commitment for life. As a Christian, you have the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit to govern your life. But the Bible tells us that those without Jesus belong to a different spiritual kingdom, ruled over by the world, the flesh and the devil, which Christians are told to overcome (1John 2:14-17).

Marry Now - Reform Later? Many Christian girls are pacified by the fact that their unbelieving boyfriend doesn’t seem to object to their Christianity. Even though he doesn’t believe like she does, he seems tolerant and even goes to church with her sometimes. He really is a nice guy and his biggest vice is drinking a few beers with the boys while watching football. She figures if she marries him, they will have a lot more time together, and then she can really “work on him” and get him saved. Sadly, she will find that it’s not as easy as she thought. Eventually, her husband’s acceptance of her faith can start to wear thin, causing tension in their marriage. She will have to be strong to keep the Lord first in her life and not compromise and pull back in order to keep the peace with her husband.

“Conversions” of Convenience. Sometimes in order to marry a Christian girl, a man will pretend to become a Christian, because he knows he has to. He’ll start going to church just to make her happy. He may even be sincerely trying to ‘get into it’. But if it is not a decision arising from seeing his own need for God, then it is meaningless and will be short-lived. His ‘commitment’ will start to fade soon after marriage - when it’s no longer necessary for him to put his best foot forward. I tell all those I counsel to let him prove his commitment on his own. That is, let him get to Church or Bible Study on his own steam, not on a date. If he proves to be sincere, growing, and firmly planted in Jesus, then after several months, she can start to seek the Lord about entering into a deeper relationship. The problem is, most girls don’t have the patience to test the fruit. As soon as “Mr. Right” even looks like he’s about to utter a sinner’s prayer, she’s off picking out towels, dishes and bridesmaid dresses.

The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics states that as times passes, anything left on its own will deteriorate. In other words, a life, left on its own without God, will get worse. People who marry ‘occasional drinkers’ later find themselves married to alcoholics. You can’t judge the future by the present when you are dealing with someone who has chosen to go his own way in life. If you have the Lord, you can expect growth and maturity. Without the Lord, you won’t know what to expect. Sin leads to more sin - and a life not yielded to Jesus, guided by His loving hand could end up anywhere, doing anything!

Competition. One of the hardest parts of an unequally yoked marriage is the feeling of competition between them (however subtle or unspoken). As a believer, your values and ideals will constantly be challenged as you live out your day-to-day life, rather receiving support during times of trials.

Compromise. After awhile, frustration sets in for you both, because neither is really free to do things that make you happy. You don’t have someone to love Jesus with, and he doesn’t have someone to love the world with. He doesn’t enjoy your friends and activities and vice versa. A believer, in this position, is often tempted to compromise her faith to maintain a peaceful marriage. She no longer is free to serve the Lord in a deep way because, if she does, her marriage may fall apart. What a terrible spot to be in! But when you start to compromise your walk with God becomes undernourished and weak, and you come into spiritual danger. That’s why the Bible warns against a union of this kind.

The Proper Balance Those who want to continue on in the same way with their old friends and old lifestyle say, “But, I’m not supposed to isolate myself and associate only with Christians!” Well of course not. We are the “salt of the earth”, seasoning the world with the love of Jesus (Matt 5:13,16). The world and the people on it need Christians. How else will they even find out about the only True Love that exists? But you mustn’t ever forget that although we are in the world, we are never a part
of it. We must always be careful to keep our eyes on the Lord and immediately flee any situation that may cause us to stumble and fall away from our heavenly calling (II Timothy 2:22). Too many use the excuse of “winning their friends to the Lord” to keep a foot in the world. God knows our hearts. If your associates are causing your love for God to “cool off”, it is far better to sacrifice that friendship, than Jesus. No relationship on earth is more important than your relationship with your Father in heaven. If you are not strong enough to resist temptation then admit it and stay away from it. Don’t worry about “your witness”. If you fall away, your only witness will be a bad one anyway!

Children. Somewhere down the line you will probably want to start a family. A family unit is a group of people bound together by love, a sense of loyalty and a sincere desire to see each other reach their fullest possible potential and purpose in God. Where there is no unity, there can be no true “family”. If the parents have different standards for their children in the areas of discipline, responsibility, and accepted behaviors and attitudes, then the children will play one parent against the other to get their own way - and the parents will end up arguing over the results. Of course, the children are the real losers in these battles, although they may not realize it at the time. A home like this is in constant turmoil. If there is non-agreement about who God is, and what our response to Him should be,
then it is difficult for children to learn how to know and love Him. If our children are getting a different message from each parent, they will constantly be confused and forced to “take sides”.

The greatest factor in our children learning about God is our example. Children usually transfer their impressions of their earthly father over to their idea of God. If their father is righteous and exercises godly judgement balanced with love and encouragement, then their understanding of God will most likely be good (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21). If he is unfair or antagonistic or indifferent to God, then they will have a hard time seeing God’s true nature. If you are thinking of marrying an
unbeliever, think about the extra challenge you will have in raising your children for God.

Conclusion. Christians who enter into marriage with an unbeliever will pay a price. They can’t experience the blessing of a family united by the common bond of Jesus’ love. True love is only possible when you know God, and when you can have His unselfish, uncompromising love for others, putting them above yourself. All else pales in comparison to the real thing. If you are now dating an unbeliever, examine your heart before the Lord. If he is walking in the darkness and you are in the light, why are you trying to walk down the same path?!

Trust the Lord, walk in obedience, and He will meet your needs in His way and in His timing. He will never lead you astray. Lean to your own understanding and insist on your own way and watch out - you just may get what you are looking for and regret it. Don’t settle for anything less than God’s very best. If you are called to marriage, God has a perfect partner for you. But beware, the enemy is a matchmaker too. Please pray about all that we have talked about and be quick to respond to what God speaks to your heart. I pray that you will reach the highest potential possible in Christ Jesus as you obey Him in all things. May God bless you as you seek Him.

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