Ah, youth group. I went to youth group all throughout high school, and it was pretty great. I looked forward to Tuesday nights, where I got to play cool games (i.e. playing football but actually just trying not to get killed by all the guys who took it way too seriously), eating yummy snacks (except for Fear Factor night…still trying to suppress that memory), and having great worship (always unforeseen; sloppy wet wasn’t even an option). Heck, we even had some great Bible studies.
At youth, things like character, dating and our relationships with God were all among the topics discussed. It’s not much of a surprise that when we were talking about dating, we were warned against dating a non-Christian—or being “unequally yoked”. As a matter of fact, I think most Christians will advise you not to date someone who isn’t a believer…myself included.
But what does the Bible say about dating/marrying a non-believer? Since the Bible doesn’t really discuss dating (it wasn’t really a thing back then) but it discusses marriage, I’ll look at this issue from a marriage perspective. This applies to dating as well, since dating is usually done with an intention of marriage.
When you hear “don’t marry someone who isn’t a Christian”, this verse is usually brought in for back-up:
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? (2 Cor. 6:14)
Although this verse seems to be condemning the practice of a believer marrying a non-believer, there is no mention of marriage in this whole chapter. This verse is usually used out of context. The heading of this section in my Bible says, “The Temple of the Living God”. Paul goes on to remind the Corinthians that God wants us to be holy and separate for Him. This verse could be interpreted as forbidding any type of close relationship with those outside the church. Why is it that so many people use it only in the context of marriage?
Well, because people take things out of context to prove their own point. (It happens. Context is important when understanding God’s Word.)
So: is marrying someone who isn’t a Christian a sin? What does the Bible say?
The Bible gives many different instructions about marriage, some of which are not negotiable. Divorce is a sin in God’s eyes (with the exception of some circumstances, such as abuse). 1 Corinthians 7:10 – 11 says this:
To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.
That’s pretty clear. If you continue reading in 1 Cor. 7:12 – 16, Paul says that he is of the opinion that if a believer is married to an unbeliever, the unbeliever can make the choice to stay or be separated.
So what about a believer marrying an unbeliever? The answer is simply this: God does not say that we as Christians are required to marry believers. However, He does give us many other guidelines for marriage that we are to follow, whether or not we are married to a believer. A choice like who we marry can have a big effect on us from an eternal perspective.
The first thing God ever says about marriage is this:
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Gen. 2:24)
Whoever you marry, you will become one flesh. You are no longer two, but one under God. That doesn’t change because you don’t marry someone who isn’t a Christian.
Paul also gives this instruction as he concludes his principles for marriage:
Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. (1 Cor. 7:17)
We will not be justified based on who we marry, or anything we do in this life. We cannot do anything to earn God’s favour. When we stand before God on Judgment Day, He will not give us brownie points for marrying a Christian. That being said, we can’t go to God and say, “I know I didn’t live my life fully for You, but the person I married prevented me—it’s not my fault.” We are will be accountable for ourselves, no matter who we chose to spend our lives with.
Personally, I have chosen to marry a Christian someday. I have several reasons for choosing this, and none of them are because the Bible says to.
My relationship with Jesus is the most important relationship in my life.
Christ comes first—even though I’ll be the first to tell you that I fail at this daily. He is my One & Only, and my relationship with Him comes first. Since He is the most important thing in my life, I want someone who can share in that with me. I don’t want to marry someone who is going to distract me from my relationship with Christ, but encourage me in it. I want someone who won’t be jealous of my relationship with him and who won’t pull me away from my relationship with God.
Marriage is the closest relationship I will ever have with someone on Earth.
On this side of heaven, my marriage will be the closest relationship I have with another human being. That’s a lot to invest your life in. I want someone who has the same foundation as I do. On my own, I can be as strong as I want, and I can marry a really strong person. But if our strength comes from different places, how strong will we be as a couple?
I want to marry for reasons other than my happiness.
I’m not getting married just to be happy. I’ll marry someone I want to raise my kids. What if I get married and have kids and then I’m not around to raise them? I want to marry someone I can trust my kids’ spiritual education with. I might not always be around to bring them to Sunday school or youth group. Even if both parents are involved, will kids grow up following Christ if they don’t see both parents setting this example? Sadly, the answer is usually no.
I want my marriage to glorify God.
When I get married, I want my relationship to be a tool God can use to build His kingdom. That’s not to say that you can’t honor God if your spouse isn’t a Christian, but I want to be married to someone who can share in that mission with me. I want my marriage to point to the relationship Christ has with his Church. It won’t be able to do that if my future spouse and I aren’t on the same page spiritually.
All this being said, I don’t think it’s a wise idea to marry someone who isn’t a Christian. Having the same morals or values as you isn’t enough. Is that person actively pursuing God, with or without you?
When your eyes are set on Christ and your heart is in the right place, you won’t even want to look at anyone who isn’t also focused on him.
Although God doesn’t demand that we marry a Christian, I do firmly believe that it is the best thing to marry someone who can share in the grace and love and mission of Christ and his Church. When marriage is focused on Christ, it is beautiful. It points back to God and His love for us. There are so many blessings available for us when we marry someone who loves Christ and is dedicated to following him.