Should I Marry an Unbeliever?

Does it matter if a Christian marries an unbeliever? Yes, it matters a lot! We began to answer this question by looking at foundational truths and illustrations from the Old Testament. We considered these three truths:

  • Mixed marriages (between a believer with an unbeliever) cannot fulfill God’s purpose for mankind in creation or God’s purpose for marriage.
  • Mixed marriages present a serious obstacle to maintaining faith in God.
  • Mixed marriages proved to be the downfall of many in Israel, a key reason for their departure from faith in God.

Now we will turn our attention to the New Testament.

Mixed marriages cannot fulfill the God’s purposes for a Christian marriage

Following the imagery of Christ and His Church given by Paul, believing husbands are to understand their relationship with their wives in terms of their Christianity, and Christian wives the same with their husbands.[1] This can only be a one-sided affair if one spouse is not a believer.

A Christian husband is to learn to love his wife as Christ loves His Church. He is to help and lead her to holiness for Christ’s sake. An unconverted husband has no ability to do this as God commands. A Christian wife is to be her husband’s helper, to submit to his leadership as she co-laborers with him in service to God. Following an unbelieving husband means, in some respects, living in cross-purposes with one’s husband, for he does not live for God.

A home where one spouse is an unbeliever cannot live out the Christian faith as a family, resulting in distorted family relationships. How could a Christian intentionally enter into such a relationship, knowing that the Gospel cannot work out its power in the family as it was designed to do for their joy and peace and God’s glory?

If this is so important, some questions need answering. Should Christians already married to an unbeliever divorce them? Should they remarry to a believer?

Those already in a mixed marriage must not seek divorce

The believer must actively pursue the salvation of their spouse—but what if they still won’t believe?

This is a very difficult situation that many Christians find themselves in. It requires great commitment of faith in the Christian spouse to live out their Christianity alone before their unconverted husband or wife. Sometimes either the believer, unbeliever, or even both wish for divorce in order to find relief from the tension created by Christ’s presence on part of the family. The Christian’s new and radical difference in worldview creates tension. What then? The Christian spouse should maintain the marriage unless the unbelieving spouse refuses to remain.

Paul holds out hope that the unbelieving spouse will yet believe:

“For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know husband, whether you will save your wife?”

Seeing the necessity for passages of exhortation like these should send a strong warning to believers who are considering marrying an unbeliever on purpose. How much better it would be to choose a Christian spouse and enter marriage together in Christ, rather than face this difficult circumstance!

I want to address again those who excuse marrying an unbeliever by assuring themselves that they will be able to win their loved one to Jesus after they are married. In our experience, and in the experience of many who shepherd God’s people worldwide, it is rare for an unbelieving spouse to come to Christ when the Christian married them knowing that their intended was not a Christian. Often, if not most often, the Christian who willfully marries an unbeliever falls away from Christ.   

A mixed marriage creates an unequal yoke that God commands us to avoid

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 provides us with a clear denunciation of mixed marriages. In the context, Paul sternly warns the Corinthian believers of entering into close relationships with unbelievers. Such relationships make it extremely difficult not to compromise our faith. Why is this so? The apostle emphasized to us the intense contrast between the spiritual life and worldview of a Christian with that of an unbeliever. There is virtually nothing in common between a genuine Christian and an unbeliever about anything that really matters in this life or for all of eternity. He says,

“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial (Satan)? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God” (v. 14-16a).

Though Paul does not specifically mention marriage in this passage, it is obvious that marriage is a primary application, if not the most important application of this passage. No relationship in life can be more useful to Satan as an influence away from truth and godliness than that of an unbelieving spouse, especially if we love them intimately.

There is hope for a Christian married to an unbeliever! God can use a Christian spouse to reveal Christ to an unsaved spouse, leading them to salvation. It is so!

But when a Christian knowingly marries an unbeliever, it signals two things: 1) that the Christian does not value their relationship with God or their life’s purpose to serve Christ enough to marry another believer; 2) it shows a profound selfishness, not love towards the unbeliever. Why? To marry them shows them they are more important than God Himself is to them. It tells the unbelieving bride or groom to-be that our God is not first place. The consequence? Often the believer falls away and usually  the unbeliever never professes Christ, with few exceptions.

Prove the sincerity of your faith by marrying a like-minded believer!

About choosing a spouse, Paul says to the widow,

“She is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord (1 Cor. 7:39b)

A caveat/qualification

Throughout these two articles I have focused specifically on willing or intentional marriage to unbelievers. As we have seen, God’s Word is clear: if we have any choice or ability to influence the decision of who our life’s partner will be, we MUST choose a fellow believer.

But there are situations and severe cultural traditions in some places where a young girl, for instance, has no say whatsoever in who her future mate will be. Some are even sold like cattle or promised away in legally binding terms while still small children, even before they were born. Or they are slaves with no voice about anything at all. What about believers in these settings?

You will search the New Testament in vain for an absolute prohibition of marriage to unbelievers. God in His wisdom did not go so far as to demand that His children in such severe circumstances choose death rather than marry an unbeliever. If it is a choice of following Jesus or converting to another faith through marriage, then, yes, we all must choose Jesus.

In our world today, very few Christians are in such circumstances. For the overwhelming majority of believers debating marriage to an unbeliever, it is simply their choice. If they choose to despise God’s will and purpose for marriage and yoke with an unbeliever, there are serious consequences to be faced. Forgiveness can be found, and grace to endure accessed for the humble, but consequences will be many.

Forrest McPhail

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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