Editor’s Note: Below is a fictional letter to a Christian woman who is currently dating an unbeliever. While the letter itself is not addressed to anyone specific, it does capture some vital truths about dating and the importance of Christians only marrying “in the Lord” (1 Cor 7:39).
Thank you for your email. I am happy to answer your questions about this important issue.
You mentioned in your email that it was only with difficulty that you recently listened to a podcast on Christian relationships. You determined that your frustration was due to the fact that your current boyfriend is not a Christian. I am not surprised that the podcast you referred to created some discomfort: Scripture is clear that Christians cannot marry non-Christians (1 Cor 7:39; 2 Cor 6:14). Dating an unbeliever—even for the sake of evangelism—should cause conflict in your heart because you know that you cannot marry your this person or experience true intimacy with him while he is an unbeliever. Yet, by continuing in a romantic relationship, you are allowing yourself to become emotionally (and perhaps physically) attached to him, which makes it increasingly difficult to see clearly and do what is right.
I am glad that you want this young man to know Christ and gain a better understanding of Christianity. This is a good and godly desire. But you must remember that God’s commandments all work in harmony: God never requires obedience to one set of instructions (evangelize the lost) at the expense of another set of instructions (don’t marry an unbeliever). In other words, you don’t need to date this man in order for him to hear and believe the gospel.
Actually, it is likely a hindrance to his conversion for you, a professing believer, to continue in a relationship that Scripture forbids you from consummating. Although he is an unbeliever, he can see that you are treasuring him over Christ. What kind of message does this send? How will he ever see that Christ is to be the Lord and treasure of his life when Christ is so easily replaced by a romantic relationship in your life?
It is also unwise to continue in this relationship because you are setting yourself up for trouble in the future. If you marry this man while he is an unbeliever, you will be violating a clear command from God’s Word and joining yourself with someone with whom you share no spiritual common ground. You must ask these questions now, not later: How will you raise your children? How will you spend your time? How will you spend your money? If Christ is your supreme treasure, this spiritual reality will dictate every area of your life. But if your husband doesn’t know Christ, your desires and plans will constantly collide with his. Either you will have perpetual conflict, or you will eventually compromise and settle into a half-hearted Christian life in order to keep your husband happy.
In truth, after you are married it will be difficult to assert your desire to maintain a Christ-centered home because you will have already compromised the very basis for a Christ-centered home by marrying an unbeliever. Do you really think that you will be able to freely participate in the local church, pursue ministry, Bible study, prayer, worship, good works, and raise your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord while your husband remains fundamentally opposed to Christ and his Word?
It would also be undesirable for your boyfriend to make a profession of faith in order to marry you. If he feels constrained by your faith in Christ but he still wants to marry you, he may be tempted to confess Christ in order to appease your convictions. He may even feel like it’s a genuine confession for awhile, and you may be inclined to overlook the superficiality of his profession because you want so desperately for this relationship to work out. But if your boyfriend believes in Christ for any other reason than to receive the forgiveness of sins, his faith will not be genuine, and he will eventually retreat back into his old, unbelieving ways. It’s possible that he might become a genuine Christian over the next few months. But by dating him, you are not creating a healthy environment in which he can make an unconstrained decision to trust in Jesus Christ for salvation.
I sympathize with your fear of being alone by not experiencing marriage. Despite our sin, marriage is still a good gift from God and should be held in high honor (Heb 13:4; cf. 1 Tim 4:4-5). But you should not feel left out of God’s redemptive plan because you are single. As a believer, you are fully included in God’s redemptive plan in the exact same way that a married Christian is. You have full access to God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and your eternal inheritance (Rom 5:1-2; 8:16). You have spiritual gifts and are vital to the health of your local congregation (1 Cor 12:4-7). You have everything you need to live a fruitful, faithful Christian life (2 Pet 1:3). Beyond this, the joy of a good conscience and intimacy with Jesus is infinitely better than what grasping at romance will ever get us.
The Lord has promised to provide you with everything you need to glorify him in this life (Ps 84:11; Matt 6:25-33). That provision may include the temporary gift of earthly marriage, or it may not. Either way, you cannot pursue the fulfillment of these promises according to your own wisdom and effort. This approach will only lead to short- and long-term trouble. Rather, you must trust in our good and gracious God and ask him continually to satisfy your soul in him (Ps 90:14) so that you won’t look to broken cisterns that hold no water—like a romantic relationship with an unbeliever—to slake your spiritual thirst (Jer 2:13).
Finally, I encourage you to listen to the testimonies of countless women who have been in your situation but, against all wise and biblical counsel, have married their unbelieving boyfriends anyway. They are both sadder and wiser now, and they would want you to listen to them and not repeat their folly.
Praying for you,