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Why You Should Not Marry An Unbeliever

(1 Corinthians 7:39 NRSV) A wife is bound as long as her husband lives. But if the husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes,
only in the Lord.

Who you marry is the most important choice you will make next to accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It will affect how happy or unhappy you are, how easily you can serve God, how your children will be brought up, your peace and prosperity and many other things.

While most marriages can be improved by effort, making a wise choice to begin with is seen by many people as being absolutely essential to building a great marriage that lasts through all the struggles of life. For the Christian it is important that our life-partners belong to the Kingdom of God and share the same eternal destiny. It is important that they share the same values, morals and priorities and that they model what we model to our children. For these reasons alone it is important for Christians to only marry other Christians.

The Bible gives seven solid reasons why we should not marry an unbeliever. Its writings from beginning to end, from Abraham to Paul reflect God's heart for godly families and believing children who see Christian standards demonstrated by both parents. As you read this article you may be surprised (as I was) by the seriousness with which God takes the question of whom you should marry. It is a big question with serious implications. For some people this article may cause pain.

You may realize that a cherished relationship has to come to an end, that a beautiful dream cannot be fulfilled. This creates deep consternation, pain and confusion. During this time pray with others and seek the advice of godly men and women of God. Take your time and work the issue through thoroughly. The Lord is gracious and kind and will lead you in what to do. The seven reasons are:

Now to look at each of these reasons in a bit more detail....

Reason One - You are not immune - even the smartest wisest people can be led astray from God by unbelieving partners

(1 Kings 11:1-12 NRSV) King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, {2} from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the Israelites, "You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you; for they will surely incline your heart to follow their gods"; Solomon clung to these in love. {3} Among his wives were seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. {4} For when Solomon was old, his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of his father David.... {9} Then the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, {10} and had commanded him concerning this matter, that he should not follow other gods; but he did not observe what the LORD commanded. {11} Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, "Since this has been your mind and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and give it to your servant. {12} Yet for the sake of your father David I will not do it in your lifetime; I will tear it out of the hand of your son.

In Old Testament times each ethnic group had its own worship system. To marry a foreigner was to marry someone outside your own religion.. When Solomon married women from the surrounding nations (something it seems God had personally told him not to do -twice) he was marrying people who did not believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Lord. Solomon is said to be the smartest and wisest person alive at that time (1 Kings 4:29-34). God gave him great wisdom and blessing and even appeared to Solomon in dreams. However, even Solomon's heart was turned away from God by his unbelieving wives so that in his old age he became an idol worshipper (verses 4-8).

When we marry someone we become "one flesh" with then and we are changed by them. We become more and more like them and they become more and more like us. It may be in such small things as gestures and facial expressions. Or it can be so in the deeper things of the spirit. Marrying an unbeliever is like marrying someone with a dose of spiritual "flu". We keep on getting their spiritual ailments passed on to us and because we are so close to them we keep on getting "re-infected".Unfortunately goodness and virtue does not seem to be as contagious as sin and spiritual apathy. Solomon did not improve his wives - rather the reverse - he became an idol worshipper and lost his kingdom. You can be wiser than Solomon if you stick to believers when you make your choice of marriage partner.

Reason Two - There is a fundamental spiritual incompatibility.

(2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 NKJV) Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? {15} And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? {16} And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people." {17} Therefore "Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you." {18} "I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the LORD Almighty." Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

There is a negative and a positive side to this. Firstly the negative. The body of a Christian is a temple of the Holy Spirit where God dwells. (See article: "Your Body Is A temple Of The Holy Spirit"). It is inappropriate for it to be physically joined to the body of an unbeliever. It would be like building a passageway between a temple of God and temple of the Devil.

Unbelievers are not spiritually neutral.

(Ephesians 2:1-3 NKJV) And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, {2} in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, {3} among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

Unbelievers are spiritually dead (v.1) . They follow the course of this world (v.2) - the downward groove. They are a controlled people who strings are pulled by "the prince of the power of the air"(v.2). At critical points Satan "pulls the strings" - it may be when you try to send them to Sunday School or arguments may always start before church. You will have someone Satan can control beside you, in your home, influencing your destiny and that of your children. The unbelievers conduct is according to a lower set of principles called "the flesh". V3. We all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.

The flesh is opposed to the Spirit (Gal 5:16,17) and the desires the unbeliever will seek to fulfill will be contrary to your highest and holiest desires. You will be in a life-long tug of war! You will probably miss out on fulfilling much that is truly wonderful and godly as a result.

While on a human level a believer and an unbeliever may love each other it is like two lines meeting at a tangent or a ships crossing at sea. They are driven by such fundamentally different principles that there can be no life-long agreement. The difference is between the principles of righteousness and lawlessness, light and darkness, Christ and Belial, the temple of God and the temple of idols. The incompatibility is absolute, basic, and vast .

The Bible, which is God's will and Word does not see compromise as a possibility here. The call is to separation. The positive side is that those who separate will be blessed.

As God has said: "I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people." {17} Therefore "Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you." {18} "I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the LORD Almighty." Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
Every call to separation from sin contains the promise of renewed intimacy with God and being his "sons and daughters". It seems that God really appreciates it when people make this sort of a stand for Him. He is not an aloof and demanding deity. Your separation from an unbeliever will receive God's reward, blessing, approval and result in a deeper walk with Him.

Reason 3 Because the children may go astray from God

(Deuteronomy 7:3-4 NRSV) Do not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, {4} for that would turn away your children from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the LORD would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly.

(Nehemiah 13:23-27 NRSV) In those days also I saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab; {24} and half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but spoke the language of various peoples. {25} And I contended with them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair; and I made them take an oath in the name of God, saying, "You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. {26} Did not King Solomon of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin. {27} Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?"

The Lord has a real heart for children. He knows they model their parents. Its not just theoretical, children do go astray, children are lost forever because of an ungodly upbringing. In Nehemiah we see a whole generation of mixed up children, unable even to speak Hebrew or Aramaic but adopting the language, culture and beliefs of the nations around them. This undoubtedly included their religious beliefs. When children are turned away from God His anger is kindled and it says He"would destroy you quickly". We see God's anger coming through Nehemiah on this issue
And I contended with them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair; and I made them take an oath in the name of God, saying, "You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves.

God cares about the kids and He will be very angry if you marry an unbeliever.

Reason 4 - It leads to a lifetime of defeat

(Joshua 23:11-13 NRSV) Be very careful, therefore, to love the LORD your God. {12} For if you turn back, and join the survivors of these nations left here among you, and intermarry with them, so that you marry their women and they yours, {13} know assuredly that the LORD your God will not continue to drive out these nations before you; but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a scourge on your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land that the LORD your God has given you.

How many Christians have I seen living defeated lives because they married an unbeliever! They are so numerous. There are three stages to the catastrophe. Firstly, God is no longer powerfully present and giving victory and miracles "know assuredly that the LORD your God will not continue to drive out these nations before you." Then there is a time of bitter frustration and pointlessness, a feeling of being trapped. "but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a scourge on your sides, and thorns in your eyes" the pain can be so sharp that it will be like "a thorn in your eyes".

Lastly, everything you work for goes up in smoke there may be a foolish financial decision or an affair, alcoholism, unbelieving children, even a deception. You look back on a life that should have been prosperous and rewarding and instead you have ‘perished from the land". Look around you and see. This is not an idle threat from God. It really does happen.

Reason 5 - Correcting it can result in drastic and painful separations

(Ezra 9:1-12 NRSV) After these things had been done, the officials approached me and said, "The people of Israel, the priests, and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. {2} For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons. Thus the holy seed has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands, and in this faithlessness the officials and leaders have led the way." ....Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, "You have trespassed and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. {11} Now make confession to the LORD the God of your ancestors, and do his will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives." {12} Then all the assembly answered with a loud voice, "It is so; we must do as you have said....

Wrong marriages resulted in compulsory divorces on a large scale! They sent their foreign wives away and their children (Ezra 10:3). These divorces were approved by God at the time it was a choice between two painful alternatives and divorce was seen as the lesser of the two. But it must have been very painful for all concerned. If you are going out with an unbeliever or engaged to an unbeliever then Ezra's example is for you. You need to separate from them. Absolutely, finally and quickly. ( 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1)

Paul addresses the problem of people who get converted as married adults in I Corinthians 7:12-16.This was the case for a large portion of the Corinthian church in the early days of Christianity. If we are married to an unbeliever at the point of our conversion and they are willing to stay we are not to divorce them. Actively killing the marriage is wrong. However if it ends then it is not to be clung on to. The implication here is that out of God's kindness He does not ask new converts to immediately divorce their partners. He tolerates the marriage . He knows it was not a deliberate marrying of an unbeliever. They were married as unbelievers then one got converted. That is not a deliberate flaunting of God's law by the believer.

(1 Corinthians 7:12-16 NKJV) But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. {13} And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. {14} For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. {15} But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace. {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?

In a divorce situation between a unbeliever and a believer the believer is to let the unbeliever go. "Stop clinging on in hope! Let them go! Your hope for their salvation is uncertain !" is Paul's harsh message to the partner of unbelievers. There is a tremendous spiritual incompatibility and we are "called to peace". In the New Testament God does not ask Christians to divorce non-Christian partners but if they go they are free to leave. He would rather we did not marry unbelievers in the first place! This spiritual incompatibility is often intractable. God never promises that unbelieving partners will be saved. Religious conflict often results in painful separations, some before marriage and some after marriage. If you want to avoid a painful heart-wrenching separation - then only date and marry believers!

Reason Six - Because of the pain it causes to other family members.

(Genesis 26:34-35 NRSV) When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite; {35} and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.....(Genesis 28:1 NRSV) Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him, and charged him, "You shall not marry one of the Canaanite women.....(Genesis 28:6 NRSV) Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram to take a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he charged him, "You shall not marry one of the Canaanite women,"

(Genesis 28:8-9 NRSV) So when Esau saw that the Canaanite women did not please his father Isaac, {9} Esau went to Ishmael and took Mahalath daughter of Abraham's son Ishmael, and sister of Nebaioth, to be his wife in addition to the wives he had.

Esau's foreign wives "made life bitter" for his parents the quiet , godly and non-confrontational Isaac and Rebekah. Just when they should have been celebrating grandchildren they were being deeply hurt. Unbelieving partners often cause real grief to the family of the Christian partner. Their ways are just not Christian ways and Satan, with his control strings attached to their lives, can create pain, hurt and discord through them. Esau also hurt himself, he saw that his wrong marriages hurt his parents and that Jacobs godly marriage delighted them so in addition to his troublesome wives he went and took believing wives in a sad attempt to win parental blessing.(Genesis 28:8,9). His original wives would have been hurt by this. So Esau's unwise marriages ended up hurting his parents, himself and his wives. Also his choice of believing partner was not altogether politic. He ended up marrying a believer from the family of Ishmael, Isaac's direct rival. Children who foolishly marry unbelievers cause their parents pain.

Reason Seven - Because when God's judgment falls the family will be divided.

(Luke 17:32-34 ) Remember Lot's wife. {33} Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it. {34} I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left.

Two on one bed - the believer goes to be with the Lord at the rapture, the unbeliever stays to experience the judgment of God. Why did I include the preceding verses? Because marrying an unbeliever is a form of trying to make your life secure. Its saying "I've got to be married even if it means disobeying God! Or I've got to marry him/her even if it means disobeying God. Eventually you will lose that partner for eternity. Your security is, in fact, very insecure. But the person who remains single until they marry "in the Lord" will be able to still be with their partner for all eternity (although there are no marriages in heaven there will certainly be much love).

Then there is the strange reference to Lot and his mixed up family. Lot's family had spent so long in Sodom that many members of it had absorbed its values.(Genesis 19:12-26) While the New Testament tells us that Lot's soul was tormented day and night by what he saw (2 Peter 2:7.,8) it is clear that this did not rub off on his family. His wife ended up as a pillar of salt and a memorial to the consequences of loving this present world. His two daughters were on the brink of marrying unbelievers. These unbelievers scoffed at angels and perished in the destruction. The daughters had spent so long in Sodom and been so eroded morally by their non-Christian friendships that they later got Lot drunk and committed incest with him. (Genesis 19:30-38). The descendants of this union became the Ammonites and Moabites, perpetual enemies of Israel. When judgment came the family was shattered into fragments because it had joined itself to unbelievers and their ungodly value systems.


So in conclusion there are seven compelling reasons why you should not marry an unbeliever:

Marrying an unbeliever is not a gray area. Its not something that one Christian can do and another not do. God has said "No"therefore you do not have a choice. If you are dating an unbeliever you should prayerfully, carefully, and gently end the relationship. If you are attracted to a non-Christian admit your attraction to God and then make sure that the relationship does not develop. If necessary avoid the person until your feelings subside. Your future marriage is incredibly important. Marry anyone you like, but only in the Lord.


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