Should Christians marry non-believers?
Few people see marriage as a spiritual union. Rather, we see it as a legally-binding civil partnership between two people made on a piece of paper that can be canceled at any time. God’s Word shows us otherwise. God is the One who created marriage with the intention that we become “one” with our spouse in every way, including spiritually. Therefore, we are not to be “unequally yoked with unbelievers.” Regardless of how compatible we think we may be, a Christ-follower will never be spiritually compatible with someone who doesn’t submit to God. Here’s why.
(See Chinese versions: 简体中文 > 基督徒和非信徒可以结婚？ | 繁體中文 > 基督徒和非信徒可以結婚？)
Genesis 2:24 ESV Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
2 Corinthians 6:14 ESV Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
Anyone who calls on Jesus as their personal Saviour, repents of their sins and is baptised in His name receives the Holy Spirit. God yearns jealously over the Spirit He has placed in us, because this came at the cost of seeing His Son, Jesus, crucified on the cross for our sins. When we join ourselves to someone who rejects Jesus Christ, we grieve the Holy Spirit inside us.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
James 4:5 ESV Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?
Anyone who has not been redeemed by Jesus is still in the kingdom of darkness, which is ruled by Satan. That is the spirit at work in them, whether they realise it or not. If we keep following a non-believing spouse’s wishes, we not only insult the Holy Spirit whom God has placed in us, we may eventually quench God’s Spirit altogether.
Colossians 1:13 NLT For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son,
1 Thessalonians 5:19 ESV Do not quench the Spirit.
God’s Word illustrates this further by comparing any marriage between a believer and a non-believer to an impossible agreement between Jesus and Satan (Belial) or a temple for God’s Spirit and a temple of idols. We are warned to avoid such a union so that we can live freely as God’s sons or daughters.
2 Corinthians 6:15-18 ESV What accord has Christ with Belial? 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; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”
Marriage was made to point us to God’s love for us
The strong bond between a married couple is meant to mirror God’s intense and everlasting love for us.
God’s Word compares marriage to the union between Jesus Christ and His followers (the church). A Christ-centred husband will love his wife as much as Jesus loves the church. A Christ-centred wife will submit to her husband in all things, as Christ submitted to God’s will. When two believers worship God and hold fast to one another in marriage through all circumstances, their love will be the envy of many others. It is meant to lead people to thirst for the perfect love that flows from God through us, and in this case, through our marriage.
Ephesians 5:31-32 ESV “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
Ephesians 5:25 ESV Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
Ephesians 5:22 ESV Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
John 6:38 ESV For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.
This, however, is very far from our understanding of what marriage is about today. We are repeatedly sold the idea that marriage is “just a piece of paper” and “you can get out anytime.”
Regardless of what the world may say, God’s will for marriage will outlast all worldly definitions and fads, and He will judge our marriage according to His precepts, not worldly standards.
Isaiah 40:8 NLT The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.”
We see that marriage is a temporary arrangement on this earth that is meant to point to eternal realities. We are no longer married after we die and are resurrected to be with God forever. All marriage statuses end. At that time, all believers’ bodies will rise again to “everlasting life” and non-believers to “shame and everlasting disgrace.”
Matthew 22:30 ESV For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
Luke 20:35 NLT But in the age to come, those worthy of being raised from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage.
Daniel 12:2 NLT Many of those whose bodies lie dead and buried will rise up, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting disgrace.
Marriage comes with challenges
God meant marriage to be good, but it was through the world’s first marriage between Adam and Eve that sin entered this world. They chose to place their own desires above God’s commandment and followed Satan (the serpent) instead. After that, the way a husband and a wife relate to one another changed forever. (See Genesis 3)
A husband who isn’t submitted to God will want to rule over his wife and a married woman who is struggling to submit first to God may find herself wanting to please her husband. This can lead to problems with mismatched desires and expectations, on top of daily concerns such as serving God, finances, work, in-laws, children, housekeeping, planning for the future etc.
Genesis 3:16 ESV To the woman he said, “… Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
Because of this, marriage on earth comes with innate challenges. The apostle Paul openly noted that marriage brings “many troubles in this life”. These challenges may even escalate if our in-laws disapprove of our faith.
1 Corinthians 7:28 NIV … But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.
We need to keep in mind that marriage is not just between two people, but two family lines. If we marry into a family line that worships God, we get to enjoy God’s steadfast love across a thousand generations. But if we marry into a family line that does not worship God, we will also inherit their generational curses from up to four generations. This is not something that God desires for His children. Also, see Breaking generational curses.
Exodus 20:5-6 ESV You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
How God redeems the marriage covenant
Thankfully, our wonderful Saviour promises to make our marriage burdens light when both husband and wife are joined (yoked) to Him and allow Him to teach them how to build godly and holy unions. Any God-fearing couple will testify to how often God’s Word or the Holy Spirit convicts them to not sin against God and not sin against one another. God’s will is for us to flourish spiritually and bear good fruit, and He will help our marriages flourish too when both remain in Him. The same cannot be said for a marriage where one spouse is a non-believer because that part of that equation is missing.
Matthew 11:29-30 NLT Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
John 15:4-6 NIV Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
In a Christ-centred marriage, both husband and wife can pray and agree on anything they ask, and it will be done for them by God in heaven when it brings Him glory. When two believers gather in Jesus’ name, He is among them. None of this happens in an unequally yoked marriage.
Matthew 18:20 ESV Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
Note: There are some who call themselves “Christian” but remain unbelievers in their hearts. Such people do not obey God’s Word and bring on unnecessary trouble into their marriages, leading the outside world to conclude that “not all Christian marriages work out”. It is important to note that true believers will obey God’s will in the face of many challenges and their marriages will be a light in their communities. Where a couple submits to God’s will, there will be unity, love, joy, and peace.
Romans 10:8-10 ESV But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
Luke 6:46 ESV “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?
Warnings about marriage to non-believers
We all have biological fathers. We have spiritual fathers too.
Those who follow God get to call Him, Abba (which is similar to “Papa” in English) or Heavenly Father. Those who don’t seek God will be strongly influenced by Satan, the father of lies. This does not mean that non-believers will always lie to us. It means that they would have fallen for deceptions from the god of this world, Satan, about how to live our lives. We can be certain that Satan will have a foothold in our own marriage if we are married to a non-believer.
Galatians 4:6-7 ESV And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
John 8:44 ESV You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.
For example, it is very hard for non-believers to agree to their spouses in the following areas:
- Giving generously to God’s work in financial terms | 2 Corinthians 9:6-9 ESV The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”
- Teaching one’s children to not fight back if they are attacked by bullies in school (but to bring the matter up to the appropriate authorities instead) | Matthew 5:39 ESV But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
- Refusing to be associated with the gods their family worships or the rituals they practise | 1 Corinthians 10:14 ESV Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.
These are just three of many, many examples.
Following God’s will is not easy nor popular with the world. The Bible solemnly tells us that “the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it” and that only the one “who does the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Is it worth risking our entry into the kingdom of heaven for a marriage relationship that only exists on earth?
Matthew 7:13-14 NLT “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.
Matthew 7:21 ESV “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
Addressing some arguments for marriage to non-believers
When we are in a romantic relationship, it may be hard for us to be objective. Our hearts will try to convince (deceive) us that we will be strong enough to work out the obstacles. Here are some common examples.
Jeremiah 17:9-10 ESV The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”
1. “I can convert him/her.”
Entering a marriage with an agenda to convert someone puts unseen pressure on a relationship. Neither is it fair for us to use a bait-and-switch tactic on a non-believer. If someone is open to learning more about God, why not wait until they have ample time to do so and decide who they want to follow; Jesus or the “god of this world”?
2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.
No one is immune to backsliding when yoked to a non-believing spouse. Let’s remember King Solomon, who was gifted with extraordinary wisdom and had even personally seen God twice. Yet he spurned God towards the end of his life because his pagan wives turned his heart away after other gods. God became angry with Solomon and removed the kingdom from his family. If someone like King Solomon can fall away from God, so can we. It may not happen immediately, as in Solomon’s case, but it is highly likely to eventually.
1 Kings 11:4,9-11 ESV For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. And 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 and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods. But he did not keep what the Lord commanded. Therefore the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant.
2. “He/she is very spiritual.”
Not all types of spirituality are from God. We are to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” To do so, we can simply ask a non-believer if they agree that Jesus is the Son of God who came in the flesh to die for their sins and to reconcile them to God. There is only one God and only one way to Him, which is through Jesus Christ. Anyone who claims that all gods are the same has been deceived by the spirit of the antichrist. Someone who is “spiritual” can be led by evil spirits, even if they appear to be kind, loving, intelligent, and successful.
1 John 4:1-3 ESV Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
1 Timothy 2:5 ESV For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
John 14:6 ESV Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
3. “There is social pressure to get married and I can’t wait any longer.”
The world certainly places a lot of pressure on us to conform to certain patterns, most of which are well-meaning though not necessarily God’s will for us.
Romans 12:2 ESV Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Family and friends may keep asking us when we will be getting married and remind us not to fall outside the ideal biological age for having children. We too may desire to start a family and feel the pressure to compromise in order to attain this goal.
Such desires are natural. After all, it was God who created us to “be fruitful and multiply” to fill the earth. Yet the times we live in are very different. Lawlessness has increased and there is the ever-present danger that our love for God will grow cold.
Genesis 9:7 ESV And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.”
Matthew 24:12 ESV And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.
Wrestling between the desire to marry a non-believer in order to start a family and the call to obey God is a real test of our faith and perseverance. It can be a very painful journey filled with grief and self-doubt. We appear foolish to unbelieving family and friends who don’t understand why we won’t just take our destinies into our own hands. They may wonder if something is wrong or holding us back, and if we have been brainwashed.
Romans 5:3-5 ESV Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
We can take heart that Jesus also encountered similar pressures. During the time He was on earth, people would have been engaged by their early teens, some as young as 13. Jesus remained single until His death at 33. During that time, Jesus would have seen his brothers and sisters get married, one by one, and have children, or possibly even grandchildren, of their own. It was customary for the firstborn to be entitled to a double portion of the family inheritance but Jesus had no family of His own to leave His portion to. All this ran counter to Jewish culture and norms at that time. Jesus probably faced many social pressures and ridicule. We worship a God who personally endured many of the injustices we do and sympathises with our pains!
Hebrews 4:15-16 ESV For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
As believers, we can take all our anxieties and pressures about marriage to God because He knows our weaknesses and struggles firsthand. We can tell Him exactly how we feel and pour out our sorrows and pain to Him, He will carry our burdens with us and exchange it with His peace and grace. For some of us, this may mean singleness for the rest of our lives rather than marriage to non-believers. Singleness may actually be God’s protection for our souls, to save us from more pain and disappointment.
Philippians 4:6-8 NLT Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
4. “He/she is a good person.”
A good person is not the same as a righteous person in God’s eyes. Only those who have repented of their sins, been baptised in Jesus’ name, and call on Jesus as their Saviour will be deemed righteous before God. Being seen as “good” does not make one acceptable before God’s throne.
Romans 3:23 NLT For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.
5. “Even after we get married, I’ll still go to church.”
Going to church is good but that does not guarantee that God will recognise us as His sons and daughters. Only those who do the Father’s will get a place in heaven, and God has made it very clear what is His will on marriage – do not be unequally yoked. In some marriages, the unbelieving spouse can come to faith but this is more the very rare exception than the norm. If someone is not willing to consider Christ before marriage, they are not likely to change their minds once they are married. God’s Word lovingly warns us in black and white about the consequences of those who disown Him just to please and submit to their non-believing spouse.
Matthew 10:32-33 NIV “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.
6. “We love one another.”
No potential spouse will ever love us to the point of dying for us. A man’s or woman’s love for us will always have its limits. God has demonstrated and proven His love for us by sending His beloved Son to die for our sins, so that we can be reconciled to Him. May we not make the mistake of trusting in a person’s love for us over God’s.
Romans 5:7-8 NIV Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Psalm 118:8 ESV It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.
If we are already married to a non-believer
Marriage was created to be binding until we die.
If we turned to Jesus Christ while we were already married to a non-believer, the Bible instructs us not to consider separation or divorce. If we willfully married a non-believer knowing that it displeases God, on the other hand, it is crucial we first ask for God for His forgiveness and mercy.
1 Corinthians 7:39 ESV A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.
1 Corinthians 7:12-14 ESV To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
In either situation, we have the opportunity to be a light in the family to show them God’s love and ways. God’s love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. This is the type of love we are to bring into our marriages. We will certainly need this sort of love when we face a non-believing spouse whose heart is hardened against God and worships other things, such as themselves, their intellect, their money, their parents etc.
Matthew 5:14-16 NIV “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
May we not make the mistake of “preaching” God’s Word to non-believers without practicing it. People will only truly see Jesus Christ in our lives when we transform radically and love them as Jesus loves them. It is God’s radical love that will soften hardened hearts.
John 13:34-35 ESV A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
In the process, we also need to be careful not to become more anxious about pleasing our spouse than pleasing God. God calls us to love Him first and love others second, in that specific order. How we go about this will take a lot of wisdom. Thankfully, God promises to be generous with His wisdom when we ask Him to guide us.
1 Corinthians 7:33-34 ESV But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband.
James 1:5 ESV If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
If our non-believing spouse asks to separate from us on account of our faith, we are called to bless them and let them go. But if we compromise on our faith in order to stay together in the marriage, we show that we do not truly believe in Jesus and neither should our non-believing spouse. In the end, we all lose.
1 Corinthians 7:15-16 ESV But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
Giving up a loved one for Jesus’ sake can be very painful and it can have very dire consequences on all our other family relationships. Jesus warned long ago that there will be very real costs for following Him. But we need to remember that it was Jesus who suffered on our behalf first. In His grace, God promises to prepare “a hundred times as much” in blessings for us in eternity for following Him. May we cling on to our eternal hope.
Matthew 19:29 NIV And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.
Luke 14:26-30 NLT “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. “But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’
1 Peter 2:21 NLT For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.
To receive notifications of new posts from Teaching Humble Hearts, please subscribe here .