Marrying a Non-Believer: The Ox and Mule Syndrome

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To seriously date or to consider marrying a non-Christian is outside the will of God. In 2 Corinthians 6:14-15, Paul says, Do not be bound together with unbelievers, for what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?

The verb “bound together” literally means “unequally yoked.” Paul is recalling the Old Testament command in Deuteronomy 22:10, You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.

God forbade yoking together beasts of such diverse sizes and strengths because the excessive chafing of the yoke would injure both animals. In the same way, Paul says that a binding relationship between a Christian and a non-Christian will be mutually injurous because they are so essentially different.

Of course, some marriages eventually become centered around God when the non-believing spouse later comes to Christ. However, for every instance where an unequally yoked marriage recovers in this way, there are a dozen tragedies. When a true Christian marries a non-Christian, there is almost certainly great suffering ahead. Christians who violate God’s will in this way have based their marriage relationships around something or someone other than Christ. They have compromised their relationship with God.

We can be thankful that God will not reject us for such lapses in judgment. But He has never promised to preserve us from pain when we defy His will. Besides the pain we will likely bear from such a decision, compromising our faith suggests that Jesus Christ is not the most important Person in our life. This will hardly increase respect for our faith.

More importantly, there is no reason to believe that a non-Christian (or a “Christian” who is uninterested in the things of God) will change after marriage. The record shows that this rarely happens, and the Bible pointedly reminds us that God gives us no such assurance. Paul asks of mixed partners in 1 Corinthians 7:16, …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? Remember, we are free to choose whom we marry, but we are also responsible for the possible lifelong consequences.

How easily we can say, “I’m ready to accept that responsibility,” until we experience the painful results of ignoring God’s will! Often an unequally yoked person returns to follow God closely years later and faces stiff opposition from a non-Christian spouse. Even worse, unequally yoked believers may permanently compromise their commitment to Christ in order to keep peace in the home. Children also invariably suffer in such marriages.

Considering the clear biblical teaching against marrying non-Christians, Christians need to be honest with themselves when they consider entering, or continuing, a romantic relationship of this sort. Embarking on such a relationship, they are really denying that God knows best how to bring fulfillment into their lives, and that he is committed to their good. (See Matthew 7:11 and Deuteronomy 10:13.) Such a denial constitutes a betrayal of what we say we believe about God: that he is our wise and loving heavenly Father who always seeks our good.

Before going ahead, ask yourself: What evidence can you find that God has ever been wrong or unloving in His dealings with you? When have you ever regretted, in any lasting way, following God’s will? Why would this issue be any different?

No matter how “right” a relationship feels, God’s will concerning seriously dating or marrying a non-Christian will not change. If you find yourself drawn toward such a situation, resolve now to obey God despite the cost. Any delay only makes the decision harder. Even though you may feel terrible pain for a while, you will look back later and realize this decision was one of the best you ever made.

We have never met a Christian who wishes he or she had gone ahead into marriage with their non-Christian dating partner. But we have met scores of miserable Christians who would do anything if they could go back and change their decision to marry a non-Christian or a disinterested Christian. Seek out an older Christian for advice and support as you trust God. You’ll be thankful sooner than you think!

The above article comes from the book, “The Myth of Romance” written by Dennis McCallum and Gary DeLashmutt, published by Bethany House Publishers. Unfortunately, this book is no longer in print so you may have a difficult time locating it. What is especially unfortunate about this is that they have even more information in this book that could help those who are contemplating marriages as well as those who are married. So, if you’re able to find a copy of this book somewhere we recommend that you get it.

— ALSO —

To learn more on this subject, please click onto the following web site links to read:

When Thinking About Marrying a Non-believer

What Should I Do Now That I’m Engaged to an Unbeliever?

Marrying a Non-Believer Won’t Work


Filed under: Single Yet Preparing

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134 responses to “Marrying a Non-Believer: The Ox and Mule Syndrome

  1. I certainly believe that there are consequences in defying God by a believer marrying an unbeliever. However, if one spouse becomes a Christian after the marriage, scripture ensures that the marriage and the unbelieving spouse is sanctified. I’ve encountered believers who think that the latter situation is still inferior to a marriage of equally yoked Christians. As a new believer I found their attitude to be a source of pain and God Himself proved its error.

    While people were offering their condolences and prayers, I found scripture that told me to be joyful and grateful in all things. More than a few marriages in my church and those of Christian friends fell apart. It taught me to appreciate my husband even more. He and I ministered to some of those families. I believe ours (celebrating 41 years) is our Christian marriage.

  2. I am struggling with my situation. I am a believer and strong in my faith. My boyfriend of over 5 years off and on (over 2 years steady), with which I have 2 children from, is not a Christian. When we started dating, I was a completely different person, not walking with God. A few years ago, I stopped fighting it and began rebuilding my faith.

    As time has passed, we are growing further apart because of our different beliefs. We argue over things and don’t have the same interests obviously. He’s a sweet guy most times but can be very controlling and demeaning. I worry about my kids. I don’t feel we should move forward with marriage but I’m not sure whether continuing the relationship is healthy for us or the kids.

    I don’t want to fight and I definitely don’t want to make the wrong decision. I don’t feel as if I’m living my life to my full potential spiritually, emotionally, socially, physically. Is this healthy? How will it affect my kids?

  3. There is hope if the unbeliever is willing to work on the relationship and is open to seeing the light of God. But when the marriage has already taken place, even when there is no hope for salvation of the unbeliever spouse, we must still endure the marriage, and sacrifice for God by remaining in the marriage. But if the unbelieving spouse wants to leave, 1 Corinthians 7:15-16 teaches us that we must let them leave. We should try to work on the marriage and should not encourage them to leave. But the unbeliever deciding to leave is God’s will when there is no hope. God wants us to live in peace.

    For those living with a unbeliever, here are some versus that might be helpful to reflect upon:
    2 Corinthians 6:14-18: “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? 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.‘”

    1 Corinthians 7:12-14: To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

    1 Corinthians 7:15-16: But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

    I found another website that addresses the issue of marring an unbeliever, which others might find helpful:

    “Scripture is replete with exhortations against such marriages (in both the Old and New Testaments). Contrary to popular misconception, God’s prohibition against marriages to foreign women in the Old Testament was not due to racism. Instead, God was simply preventing the spread of idolatry. Israel, God’s chosen people in the Old Testament, represented what Christians would later represent in the New Testament. Hence, God’s prohibition against marrying an unbelieving woman in the New Testament (2 Cor 6:14) is simply the extension of God prohibiting a Hebrew man from from marrying a Canaanite woman in the Old Testament (Deut 7:3-4). “Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you” (Deut 7:3-4).

    “What then, is a believer? A Christian essentially is someone who believes in the gospel of Jesus Christ. What then, is the gospel? The gospel is: 1. God is holy, loving, and just. He therefore, must condemn all sinners to punishment in the flames of eternal hell; 2. You and I are all sinners who deserve nothing but God’s wrath in hell after our deaths; 3. God loved humanity so much that He sent His only Son, Jesus (who was fully God and fully man), to die on the cross for your sins. Jesus paid the debt for your sins and absorbed God’s wrath on your behalf. 3 days later, Jesus resurrected from the dead; 4. If you repent (turn from) all your sins and personally put your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord, God and Savior, then you will have eternal life.”

  4. I am married to a non- believer. It is hard. We have so many disagreements from going to church, how to discipline the kids, how to spend our $ and time. My wife still likes to go out and drink with her girlfriends at bars etc. But, my wife and children are sanctified through me. We’ve been married 13 years and we love each other and have a good marriage, better than most. But, honestly it’s really hard because the most important thing to me now is teaching my children about Christ and that is difficult with unbelieving wife that doesn’t agree by the rules that I do.

    1. Hi Flash, I can understand that your situation is difficult for sure! I hope that my story will encourage you. I am married now for 36 years. Our marriage is very good. I would say, in your words, better than most. Neither of us was believing when we first met each other, but both of us were believing when we married. I remember telling my then-girlfriend that we could not marry since we did not share a faith in Jesus Christ as Redeemer. I know –that sounds pious and judgmental, but how else do you express this? We were both very hurt and we saw no way forward. God brought me to Him in His own way –a long story, and He brought my then-girlfriend to Him through a mutual friend. We married after that… her faith and mine are very different, but we’re both believers.

      I recall another story, which I read years ago, which really stuck with me. The wife was believing, the husband was not. The husband loved the horse races, and liked to bet on the horses every Sunday. He asked his wife to go with him, but she always refused, since she felt she should go to church… logical of course. After many months, she felt that God was telling her… perhaps you should consider complying with your husband on this? “Oh no!” she protested- “there is gambling at the track. I don’t want to take part in that!” But still the urge persisted. SO she said to her husband, “I will go with you to the track.” And she went… for several Sundays. She found herself enjoying watching the horses… she found them beautiful… and the synergy between jocky and rider fascinating.

      After several Sundays her husband announced, “Well if you can go to the track with me, I don’t see why I should not go to church with you!” And you guessed it. He heard the Message, and the Lord’s Gift became real to him. He became a believer. I think you can fill in the rest here. I think that when we submit ourselves to God and give Him room to work, that He will work miracles we cannot imagine. I’ve seen this in our own lives, for sure!

      You can read the classic verses in Ephesians 5… and put them into practice. May I say here that you are the head of your home, and the high priest of your family? Of course you need to bring up your children in the faith… even if your wife disagrees. But perhaps if you relax about her going to bars, and going to church and about other things as much as possible, then God will have more room to work? You will know. These are just ideas… see what you think. If you can demonstrate the love of Christ to your wife, there is no greater force other than the direct intervention of God Himself which can be brought to bear on your behalf. And on your wife’s behalf! I really hope you return to this site and let us know how you are doing. God has His eye on you! Take care, I hope to hear from you soon, WP (Work in Progress)

  5. I was raised a Southern Baptist to the core. The more I’ve grown up and the larger my world has become, the more I feel that evangelical Christians have a very narrow view of the world. I defend this by relating my personal situation: I am dating a Buddhist girl whom I love very much. We are in a long distance college relationship, and my parents both think it is of course a horrible idea. My dad especially has told me the relationship is doomed assuming I maintain my Christianity, and that I of course am doomed if I leave the faith to make the relationship possible.

    Although he loves me and wants what is best for me, there is no way he can know what that will be in this case. The only thing making me unhappy about my relationship with my girlfriend is the immense religious pressure I face from my family every time she comes up in conversation. I’m convinced that if the religion only causes strife and is not fulfilling while my relationship otherwise continues to be good and wholesome, then the religion has skewed priorities.

    I have tried on several occasions per my father’s instruction to read the Bible and pray more to find fulfillment, but whether he believes me or not, it does not work for me. The faith is close-minded. Other people’s happiness is sacrificed for personal spiritual gain. The inexplicable is lazily attributed to God, as are wonderful things that are actually the direct result of tireless work by people who aren’t Christians who simply want to make the human race better.

    I have no way of knowing whether I’ll marry my girlfriend. However, if it does not work, religion will not be why, and if it does, my inevitable lack of religion will not be why. Our commitment to each other as people and the fulfillment we get from the connection with a human who cares about us in a very real way more than anyone else will determine our success as a unit.

    Closing oneself off from the rest of the world’s philosophy is based on a mindset that will perpetuate racism and elitism. Marrying someone based on religion is not love. It is fear that we could be wrong as Christians. If we are, then responsibility for the future lies in our hands. I challenge you to meet that charge and use the power in your own two hands to make the world a better place because other people deserve it, not because you’re glorifying a god that you’ve decided is in charge of your ticket to eternal paradise.

    1. Hi Will. Your comments are both articulate and well thought out. I can sense the emotional element imbedded in your writing…, and that is understandable since it deals with such a critical decision: marriage. I certainly would agree that all of us want that special, sacred connection with our partner. That is the way God designed marriage: a commitment for life with someone who will be by your side through all circumstances and someone who shares your deepest values and beliefs.

      You said you grew up in a southern Baptist home, and reference your Christianity, so I assume you are a committed Christ follower? If so, that is the critical element isn’t it? Will obedience to a claimed faith trump emotions and feelings surrounding any tough decision?

      Let’s broaden the perspective if that’s OK? I am 62 years old, and during my 40+ years of walking with Christ I have faced multiple circumstances where a fork in the road required me to make a choice: obedience to the teachings of Christ, or, following my feelings and emotions that often seemed a better choice for me or in my best interest. I found that this element of ‘choice’ is always at the forefront of my lifestyle decisions. Even friends who are believers sometimes see these as punitive ‘prohibitions’ rather than necessary benevolent commandments for which God has a specific purpose for me. During my journey in life I’ve had to decide if I would marry a believer (do not be unequally yoked); I had to decide if I would sleep with the girlfriends that I had before meeting my wife (abstain from sexual sin); I had to decide if I would succumb to women who showed interest in me in the workplace after I was married (do not commit adultery); I faced yearly decisions on whether to cheat on my taxes (do not steal…give to Caesar what is Caesar’s); and I continue to decide daily if I will choose what God has said is best for me, or what I pursue is what I view as best for me

      During a specific temptation and difficult lifestyle choice in my earlier years, I remember a fellow believer who was also a dear friend lovingly confront me quite simply: Are you a follower of Christ or not? If so, how do you see your current temptation in light of the words from the apostle John in I John 2:4? “The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him”. These are tough words, but they’re right on with any of the commandments of Jesus. We make ourselves out to be a liar if we say we know Christ but after careful consideration of the consequences decide to walk the opposite direction in disobedience.

      You may be surprised to hear me say that I am not one who believes that all relationships are doomed if one party is a believer, and the other one is not. I know of several relationships where believers have chosen to enter into a relationship with an unbeliever, and from all appearances, seem to be happy. That is not the primary point. You said in your comments that… ‘I’m convinced that if the religion only causes strife and is not fulfilling while my relationship otherwise continues to be good and wholesome, then the religion has skewed priorities.’ How dangerous to view the truth of scripture if it that truth doesn’t bring me fulfillment.

      Would you use this as a test in other areas Christ asks us to avoid? Your personal ‘fulfillment’ as a test of skewed priorities of Christianity? How about if you determined that robbing a bank would allow you to better care for your family, and in so doing…., you found fulfillment? Would that justify it? Or how about if you decided that falsifying your accomplishments with your employer would allow you to climb the corporate ladder and be fulfilled, and financially secure? Would that be an OK test?

      God has great reasons for asking us not to enter into certain relationships…, especially a marriage with an unbeliever. Sexually, in God’s eyes, two become one when they enter into that sexual commitment. In 2 Corinthians 6: 14-16 Paul likens ‘yoking’ oneself with an unbeliever as choosing to unite God with things that don’t mix: light and darkness; righteousness and unrighteousness; Christ and Satan; a temple of God and a temple of idols. You see when you choose to enter this relationship, you choose to compromise the purity of God…., you chose to drag Him through the mud.

      I would suggest that among all sins that a believer may commit…, entering into an engagement and then becoming united with an unbeliever in marriage is a long series of repetitive well planned sins. Yes. Conscious decisions over and over again to walk in opposition to biblical instruction. What I have observed in my life as well in my other Christian friends’ lives is that most daily sins are committed on the spur of a moment: out of anger ;or frustration; or in retribution for a wrong done. With marriage to an unbeliever, this sin is well planned, it is not a reaction of the moment. It takes months of planning. It is a conscious decision to walk a long journey into disobedience.

      I speak from personal experience. My daughter, who is professing believer chose this road: to marry and unbeliever. Despite loving warnings from friends and community, she entered into a marriage relationship with a guy who does not profess Christ as his savior. He sees the Bible as an antiquated book with little relevance for today. He does not believe that Christ is the only one who can offer salvation and eternal life. He sees Christian missionary activity as an intrusion into other cultures. He does not filter his decisions through the lens of scripture.

      My son-in-law is a great guy. My son in law loves my daughter. My daughter may claim ‘fulfillment’ as a test of her choice. But fulfillment is never a mark of truth. My son in law does not regard Christ as the final authority in His life. My daughter must now face the following choices: how do we raise future children? Do we teach our children that Christ is the only way to the Father if both of us do not agree on that? Who has final authority in our lives on tough issues: the scriptures, or our feelings? This is the reality of uniting a believer with an unbeliever: and earthquake with aftershocks.

      So Will…, the choice is up to you. Do you present yourself to other believers around you as a liar if you disregard scripture, or do you present yourself to Christ and the Christian community as a true follower of Christ and obey Him? The most loving thing you can do with respect to your relationship with your Hindu girlfriend is to show her how serious you are about your love for Christ. So serious that you want her to also know this endless love of Christ and wait to see if she will respond to your attempts to share your faith and see if she will embrace Christ before you marry. My prayers are with you my friend.

    2. Hi Will, I read your story with great interest, and also Kevin’s reply. I was not raised with the Message of the Gospel, but came to the faith later (at age 24) as a result of several “near death” events, and several Christians who explained the basics of the Gospel. As my world has become larger (I am now 62) I’ve found the Message to become larger and larger as I’m enabled to embrace the love of God and His Son more and more.

      I did not know a father’s love at all when I was young; therefore I couldn’t “fathom” the Love of God. I couldn’t connect with it at all. Now the Love of God has become far more personal and real. This I cannot explain, except to say that this is His work in me. I came to the faith in the beginning because I’m a technically minded person. I need evidence to support what I believe. Well, the evidence is there!! I’ve checked it out thoroughly. I assure you, since the stakes are so very high. I’ve found that living inside the fences God has put in place gives us freedom to be who we really are.

      My parents also did not agree with marrying a girl I had in mind earlier. This had nothing to do with the faith, (My parents are not believers) but rather with her personal characteristics which they felt, were not compatible with mine. I, like you, loved my fiancee very much! I, like Kevin, and like you, had a choice to make. The Bible tells me, “Honor your father and your mother so your days will be long on the earth.” This does NOT mean, “Do whatever your parents tell you.” Rather, this means to listen to them VERY CAREFULLY, and consider their advice VERY CAREFULLY. Well, I did that… and concluded that they had a point.I had to also remember that, although I had issues with my parents, I had to admit that they would never knowingly advise me against my own best interests.

      So I broke my engagement… and I knew the choice was right with God, but I was emotionally broken. I cried for a week and couldn’t think straight for longer than that. My present wife has been my marriage partner for 36 years- we were not believers when we first knew each other- we were both believers when we married. The Bible was given to guide us and to protect us. It was not forced on us to put us in religious chains and make life miserable!

      I would urge you to consider carefully your choice in this most important matter. The only choice you make in this life, which is more important than your marriage partner is your decision about Jesus Christ. Is He God’s Son, or isn’t He? Please Will… Know what you believe, and WHY you believe it. One statement from a renowned writer and historian was “I would not want to be in the position of having to disprove the message of the Gospel and the divinity of Jesus Christ in a court of law.” You stand at a crossroads now. Enough said… Take care. I hope to hear from you… WP (Work in Progress)

  6. My younger sister is dating a non-believer. She has every intention on marring him and wants me as involved with her wedding as she was with mine. Matthew 18:15-17 has been walked through with her in the form of her and I talking, her, a close friend and I talking, and than a couple that used to be our youth leaders talking to her. Should I then assume her to be a pagan and in turn be all that she needs me to be in regards to her wedding or should I talk to her and tell her I can’t be a part of her wedding because I do not agree with the marriage? I fear that removing myself will break any relationship or influence I have or the potential to show her and her future husband the love of Christ.

    1. Chelsea, this is a tough one. My younger sister put me in the same place. She wanted me to walk down the aisle with her (she had even left (divorced) her husband, and kids for this man). I prayed and told her that I just couldn’t do that. I told her that I would always be her sister and love her and would be there for her, but I couldn’t walk down the aisle with her. Sadly… horribly sadly, she turned her back on me and seldom talks to me now, though this was several years ago. She married him, was married a number of years, but then several years back her husband committed suicide, blaming her because she left him. I don’t know the whole story. What I do know is that as sad as this is, I couldn’t go along with doing that, which I knew was wrong just because of my fear of what she would do if I wasn’t there for her in the way she thinks she needs me.

      Chelsea, I can’t tell you what to do. But you aren’t your sister’s Holy Spirit. Be careful of thinking you need to be with her for God to talk to her. Also be careful of doing that, which you know is wrong out of fear –no matter what reasons you are fearful of. Pray, ask God if there are ways you CAN be there for your sister without compromising on His values –those she is now compromising on herself, thinking she is the exception to the rule.

      She has been reasoned with, and she is choosing to reject the advice others are lovingly giving. So now, you are left with tough choices, and she will sadly live out the consequences of these tough choices (if she doesn’t change directions beforehand). I pray that God gives you the wisdom you need, even if it goes in an even tougher direction. I pray for your sister. Oh how many horrible stories we hear about every day for those who defy God’s ways. I hope she comes to her senses and uses her freedom of choice wisely. But ultimately you can’t change your sister… you can only go in the way you sense God would have you.

    2. Hi Chelsea, As Cindy has said,- a “tough one!” However, my own conviction is that if you “can’t be a part of her wedding” then you may well justified in your fear “that removing (your)self will break any relationship or influence [you] have or the potential to show her and her future husband the love of Christ.”

      Why can you not be there for her anyway? She must know you do not agree with the marriage after the talks you mention. You can specifically define the part you play in her wedding- so that you are not compromising your faith, and yet you are not turning your back on your sister. You can tell her what part you would like to take in her wedding. While this may not mean walking down the aisle with her, it may well mean taking another significant part, such as reading a passage or poem, or singing a special song? You can demonstrate to her that you still love her and are there for her, even though you do not agree with her choice. Did Christ turn away from the adulterous woman brought to Him? How did He treat Judas Iscariot? Did he ignore/shun Lazarus- thief (and tax collector)? I am trying to say that we may be misinterpreting the classic Matthew 18:15-17 text (which also mentions tax collectors). If I were in your place, I would certainly at least attend the wedding and offer to perform a task which does not compromise your faith. I do not see what is wrong with that myself. See what you think.

      I am very curious to hear how this turns out! I fully agree with Cindy’s comments though… as Cindy stated, “Pray, ask God if there are ways you CAN be there for your sister without compromising on His values…” Take care Chelsea… WP (Work in Progress)

  7. Well what if you became a Christian after marriage and your husband cheated and is a gambler? What then? Does God hold back your blessing?

    1. Hi Granny b, God does not hold back your blessing because of your husband’s actions or faults. One of perhaps 7000 known promises in the Bible is Romans 8.28 “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to them that love God, and are called according to His purpose.”

      As a mother, would you hold back your son’s well being if your daughter were doing wrong things? Our love for our children pales in comparison to God’s love for His children.

      You have a good day Granny b. WP (work in Progress)