Unequally Yoked: More Thoughts on Marriage

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I recently read an article on The Christian Pundit entitled “It Matters Whom You Marry,” and I agreed with pretty much everything it said. Choosing who will spend your life with you is a critical decision that will impact your whole life–physically, emotionally, spiritually and relationally. I can’t tell you how frustrated I get with women who pine after men who couldn’t care less that they exist. That said, the article expressed a sentiment that I find increasingly common among Christian writers. It goes something like this:  

If the guy is not a believer, you can stop right there. You have no business yoking a redeemed soul with an unregenerate one, even if he seems open to change. Christ has bought you with a price and it is not an option to give away that blood bought heart to someone who doesn’t know and love your Lord. It will cripple your spiritual development, open up a host of temptations, stifle your prayer life, make regular church going difficult, and cause massive parenting conflict if you have children. [...] The health of your eternity is at stake. Think carefully.

Should you marry someone who shares your faith? Yes. Will it make married life easier? Absolutely. But the going assumption seems to be that if your spouse isn’t a believer (specifically if you’re a woman), then your marriage is not only doomed to misery, but your own salvation will be jeopardized. It also assumes that if your spouse wears the Christian label, you’ll always be perfectly in tune and marital conflicts will rarely, if ever, arise. Which is hogwash. My dating experience taught me that there’s a big difference between wearing the Christian label and actually being Christ-like. Let me illustrate.

My husband is agnostic. He doesn’t lead me in Bible study, pray with me, or teach our son about God. However, he demonstrates loving patience and forgiveness in our marriage. He has set an example of thankfulness and appreciation in our household so visible that our three-year-old son models it. Even though my husband often works 70+ hours per week, he still helps with the housework and child-rearing in the little spare time that he has. He cares about my emotional health and listens when I have something important to say. He occasionally asks me if there’s anything he can do to improve the intimacy of our relationship. What a guy!

Is it still tough living with someone who doesn’t share my faith? Yes. But it hasn’t crippled my spiritual development or made regular church attendance difficult. My husband actually supports me going to church and even goes with me when his schedule allows it. Because that’s what a loving spouse does, no matter what he (or she) believes.

Contrast that with my aunt “Melinda’s” recently deceased husband. My uncle was a Southern Baptist minister. I imagine that he probably led his wife and daughter in regular prayer and Bible study. But the man was not pleasant to live with. He never lifted a finger around his own house, not even to bathe or change his baby girl. If something wasn’t done to his liking, he heaped shame and criticism on his wife. In his mind, everyone in his life existed first and foremost to serve his needs. He even made my aunt change the channels on the TV for him when he felt like channel surfing! My aunt was faithful to him for the duration of his life, but she was deadly miserable. Her husband wore the Christian label, but the loving attitude of Christ was far from him.

Anyone can call themselves a Christian. Anyone can go to church on Sunday. Anyone can say they’ll lead you in prayer and Bible study. It’s what they do when they get off their knees that will determine the health and vitality of your marriage, mind, and soul. Learn to look past the label. Choose someone who will keep a compassionate character even if they forfeit their faith.

Because here’s the truth: People change. The Christian you wed today could decide one/five/fifteen years down the road to stop following Christ. There’s no way to predict or prepare for this. When I stood at the altar with my husband, I thought I was marrying a Christian man. We had attended the same church together for six years. He had Christian parents. I had seen him read his Bible. I had heard him speak in tongues. He sang in the choir, played bass on the worship team, ran the church sound board, and filmed the video announcements. But the same events that rocked my faith during our engagement completely shattered his, and I didn’t see it. Six months after our wedding, he confessed that he no longer believed. I was floored.

I can tell you honestly, I’m not the only one to have experienced this. It happens…a lot.

And here’s the result: Some teachers will say that if you end up with an unbelieving spouse, it’s your fault. That if you would have been just a bit more vigilant and asked the right questions (or let your father pick the groom), you wouldn’t have ended up in this situation. But because you “rushed to the altar” with some guy who was obviously “immature in his faith,” you now have to settle for a second-rate spirituality in your own life.

Does that sound like a gospel of grace? Of having abundant life and confidence in Christ in spite of difficult circumstances? I don’t think so! These teachers can keep their pathetic ‘watered-down faith’ doctrine. It’s shaming and condemning and false, and I don’t want it.

I decided a long time ago that if my faith couldn’t survive a college lecture, a trip to the beach, or an unbelieving spouse, then it wasn’t a faith worth having. My God is so much bigger than agnosticism. The Holy Spirit is much more powerful than temptation. The Bible tells me so. I don’t know what bible these other people are reading.

The Bible does warn us about being “unequally yoked” to unbelievers—those given to pride, anger, idolatry and lawlessness. No one (let alone a believer) has any business knowingly marrying an unrepentant abuser, adulterer, addict, murderer, extortionist or rage-a-holic. That is asking for misery. But for those Christians who strive for the ideal and somehow miss it, there is grace:

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 7:14).

Finally, marriage is tough. It requires work to succeed, no matter how great of a Christian you marry. Having a spouse who shares your faith is important, but it isn’t a magic formula for perfect harmony. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. 

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4 responses to “Unequally Yoked: More Thoughts on Marriage

  1. April this is true. My pastor, a woman, prepares us single believers for the fact that you can start out equally yolked but along the course of life one spouse can continue to grow spiritually while the other stagnates or retaliates. She advocates that each person, man and woman be totally whole with God and be married to God first so that whatever your spouse is doing won’t hinder your relationship with God and you can continue to love your spouse in their Jordan/Wildnerness season. In other words Christians and non-Christians can make their spouses a false idol. I see it inside and outside the church at all times. I agree that the blanket statements made in the Christian Pundit isn’t the right mentality. I think putting God first will lead us to the right mate and no matter what they end up doing we’ll keep going with who God called us to be. God is a jealous God.

  2. True…those who say they are “christians” arent always…and don’t always exemplify the behavior they should. I have sooooo much more I could say about this but I guess I’d have to write my own blog. :) Well put

    Also, I wonder if Calvin growing up Christian still has those values…and that is why he is so wonderful to you?

    My husband is a “new believer” (five years)and his parents are agnostic. My father was a minister who not only prayed with us but also was 100 percent invested in us. What I think the church is lacking is counseling and discipleship for new believers and yet, people make their own choices. I just had this conversation with my old pastor whom was a crucial part of my husbands salvation. After 5 years I have yet to see his “fruits” and yet he is a wonderful father and always willing to lend a hand but I think still lacks the understanding of selfless service. Yet, I can’t wait till he fully understands what being Christ like is and letting God fully in….I told you I have alot to say….I believe that one day he will be all he can be in Christ.

    • Yes, I do believe that Calvin’s Christian upbringing has a lot to do with his character. Even though he no longer believes, he still thinks Christian values (like honesty, hard work, patience, etc.) are worth keeping. Also, his mom was a bit of a feminist and refused to put up with selfishness and ingratitude from the men of the house. And his dad was a good example of a loving and helpful husband. :)