Can You Date A Non-Christian?

One thing that almost every Christian organization agrees on when it comes to singles (other than Don’t Have Sex of course) is that a Christian should not marry a non-Christian. Now when you tell young singles this they all nod their head, make big commitments to the Lord and dream of the perfect Christian Courtship.  This is all so simple, right up until that doesn’t happen or you meet someone who you really like, who isn’t a Christian.

Then it’s rationalization time.  “I haven’t met any Christians I’m attracted to.” “Well we aren’t really dating – they are just a friend” which is usually followed with, “well if they were a Christian I would date them but they aren’t so. . .I’ll just hang out with them like we’re dating but not call it that until we are dating and then whoops.”  Or, “Well I won’t marry them unless they come to follow Jesus but I’m hoping that will happen.”  “I’m just sharing Jesus with them.  I mean if they got it then yeah maybe but. . . ”  Here’s the problem – we will always want to date who we are attracted to and guess what, we marry who we date.

This is such a hard deal on a lot of levels.  First we really can’t help who we are attracted to.  Attraction isn’t really a choice.  Now what you do with attraction is and we need to get a hold of that.  But still it’s hard.  Also there are a lot of really cool non-christians. Ha!  It’s true right? And there are a lot of Christians that aren’t cool (funny, exciting, adventurous, hot etc).  Not only that, but guess what, everyone is created in God’s image and everyone can love.  That’s right even non-Christians can show love.  Crazy I know.

What makes this even trickier is that the Bible is not as clear here as we might like it to be. The problem is the Bible doesn’t talk about dating at all and when it comes to who to marry, really we’ve got one passage that says it straight up and another that kind of leads to the idea.

Paul in 2nd Corinthians 6 talks about not being unequally yoked.  While this is not about marriage I think it’s obvious that if we aren’t to be partners with unbelievers then it’s not a very big leap to assume that would include the biggest partnership of your life.  And in 1st Corinthians 7 Paul says that widows are free to remarry but they must marry a believer. That’s about as straight up as you can get.  But that’s it.  And before you try to go old Testament Israel marry within the tribe on me, remember Hosea.

But we have to live in reality and reality is this: If you are following Jesus then your life is heading in a direction.  And that direction, regardless of how much you like them or how much you have in common etc, is not the same as that of someone who is not.

There are all sorts of other problems.  It is easy for this other person to become your mission.  In other words you are somehow going to win this person to Jesus.  Here’s the thing, it could happen, but it could not happen and then you spend the rest of your life in different places.  Not to mention that they might end up pulling you in their direction – away from God.  This is a cheesy analogy but one person is standing on a chair and the other is on the ground.  Is it easier for the person on the floor to pulled up or the person on the chair to be pulled off?  As a bonus you are WAY more likely to fall into sexual sin.

Also, how can you have a covenant marriage with you, this other person and God, if this other person doesn’t believe in God.  Biblical marriage is a covenant, not a contract or an agreement.

But most of all, it is harder to follow Jesus and almost impossible to do ministry.  I have been in full time ministry for nearly 17 years.  I have worked with literally hundreds of people serving in our work.  Like anything missional, it’s hard and people leave for all sorts of reasons.  But the number one reason people get taken out – sexual sin.  The number two reason that usually leads to the first – dating someone who is not following Jesus.  This happens directly and indirectly.  The person who is not a Christian is going to have a hard time supporting you giving your life away for the Kingdom, which if you are following Jesus is exactly what you are called to do.

This raises other questions like, What is Christian enough? and How do I know who to marry?, and I plan to address some of that soon.  I also concede that this might not be “law” so to speak.  So tell me what you think?  Is what I’m saying right?  Are you rationalizing a relationship you’re in right now?  If you’re dating a nonbeliever how has that affected your walk with God?

13 thoughts on “Can You Date A Non-Christian?

  1. I struggle with this one because I believe, as a Christian, everything you wrote about dating nonbelievers is true. However, I myself was “missionary dated” and found Jesus that way about a year and a half ago. The guy that brought me to Him and I are no longer together, but we are still friends and I will be forever grateful to him for helping me find The Lord. And, it doesn’t surprise me that God used a romantic relationship to get to my heart, because He knows me so well and understands that I’ve always been a hopeless romantic. Honestly, I’m not sure I would’ve found Him any other way. I’m also curious to hear what others think too because I always hear this argument, and completely understand it, but then I also recognize that I probably wouldn’t have found Jesus myself if my ex hasn’t been willing to step outside of the “Christian bubble”…

    • Angela, for what ever reason, I have noticed that your experience- of the strong Christian being the male and the unbeliever being the female- seems to work more often- meaning that the unbeliever becomes a believer more often than if the genders are reversed. I know of people who have had that work well for them, I am sure for every time it worked well there are a hundred stories that the opposite happened. Just shows how VERY creative our God is in bringing people to himself! (And that we need to follow Him wholeheartedly and not just a list of rules! For instance we also have record in the OT of God asking a man to marry a prostitute for His very specific purposes! Yet that’s not something I would recommend to just anyone!)

      • Shannon, that’s an interesting perspective – I’ve never heard of that before! I suppose it could make sense that the woman would be more likely, even “in the world” to follow the leadership of the man and if the man is following God’s leadership, it would seem likely she would follow… Haha and yes, another good point – I generally don’t advise people to marry prostitutes either, but our God can be quite radical sometimes! 😀

      • I think this is true actually. In the chair analogy the guy is usually physically stronger and would have a better chance of pulling the girl up than if it was the other way. At the same time though I think guys sometimes underestimate this situation. Not that I’ve ever done that . . . . . 🙂

  2. Justin,
    What a critical topic! Since I minister to hundreds of wives – I see the results of these rationalizations and women who decide that it’s ok to marry a guy who is not a believer. This does NOT end well. Yes, it is possible that by following I Peter 3:1-6 and being completely respectful, Spirit-filled and not talking about God or the Bible a wife can greatly influence her husband and he may come to Christ. But we are talking that a woman may have to do this for decades – and there is no guarantee that he will accept Christ. But she is still required by God to submit to this man’s leadership and respect him.
    Submitting to someone who is not submitting to Christ is TERRIFYING. Of course, a wife is ultimately trusting Christ to lead her through her husband – and that is how it always works. But things are infinitely more painful when the husband is not a believer. Wives don’t want to obey I Peter 3:1-6. They want to talk about God, preach, lecture and nag. It takes a very mature Christian wife to be able to hang with God and obey I Peter 3 and continue to be a godly wife regardless of what her husband is doing. If the women reading your blog could only see the countless emails I get from wives who are DESPERATE and hopeless because they find themselves unequally yoked – it would be a serious wake up call. And when children are added to the mix and a wife wants to take the children to church and train them in God’s Word and the husband is opposed to it and says it is a cult – things get really difficult. This is SO NOT WORTH IT! Yes – God can and does do miracles. But when a woman marries, she expects the man to represent Christ to her – and a man who is yielded to Christ is going to be vastly better equipped to do this than a man who is living for himself.

    I also hear from many husbands who married a woman they thought was a Christian. She said “she accepted Christ ” but then “she has never read anything in the Bible, gone to church, had godly friends or prays- ever.” And now these husbands are writing to me, many of them SUICIDAL, because their wives refuse to respect them and refuse to cooperate with their leadership. Many of these wives are hateful, vengeful, bitter, controlling, unforgiving, malicious, contentious and cooperating with the enemy to destroy their men instead of cooperating with God. A Christian man NEEDS a godly wife who is willing to obey God’s Word about marriage and everything else. A wife who refuses to honor God’s design in marriage can cause almost unlimited pain to her husband. I am seeing God working in many of these marriage, as the husbands die to self and determine to love their wives as Christ loves the church regardless of the wife’s behavior. Progress is SLOW. But God can and does heal marriages like this.

    But I implore the singles out there – PLEASE, PLEASE listen to Justin’s advice and God’s Word – and only marry a Christian who loves Christ more than ANYTHING and who seeks God’s will above his/her own will.

    Awesome post!

  3. I like that you point out the fact that there is an intentional choice involved that we are responsible for. I’m intentional in other areas of my life – faith, education, career, finances, etc – so why would I allow this area to be a matter of fleeting feelings of “falling in” or “being swept away”. And really, does anything we have to rationalize turn out well?
    Nothing is hotter than a man who loves Jesus more than he loves you. A man who doesn’t view himself as his own authority. Took me a while to discover that, but it is true. Don’t settle for less.

    • I would like to add that I believe “missionary dating” and dating “outside the bubble” is egotistical and deceptive at its core as well as taking rationalization to a whole new level. I think we should show Jesus’s love to someone without requiring them to give us their love, affection, and affirmation.

  4. Justin,
    First off, thanks for not presuming to have the answer to your title question. I don’t think any of us do have the one right answer, including myself so keep that in mind as you read on.

    I married a man who was not quite “as Christian” as I was when we first started dating. Let me preface that story by saying that when I was in my later single years I would go on one or two dates with almost anyone who asked who I was attracted to in any number of ways. I learned that companionship was an important part of being emotionally healthy, and I found that if I went on singular dates with men who would open my car door or put their arm around my shoulder as we walked down the street, then I was way less likely to fantasize about marrying or actually make out with guys inappropriately. Singular dating allowed me to experience affection and fun things with men without giving in to a commitment with the wrong guys. That fact applied whether I went on one or two dates with a guy who was a Christian or non-Christian. Although, sadly, it was almost always with a non-Christian because Christian guys rarely asked me on dates. Instead they would ask me for an ambiguous “coffee” or to “hang out” and I was turned off by that.

    When my husband and I first met we clicked in pretty much every way except for the Christianity piece. I won’t go into the whole story but I will say that we received a lot of persecution from Christians for our decision to date and the reality is that we are a great match. There is a lot more to compatibility than having a similar spiritual perspective. I don’t blame those friends as if they did something wrong. Some of them questioned me well while others questioned me poorly. At one point I just had to decide for myself “how Christian” a man had to be before I could think about marrying him, so I made a short list of three things (fruits, if you will) I needed to have as a part of our life in order to know it would be a godly partnership. and in the end I married a man who was without a doubt a Christian, and it wasn’t because I did anything outside of being myself. God brought us together, albeit unconventionally.

    Ultimately I think that dating a non-Christian has to do with Spiritual maturity and discernment. Because of my personal experience, the one passage of Scripture that I think about most with regards to this topic is this: Romans 14. The reality is that some Christians can handle being more liberal with their approach to living in this world because their rock is quite firm and they will not become of the world. Others, however, need to abstain from certain things because their faith is weaker. It is not for us to judge our fellow Christians in how strong or weak their faith is or in what is right or wrong for them to do if the Bible is not clear on the topic. Rather, “each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind,” Romans 14:5b.

    Paul says this: “I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing in unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.” Romans 14:14. We are not supposed to walk the Christian road alone, but some decisions are ultimately meant to be made between ourselves and God. “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves,” Romans 14:22

    • Great story, thanks for sharing, Ashley! I love the Romans quote when applying it to this situation – it’s very true. 🙂

    • I think you bring up several interesting thoughts

      First off, Christian guys need to actually ask people out – drives me crazy. Ahhhh..

      Second, I think you are very right that there is huge distinction between going on a date or two and “dating” someone. Really there’s a date or two, then there’s dating someone, and then there’s marriage. Those are all really different. That seems obvious but sometimes we forget it. The Bible really only talks about marriage. For example it doesn’t say, “Girlfriends submit to your boyfriends.” Very, very important point.

      Also the thing that your story seems to point more to (and I think it is a really important question) is more of how Christian is Christian enough. I feel like that is a little different than knowingly entering into marriage with someone who for sure is not. Of course how do you really know becomes a question. Ha.

  5. Pingback: Car Shopping And Dating | More Than Don't Have Sex

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