Imagine entering yourself and a partner into a three legged race. This isn’t just any three legged race because there are obstacles to climb over and tasks to accomplish in order to progress. The different obstacles include things like crossing over monkey bars together, climbing up a rock wall, climbing a cargo net, walking across a balance beam, and other tasks requiring teamwork for success. The time has come to line up for the race. Most everyone at the starting line is excited because they know how hard the race is going to be, but they also know how much fun it is going to be to work together with their partner through the obstacles. You are feeling just as excited as everyone else as the referees come around and tie everybody’s legs together for the race. In a moment of enthusiasm and anticipation you look over to talk to your partner about how to deal with the upcoming obstacles together, but he/she is lying on the ground next to you as a pale, cold, and stiff corpse. Your partner is dead! Then reality hits you, and you remember that this is the partner you CHOSE! Your legs are already tied together, the whistle has already blown, and the race will go on.
Disgusting, right? Who would ever make such an unwise decision? Actually, this choice is made all the time. I am talking about a marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian. People who have been saved by the grace of God through faith have been brought back to life by Christ (Ephesians 2:5). The non-Christian is still dead in their sin (Ephesians 2:1). The three legged race is just an illustration of what it would be like for a Christian to go through the difficulties of marriage with a non-Christian spouse. The Bible speaks to this issue and gives a variety of different circumstances about how this could happen (1 Corinthians 7).
Before getting married it is typical to have a dating or courting relationship. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, the mindset of a dating/courting relationship should be a mindset focused on Jesus and marriage (Hebrews 12:1-2). If Jesus is not at the center of the relationship, then that means something else is. Removing Jesus from the center and replacing him with something or someone else is an act of idolatry. If a Christian is dating a non-Christian, it is impossible for both of them to have Jesus as the center of their relationship because one of them does not even believe in Jesus.
A lot of times this is called “missionary dating.” Here is the truth; a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship is not a prerequisite for sharing the gospel. In fact, if the only time someone would ever tell a friend about Jesus is if they are dating them, then there is a major fear of man issue that needs to be dealt with. Don’t hear me wrong, being friends with non-Christians is a good thing. Jesus hung out with “sinners” while the religious people would not even consider eating lunch with them. Be a good friend, and show love by presenting them the most loving gift of all, salvation through Christ.
A common verse used to talk about this issue of dating/marrying a non-Christian is 2 Corinthians 6:14-16a “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?”
The ESV Study Bible states, “To be ‘unequally yoked’ is to be ‘hitched up’ or even crossbred with another animal who is not the same.” Animals’ being “yoked” or “hitched” together was a common practice. Deuteronomy 22:10 says, “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.” Latching an ox and a donkey to a plow would pose some problems. They have different personalities and work ethics. They are not the same size and would move at different paces. It is much better to use two oxen to pull the plow. This symbolism is relevant to the dating/marriage relationship between a Christian and non-Christian. Different life goals, different desires, and different objects of worship are some of the issues that are present in this situation. Being “yoked” together portrays a sense of influence on the course direction of the plow. The same is true with the course direction of life in the unequally yoked relationship. Marriage is a partnership and friendship through life, through raising children, through ministering the gospel, through the good, through the bad, through worshiping God, and based upon the mutual relationship with Jesus Christ. An unequally yoke relationship is not capable of this partnership or friendship.
Ephesians 5:7-10 “Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.”
As Christians we believe marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church. The Church is made up of people who believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior and are made alive in him. The Church is righteous in the sight of God because of Christ’s finished work on the cross. Non-Christians are not righteous in the sight of God; in fact the Old Testament calls people who worship other gods “whores”. Anyone who does not worship the true God is “whoring” (to use the language of the Bible) themselves to other gods.
Judges 2:17 “Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the LORD, and they did not do so. “
This is a very intense analogy the Bible uses about people who worship other gods. But it brings in some big implications to the Christian who wants to date or marry a non-Christian. If people who do not believe in the true God are whoring themselves to other gods, then why would a Christian want to unite with them? Why would someone want to unite the body of Christ with a whore?
1 Corinthians 6:15-16 “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, "The two will become one flesh."
I would encourage every believer to stay away from dating/marrying an unbeliever, because I believe the Bible is very clear on this subject.