Why can’t a Christian date or marry an atheist? What’s the problem?
Few Things in Common
The Apostle Paul commands the church to not be yoked with unbelievers because he knows that this is not God’s will, and so he wrote, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness” (2nd Cor 6:14), for “What accord has Christ with Belial? 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” (2nd Cor 6:15-16), so rather than be joined with non-believers, God commands us to “go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord” (2nd Cor 6:17), not marry them and try to convert them. Just as oil and water don’t mix, neither do the children of light and the children of darkness (Eph 2:1-3). What do the children of God have in common with the children of the Devil? If Jesus is not your Savior, then God is not your Father. That’s what the Bible teaches…not me. We have few things in common with unbelievers, but the greatest bond that’s missing is the Holy Spirit and that of being a child of God. We are called out of the darkness into the light, only to go back into the darkness and show others the Light (John 8:12). We can’t marry someone and think we’ll convert them. That’s not even biblical because salvation is fully a work of God (John 6:44; Eph 2:8-9), so it’s false to believe you can change a person by marrying them and turn them into a Christian. Only God can change the heart (Prov 21:1).
A House Divided
What about the children of a couple who are Christian and an atheist? Will the children be allowed to go to church by the unbelieving parent? Will the unbeliever prohibit both the children and their spouse to not attend church? Who makes decisions on what the children learn at home. Will one parent see no problem with watching R-rated movies or even PG-13 while the other parent tries to forbid that? Does the believing spouse made to avoid saying about God or is there freedom for the Christian to say what they want and for the believing parent to teach what they want to teach the children? You could end up with a house divided and Jesus once warned, “a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand” (Mark 3:25). Amos the Prophet asked the rhetorical question, “Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet” (Amos 3:3)? The obvious answer is no! Or at best, it’ll be shaky.
An atheist and Christian don’t have exactly the same values, morals, and ethics. An unbeliever might think a “white lie” is okay when the Christian doesn’t. This doesn’t mean the Christian is sinless of course, for we all fall short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23), but they will strive to always speak the truth, even when it hurts. Christians are not superior to non-believers…we are just in a better position, relationally, to God as we’ve received the peace of God through the lifting of condemnation through Christ (Rom 5:1; 8:1), however we are convicted when we do sin and we should feel compelled to immediately ask for forgiveness. Every Christian still sins (1st John 1:8, 10), sometimes falling into it, but we don’t stay in it and swim around in it. If we do, we might question whether we’re really a Christian or not (1st John 3). Here’s one of the greatest issues about being unequally yoked in marriage; Christians know that marriage is intended to be for life and even though Christians do divorce, it should only be for ongoing, unrepentant adultery by the other partner, therefore a Christian may end up being trapped in a strife-filled marriage with no way out, having no biblical grounds for divorce. God doesn’t tell us to not be unequally yoked because He doesn’t want us to have a great marriage; He doesn’t want us to be married to an unbeliever because both could end up being miserable.
Being Married to an Atheist
If you are already married to an atheist, you are bound to him or her for life. The only exception is ongoing adultery, but there is hope. God can work in any spouse’s heart. Think about this if you’re a believer married to a non-believer; “For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife” (1st Cor 7:16) so “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” (1st Cor 7:12-13). Paul’s point is if the non-believer is happy to stay married then the believer has no reason to divorce them because how do we know if one of the spouses might be saved in the marriage? All you can do as a believer is pray for them, love them unconditionally, serve them, and be the best husband or wife you can be. If you do this and obey God, you can leave the rest up to God. Jesus never forced Himself on anyone and neither should we cram our beliefs down anyone’s throats. Jesus said, “Come to Me” (Matt 11:28), not “Here I come!” People are free to read this or critique it. That’s fine. They are responsible for their own eternal destiny, but I do pray they will come to the Savior so that they might have eternal life (Acts 4:12).
There is a lot of safety in seeking godly counsel, even if both of the parties are Christians. The more counseling a couple has, the less likely they’ll encounter friction in their marriage by “surprising” things that their spouse does. There are dozens of things that should be decided ahead of time before a couple ever gets married and having much of these things settled before they marry, will lessen the chance that they’ll end up divorced and it will be how it was originally intended; “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24) and “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:9).
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.