Is it OK for a believer and unbeliever to get married in tough situtations?

I never thought I would have the balls to disagree with Mr. Don A Carson, but I am very against this statement (although he leaves 1 or 2 exceptions): The whole article is at

(2) The right thing to do, in both cases, is usually (I can think of one or two difficult exceptions!) to finalize the other part (get married). It is not to try to undo what has already been done! One cannot “undo” this sustained sexual, common-law, union. Thus to demand that a couple tear themselves apart after they’ve been living together for, say, five years, with perhaps a child or two, simply won’t do. What needs to be urged upon them is that they get “married” legally — i.e., publicly, according to the cultural standards of the state.

When God transforms the heart of an unbeliever into a new believer in Christ, many things come along with that. New desires, new motives, and literally a new heart. In essence, that person is clearly a new creation and if the bible is true, they will only slightly resemble the old self. That being said, he/she is not the same person who was in the previous relationship even if they had been together for 7 years unmarried with 2 kids. I humbly submit that it is the biblical responsibility for the for the believer to exit the relationship and seek a Godly husband or wife. In reality it is only fair for both parties because a christian wife will desire a husband who will lovingly lead her in the Gospel, Pray for her children, serve her and lover her as Christ would. We all would agree that an unbelieving wife does not have the grace to do that. The same is true for a believing husband, he will desire a Godly wife who will compliment him in his pursuit of Christ, not fight for leadership and glory in the relationship, and humbly submit to his Godly leadership and authority. Similar to the unbelieving husband, the unbelieving wife does not obtain the grace to do this as well.

In my mind this becomes a Gospel issue. Is it hard to leave a relationship of 7 years in which there was deep sexual commitments involved? Yes. Is it hard to leave the mother or father of your children who is not your spouse? Yes. Is it hard to start dating again in search of the Godly spouse that God may have for you? Yes. But, none of that is as difficult as leaving eternity in heaven to incarnate on earth and start over as a baby. None of that is as difficult as living in an evil world, being tempted in every way and having no sin. None of that is as difficult as being beaten as Jesus was and carrying your own cross to be crucified for the sins of man. None of those things are as difficult as although being without sin, becoming sin; so that cheaters, murders, idolaters, etc can become the righteousness of God by bearing His wrath for us.

In the Gospel we see the great example of making hard decisions for glorious outcomes. It is a trust issue. Do we trust Christ enough to make the extremely difficult decision? As Pastors, do we really trust Christ enough to counsel our people in hard ways, leading them to make decisions that in light of our world seem crazy.

Make the Gospel decision.


Erik said...

Hey my brother,

What to Carson's point of this being a 1/2 and 1/2 situation. As in, half married, half not. What makes 2Cor6 apply more (or less) than 1Cor7? It doesn't seem so cut and dry that a Christian man in this situation is called to leave his "partner" and children. Would you be shocked if God called a man in this situation to stay, and earnestly seek the redemption of his family? (I chose the guy as the Christian in my example because I know the desire to protect and promote your kids and their mother will resonate with you)

By way of example: Adultery can lead to a "biblical" divorce, and yet, Jesus tells us that if a man looks lustfully on another woman he has committed adultery with her in his heart. Does that mean that (at some point) there is a biblical basis for divorce in nearly every marriage?

I see your point for sure... but I see another side too. And I honestly wonder if staying (getting married), and graciously living to redeem a relationship like this isn't the "harder" choice. This is one reason we're called to avoid being unequally yoked... it is not an easy life.

As my final thought, which choice do you think better proclaims the gospel to the non-believing party, and the kids?

Matt Chewning said...

I will say that I am not 100% on my thoughts here, but for now I would stay with my stance.

In my opinion today (which could change tomorrow)I think it would be hard to push someone to marry an unbeliever reguardlss of the circumstances of the relationship. As you know, in my family, this was recently done. (I think you'll know who I'm talking about here) There was council given that she should get married. They had a baby together, he has a baby from a previous marriage who was calling her mommy. It seemed, that the best thing to do was to get married because it would be a great way to keep the relationship going without being in sexual sin. The problem is that she was a believer and he wasnt. What happened was, as soon as she desired her husband to love her the way the bible speaks of, things went bad. As she began to teach his daughter scripture and pray with her, it got worst. As she began to get more involved in her church, deep christian relationships and the bible, he totally checked out. Eventually he left her, took his daughter away and filed for divorce.

Pertaining to the children that you mention, I think it comes down to a theology issue. Do we trust that God in his sovereignty has a glorious plan for those kids, or do we need to step up and act as a plan B? Take me, I had absolutely no Godly influence in my life, yet, Christ pursued me and saved me. My life is better today, not because of my family dynamic but because of God's grace.

Although I couldn't see myself leaving Beth and the kids because I am now a believer, I have to also be careful to not think that my opinion is better and more thought out than what God reveals in scripture.

I would rather get to heaven one day and say to Christ "I really thought you meant what you said." In 2cor6, it is clear that we should not be in a marriage with an unbeliever unless the believer becomes a believer after marriage. My issue with 1cor7 and "The Don's" stance, is that I dont think we can argue that because we are having sex and committed, we are half married. If that's the case, I would know many people who have been 1/2 married dozens of times.

The fear is that we encourage God's people to go directly against God's word because we feel that our plan would provide a better outcome. However, we know that we cannot sin so that grace will abound. Romans 6.

All that being said, "The Don" knows much better and more than I do.

Erik said...

I completely understand... but check out someone like Gordon Hugenberger (Park Street) who basically comes down (Biblically) in the position that Sexual Union = marriage.

However, if you believe it takes a public declaration, and sexual union to be biblically married, would your advice to a couple who held a ceremony but did not have sex (before one became a Christian) be the same as if they had been joined sexually, but not in ceremony? If not, what's different?

Carson's email started by pointing out that the real question is "what is marriage". I'm not sure married is like pregnant (you are or you aren't). It seems to me that there is a very clear Biblical basis for suggesting that these people are closer to married than they are not married... thereby implying they are already unequally yoked (at the very least they have become one flesh... that seems yokeish).

And as for the situation you metion... I get it. Don't forget though that 1Cor7 presumes a nonbelieving partner who is willing to stay despite the Christian partner's new convictions. Hugenberger suggests in one of his scenarios that a womam who has had sex with a man who will not have her as a wife (though she would marry him) is the equivalent of a Widow (he uses the story of Tamar as his example).

For me, I'm not sure where I land on this one... but I have a hard time saying that one position is better grounded in scripture than the other. As for having many friends who have been 1/2 married many times... my friend, that may just be the sad truth.

Snipit from Hugenberger to get you interested... concerning pre-marital sex with a non-believer.

"You ask, however, what if you have had "premarital sex" with a non-Christian? Does this change God's view of that act, so that it does not commit you to marital love? My response would be to note what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:16: "Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, "The two will become one flesh." In my view, Paul does not limit this claim so that it applies only to Christian prostitutes!

Perhaps to state this differently, in my opinion this question is identical to a question I have often heard, "What if I married the `wrong man'"? Sometimes a marriage will become so plagued with problems, that a wife or husband will reveal that their parents advised against their marriage, and that they themselves had serious misgivings about it even on their wedding day. They are now sure that God never wanted this marriage to come about.

When we hear such a claim, it is of course heart-breaking and tragic. But it does not change God's intention for those individuals now. Perhaps it is true that God did not want them to enter into this marriage. Perhaps they are exactly like David and Bathsheba, who should never have gotten married. But now that they have made this commitment (before their neighbors at their wedding, and before God at their honeymoon), now that they are married, God's will is clear. His will is for them to love their spouse, and any children that may have been born of that union, in a manner that reflects his own love for us. Period!"

Love your whole family. Thanks for your friendship.