I Married an Unbeliever, Now What?

Last week advice columnist Starshine Roshell answered a question at TheWeek.com from a self-described Christian woman married to an atheist man. She wrote,

I have been married for two years, and we just got pregnant. Neither of us was planning it and we were using birth control, but I guess we were the lucky 1 percent. I really love my husband… but he is a devout atheist and I am a devout Christian. I want to have the baby, and so does he, but we are having a hard time deciding how we will bring up our child. What do people do in this situation?

Albert Mohler talks about this question, and Starshine’s response, on today’s briefing with a strong word to Christians who are thinking about marrying an unbeliever (atheist or otherwise.). This is a cautionary tale: Scripture is clear that we are not to be “unequally yoked.”

But what if you wrote the question (or could have)? What if you are already married to an unbeliever? Or what if you became a believer after you were married? This side of the altar, what are you supposed to do?

A few years ago I answered a question like that on Boundless.

QUESTION

Ten years ago, as a young girl raised with strong Christian parents and about to graduate from a Christian high school, I would have never believed that I would be where I am today. I feel sick to my stomach after reading these articles. The reason isn’t because the articles are offensive, but rather because according to these articles, my life is terribly offensive to God.

I did “Missionary Date” my now-husband in college (well, actually I was in denial; his referring to himself as a Christian did not make him one), have been “unequally yoked” to him for five years now, and at the young age of 20 and 23 made “not having babies” our option. At 26, he had a surgery that made having babies not an option.

I’ve taken three wrong turns and I am lost. I am determined not to divorce and I’m reluctant to reverse our decision (and surgery) about not having children since the reason I decided not to still remains: I’m too afraid to raise a child without a Christian husband. Please advise me on the right way to live under these circumstances that I’ve created for myself.

ANSWER

Thank you for writing. I’m so glad you did because I want to assure you and encourage you that while those articles speak to where you are, they were not written to condemn you. The primary reason for the first article is to encourage not-yet-marrieds to make wise dating decisions. The purpose of the second is to exhort believers who don’t yet have kids (whether married or not) to have a biblical worldview about bearing children.

In your case, the articles are descriptive. But as your email reveals, they don’t go far enough to say what to do if you’ve already ignored such advice. You’ve admittedly made some mistakes. The Bible calls them sin. That’s the hard truth. The good news, however, is that Christ died to cover your sins with His blood and there is forgiveness at the foot of the cross and the empty tomb.

Scripture goes on to tell believers in exactly your circumstance what you can do about it. Paul tells the believers in Corinth who are married to non-believers that,

If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 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. But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace (1 Corinthians 7:12-15).

Peter also addresses your situation, encouraging you that you can win your husband to Christ without even speaking a word.

Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.

I admire your commitment to your wedding vows and your disdain of divorce. Both are evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in your heart and both are powerful testimonies to your husband of your faith. I would encourage you to keep praying daily for him both in your quiet time as well as in agreement with other mature believers (keeping in mind that prayer for him should not be confused with gossiping about him). God can save him and often does lead whole families to faith through the persistent prayers of a believing relative.

You can’t change the past. But you can repent for your disobedience, and you can start acting from this point forward with biblical wisdom. How do you do that? By praying and asking God for wisdom (James 1:5); by studying God’s Word so that you can know what it says and what it requires of you (Psalm 119, 2 Timothy 2:15, Micah 6:8); and by asking your pastor or the elders of your church for help and accountability. Have you asked for counsel and prayer from those in leadership? The body of Christ is a strong help to us when we’re facing major challenges if we will walk with other believers in the context of a biblically faithful church.

Finally, even if your husband never comes to know Christ personally, you can trust God’s sovereignty to ultimately redeem your situation; to bring beauty from ashes.

This is not the time to be downcast or discouraged, but the time to repent for your sins, walk by faith, and to put your hope and trust in the Lord’s ability redeem your life and marriage in a way that demonstrates His faithfulness and miracle-working activity in the lives of those who trust Him.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man (Romans 8:1-3).

There is great reward, joy and life to be had in the path of obedience. I pray God will equip you for what you must do. I pray He will give you a long and fruitful marriage that bears witness to His sovereignty in your life.

Sincerely,
CANDICE WATTERS