[Life 201 is a weekly advice column headed by pastor, counselor and RELEVANT Podcast member Eddie Kaufholz. Eddie answers questions and gives advice on issues you want to hear about. Email your questions to [email protected].]
I’m dating a woman and I really like her. However, she’s not a Christian, but I am. She’s an incredible person who teaches me so much and is kind and everything you’d hope for in a mate, but she just doesn’t buy into Jesus. So here’s the question, what do you make of a Christian dating a non-Christian?
Henry, my man. I’m happy you’re happy in this relationship. And before you start getting all nervous that I’m about to drop the axe on this sweet thing you’ve got going, know that I’m not about to tell you to break up immediately. Instead, I’m going to give you three different perspectives: “Yes, date her!” “No, you can’t!” and my own perspective.
Perspective 1: Yes, date her!
Can a Christian and a non-Christian date, fall in love, be genuinely happy, get married and do great things for the world? Of course! There are countless follower/non-follower relationships that would be viewed as phenomenal by any standard.
Additionally, it is possible for you to follow Jesus and bear fruit throughout your life even if your dating relationship isn’t rooted in Christ. And because the Bible doesn’t specifically warn against dating a non-believer (more on this later), you’re OK in regard to a sinful behavior that needs to be avoided.
Perspective 2: No, don’t date her!
Henry, dating a non-believer is hard road. Now, I’m not saying this because inherent in her unbelief is some immoral compass that will lead you down a path of sin and debauchery. That’s not fair to her. I’m sure she’s perfectly lovely. But somewhere, at some point, you’re going to realize that you are building a life on two different foundations.
As a Christian, your life is built on a desire to trust and follow Jesus to the ends of the earth. For her, well, I don’t know what her foundation is—and maybe she doesn’t either. But if you two are doing this thing together, there’s got to be a common sense of purpose and mission. Without that, you spin your wheels alone and eventually get tired of explaining how you feel God’s calling on your life. You disengage with God—not because you don’t love God, but because you deeply love this woman and are having to make concessions in order to speak a common language.
People are going to try and point to 2 Corinthians 6:14 as Biblical proof that you shouldn’t date an unbeliever.
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”
In truth, making this verse about not being in a romantic relationship with a non-believer isn’t a good interpretation of what Paul was really getting at when he wrote these words. We really want this verse (or any verse) to be all about dating and marriage to a non-Christian because it would make this whole conversation a lot easier.
But because there isn’t a clear Biblical mandate, and because there is wisdom in both of the aforementioned “Yes!” and “No!” camps, you’ve got to do something to break the stalemate: intensely, seriously, pray.
Maybe God has you right where He wants you and this relationship is about pulling her into the Kingdom, instead of drawing you away from God. I’ve seen MANY couples who’ve been in this position and God has used their love for each other to alter the trajectory of eternity. In fact, I baptized a man last weekend whose wife had been praying for him for 15 years—15 years!
Conversely, I’ve counseled countless people who’ve come into my office, usually alone, and can’t take being married to a person they now feel they have nothing in common with. Or they come in and feel like they don’t know God anymore because they’ve ignored their faith for so long—it was just easier to stop caring than battle with someone they love who doesn’t love God.
Henry, both of these scenarios are distinct possibilities for you if you move forward with this relationship. Right now, you need to stop thinking about how you feel, and start consulting God. Because our hearts, especially when we’re talking about love, deceive us. But God does not. You’ve got to either have a distinct, clear calling to stay in this relationship, or you have to get out. Either way, God will give you that wisdom if you ask for it and are brave enough to act.
For what it’s worth, I couldn’t do it. Some can, I can’t. Being a Christ follower alongside my wife has given us some of our most joyous and clarifying moments together. I can’t imagine not sharing the same foundation with her. And Henry, I want the same for you. So pray, pray, and pray some more, and know that at the end the day, you’re not your girlfriend’s savior—Jesus is. Your job is to follow Christ and trust that everything else will fall in line.
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Eddie Kaufholz is a writer, speaker and podcaster and serves as a director of church mobilization for International Justice Mission. He also hosts and produces "The New Activist" podcast. You can find on Twitter @EdwardorEddie.