Is it Acceptable to Date an Unbeliever?
At a recent church seminar,
thirty-two youths were asked to anonymously write down on a piece of paper
their answer to these questions: 1) Do you believe it is OK to marry a
Christian from a different church? 2) Do you believe it is OK to date a
Christian from a different church? Here is a summary of their responses:
Do you believe it is OK to marry a
Christian from a different church?
Do you believe it is OK to date a
Christian from a different church?
Although a majority of the youths
surveyed believed one should not marry outside of the church, about one-fifth
of the youths do not share this same conviction. When it came to the question
of dating, only a small majority of 59% believed it improper to date someone
from a different church. It is interesting to note that more sisters than
brothers (70% vs. 50%) believed we should only date inside the church.
This was a small and informal
survey, but it validated my perception that many young people are confused
about what constitutes a proper relationship with those who have not been
baptized in our church.
Let’s say a dear brother (or
sister) in Christ confided in you that he really likes someone at work or
school. He believes this may be the person of his dreams, except there is one
huge problem—she is not a member of our church. Torn between his desire to
serve God with a clear conscience and his attraction to this person, he asks
for your trusted council. How should you guide him?
This is a sensitive topic as it
not only speaks to delicate matters of the heart but also forces us to delve
uncomfortably deeper into personal convictions about faith and the Truth. It is
a complicated matter within the larger context of a diverse church body and an
important issue that requires discussion.
The intent of this article is to
candidly present biblical teachings to help guide young people in making
relationship decisions that will always honor God.
HOW DID PEOPLE “DATE” IN BIBLICAL TIMES?
If we search the Scriptures, we
will not find the command, “Thou Shalt not Date an
Unbeliever.” In fact, the Bible does not talk about “dating” at all, because
dating and courtship were viewed differently than in modern times.
The people of the Bible did not
entertain the idea of having a trial and error period in their lives, where one
could enter into casual relationships before finally committing oneself to
matrimony. Such “loose” behavior would be shunned by the community at large,
and persons conducting themselves in that way would be branded as promiscuous.
It was more typical that a young
man who esteemed a young woman would discuss the matter with his parents, who
in turn would approach the family of the young woman. If there was acceptance,
the two were betrothed or publicly contracted to soon enter into the solemn and
sacred rite of marriage. And not a few of these unions were in fact
pre-arranged before the young man and young woman even met—a thought
inconceivable in today’s day and age!
Although the central topic here is
dating, we cannot have a meaningful discussion about dating apart from
marriage, because the goal of all dating and courtship activities is to be
FIVE BIBLE PRINCIPLES ON MARRIAGE
Although the Bible does not offer
direct references to dating, it does provide a clear definition and direction
on what constitutes a proper sexual and marital relationship, which we can
employ to guide our actions. Here are five biblical principles that are worthy
1) Sexual activity outside of God’s prescription of
marriage constitutes sexual immorality and is a serious offense
Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed
undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge. (Heb 13:4)
Now the body is not for sexual immorality but
for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. (1 Cor
Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man
does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his
own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit
who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were
bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which
are God’s. (1 Cor 6:18-20)
From these verses we understand
that the only circumstance in which the bed is undefiled is within the sacred
union of marriage. Any sexual thought or deed outside of God’s marital
parameters would constitute porneia (the Greek root from which we get “pornography”),
which is translated “fornication” or “sexual immorality” in the English Bible.
This is a serious sin against the
most Holy God and the body of His temple, for which the Bible forewarns no such
practicing person shall inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor
6:9, 10). Hence, the seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” can
be better applied as “You shall not fornicate or commit sexual immorality” to
encompass all sexual sins, including adultery, premarital sex, rape, incest,
homosexuality, and even bestiality.
In today’s sexually charged
environment, we see billboards, magazines, movies, television shows, music
videos, and video games that glorify sexual immorality to such extremes that
entire societies have become desensitized and debased from prolonged exposure.
But we know that all these things are an abomination to God, regardless of how
callously it is promoted by our culture. In any dating or courting
relationship, inside of the church or not, we must honor God and refrain from
such activities that the Bible permits only married people to do.
2) God’s prescription of marriage is that we are to
marry only in the Lord
A wife is bound by law as long as her husband
lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she
wishes, only in the Lord. (1 Cor 7:39, emphasis mine)
Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other
apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? (1 Cor 9:5, emphasis mine)
These verses provide additional
emphasis to keeping marriage “in the family” of believers. The widow can take
another husband, but she is restricted to marry in the Lord. The apostles are at liberty to take along a wife,
but not just any woman—she must be a believer.
“Because God said so,” should be
reason enough for our faithful obedience, but the Bible also provides the
following compelling explanations for why God strictly prohibits mixed
marriages and demands our separation from unbelievers.
3) In God’s eyes, unbelievers are mentally,
physically, spiritually, and ritually unclean. Becoming “one” with an unclean
person will not only defile our body but also God’s church and temple of the
This is what I often hear from
brothers and sisters who are considering relationships outside of the church:
“She’s a devout Christian, just
in another church, and she has better moral virtues than many other people in
“I’m thirty years old now. I’ve
tried but can’t find any brothers in church…”
“Well, he’s really nice to me and
respects my parents…”
“Maybe after a while, she will
come to believe too…”
The problem with each of these statements, and most discussion circles about dating and
marriage, is that we are starting from the wrong place—that is, we are looking
at a spiritual matter from a human point of view.
Whenever we start talking about
feelings, emotions, and other complicated human dynamics, we are speaking from
a human perspective. If we really want to know God’s will, we do not need to
look further than the Scriptures. It’s all about cleanliness. Here are some
crystal clear passages that command God’s clean people to be separate from the
unclean people of the world:
“The land which you are entering to possess is
an unclean land, with the uncleanness of the peoples of the lands, with their
abominations which have filled it from one end to another with their impurity. Now
therefore, do not give your daughters as wives for their sons, nor take their
daughters to your sons; and never seek their peace or prosperity.” (Ezra 9:11,
Do not be unequally yoked together with
unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what
communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or
what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple
of God with idols? For you are the temple of the
living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will
be their God, and they shall be My people.” Therefore
“Come out from among them and be separate,” says the Lord. “Do not touch what
is unclean, and I will receive you.” (2 Cor 6:14-17)
[S]o we, being many, are one body in Christ, and
individually members of one another. (Rom 12:5)
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
harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is
one body with her? For “The two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.” But he who
is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. (1 Cor
So we see, with respect to the
sacred rite of marriage, God’s primary concern is not “chemistry” or
“character” but “cleanliness.” It really does not matter if this person is a
devout and chaste Christian. Until he or she receives the one true baptism,
this person is still unclean in God’s eyes.
4) Having a spouse that serves other gods will
cause us to fall away from serving the one true God
“Nor shall you make marriages with them. You
shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your
son. For they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods;
so the anger of the Lord will be aroused against you and destroy you suddenly.”
(Deut 7:3, 4)
But King Solomon loved many foreign women, as
well as the daughter of Pharaoh: women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites
from the nations of whom the Lord had said to the children of Israel, “You
shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you. For
surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods.” Solomon clung to
these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred
concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. For it was so, when Solomon
was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was
not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David. (1 Kgs 11:1-4)
Are we wiser and mightier than
Solomon? Marriage is the most intimate relationship on earth, and our spouse
will no doubt have the most profound influence on our spiritual growth or
5) Mixed marriages hinder our ability to raise
godly children, which is an important function of marriage and the
responsibility of parents
But did He not make them one, having a remnant
of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to
your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. (Mal
In those days I also saw Jews who had married
women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. And half of their
children spoke the language of Ashdod, and could not speak the language of
Judah, but spoke according to the language of one or the other people. So I
contended with them and cursed them, struck some of them and pulled out their
hair, and made them swear by God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters as
wives to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons or yourselves. Did
not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things?” Yet among many nations there
was no king like him, who was beloved of his God; and God made him king over
all Israel. Nevertheless pagan women caused even him to sin. Should we then
hear of your doing all this great evil, transgressing against our God by
marrying pagan women? (Neh 13:23-27)
This marital decision is not just
about us and what we want for our lives. When our spouse does not esteem the
Lord, it impacts our ability to bring up the child whom God had entrusted us to
raise in a God-fearing manner.
So we come to this
understanding—that it is not a trivial matter, but a great evil and abomination
in God’s eyes, that the people He had sanctified and for whom He made such
sacrifice should again defile themselves with the unclean peoples of the world
in sexual immorality, mixed marriages, and rearing children that do not honor
The Bible teaches in unambiguous
terms that, as children of God, having been sanctified by the precious blood of
our Lord Jesus Christ, we should remain separate from the unclean and
unsanctified. Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, which dwells in us,
and we are not to defile this holy temple by committing sexual immorality in
uniting with an unbeliever, Gentile, pagan, or unclean person.
IS DATING AN UNBELIEVER SIN?
Now that we have completed our
review of the sanctity of marriage, let us return to the original question—is
it morally acceptable to date an unbeliever? If we have completely followed
through the logic—that dating results in deeper mutual feelings, which is the
typical precursor to marriage, and that marriage to a Gentile is unacceptable
in God’s eyes—then we must all agree that it would not be wise to start weaving
this complicated web.
We often think about sexual
immorality as the physical act of adultery or fornication, but our Lord Jesus
explains that the sinful deed begins in our heart, “For out of the heart
proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false
witness, blasphemies” (Mt 15:19).
Consider the commandment
prohibiting adultery. Jesus said that “whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed
adultery with her in his heart” (Mt
5:28, emphasis mine). The Greek word for lust is epithumeo, meaning to have a
strong longing for or desire for something. It is sin to lust for that which
God has already forbidden, even within the private confines of our heart.
For example, God has forbidden
adultery; therefore it is sin to lust after your neighbor’s spouse. God has
forbidden incest, so it is sin to have sexual thoughts about one’s own sibling.
God has forbidden homosexual activity, so it is sin to have romantic feelings
for someone of the same sex. These are all examples of sins that have not been
physically acted out but still defile our heart.
And let us remember the Apostle
James’s warning that if these lustful thoughts are left to fester, they will
lead to more regrettable actions and unfortunate consequences. Recall the
tragic stories of David and Bathsheba, and of Amnon
and Tamar. Consider how the narratives would have changed if David had turned
away after seeing Bathsheba bathing or if Amnon had
immediately repented of his impure thoughts for his sister.
We finally arrive at this central
point—it is sin to desire and date an unbeliever, as it is sin to desire
someone of the same sex, another person’s spouse, or your close relative. It is
sin on the simple basis that God has forbidden it, and if we have learned any
lesson from Adam and Eve, we ought not to long for what God has already
explicitly forbidden. Let us instead keep our faith simple and minds pure and
no longer entertain the idea of having a romantic relationship outside of the
body of Christ.
DEALING WITH TEMPTATION
Why did God put a luscious fruit
tree in the Garden of Eden and then tell Adam and Eve not to eat of it? And why
was God so cruel, bringing this attractive person to me and then restricting
James writes plainly that God does
not tempt anyone (Jas 1:13). Apostle John reiterates, “For all that is in the
world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the
world” (1 Jn 2:16, emphasis mine).
All temptations come from the
tempter himself, Satan. He uses these choice weapons of lust because they are
effective in enticing humans to sin, which, if left unchecked, will accomplish
Satan’s goal of our spiritual death.
But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by
his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to
sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. (Jas 1:14, 15)
Carefully guard the heart—do not
let any impure thoughts linger, but cast them out without delay like one would
a demon from his body. If the feelings do not immediately subside, do not be
like Amnon and seek council from an ungodly friend,
but pray for God’s help to purge this impurity from our heart.
Seek a brother or sister you trust
to share this burden and strengthen you in prayer. Do not try to be strong,
keep this matter concealed, and fend off Satan alone.
My husband was formerly a social
worker and once had a female client who made a pass at him. As a counselor, it
was not out of the ordinary for clients to develop feelings of affection toward
him, always to his indifference. But this particular case was different, and he
felt uncomfortable in her presence.
He sought a pastor for counsel,
and the first thing the pastor told him to do was, “Go home and tell your
wife.” So that evening, he confided in me, and we prayed together for God’s
wisdom and guidance. Satan no longer had a heel to grab on, and for no
explainable reason, the alluring woman never visited my husband again.
Now what the devil wants a person
to do in this situation is to keep the embarrassing matter a secret from his
spouse so that the devil can grab him at an opportune time when he is isolated
and spiritually weak.
The Bible admonishes, “Let him who
thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor
10:12), and Mark Twain wrote, “There are several good protections against
temptation, but the surest is cowardice.” In short, when it comes to
temptation, we are to flee from it, not fight it.
That is not to say that we should
run away from anyone we meet who happens to be of the opposite sex, for they
may very well be a chosen child of God for whom we were sent to lead to the
path of salvation. It so happens that my husband came to the True Jesus Church
because a sister casually invited him to a Bible study.
WHAT ABOUT “MISSIONARY DATING”?
Let us revisit the survey results.
One has to wonder, how is it that
the same people who believe it is not acceptable to marry someone outside of
church feel that it may be acceptable to date one? Why would a Christian risk
being romantically involved with a person that they know they cannot marry?
The primary reason is that they
have already become emotionally attracted to this person and are unwilling to
turn back from following after him or her. It is always painful after opening
up your heart, and that is why the wisest council offered is prevention—to
repent immediately from a lustful thought and not let it get to the point where
one has to choose between honoring God or this significant other. But if one
must choose, then let us choose the One who gave His life for us and is worthy
of our adoration.
For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of
hosts is His name; And your Redeemer is the Holy One
of Israel; He is called the God of the whole earth. (Isa 54:5)
God is our first husband, and our
faithfulness should be first and foremost towards Him. If we truly love our
Lord and believe that He is worthy to be worshipped, then we will be faithful
to Him, even if it means sacrificing some things that are important to us.
However blissful, it is still only temporary.
Even the best marriages on earth
will one day dissolve, because God designed marriage to be a temporary
relationship, as it is with all our relationships on earth. Whether it be with
family or friends—they all end as soon as we die. The only everlasting
relationship is our marriage with God and the fellowship we share with those
joined in the kingdom of heaven.
A second reason members date
unbelievers may reside in the hope that the unbeliever will convert in the
process. The optimistic point of view is that, sooner or later, their boyfriend
or girlfriend will embrace God, become baptized, and then they could lawfully
We can probably point out a number
of faithful brothers and sisters who happily came to the Lord after dating and
marrying our church members, but it is absolutely critical in this matter that we separate and do not confuse God’s
grace and mercy from His sovereign and explicit will, as expressed in His
A great biblical analogy is in the
story of Jacob. Was it God’s will for Jacob to receive God’s blessings? Yes.
Was it God’s will for Jacob to cheat, lie, and steal in order to receive it? Of
Like many of us, Jacob lacked
patience. Yes, it is God’s will that all men come to believe and be saved,
including the unbeliever you may be dating, but it is also positively against
God’s will that we should enter into a sinful relationship in the name of
accomplishing His will.
How can we expect to shine as a
light to this Gentile if we are an accomplice to their darkness? We often
forget that God is God and has other means and methods to draw those He has
chosen to Himself that would require no assistance on our part. So let us
forget about converting someone through “missionary dating.”
We are instructed, instead, to be
wary and guarded when preaching to others, “but others save with fear, pulling
them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh” (Jude 23).
“But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have
preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Cor
SEPARATING THE “IDEAL” FROM THE “FOR REAL”
This may all sound very pithy and
idealistic, but it is a frustrating exercise trying to reconcile the “ideal”
from the “for real,” particularly when what we read in Scripture and hear from
the pulpit is at odds with what is actually practiced and generally accepted at
The reality is that we are all
sinners, and as sinners, what we know and believe is often incongruent to how
we actually behave. But unlike fallen man, we can trust that the Bible will
never contradict itself. So as Paul wisely admonished young Timothy,
Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine.
Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who
hear you. (1 Tim 4:16)
God is truth, and as true
worshippers, we must worship Him in undiluted truth. Faith without truth is
like salt that has lost its flavor. We must hold fast to the truth that we have
received as if we were holding on for dear life, for if we let go of what is
true, we no longer have a foundation on which our faith and church can stand.
A final note on love—the highest
kind of love is not the attraction felt between a man and a woman but the most
selfless manifestation as described in 1 Corinthians chapter 13. We should
thoughtfully consider the impact of our romantic interludes on the many other
stakeholders besides us and the person we are in love with.
Mixed marriages anger God,
negatively impact the faith of our future children, and weaken the family and
church. If we have always been faithful, let us continue to be faithful to the
end. If we are at the onset of developing romantic feelings for a Gentile, let
us repent and ask God to help us purge this sin from our heart. If we are
currently involved in a relationship with an unbeliever, let us seek godly