Married to an Unbelieving Spouse
Curt Grice, Associate Pastor of Educational Ministries
Following The Jesus Way is a journey of great joy and fulfillment. It can also be a source of conflict and concern when your spouse doesn’t share your commitment. It’s more difficult to face life’s challenges, make important decisions, and mature in your faith when you and your spouse are not on the same page spiritually.
The most important thing in life is to know and love God through faith in Jesus Christ. This love relationship with God affects everything… your thoughts, attitudes, passions, possessions, relationships, goals and dreams. It demands a commitment of all your heart and soul and mind (Matthew 22:37-39).
The most intimate human relationship is marriage. God’s plan is for a man and a woman to become “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24)… a union where a couple literally and figuratively become part of one other.
So even if your spouse is a “good” person, the lack of a shared faith in Christ (and real distress about your spouse’s salvation) can hurt your marriage relationship. It’s even worse if your spouse tries to hinder your efforts or is hostile to your faith.
How can you honor God when your spouse doesn’t? Is there anything you can do to help your spouse become a Christian?
STEP ONE: Spend time with other Christians, but not too much
Christianity is a “communal” faith, designed to be lived out as part of the Body of Christ. As followers of Jesus, we need to meet together regularly for teaching, worship, fellowship and encouragement (Philippians 2:1-4). You need to spend time with other believers, especially those who are “following Christ alone” in their marriages.
But your spouse needs you as well. God designed marriage to be a source of mutual support. You are accountable for the vows you made to your husband or wife, even if he or she is not a Christian. To honor both your marriage and your place in the Body of Christ, you should commit to regular church involvement while protecting plenty of quality time for your marriage.
You must demonstrate the importance of your faith to your spouse… not just with active church attendance, but by the quality of your life. Spending many hours a week at church can signal to an unbelieving spouse that you’re un-committed to your marriage – especially if it seems like you’re going to church to “get away.”
STEP TWO: Let your actions be your witness
The thing that will influence your spouse the most is the life you live. No amount of nagging will motivate an unbelieving spouse toward faith in Christ. In fact, it could actually drive him or her further away. The best witness will be watching you live out your faith. There are no guarantees that your spouse will choose to follow Jesus, but “clothing yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” and “forgiving as the Lord has forgiven you” will model the Christian life in a way that is impossible to miss (Colossians 3:12-14). If you pray regularly for your spouse and live a life that pleases God, you can leave the rest up to Him, knowing you were faithful.
STEP THREE: Maintain a hopeful perspective
When you are growing as part of the Body of Christ and faithfully seeking to serve and honor your spouse, you can be hopeful! You can’t control the timing, but you can believe that God is able to use your commitment to win over even the most reluctant spouse.
Paul touches on this challenging subject in I Corinthians 7:12-14…
“To everyone else, here’s my counsel (this is not a direct command from the Lord; it is my opinion): if a brother has a wife who does not believe Jesus’ teachings and the truth of His resurrection, he is to stay with her as long as she is willing to live with him. The same is true for any sister; you should not leave your husband even if he has no allegiance to Jesus. Here’s the reason: An unbelieving husband is consecrated by that union – touched by the grace of God through his believing wife – and the same is true when the husband is a man of faith and he’s wed to an unbelieving wife. His wife is consecrated through their union. If this weren’t so, your children wouldn’t be pure; but as it is when faith enters in, God sets apart these children to be used uniquely for His purposes.” (The Voice)
GOING FURTHER – Resources
Beloved Unbeliever by Jo Barry
Offers hope and encouragement to wives who hope to love their husbands to faith in Christ.
Surviving a Spiritual Mismatch in Marriage by Lee Strobel
Provides hope for Christians married to an unbelieving spouse.
Spiritually Unequal in Marriage is a blog for those seeking “practical help and encouragement to thrive in a spiritually unequal marriage”.