We’ve heard the question “Is it okay to date a non-Christian?” asked countless times. Some come from a place of genuinely not knowing the biblical answer to such a question. Others yearn for life-long companionship, and although they know the biblical standard for marriage, they still struggle with finding themselves drawn romantically towards the non-Christian. Still, others will go against their conscience and date the non-Christian despite knowing full well that it does not please the Lord.
I hope that this article proves to be not only a sound theological answer but also an encouragement that God’s design for relationships is far more joyous and delightful to those struggling through this question. I also pray that this article may be a stern rebuke and warning to those who have willfully entered such a relationship, as that demonstrates not a love for Jesus, but a love for the world.
Is God Concerned With Who We Date?
Although the Bible doesn’t explicitly talk about ‘dating’ (because it didn’t exist in biblical times), God is most certainly concerned with who we date! After all, he’s the one who designed and gave us marriage, the holy relationship between a man and a woman (Genesis 2). So it stands to reason that God’s principles for marriage can also be applied to who and how we date.
Dating for Marriage
If God has a specific design for marriage, shouldn’t our dating relationships be a pursuit for that kind of marriage? It most definitely should be! So, what does the Bible say about marriage? Well, the Bible tells us that marriage is the union in the flesh between a man and a woman, given to us by God. So, marriage is indeed a good thing! Therefore, dating in the pursuit of marriage is also a good and godly motivation. But, that doesn’t mean that we can go and pursue marriage with anyone we want. 1 Corinthians 7:39 reads, “A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord”. The Bible clearly tells us that we must only marry a Christian. So, if we are to only marry Christians, we should really only be pursuing dating relationships with Christians!
However, the Bible doesn’t simply leave this as a command or rule without giving us any reasons. Ephesians 5:22-27 tells us that the wife is to submit to the husband just as the church submits to Christ (Ephesians 5:22-24) and that the husband is to love and sacrificially serve and sanctify his wife just as Christ did for the church (Ephesians 5:25-27). This isn’t just the design and structure, but also the purpose of marriage! That is, to reflect the relationship between Christ and the church. A husband who doesn’t know Christ won’t seek to lead you in sanctification and won’t sacrificially love nor serve you! A wife who doesn’t know Christ won’t seek to be led into godly sanctification! When we enter a marriage with a non-Christian, not only do we dishonour God by defiantly rejecting his purpose for marriage, but we miss out on the beautiful, joyous, and sanctifying relationship that marriage is supposed to be. It’s supposed to be a relationship where you point each other towards and share in the invaluable treasure that is Christ!
2 Corinthians 6:14 commands us, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?”. In many non-Christians we can see ambition for success, a desire to better one-self, and even a real longing to love another, and we often find ourselves drawn to such characteristics. What we need to constantly be reminded of is that these don’t come from the pursuit of Christ-likeness and obedience to God, but rather, a worldly pursuit of self-improvement. 2 Corinthians tells us to not be unequally yoked with them because our love for God is so contradictory to the unbelievers’ love for the world that we should be quite deterred! If God is your greatest treasure in life, then dating someone godly should be your top criteria! There is even greater joy in a relationship with a husband or wife who demonstrates ambition, growth, and love, not for worldly gain, but for God’s glory. For it is only when you are in relationship with someone who lives for God that you will be encouraged by them to also live for God! A relationship where you both encourage one another to grow in obedience to, faith in, and love of God.
Dating a non-Christian will put us on the path to a marriage that is not only unbiblical and God-dishonouring, but incomplete. Dating a non-Christian would be settling for second best! It may temporarily fulfil our desire for companionship. We may feel joy in being in a relationship with someone who seems to meet the criteria. Yet, you set yourself up to miss out on the joys of a marriage under God’s blessing, where the treasure that is Christ is the foundation and lasting support. God’s purpose for marriage doesn’t ‘limit’ our dating options. Rather, it frees us to enjoy relationships in its fullness as he intended! Therefore, we should be wanting our dating relationship to pursue this kind of marriage. We should want to date Christians.
It is clear that dating a non-Christian is unbiblical as it puts you on track for an unbiblical marriage that dishonours God! On top of this, you miss out on the full joy of dating and marriage relationships under God’s rule and blessing! As if this weren’t enough to dissuade one from dating a non-Christian, many still attempt to justify it.
But I Can Still Grow Spiritually!
Some will argue that although their relationship might not be in accordance with God’s design, it’s not that bad, because they can still live for and love God. I want to emphasize how dangerous this line of thinking can be. Dating, and possibly then marrying a non-Christian, is a means by which you are continually tempted away from Christ. If we date someone who doesn’t live for Christ but rather lives for the world, we can expect them to point us to the world as a source of comfort, success, and joy. By being in relationship with a non-Christian, we risk forgetting that it is God who will carry us through our woes, that it is God who is the one who carries us to success, and that it is God who has already given us everything we need to find joy in life.
I think we place far too much faith in ourselves when we think that we can maintain strong faith whilst being in an intimate and deep relationship with one who lives for the world. Even the Bible tells us that we are extraordinarily likely to falter in our faith when we enter relationships with non-Christians (Deuteronomy 7:4)! When we date or marry a non-Christian, not only do we endanger our faith, but we take away from the joys of living for Christ. The opportunity to serve the church together is lost. The joys and comfort you can take in praying and reading the Bible together are gone. There is most certainly going to be tension when you want to pour your time, energies, and finances into the ministry of Christ when your partner sees no value in it. When we enter a relationship with a non-Christian in this way, we miss out on the joys of living as much as we can for our great God!
But I Can Evangelize to Them!
Some argue that their relationship is a means of evangelising to their non-Christian partner, making the relationship a God honouring pursuit. I want to firstly make it very clear that evangelism is good! It is what God has commanded us to do! But why must you date them in order to evangelize to them? Isn’t it possible to evangelize to them in other ways? It most certainly is! You can evangelize as friends within group settings by bringing them to your church or Bible study groups! If you enter a dating relationship with a non-Christian thinking that it’s okay to do so because you can ‘flirt to convert’ them, I think that we forget that no one is converted by our efforts alone. It takes the work of the Spirit in their hearts.
What would you do then if they never come to know Christ? Would you continue to foster a relationship that is not according to God’s design for marriage? Or would you break up with them in the end? I think that the former is unedifying and that the latter is very unloving! In any case, is the actual reason for pursuing such a relationship really God honouring? Could it be that the argument that you might convert your non-Christian partner is just a way to hide and justify a heart issue? I think that whenever we enter a relationship with a non-Christian (having known what the Bible tells us about relationships), we have decided to give in to the subpar joys the world offers over the great joys we could have when living according to God’s good design. And I think that is what we would call idolatry.
So, is it okay to date a non-Christian? I think that the Bible answers ‘no’. God doesn’t tell us not to marry non-Christians because he’s a killjoy. He tells us to only marry Christians because it is only when our marriage revolves around him that we can experience true and lasting joy in our relationship! He gives us rules not to cause us grief but to allow us to experience actual joy! And so, our dating relationships should be in pursuit of the kind of marriage that God wants us to have! Although our yearning for life-long relationships may not be met instantly, and we struggle through the temptations of dating non-Christians who seem to tick all the boxes, the joy of dating and marrying a godly man or woman and enjoying a relationship with them in the Lord is most definitely worth the wait.