You may have heard it called evangelistic dating.” You may have heard it called “throwing caution to the wind.” Either way, serious problems arise when believers date and marry non-believers. Perhaps you know someone who is contemplating such a relationship. If you have children old enough to date, perhaps it is becoming a family concern. Maybe you are dating and dealing with this issue firsthand. In any case, I wanted to offer some thoughts on the subject.

Many thump the appropriate biblical edict (2 Corinthians 6:14) at those dealing with this issue. But we need to go further back to understand why His command, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers” is vital to our well-being.

When God spoke creation into existence, He pronounced one thing after another to be good. His remark, “‘it is not good that man should be alone,'” pointed out the world’s first problem—loneliness. God had a ready solution: “‘I will make a helper suitable for him'” (Genesis 2:18). “Suitable helper” may also be translated “partner” or “a helper who is an exact correspondence, a companion.”

When Adam saw the animals paraded before him, he could name them all and relate to none. But when God created Eve, Adam exclaimed, “Now this is someone I can relate to; someone who can understand me and someone whom I can understand! This is what I call a soul mate!” Well, not quite, but you can read this familiar foundational passage on marriage in Genesis 2:23. In the verses that follow, the couple stand together in unity and feel no shame. They are naked with each other, not merely physically, but emotionally, psychologically and spiritually.

Marriage partners are meant to experience a deep and exclusive oneness with each other. They should be best friends—able to share all, bare all and help one another discern the deepest issues of life.

The relationship between husband and wife is so unique that God chose it as a metaphor to represent His own relationship with His people. He calls both Israel and the church His bride. He wants us to experience the kind of trust and intimacy with Him that He intended husbands and wives to share with one another! God desires to be close to people who walk in His ways and who love what He loves. Against that backdrop, we pose the question: “Is it okay for a believer in Jesus to marry an unbeliever?”

One pastor pointed out that anyone who says “yes” to that question, whether by word or deed, either does not expect a prospective mate to be his or her best friend, or has not put Jesus at the center of his or her life. If we are honest, it is usually the latter.

Many people put their relationship with God on the “back burner” in order to develop a romantic relationship that does not fit God’s equation for marriage. More often than not, they bank on the fact that they can make things right with God later. And they certainly can. What many fail to realize is that when they eventually do make things right with God, they will realize the wrongness of their choice of a mate.

A good marriage requires two people who understand what makes one another tick. I would ask anyone considering marriage with an unbeliever to consider this important matter: If your life is motivated by Yeshua and if who you are is all wrapped up with who Jesus is, how He’s changed you and how you want to change the world for Him; and if that’s really the great passion of your life—can you truly share the depths of your soul with someone who says, “Oh, you believe in Jesus? Glad you’re into that, but it’s not my thing.”? How can the most intimate human relationship be truly intimate when one partner cannot understand the most important thing in the other’s life? The unbelieving spouse cannot comfort his or her partner with the truth of God’s wonderful promises, cannot encourage him or her to be more for God, cannot rejoice over the spiritual discoveries his or her partner makes. A spiritually mixed marriage can never become the complete relationship that God intended.

Even worse than the problem of a dysfunctional marriage with an unbeliever is one that functions at the expense of the believer’s relationship with God. He or she harmonizes more with the spouse and less with the Savior. The love for Him grows cold and the faith begins to fade. That is why I tell any believer who dates or considers marrying an unbeliever that he or she is endangering his or her own spiritual life, and that even if he or she pulls through successfully, the marriage will not be what it could or should have been.

Many are certain they will be able to lead the object of their affection to the Lord, because they know someone else who has done so. That is presuming on God’s grace. Sometimes He chooses to extend grace in that area, but there are no guarantees.

In fact, Dr. Arthur Blecher, a rabbi and psychotherapist says, “I know of few interfaith couples among the hundreds I have worked with over the years who talk much about Jesus. In fact, some couples report to me that they find trying to discuss Jesus to be both confusing and distancing.” A believer’s witness to an unbelieving dating partner or spouse is often squelched by a desire to make a good impression or keep the peace.

We demonstrate our priorities in our choice of a mate. It can be a rude awakening to both partners when a believing spouse’s spiritual priorities re-emerge after the wedding. Both partners will probably see a side of the other that he or she did not bargain for. But it is an even worse tragedy if a believer’s spiritual priorities fade into oblivion. That is why I urge anyone who is dating an unbeliever to take a stand for Jesus and break off the relationship. This demonstration of priorities may speak powerfully as a witness to the unbeliever. Even if it doesn’t, it will save the believer much grief in the long run.

The metaphor of Yeshua as our groom or of Israel as God’s wife is difficult to grasp. But if we believe God and take Him at His word that He desires to have a truly intimate relationship with us, then our relationship with Him must be the governing factor in all our other relationships—whether we choose to marry or remain single.

May God give us all the grace to hear and obey His Word, and to discover the beauty and joys of God-ordained relationships as they are meant to be.