"Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?" —2 Corinthians 6:14
The Apostle Paul warns against creating binding relationships between Christians and non-Christians in this passage, using the imagery of a "yoke" as a metaphor. A "yoke" is a rigid harness used to keep livestock locked together and pulling in a consistent direction as a team. When we enter "binding" relationships, such as business partnerships, dating, or marriage, we commit ourselves to moving in the same direction as the person we're bound to.
When the topic of dating comes us, this phrase "don't be unequally yoked with unbelievers" comes up a lot. Unfortunately, the church rarely wants to talk about WHY this is, so it can be difficult to explain the concept to others. We want to be kind if someone expresses a crush (or if we have one!) but also careful about who we choose to date.
One of the main problems with marrying an unbeliever is having your Christian life stunted or even restricted. God calls His children to service, to give time or money, to worship, and to teach the next generation about Him. All these things become more difficult when you’re bonded to another person who doesn’t understand your beliefs (1 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 6:14).
This doesn’t mean that God cannot bless a marriage like this after it’s formed. But for your wellbeing and for His glory, it’s not recommended to go into a romantic relationship knowing that you are spiritually incompatible.
"Religious" people might say they believe in the same God, but it’s not necessarily true. Talk to any potential dating partner about their faith and what they believe. Some faiths share language or terms with Christianity, but their definitions may be different. Some people don’t actually know what their religion teaches, or they only know the basics. Strip everything away so you can learn the true doctrine they believe. Compare those beliefs with Gospel of Jesus Christ to see if your faiths align.
Christianity’s foundation is that salvation from sin is in Jesus Christ alone. “Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'" (John 14:6). Our salvation is solely dependent on Jesus’ work on the cross (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Salvation is NOT dependent upon doing good works either before or after we put our faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5). (Also see: Acts 4:12; Acts 16:31; John 3:16-18; Romans 6:23.)
All of this is not to say that you can't be friends with someone who is a non-Christian or believes something different from you. Good friends can be hard to come by, and it’s healthy to have friends of different ages, genders, and religions. But when it comes to pursuing romantic relationships, sharing your faith needs to be the deal-breaker.
If an unbeliever expresses interest in dating you, the kindest thing to do is prevent their interest from going further. Ask for time to think about it so you can prepare for the talk.
Pray about the conversation (James 1:5). What would God like you to say, how can you protect this person's emotions, and how can you stand firm with your own boundaries and standards? If you have time, you may even want to seek advice from a trusted Christian adult (Proverbs 11:14).
Try thinking of some questions they might ask and boundaries you'd want to keep in place. It's probably going to be a little awkward, but that's OK. It's perfectly all right to talk about your faith. You might even want to have verses ready to share if asked.
The conversation may end up being really short or super long. But don’t try to squeeze it in when there's a deadline for either of you. You owe it to your friend to make time to answer their questions, thoroughly express your faith and feelings, and allow both of you to begin mentally processing.
Of course, we would be remiss if we didn't mention that just because someone is a true Christian, that doesn't automatically mean that individual is a good romantic partner for you either. There are a LOT of factors to consider when thinking about dating a person. Having the same beliefs ought to be at the top of the list, yes, but it is by no means the only qualifier for a potential boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife.
One of the main problems with marrying an unbeliever is having your Christian life stunted or even restricted. God calls His children to service, to give time or money, to worship, and to teach the next generation about Him. All these things become more difficult when you’re bonded to another person who doesn’t understand your beliefs (1 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 6:14). When it comes to pursuing romantic relationships, having a common belief system needs to be the deal-breaker.
Sarah Burkey is a graduate of Frontier School of the Bible with a BA in Youth Ministry. Along the way, she discovered her second passion: geriatric health. Sarah is a physical therapist assistant in a local nursing home. In her free time, she struggles to finish writing her novel, enjoys baking and reading, and watches a little too much anime.