You’d recognize that familiar “I met someone” starry-eyed glow anywhere. “He’s so good to me. He gets along so well with my family, and he respects me. I’m really happy, and it’s getting pretty serious.” It’s a conversation I’ve had a few times. Different young women, same scenario. Being the inquisitor I am, my probing eventually lands on the catch: “He’s not a Believer but…” There’s always a “but,” isn’t there? He said he’ll go to church with me, he was burned by a church once or he’s really open to spiritual things, so it’s only a matter of time, right? Our hearts so long for connection and intimacy with others that justification has to be employed at the expense of our better judgement.
You’ve likely already heard the arguments against being “unequally yoked” and possibly even rolled your eyes at all the familiar speeches. I’ve found that discussions like these can easily turn into an “us vs. them” refrain that neglects the spiritual well-being of everyone involved. In other words, instead of painting the unbelieving partner as the evil scoffer that impresses weak Christians to backslide, grow complacent or leave Christ altogether, have we ever stopped to consider that they, like us, are beloved souls in need of God’s grace? Is it likely that an unbelieving boyfriend or girlfriend will spiritually benefit from an unequally yoked relationship? The truth is I don’t think so and it actually might be selfish of us as believers to think so. Here are four reasons why.
You can’t offer the future they want.
Someone who has been changed by the indescribable measure of Jesus’ grace should have different goals than someone who hasn’t. As believers, our lives should be marked by our ultimate purpose of building God’s kingdom. This affects the way we treat our finances, the way we pursue purity and the way we spend our time. Unbelievers don’t have the same definitive objective, and so their choices are affected by their earth-bound ties.
On this topic, the negative pull on the believing boyfriend or girlfriend down slippery slopes is typically what gets highlighted in the argument against dating outside the faith. But have you ever thought about the unfairness of shackling an unbeliever to heavenly goals, when they may not be able to one day reap the heavenly rewards? In other words, if you are holding steadfast to boundaries that protect your purity and pastimes that honor the Lord, your unbelieving boyfriend or girlfriend is being forced under the law when grace to follow God has not yet been granted to them. We have accepted God’s free gifts of love and mercy to end that kind of slavery, so why would we wish that kind of life on someone we care for? Simply put, it is unkind, and realistically, it creates hurtful tension.
They see the compromise.
If your ultimate goal is to win your sweetheart over while dating them, you are unintentionally sending a subtle message. This memo communicates that you aren’t very serious about your relationship with God, at least not when it comes to relationships because you are compromising sharing Christ within what might become the most valuable earthly relationship you have. And if your own personal commitment to Jesus is lacking, you won’t give much incentive for anyone close to you to follow Him, too. At best, you set an example of Christianity that picks and chooses from godly prescriptions.
We want the people we care about to find in us a model of godly courage that leads them to the same kind of zeal for living that Jesus has. Sometimes that means skipping out on momentary happiness and potentially hurt feelings, understanding that following God does not lead to disaster in the long run but offers life and ultimate blessing ahead.
They need Jesus.
Relationships and emotions tend to cloud better judgment. Additionally, spiritual warfare is real, and if someone is truly a spiritual-seeker, a new relationship could be just the thing that the enemy uses to preoccupy their spirit. In C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, an elder demon makes the following statement in coaching a newbie.
“It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”
Although it is a fictional story, Lewis provides insight into the spiritual realm. The movement of a human soul toward the eternal freedom found in Christ is a fragile process. It is difficult enough for believers to keep their commitment to Christ central in a dating relationship, so imagine how much more arduous it can become for an unbeliever to prioritize spiritual progress in the same circumstances. If you truly hope for someone’s journey with Jesus to begin, the most loving thing you can do is pray for them to have space to encounter God and then allow them to take it, free from the distraction of a dating relationship.
True love is about more than our own personal fulfillment.
Perhaps in reading this, you find yourself lost in the exceptions. It’s nice to talk about better or best scenarios in theory, but what about the real-life dating relationships that do result in the unbeliever giving their life to Christ? To that I would say: Give credit where credit is due. We serve a gracious and powerful God who is all about redeeming our mistakes for His glory. The genuine conversion that occurs in “missionary dating” is more likely in spite of the relationship, not because of it.
Truly loving someone means caring about their soul more than anything else. Jesus didn’t promise us an easy life. But His yoke becomes easy and His burden becomes light when we look to Him for wisdom and guidance, when we lean on Him for strength to sort through the difficult choices in life and when we see people how He sees them—with loving, eternal lenses.
How should we tread the waters that lead us through the tension of having romantic feelings for someone who isn’t committed to Christ? Show them the right kind of compassion. Introduce them to your community. Intentionally seek out people who are more fitted to pour into them without the risk of an emotional attachment. And pray. When we align ourselves to God in prayer, our desires can begin match His. We will start to recognize our inability to support the future unbelievers want, our need to provide a courageous example of faith and our commitment to see others first and foremost as souls in need of a Savior.