How Do You Live With an Unbelieving Spouse?: The Sacred Work of Earthly Marriage

You are here

How Do You Live With an Unbelieving Spouse?

The Sacred Work of Earthly Marriage

Login or Create an Account

With a UCG.org account you will be able to save items to read and study later!

Sign In | Sign Up

×
Downloads
MP3 Audio (13.05 MB)

Downloads

How Do You Live With an Unbelieving Spouse?: The Sacred Work of Earthly Marriage

MP3 Audio (13.05 MB)
×

Perhaps you and your spouse both knew about the differences from the beginning, or perhaps you started out with the same belief, but one or both of you changed over time. Maybe your spouse was gradually converted to another religion entirely, or became less religious, or became an atheist. The reason why is not all that important. It’s in the past, and we must live in the present to make change for the future. If you are in a marriage of dissimilar or conflicting beliefs, you may have daily turmoil now in trying to balance commitment to God and commitment to marriage.

If we were always happy, with all of our physical, emotional, and spiritual support needs met by another person, would we need God in the same way? It is often in the times of struggle and trial when we are driven to seek Him.

If you don’t already know from experience, you will face issues and perhaps conflict surrounding otherwise simple things like what foods are okay for your children to eat and what sorts of activities are okay to do on days of worship. Then there are the more complex questions of what and how to teach your children about God’s plan of salvation or what happens after someone dies. These are just a few of the potential issues in addition to all the other myriad ways that already make marriage a challenge.

Are you searching for answers, help and support when you feel alone and are struggling to maintain a Christian perspective in your marriage? Perhaps you seek a miracle from God to change your spouse’s heart. I hope you receive that. But keep your heart open to the possibility that they may not change at all, and resolve not to let that impede your relationship with your Father in heaven. If you are willing, it could actually serve to enhance it. It may be that He is only working to change you right now. Take it as a compliment that He loves you so dearly and wants the best for you eternally (Hebrews 12:1-15 Hebrews 12:1-15 [1] Why seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, [2] Looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. [3] For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest you be wearied and faint in your minds. [4] You have not yet resisted to blood, striving against sin. [5] And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to children, My son, despise not you the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when you are rebuked of him: [6] For whom the Lord loves he chastens, and whips every son whom he receives. [7] If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chastens not? [8] But if you be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are you bastards, and not sons. [9] Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection to the Father of spirits, and live? [10] For they truly for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. [11] Now no chastening for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them which are exercised thereby. [12] Why lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; [13] And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. [14] Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: [15] Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;
American King James Version×
).

God can use this experience as a powerful tool to grow you in ways you couldn’t have foreseen. This is a huge opportunity to develop character in preparation for the work He has in mind for you in the Kingdom of God.

Whose responsibility is salvation?

If your spouse is “willing to live with you,” (and this does not mean “willing” in order to abuse you—please read this if you are in an abusive relationship), take comfort in knowing that your spouse’s calling by God is not a matter of “if” but “when.” We know from Scripture that God has a lot to do with whether someone’s understanding is opened at certain times or not (Luke 24:45 Luke 24:45Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures,
American King James Version×
; Psalms 119:34 Psalms 119:34Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law; yes, I shall observe it with my whole heart.
American King James Version×
, Psalms 119:73 Psalms 119:73Your hands have made me and fashioned me: give me understanding, that I may learn your commandments.
American King James Version×
). If your spouse can read the same book or hear a powerful sermon which affects you deeply and not "get it," that's no reflection on you. It’s not their appointed time yet, and God has His own reasons for that.

Their salvation is not your burden to bear. When you realize this, you can be free to focus on your own journey to salvation. All will have an opportunity to use their free will to accept God’s plan of salvation, whether in this present life or after death and resurrection back to life (Luke 24:45 Luke 24:45Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures,
American King James Version×
; Isaiah 45:23 Isaiah 45:23I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That to me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.
American King James Version×
).

Your marriage is sacred—to God and hopefully to you, if no one else. Paul explained that belief by one spouse in a marriage makes the other holy (1 Corinthians 7:14 1 Corinthians 7:14For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
American King James Version×
). If you believe that God can see your actions of faithfulness, then He will be affecting their lives whether they like it or not.

What are you responsible for then?

If you want your life to be different, you have to begin a new way of life (2 Corinthians 5:17 2 Corinthians 5:17Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
American King James Version×
). God has to be your helper, companion, support system, and your problem solver when there’s no solution (Luke 18:27 Luke 18:27And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.
American King James Version×
). It’s through His Holy Spirit that we receive that help. Our Father in Heaven steers our relationship, but He allows us to determine the speed, which we do through what we do with His instructions. There is so much in the Holy Scriptures that can teach and encourage us through difficulties of all kinds. The metaphors and stories you find in the Bible may seem a million miles away from your here-and-now, but He can open your understanding if you are willing to hear (1 John 5:1-6 1 John 5:1-6 [1] Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loves him that begat loves him also that is begotten of him. [2] By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. [3] For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. [4] For whatever is born of God overcomes the world: and this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith. [5] Who is he that overcomes the world, but he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God? [6] This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that bears witness, because the Spirit is truth.
American King James Version×
).

We may not understand all at once, but we must be careful to do what we already know. He gives us small things to do first: tests to see if we will be faithful. Like giving a small child a very simple chores list because that’s what they can handle. As they grow more mature, and prove themselves to be able to handle more complex tasks, they get to take on more interesting answers and jobs. If you feel like your relationship with God is somewhat shallow or plain, consider that He may be waiting for you to prove yourself faithful in some areas that you have been neglecting (1 John 3:18-19 1 John 3:18-19 [18] My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. [19] And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.
American King James Version×
; Luke 19:17 Luke 19:17And he said to him, Well, you good servant: because you have been faithful in a very little, have you authority over ten cities.
American King James Version×
). What are you telling God by the choices you make every day?

If and when you do prove yourself faithful and courageous in the little things, which may seem big at the time, He will give you more understanding and the relationship will deepen from there. If you are not attentive or dismiss what He has to teach you, then the relationship will dull quickly.

There is hope—and hard work—ahead

Relationships are hard. I’m not sure anyone ever said it would be easy, but there’s a reason that so many fictional love stories end at the wedding. The focus of these stories is on courtship, the thrill of attraction, and seeking a deep emotional connection. Those are all great when they lead to strong marriages, but these are only the beginning of a love story that should span decades.

Why doesn’t the rest of marriage get fair play? Perhaps because after the “I do,” the real work, real struggle, and relationship-testing hardships enter in. It’s where we experience the great temptations to give up and give in. But it’s also where the greatest connection and greatest character can be built.

Couples that can pray together and base their relationship on principles of service to God and one another should have an advantage if they are truly submissive to God first. But even when one spouse has religious beliefs that are completely different from the other, marriage can have a beautiful ending, and the journey can be filled with love that surpasses understanding. It requires that you have a close connection with God and involve Him as much as is possible in your relationship on your part. You can get there by having God’s Holy Spirit and exercising it every day. In the darkest days, that relationship with God is going to be your lifeline.

Consider this: If we were always happy, with all of our physical, emotional, and spiritual support needs met by another person, would we need God in the same way? It is often in the times of struggle and trial when we are driven to seek Him. It is in those times that we see clearly when God ministers to us personally. These times serve a great purpose: to perfect you. If you haven’t already, start tuning your ears to that purpose and seeing it throughout God’s Word.

Jesus Christ—faithful husband through eternity

The family metaphor is one of God’s most powerful tools to help us understand His motivations. At the foundation of the family is a husband and wife, which is the metaphor for Jesus Christ and His people. In more ancient times, the nation of Israel was depicted as God’s bride, and in the era of the Church, we body of believers are His wife-to-be. This figurative marriage has a history filled with challenges because the bride was not always faithful. She gave up the knowledge of God and instead followed other religions.

This is crucial in understanding how to look to Jesus Christ as the example. He, too, has been married to an unbelieving spouse—and He was a perfect husband! There were times when she left Him and hurt Him with her unloving actions, but after being angry with her and allowing her to see the consequences of her actions, He still loved her and wanted what was best for her (Jeremiah 3). So much that He lay down his life in order to sanctify her—to make her holy—and bring her the gifts of forgiveness and a heart to obey God. This is what all Christians strive for—for themselves and for their loved ones. Even those loved ones who do not yet believe.

We can find motivation and encouragement in 1 Corinthians 7. In particular, notice verse 16: “For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?”  (1 Corinthians 7:16 1 Corinthians 7:16For what know you, O wife, whether you shall save your husband? or how know you, O man, whether you shall save your wife?
American King James Version×
). Notice that the focus is not on the comfort of the believer or whether the believer is “fulfilled” by their spouse. The focus here is on the ultimate salvation of the unbeliever, and the long-term, future effect that the believer may have over the full course of a marriage.

The love story between Christ and His bride is far from over, but the ending will be a joyous one (Revelation 19:6-9 Revelation 19:6-9 [6] And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunder, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigns. [7] Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife has made herself ready. [8] And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. [9] And he said to me, Write, Blessed are they which are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he said to me, These are the true sayings of God.
American King James Version×
). With that in mind, embrace your daily opportunity to connect with God our Father with an intimacy grown from loneliness, since you likely can’t share with your spouse the deep spiritual things that are so important to you. If you do so, you will be able to look back and consider your marriage relationship as your greatest blessing and greatest work, for reasons different than those you might have started with. Knowing this may not make your problems disappear. But it does reveal their priceless value as we live life now to make change for a future beyond today.