Does It Matter If I’m Dating an Unbeliever?

In Advice and Encouragement, Dating, Marriage by Debra Fileta25 Comments

Hey Friends! I’m so thrilled to have pastor and bestselling author Gary Thomas as my guest at, where we start important conversations about love, dating, sex and relationships! Pastor Gary’s work has been influential in shaping my perspective on marriage and relationships, and I’ve had the honor of getting to know him over the past year. His passion for healthy relationships is driven by his genuine passion for Jesus. I know you’ll also be blessed and challenged by his post. Take a minute to read and then leave him some encouragement in the comment section below! — Debra

One of the most common questions I get from singles is this: “Does it really matter if the person I’m dating is a believer; I mean, what if they act more like a Christian than most of the people at my church?”

There are some “general principles” in Scripture that you can occasionally ignore and sometimes (note, sometimes) get away with (avoiding debt, getting lots of counsel), but the call to marry a sincere believer is one that you ignore at your peril.

It’s not just about morality; it’s about so much more. Scripture calls us to join ourselves with a believer because God loves us and wants the best for us. You make yourself radically vulnerable when you choose to ignore this advice.

In my book The Sacred Search I state, “If I’m going to make myself extremely vulnerable to someone, I want that person to be ruled by the Holy Spirit.” One of the reasons this is so is for self-preservation. The further you walk into dating, the more intimate it becomes. The other person gets to know you. He or she learns new things about you—where you live, what you like to do, where you are likely to show up.

That’s good, and that’s potentially bad, because the more someone understands how to love you, the more they understand how to hurt you.

This is part of the risk of any relationship; there’s never any “guarantee,” but there’s a difference between “wise risk” and “foolish risk.” When you sign a mortgage, you can’t know for sure that you’ll be employed steadily for the next thirty years, but if the numbers work out and the house you’re buying will consume just 20% of your annual income, that’s a reasonable risk. If your mortgage would consume 60% of your income, that’s a foolish risk. Both people are buying a mortgage, but one is being wise while one is being foolish. The same thing is true in dating.

Everyone has to risk, but there are wise risks and foolish risks.

Relationally, I want to open up to someone who I know has the Holy Spirit working in her life. If things get passionate, I don’t want to rely on my own will-power; I’m comforted by the fact that God could speak to either of us if my own resolve becomes weak. When I share things, I want to know that there is more than her own good intentions to keep those things sacred; there is also the conviction of the Holy Spirit. And if I am contemplating building a future with her, I want to know it’s a future in which the Holy Spirit will be refining her, growing her, empowering her, and strengthening her so that the two of us could face life’s inevitable challenges with divine assistance.

Think about this: do you want to marry someone who has to be nagged by you in order to change (which has a success rate of less than 5%), or do you want to marry someone who can be convicted, all on their own, by God’s Holy Spirit to change his or her ways?

Do you want to get passionate—or worse, naked—with someone who the Bible says is ruled primarily by their lusts? Do you want to share secrets with someone who doesn’t have the power to forgive, so if the two of you break up and they get angry, they’ll spill all, using gossip as a weapon to get back at you? Do you want to spend your days with someone who doesn’t take any time to bask in God’s presence, who never lifts you up in prayer, never seeks God’s guidance when they are thinking about your relationship?

If you are “unequally yoked” in dating, it’s more like you’re living inside a potential noose. When that person is pleased and happy, you’ll feel safe. The yoke may even feel like a cozy, beautiful necklace. The moment the relationship turns, you’ll suddenly realize the threat: that “necklace” has become a “noose.” Everything they learned in order to love you can now be used to hurt you.

Paul urges women to choose someone “in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39) and Proverbs urges men to make a woman’s faith the primary deciding factor (Prov. 31:30) for a good reason. He wants to protect us. This isn’t to say that Christians never gossip or hurt, or betray. But I didn’t say “mere” Christians, did I? I said, if you’re going to make yourself vulnerable, choose someone who is ruled by the Holy Spirit. That’s a particular kind of Christian who takes their faith very seriously.

You’ll do yourself a big favor if you pay attention to this admonition of love from Scripture. Anytime we choose to ignore God’s wisdom, the consequences can be very severe, indeed.

Gary Thomas ( has written numerous books on marriage and relationships (including his book for singles, The Sacred Search) that have sold over a million copies, worldwide. You can follow him on twitter at @garyLthomas or Facebook. He writes a blog for marrieds and singles at


  1. Obedience is better than sacrifice and to harken (take heed) than the fat of rams, for rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft. 1 Samuel 15:22-23. Obey God and leave the consequences to him (Charles Stanley), is the way for the believer to live.
    I appreciate what you said. There are indeed some things that carry less tormenting and bitter consequences. This MARRYING of the UNBELIEVER IS NOT one of them.
    Thank you Pastor Gary for emphasising what the Holy Scripture teaches.

  2. am so encouraged by this,its a blessing to see the emphasis being laid and the wise examples being used!am blessed as well as challenged by this.God bless you guys for such a big ministry to us singles and married

  3. Thank you for giving this age – old debate some fresh perspective. It was chock full of common sense wisdom that was not only biblical, but applicable as well. And thank you for being relational and not ‘preachy/religious. ‘

  4. As a business woman I LOVE the analogy of making a risky investment. I also appreciate hearing that someone who is not a believer (and an unhealthy Christian) is only safe when they are happy. I appreciate this wisdom and listen to Building Relationships ALL THE TIME! 🙂

  5. Gary,

    Thank you for sharing this wisdom. I have so many questions about my faith and about why I do what I do as a Christian. I have always believed in Jesus but in several years past my faith has been out to the test. I have been asking God questions with full confidence He will respond. I am always, ALWAYS amazed at the depth of His responses and his attention to the minute details, thoughts and emotions of our lives and hearts. This writing was a blessing to me and a Strentgh to me faith.

    Thank you!

  6. I really like the way the topic of dating a non-believer is presented. The thoughtful analogy of making wise or foolish risk in our dating relationship is so accurate to me because every relationship involves risk, however, some many dating opportunities present themselves in the beginning as fun or harmless. Personally I would never invest in a home that takes 50% of my annual salary so why do people do that going into a relationship only for the noose to tighten later when the storms of life arrive. Great word pictures Pastor!

    The key here for me is the part of submission to the Holy Spirits work in our life. Issues left unresolved and swept under the rug in the past are a tell tale sign that the person your dating will more than likely do the same thing in the present in the relationship. Proverbs and Hebrews are clear about how we are to pursue wisdom first and submit to the life long process of sanctification otherwise the roots of the past swept under the rug will chock out the fruit of a loving relationship. If a person is not submitted to the ministry of the Holy Spirit what are they looking for? We have to take risk but lets make wise choices and dating a non-believer or a Christian who is not submitted to the work of the Holy Spirit is a critical error leading to potential painful life long consequences.

  7. To me, what should guide our every day actions inculding dating is ” this action of mine, is it glorifying GOD”?. Any of our actions that didn’t glorify GOD is risky that we may regret later in life.

  8. Insightful piece Gary thank you. I say leave the choice to God, cause He alone knows the intent of the heart. Dating/marrying a non-believer is a no no, but we also NEED God to help us navigate the believers amongst us. Some are wolved under sheep skin.

  9. As a woman of faith I am ashamed of how many men I have dated in the past who were unbelievers. What train wrecks those relationships were. I am so thankful to have learned from the past and that God’s sweet love for me wipes away my shame. Thank you for your encouraging words, Dr.

  10. Thanks so much for this blogpost! It was a great encouragement! I’ve recently had to walk away from a relationship where this topic had gradually become a reality & an issue, even though it wasnt in the beginning. It’s one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do, but i feel i did what God was calling me to.

    Since then it’s been a difficult road of recovery from a broken heart, giving up a beloved best friend and the hope for an imagined future. Your blog helped remind me why I did what i had to and what it is I need in a relationship, as I often look at the hurt and grief caused, second-guessing my decisions and wondering if i did the right thing.

    From the outside, it’s easy to preach obedience, but really, i think growing up isn’t about feeling the right things, but rather doing the right things in spite of how you feel.

    1. Jay, I was recently in the same spot as you cans couldn’t agree more.

    2. Jay,

      I’ve been going through the same thing, had to walk away after 5 years, and a year later I’m still finding myself having to remind myself to keep walking , I stubble and fall, but I keep walking.

      He has great plans for me, although I may not know what they are but he is removing the people in my life, be it friends, colleagues and acquaintances that are not going to help me in this path he is leading me. It takes faith and strength to walk with God, but there is nothing more encouraging than to know ”he will never leave me nor forsake me” and that there are fellow Christians out there who are going through similar situations.


  11. Other factors to consider: What are you going to teach your children? What if he is engaging in behavior that the world thinks is perfectly fine, but you know is sin (and it’s hurting him/ you/ your children/ the marriage but he doesn’t want to see it)? What if the Lord calls you to do something that makes no sense to the world?

    And then there is the loneliness. Your level of intimacy will be limited because you don’t have the entire dimension of spiritual intimacy. Even if he is “the perfect husband” in all other respects, you can’t share anything about your faith and what the Lord is doing in your life, because it won’t make any sense to him. That’s got to be a lonely place.

  12. it matters because you can still influence them to change and you can do greater things in there lives with the grace of God.

  13. I really appreciate your perspective, and I’m not disagreeing, but in my experience dating other Christians hasn’t gone very well. I’m a mature Christian, I went to Bible College and I’ve been in ministry for the majority of my adult life. My first relationship ever happened while I was in Bible College where I met a nice, charming, Bible-quoting guy who was kicked out the following semester for molesting two women and a pornography addiction. I dated a nice associate pastor of a small church a couple years later, and he was nice until he broke up with me while I was on a mission trip and proceeded to drag my name through the mud back home. There have been other, smaller incidents, and to be honest, I’m just really tired of it all. Is dating a Christian guy really that much better than what you get in the world? In my experience, I’m not sure that it is. And I know my experiences aren’t unique, I could tell countless, similar stories from my friends, including women who have married nice Christian men, only to be treated terribly and/or cheated on (fun fact – the majority of porn watchers in the US are evangelical men). I believe what God says, I really do, but what is going on????

    1. Christina — yes, yes, yes. I couldn’t have said it better. I’m a 30-year-old Christian woman, and I’ve only dated within the “church”. I’m a seminary student and my faith has always been my first priority. My first boyfriend was my pastor’s son, and I could proceed to give a nice list of the Christian men I’ve dated: Christian college men, homeschooled men, Calvinist’s who could argue you to Switzerland, and more — and I’ve had the exact experience you describe. Porn use/addiction all around (including interest in children). Alcohol. Promiscuity. I’ve had my name drug through the mud I don’t know how many times, and I’ve been lied about. I’ve always been the “breaks” when it comes to “passion”. And I’m not alone. I’ve got two younger single sisters who I’ve had to watch go through the same things, all with “Christian” men. It would be great if there were men out there like Gary describes, but I’ve not met them. I’ve had a couple Christian friends start dating unbelievers, and while I worry about them, they’ve told me how their husbands/boyfriends are so much more like Jesus than their past Christian boyfriends. This is a real issue, and not one that I feel this article really addresses. I love Gary’s ministry, but I think this issue is more complex than he understands.

  14. Best article of all times for me even at this season.
    Was thinking I was wrong.But now,an more than encouraged to keep my expectations in check at all times as always.
    Thanks God bless.

  15. So true the holy Spirit as led me as A Christian for 32 years Amen.

  16. I tried it the other way, getting involved with a wonderful woman, dating her for over a year. What became a stumbling block in a way I never thought it would be was that she not only wouldn’t accept Christ, she actively fought against it saying she wouldn’t ask Him into her heart and how did I know that Buddhists or Hindus weren’t right.

    It was the fact that her heart was hardened against Him that eventually caused us to detach and end things, a powerful enough message that I know seek out single Christian women rather than just single women.

    It makes it much harder to “just meet” someone but I trust He’ll have someone cross my path.

    I just wish He’d hurry a bit. 😉

  17. I appreciate this as something to think about and hard about as any relationship with an unbeliever whether it be romantic or work related etc. should be entered into cautiously. That being said I believe this is a case by case issue not cut and dry as the author suggests. Dating is not being yoked to someone. It’s not a life long commitment is just exploring the option. That being said as long as that person respects your boundaries and you stay true to yourself I see no reason why you can’t see them socially. My focus is to find someone who can share my faith with me and who knows how that may come about. They may be a Christian when I eat them or not but they will have to be a Christian before I marry them.

  18. If something is extremely important in your life…such as faith, then why would you want to be with someone who doesn’t value that? How do you grow together in faith if you aren’t on the same page? Certainly, non-Christians can be extremely good and moral people but if they don’t look for guidance from the Holy Spirit then you are at odds with that person from the start. Often in such relationships the views of one partner become predominant and that can lead to being pulled away from the church. Why risk losing something that means so much to you?

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