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Does It Matter If I’m Dating an Unbeliever?

In Advice and Encouragement, Dating, Marriage by Debra Fileta

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