When an unmarried, cohabiting couple is saved, what advice should they receive regarding marriage?
The Spirit of God has likely convicted them about their relationship before salvation. Nonetheless, depending on the personalities involved, this is a delicate issue. There can be no compromise on the sanctity of marriage (Hebrews 13:4). No matter how long this relationship has existed or how much a couple may say they love each other, cohabiting apart from marriage is sin.
To continue this is a bad testimony. It leaves a weakened conscience and limits spiritual growth. It dishonors the God who designed marriage.
If the new believers raise the question, a scriptural answer will leave no doubt that they should live separately and resist temptation by not staying under the same roof. If the new believers do not break their relationship and don’t ask advice, the person or persons who have had the most to do with their salvation will best understand their personality, will know the best way to approach them, and should give them scriptural reasons for ending their relationship.
Living apart will give the couple an opportunity to begin building their relationship on something more stable than a physical relationship. At this point, they should confront the question of whether or not they are prepared to make the life-long commitment marriage involves. For others to assume that they will marry is unwise and unfair. If they decide to marry, they should allow adequate time for building a solid Christian foundation for their relationship before marrying.
When an unmarried, cohabiting couple with children is saved, what should they do about marriage?
The presence of children complicates this situation. A physical relationship apart from the life-long commitment of a legal marriage is sin. For the couple’s testimony and spiritual progress, they must end their physical relationship. Two other factors influence the issue of whether or not they continue to live separately, but under the same roof: the gospel’s testimony may suffer damage if the community perceives that it “breaks up families”; the children may suffer emotional distress through the sudden absence of one of the parents.
Although the presence of children increases the pressure on the couple to choose marriage, they, too, should evaluate whether their past relationship is a sufficient foundation for marriage. If their relationship in the past has been psychologically damaging to the children or has involved physical abuse, is there now solid reason to believe that making their relationship permanent will not compound the damage the children or partner have suffered?
If the couple decides to marry, the best advice is to marry quickly and normalize home life as soon as possible. They will need continued scriptural and emotional support.
What about a case where only one of the partners trusts Christ?
Breaking the physical relationship is necessary. While doing what is right, the believer should exercise care not to reduce the likelihood that the unbeliever will also receive the gospel. If, within a short period of time, the unbeliever shows no sincere interest in the gospel, the believer’s choice is clear: “be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14). Even if the unbeliever responds to the gospel and is eventually saved, their past relationship may indicate that they shouldn’t marry. Those who had the most to do with their conversion should help them make this evaluation, but leave the choice to them.
If there are children, breaking the physical relationship is still necessary. The choice regarding marriage is more complex, though. Allowing some time for God to save the unbeliever may still be advisable. If the relationship has been abusive or has deteriorated badly in the past, it may be best not to marry. The new believer needs the input of believers he trusts and who know the situation well.
Paul’s reasoning in 1 Corinthians 7:14, indicates the believer will increase the likelihood that the unbelieving partner and the children will be saved if he and the unbelieving parent of his children decide to marry.
In general, how should we help new believers who have no assembly background?
Accept the new believers as a brother or sister in Christ, regardless of class, culture, economic status, intelligence, social graces, fashion preference, or Bible knowledge. We are their family. Pray for these new believers. They face opposition from their relatives; they struggle with many serious temptations which before salvation were no problem to them. Pray for those who have been used by the Spirit in their salvation; they need wisdom to help the new believer get a good spiritual start.
If the new believer asks your advice, give it gently; you don’t know his load limit. If you feel the new believer needs your correction, don’t assume you know how best to speak to him. Instead, go to the person God has used in his salvation; tell this believer your concerns and trust him to know how to most effectively communicate to the new believer the truth that concerns you.
That believer may have worked long and hard for years to see this person saved. It is patently unfair to destroy that believer’s work by stumbling the new believer. Those who assume that their winsome charm and superior knowledge will enable them to correct a new believer are the most likely to stumble him.