What counsel should be given to an assembly believer planning to marry an unbeliever?
It is important for any counselor to understand that a believer who has reached the stage where he/she is planning to marry an unbeliever already has strong emotional feelings for their unsaved fiancé or fiancée. It will be very difficult for rational, logical arguments alone to trump feelings once the relationship has reached this point. For this reason, the earlier the intervention, the better likelihood of success. The counselor should not attack the character of the unbelieving partner as this will put the believer on the defensive. Instead, focus on the consequences for the believer if they proceed down this path. There are three lines of counsel that can be pursued.
First, it is important to help the believer understand they are disobeying the clear commands of Scripture. A key passage to review with them is 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, which commands the believer not to be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers. Using the metaphor that animals with different natures cannot work effectively together, Paul shows the incompatibility of a believer being linked together with an unbeliever. While applicable to all areas of Christian life, this truth is particularly relevant for the foundational relationship between husband and wife. The Scriptures command that believers not be joined with unbelievers because they have different natures, perspectives and aspirations, so that there can be no true partnership or harmony in spiritual matters. The Scriptures also are clear that a believer is to marry only “in the Lord” (1Co 7:39), meaning subject to the Lord’s will and authority. The Lord’s will for individuals never contradicts His revealed will in the Scriptures. So the believer needs to understand that it cannot be the Lord’s will for them to marry the unbeliever.
A second line of counsel is to focus the believer on the practical implications of a marriage to an unbeliever. What principles will they use to raise their children? How will the children hear the gospel? Will their future spouse support their involvement in the assembly? How will they jointly decide priorities in life? Discussion of these items may help them understand the long-term challenges of marrying an unbeliever. Likely, the believer hopes that the Lord will ultimately save their future spouse. While God in grace may save them, 1 Corinthians 7:16 makes clear that there is no guarantee that God will save them. It may be beneficial to point to living examples of believers who married unbelievers decades ago whose spouses remain resistant to the gospel.
Ultimately, the most hopeful line of counselling is to try to rekindle their relationship with the Lord. No amount of logical persuasion will likely overcome their feelings for the other individual. Only devotion to the Lord will overcome their devotion to another person. To reach this point in their relationship, they have likely ignored scriptural teaching on the subject, turned aside warnings from friends and family and even the voice of their own conscience. Only a restoration to the Lord will enable a change of heart. Encourage them in reading the Scriptures and provide them with devotional books that will aid in the restoration of their relationship with the Lord. A renewed relationship with the Lord offers the best hope of enabling a believer to pull back from a serious relationship with an unbeliever.