Richard Owen Roberts wrote, “The ruinous nature of every sin necessitates repentance”. Unequally yoked marriages are supreme examples of the truthfulness of this statement.
Being unequally yoked with an unbeliever is not merely an awful cancer that has befallen a believer, rather it is a sin that has been committed and is being retained every day that God’s beloved chooses to remain in the relationship. Not until he ends (repents of) the relationship will the ruinous nature of that sin stop the havoc and destruction that it is causing in his and others’ lives.
Is Being Unequally Yoked a Sin?
To answer this question we will consider the will of God. God actually has three distinct wills: God’s sovereign decretive will—all that God has decreed since before the foundation of the world. God’s preceptive will—all that God has commanded His children to do and not to do. Finally, God’s will of disposition—that which pleases God.
Insight into these three distinct wills is seen in 1 Timothy 2:4 where Paul explained to Timothy that it is God’s desire for “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” It is God’s will of disposition that desires all men to be saved—God takes no pleasure in sending men to their eternal torment. Yet God’s sovereign decretive will has determined that the road to destruction will be much broader than the road to salvation. And God has decreed this outcome because men are pleased to practice lawlessness rather than to submit to God’s preceptive will, which he has revealed to us in His word.
Dr. R. C. Sproul speaking on the will of God, “God’s sovereign ‘permission’ of human sin is not His moral approval.” Apply this to the discussion of unequally yoked marriages. God has commanded through His preceptive will against all unequally yoked relationships including and especially marriages. Scripture makes it abundantly clear that God is very displeased when His children yoke themselves to unbelievers.
Therefore every regenerate man or woman of God who is married to an unbeliever can be assured that they are outside of God’s preceptive will for He has prohibited unequally yoked marriages scores or even hundreds of times in His word. They are also outside of God’s will of disposition—God is not pleased as bad company always corrupts good morals. It is true that they are in God’s sovereign decretive will (as is every single living being), which is to say that God has allowed them to sin in this godless marriage, but God’s sovereign ‘permission’ of human sin is not His moral approval.
Therefore, it is safe to say that being unequally yoked is a sin and as such it is necessary that God’s children repent of it. Repentance will not be without great difficulty, but so many good things will come from repentance of this sin including perhaps an unintended benefit. What stronger message could be sent to those in the church yet to marry than that they too will be called to repent of an unequally yoked marriage if they disobediently enter into one?
Currently the message to young believers is confusing at best. In essence, the church is saying, “you’d better not marry that unbeliever, don’t you dare do it, it’s terribly unwise, God forbids it, you’ll be miserable” and young person after young person follows their foolish course and marries them anyway. And what is the Christian response? “You did exactly what God forbade, what your pastor and parents warned you against doing…so congratulations! We’re so happy for the two of you. Where are you going on your honeymoon?” With such a treatment of this significant issue we cannot expect young people to take the “warnings” seriously, and as things currently stand they are not.
What other sin can be willingly entered into while the whole church stands by praising and congratulating the sinner? The message that the church is sending is befuddling, bewildering and unsettling. Little wonder that so many marriages are founded upon the sin of being unequally yoked.
Scripture says, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16a)? This passage is not ambiguous as I read it, but pastors like to say that it does not apply to marriage. By what authority do they make this claim? Simply because Paul does not specifically refer to marriages? Neither does he specifically refer to any other relationship, so by that standard the passage would be rendered meaningless. Is it not understood that a marriage is a relationship? Since, in this text, Paul is speaking of relationships between believers and unbelievers one only needs to determine if a relationship is involved to apply this text. The reason people immediately dismiss this passage as it concerns marriage is because the alternative forces them to acknowledge the fact that God not only allows certain divorces but rather He commands certain divorces as in the more than 100 cases in Ezra’s final chapter.
The Second Corinthians’ passage clearly shows the New Testament’s agreement with the ubiquitous Old Testament passages prohibiting unequally yoked marriages, and it is in the imperative tense signifying a universal command to all believers not to be in unequally yoked relationships. God being under no obligation, even explains His reasons: Believers who enter into relationships with unbelievers can expect no partnership, no fellowship, no harmony, no commonality and no agreement in such relationships.
Clearly this universal command against unequally yoked relationships should apply first and foremost to the marriage relationship. Who in their right mind willing enters their most important relationship, a life-long relationship with no chance of partnership, fellowship, harmony, commonality or agreement? Tragically the church has made ambiguous what should have been abundantly clear, so that millions of believers have entered these prohibited relationships and remained in these ruinous marriages until they died.
Sadly those who forbid divorce to the unequally yoked apply this passage to those considering an unequally yoked marriage, but after the marriage has been embarked upon the passage, in their mind, mysteriously no longer applies to their unequally yoked marriage relationship. Therefore, the church has been treating equally yoked and unequally yoked marriages the same, which is very foolish. Ezra and Nehemiah did not share this view as they commanded those who were in unequally yoked marriages to divorce their godless spouses and children. Albeit at great cost, but divorce them they did and it was all in order to come back under compliance to God’s commands and will (see “The Will of God Dictates Divorce for those Unequally Yoked in Marriage).
No doubt many do not apply Paul’s clear command in 2 Corinthians 6 to the marriage relationship because they are biased because of Paul’s statements in his first letter to the Corinthians where in chapter seven he says that if an unbelieving spouse consents to live with the believing spouse that the believing spouse must not leave or send away the unbelieving spouse. Many reasons exist why this passage in first Corinthians should be subject to the clear command in second Corinthians 6 but I will only submit a few for this present article.
First, Paul’s comments here were “in view of the present distress” (vs. 26) and not intended as universal commands, but advice for the concerns being experienced by the Corinthians. Concerns that have been shared by every generation of believers. Throughout the Christian era when a married person becomes born-again they are to allow their unbelieving spouse time for the same gospel to soften or harden their heart for Christ. During that period of time if their unbelieving spouse wants to stay then they must let them stay. But if they leave, then the believer is not bound in such cases. If their unbelieving spouse wants to stay but hardens to the gospel, then God has not drawn their unbelieving spouse to Himself, and it is God who has separated the marriage partners using the sword of Christ. The believer must then divorce their unbelieving spouse.
Secondly, Paul only gives these comments after saying, “I say, not the Lord…”, which is also part of the inspired word of God, and must be understood as a major consideration contextually and practically.
Third, these comments as wrongly understood by seemingly a majority would be in direct conflict with I Cor. 5:esp.13 and I Cor. 15:33.
Fourth, Paul’s overall direction in this text is that the new believers should all stay in the condition in which they were in when they came to Christ “in view of the present distress.” One of his examples is found in verses 20-22 where Paul uses not the spouse role, but the role of a slave to instruct them to stay in the position in which you came to Christ. Nevertheless, in verse 21 he says, “Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that.” Paul is demonstrating flexibility in his advise as prudence will demand. He is arguing for these new believers to sit tight and not make any big moves during the present distress, but then he demonstrates great latitude to his readers: “if you are able also to become free, rather do that.” Paul is not using the language of command, but of wise advice for specific situations. Both slaves (physically and financially stuck in an evil, human institution) and unequally yoked spouses (physically and contractually stuck in an evil, *human institution) are asked to remain in the same state in which they came to Christ, but Paul takes a moment to note the possibility of prudent decisions to be made as the believers move on from the “present distress”, as they mature in their faith and as providential opportunities dictate a more God honoring course.
*Note: Of course marriage is a divine institution, but polygamy, unequally yoked marriages and homosexual marriages are not included in the divine institution; therefore, unequally yoked marriage is a human institution.
Finally, it is the later letter that would clarify or further explain the former and not the other way around. In the first letter Paul is offering his considerable advice to the concerns of the Corinthian believers, but it is in the second letter where Paul commands his readers: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.” And one only needs to understand marriage to be a relationship to understand that it applies to marriages. In fact, most would agree that marriage is the relationship most commonly understood as yoking two people together.
See two additional articles on 1 Corinthians 7 titled “Unraveling the Linchpin” part 1 and part 2
Also, the Reader will want to read 3 other top articles:
-The Will of God Dictates Divorce for those Unequally Yoked in Marriage.
-Has the Church Inadvertently Institutionalized Unequally Yoked Marriages?
-Divorce the Sons of Disobedience or Sink into Damnable Idolatry.