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 God’s child ends (repents of) the relationship will the ruinous nature of that sin stop the havoc and destruction that it is causing.
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.
R. C. Sproul speaking on the will of God said that “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 explicitly prohibited unequally yoked marriages tens 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. Finally, these forbidden marriages do fall within God’s sovereign decretive will, which is to say that God has allowed believers 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 much good 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” but young person after young person follows their foolish desire and marries them anyway. And what is the Christian response? “You have disobeyed God and his word, you have ignored warnings from your pastor and perhaps your parents…so congratulations!? We’re so happy for the two of you. Where will you be going for 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. I would be remis if I failed to mention that not every unequally yoked marriage was sinfully entered into by a believer. Many believers enter marriages that they believe are between themselves and another believer only to discover later that their spouse was never actually regenerate, whether by deception or by a poor understanding of the gospel and its application. Others enter God’s institution of marriage while both spouses are unbelieving and subsequently God saves one spouse while the other remains unbelieving, so they find themselves suddenly unequally yoked.
In 2 Corinthians 6:14-16a Paul 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?” 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?
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached a sermon titled, “Things To Avoid” in which his second point was “Avoid Enervating Atmospheres.” Under this heading he used Paul’s very passage in the preceding paragraph as a biblical example of an enervating atmosphere. Of Paul’s text the great pastor said:
It “Applies, of course, to marriage and marriage only. That’s why the Christian is not to marry an unbeliever. He’s putting himself in the wrong atmosphere, which is bound to sap his spiritual energy and vitality. It’s inevitable. The very fact that he’s thus associated with and bound to someone who hasn’t got spiritual life and understanding–he’s the one that’s going to suffer–not the other. So we are told not to be unequally yoked together to unbelievers. Very well now I must leave it at that. I’m just giving you principles that suggest that; you work it out for yourselves.”
My only intention is to show that Lloyd-Jones says the very opposite of those who claim that Paul’s unequally yoked passage does not apply to married couples. I do not know whether Lloyd-Jones would agree with me that divorce is an appropriate method of repentance for the unequally yoked Christian. I do know that he would never have told a believer in such a marriage what to do as his approach was always for each individual Christian to work it out with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Lloyd-Jones would provide insights into scriptural principles that provided guidance, but he would not tell people what they must or must not do.
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 regarding marriage is because to do otherwise would force 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 willingly enters their most important relationship, a life-long relationship with no chance of partnership, fellowship, harmony, commonality or agreement? Tragically the historical church has made ambiguous what should have been abundantly clear, so that perhaps millions of believers, if their have been that many, 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 because Paul did not treat them the same at all.
Ezra and Nehemiah did not share this view either 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). Their reward far exceeded the cost.
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. THESE TWO SCRIPTURES DO NOT CONTRADICT ONE ANOTHER AS THEY MUST IF THE TRADITIONAL UNDERSTANDING OF ROMANS 7 STANDS. For a proper understanding of 1 Corinthians 7:12-16, the reader will want to read the article titled:
1 Corinthians 7:12-16 Properly Interpreted Strengthens the Case for Unequally Yoked Divorce Found in 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1
How then should we understand Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16?
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, which is why the Holy Spirit included Paul’s resolution in Scripture. 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 through use of the sword of Christ. The believer is free to then divorce their unbelieving spouse, unless they consent to Paul’s conditions for the marriage to continue.
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. At minimum we can say that Paul’s instructions (1 Corinthians 7:12-16) are new and not found anywhere else in Scripture. They are also his own working out the new problem that has arisen in the body of Christ. A new problem arouse in the newly formed church, and the solution to this new problem was ambiguous for the Christians, so Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, applied himself to find a resolution, which he did and we can be certain that his answer is consistent with “Do not be bound together with unbelievers” as well as the rest of God’s word. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, would never say, “I say, not the Lord…” and then go on to contradict any Scripture.
Third, these comments as wrongly understood by seemingly a majority would be in direct conflict with I Corinthians 5:esp. v.13, I Corinthians 15:33, not to mention 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1. Generally speaking, Paul’s two letters to the Corinthian believers contain as a major theme the idea of separating believers from the world.
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 tone of command, but of wise advice for specific situations. Both slaves and unequally yoked spouses 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.
Finally, it is the second letter that would clarify or further explain the prior letter and not the other way around. In the first letter Paul offers his apostolic counsel to the concerns of the Corinthian believers, but it is in the second letter where Paul gives an apostolic command to 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. And Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, that this passage “Applies, of course, to marriage and marriage only”.
April 29th, 2018 at 6:48 PM
I was in an unequally yoked relationship for almost 7 years- married for 3. God brought me to repentance a little over two months ago and has supernaturally anointed the separation from my spouse and the divorce is already underway. This whole process has been supernaturally guided and BLESSED with peace and hearing of Gods voice like never before. My family thinks I’ve lost my mind and some even say I have a demon. I know my fathers voice. He commanded me to leave very abruptly after a short season (3 months of serious pressing in) of making an effort to truly serve him and be obedient in the areas he was showing me I needed to be obedient in. After fighting with ‘is this legalism’ issues I surrendered and vowed to start serving God wholeheartedly in my home and in my life. I went to a 4 day prayer meeting and on the last day I was overcome by the presence of the Lord and he very clearly told me I must leave my spouse. I wrestled with him and attempted to weasel my way out of it — or to at least put an extension on things. I fasted that day and night , searched the scriptures, and read Divorce Gods Will? By 2am – 3am I had my answer. I was to leave him the next day. I’ve never felt his hand on my life like this before. There is much more to the story but THANK YOU BROTHER for this article. I am compelled to share my testimony and to perhaps write a book because this is one of the most critical overlooked messages of our time. Which coincides with REPENTANCE in general – another long forgotten ESSENTIAL gospel teaching!! Jesus come!
April 29th, 2018 at 9:37 PM
Your story and the way in which God has moved in your life is both wonderful and not surprising to my Godly wife and me. We are happy for you and we would love to hear more from you. Our stories are very similar to yours in terms of how God needed to work directly in our lives in order to overcome the fears that the traditional church stance has put in all unequally yoked believers. It is a terrible shame that the church has forbidden repentance where God demands it.
Christ’s Continued Blessings,
Joe & Hilary
April 29th, 2018 at 10:18 PM
If you have not read the blog article, “The Will of God…”, then you will want to read it as well. It is truly a favorite of mine too. It will bring much comfort to you…not that you need it from what the Lord is doing in your life.
April 30th, 2018 at 4:34 AM
I’ll be reading all the articles! Thank you. This is a deep well here.
March 12th, 2016 at 4:00 PM
Sadly, many of these individuals thought they were marrying an average Joe. They never imagined that the consequences of being unequally yoked could be so severe. That s why it s important to understand God s commands in this regard
March 24th, 2016 at 9:27 PM
Sin is so severe because it causes a separation from God and the union with all that is ungodly. This is easily seen in unequally yoked marriages, which is why the only way of escape via repentance is divorce. Sadly, much of the church has prohibited the only path of repentance for this unbelievably destructive sin. Obviously repentance is not called for when the sin of being unequally yoked has not been committed.
Mankind generally fails to comprehend the consequences of any and every sin. I pray godly men will some day soon understand God’s commands regarding unequally yoked relationships and especially marriage. The body of Christ on earth would be so much the better for it, and individuals who discover they have entered a path of sin could exit that path and get back in a holy state regarding the will of God in their lives. It horrifies me that the church binds its own brothers and sisters into unions with Satan’s children under the auspices of holy matrimony. An unholy marriage union is not made holy by making it permanent. Making an unholy union between a believer and an unbeliever permanent merely exacerbates the destructiveness of the union. An unholy union is made holy by repentance and divorce. In unequally yoked marriages divorce is repentance. The sword of Jesus separates husband from wife when God elects one into the new man and not the other.