Whenever God’s word calls us to repentance we can expect consequences regardless of our obedience or disobedience to God’s commands. Part of true repentance is confession of any wrong doing to those to whom we have wronged, which would include making restitution if it can be made. True repentance and confession would also include accepting any consequences that may be due us for whatever we have done. For example, a murderer cannot come to a saving faith in Christ while continuing to hide a murder for which he has never been caught. We are all commanded to repent and believe. True repentance will very often carry with it consequences that will not be pleasant. However, we can expect even greater consequences if we refuse to repent and believe. The UNREPENTANT are those who are still lost in their trespasses and sins. They are still under the wrath of God. They have yet to be washed by the blood of Christ Jesus. It would be better to be imprisoned for the rest of one’s life for a murder that was actually committed than to spend eternity in hell. Therefore the consequences of obedience might be very painful, but they are not as painful as the consequences of disobedience.
When people realize that my understanding of God’s word on unequally yoked marriages is that God commands His children to “come out from them” they will anticipate the considerable cost and pain brought about by their obedience and many will choose to disobey. I am not arguing that this kind of disobedience proves that someone is not truly in Christ Jesus, but I am saying that obedience to God is always less painful than disobedience.
As soon as I was convinced of God’s teaching on unequally yoked relationships my immediate response was to divorce my wife of over 25 years. We had raised five children together, we had buried one of those five children together, and we had been yoked together for one third of an expected lifespan. So as you can see, I know something about the cost of obeying God in coming out of an unequally yoked marriage. But I also know of the tremendous blessings that God pours upon those who will obey Him no matter how high the cost. My first marriage was long and miserable because light and darkness do not mix. Obedience meant the end of that misery though the pathway was long and hard. Obedience also meant the beginning of a life of fellowship with my new wife who is the equally yoked spouse that I had been praying for my whole life; however, this abundant joy is ever so slightly tempered by the regrettably shameful response to my divorce and remarriage of much of the church. The difference between taking Satan’s path of being stuck in an unequally yoked marriage and taking one of “the ways of the Lord” in being equally yoked is indescribable—a person would have to live it to fully understand. I can think of nothing else I could have done to bring about so much joy and sanctification in my life, yet I am always thrilled for my brothers in Christ who will never have to experience it for themselves because their initial marriage was to a believer. If you did not already know it, one of “the ways of the Lord” is to be equally yoked in your earthly relationships.
Now for the heart of this article: People will argue that to obey God’s commands regarding unequally yoked marriages will tear families apart. I would go one step further and say that many who truly come to Christ will be torn from their families, and it is Jesus who told us to expect as much. “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children of farms for My name’s sake, will receive a hundred times as much, and will inherit eternal life” [Many modern translations have left out ‘wife’ perhaps partly because it was too inconvenient for their position on divorce] (Matthew 19:29). Living in a dark world while putting your faith in the One who is the Light of the world may not be easy, but the benefits are out of this world. Every true believer will lose treasured relationships and belongings, but Jesus has assured them that they will receive a hundred fold for what they have left behind and they will inherit eternal life.
Note: The argument about tearing families apart is a poor argument for a couple of reasons. First, family is among the most common of all idols. People are prone to worship their families. Anything that prevents people from coming fully to Christ is an idol. Anything that they embrace so tightly that they cannot leave it in order to embrace Christ is an idol. Secondly and more importantly, although we should always weigh the cost of discipleship we should not use the cost of obedience to determine our willingness to obey any of God’s commands. The determining factor for obedience should never be ‘what is it going to cost me’, but it must always be ‘is this what God has commanded?’ If God has commanded it, then it must be obeyed no matter the cost. It is tremendously tempting in all endeavors to seek that which is most expedient—bringing about the best outcome that we are seeking for ourselves. But we are unreliable when it comes to knowing what is really in our best interest, which is among the reasons why the bible instructs us to be righteous. Righteousness means doing whatever is right for the sake of doing what is right regardless of the cost. When we do that which is right, then we have also acted in our own best interest even when we are too blind to see it that way.
Having said all of that it is still profitable to reply more directly to the concern that families will be torn apart when we obey God by leaving unequally yoked spouses. The argument is foolish for a couple of reasons:
First, as I said above Jesus told His followers to expect such sacrifices. Secondly, the temporal costs of disobedience are far worse. Consider at least five reasons for this:
To begin with, under the current teaching that divorce is not allowed for those unequally yoked, the divorce rate for believers perfectly mirrors that of unbelievers. The frequently held belief that God forbids divorce has not prevented these marriages from ending in divorce. In fact, it seems obvious that such a position would and has raised the divorce rate considerably among believers as they are not appropriately discouraged from entering forbidden marriages. Two categories of marriages in the church are responsible for the vast majority of all
“Christian” divorces. The first is the marriages where both parties are not actually “in Christ” even though they claim allegiance to Christ in some way. The second are unequally yoked marriages where only one of the two are actually “in Christ”. The number of Christian divorces would have been a mere fraction of the percentage of worldly divorces if we properly understood God’s commands to not be unequally yoked. Put another way, the church is all too often indistinguishable from the world because it has failed to fully obey God in keeping His children separate from the godless deceivers who are following the example of their father the devil.
Secondly, a very significant amount of damage is done to believing spouses through their union to an unbeliever. This is in large part why unequally yoked relationships are forbidden. In addition, the children are greatly damaged by the unbelieving spouse as well. As Paul told the Corinthians, “Bad company corrupts good morals”. In my own unequally yoked marriage my wife taught all of our children how to undermine their father. Perhaps the worst influence she had upon them was that she taught them how to be effective liars. She showed them how to use deception to avoid obeying their dad. They grew up being taught how to be disobedient and up until the current date I cannot be sure that any of my four living children are actually in Christ. But I thank God that none of them have rejected Him as yet either. When children are disobedient because of their unbelieving, rebellious hearts and a parent has modeled disbelief and rebellion, then it is very difficult for them to suddenly obey God’s call to repent and believe. A sovereign God has no problem saving them, but they have many more obstacles to overcome in their sanctification than does the children from equally yoked believing parents. However, a very good question is: Will God save the children from unequally yoked marriages? God uses secondary causes to bring about His will and having two believing parents is a common reality for many who are in Christ Jesus. Therefore this temporal cost may have an eternal one as well for the children of an unequally yoked marriage.
Third, under the current understanding young people have little incentive to avoid unequally yoked marriages. The warnings that should be in place to protect them from a horrible self-destructive choice are nowhere to be seen. They are usually told that ‘trouble may come of it’, but how can we expect that puny warning to stop young people who are so often foolishly, feverishly ‘in LOVE’? The message to young people is that you may want to give this marriage a second thought, but if not then God, the body of Christ and all of your loving family and friends will support you all the way. REALLY? God is going to support them as they willfully disobey His command? That is not a teaching found anywhere in God’s word. So what should the message be? Dear young person, if you move forward with this forbidden marriage, then God’s blessings cannot be expected, the church’s ordination, approval and participation will not be with you and your parents and loving family and friends will be looking forward to the day that you dissolve this evil union through repentance at which time all will stand with you in Christian solidarity as in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. In other words, all true believers must cease standing by encouraging a fellow believer as they publicly enter into a sinful relationship. The headstrong young person must either be shown that they themselves are not in Christ; hence it would not then be an unequally yoking and/or that they are choosing a forbidden marriage over obedience to God. After all Christians are slaves to righteousness, so we must insist upon righteous marital unions. If they enter into a forbidden marriage, then let them do it alone. A party can always be thrown later when the unbelieving spouse comes to a saving knowledge of Christ if they are fortunate enough for that outcome, but the far more common outcome will be brokenness and despair. All of which can be avoided if we only taught young people the truth.
It is of utmost importance that this be understood: if the message is consistent, which it has not been, then young believers will not even play with fire in the first place. In other words, they will not even expose themselves to unbelievers in dating or close friendships so that they do not ‘fall in love’ with an unbeliever. This has worked for centuries for everyone who is taught the truth about staying pure.
Forth, today most Christian churches are filled in large part with unbelievers. I am unsure whether or not a false gospel was the cause or effect. I am more sure that untold numbers have been brought threw the doors by their believing spouses. You might think this is actually a blessing, but you would be wrong. Sure we want unbelievers to hear the gospel, but Christ instructed us to take the gospel to the world. The gathering of the saints is supposed to be just that—the gathering of the holy ones of God! A book could be written on this subject, but let it suffice to say that the church is as contaminated and thus ruined with the unsaved spouses as would be heaven if God were to let one unrepentant sinner in heaven for every transformed saint. I recently attended dozens of churches in my city to examine the landscape of Christianity. I discovered the very reality that I most feared: most of our churches today are populated entirely with unregenerate people. Not only was the gospel not present in these churches but neither was anything distinctly Christian. Putting up with unequally yoked marriages has caused our churches to first become unequally populated and then decimated entirely.
Finally, the body of Christ’s testimony to the lost world would be far greater if they made purity within their own walls a priority. The churches testimony to the world is eviscerated by the large numbers of false professors whose behavior is identical to the ungodly while vainly taking upon themselves the Lord’s name. Believers who disobey God by joining themselves to unbelievers, in marriage and other relationships, are the primary cause. If on the other hand, the Christian message to the world was that Christians will not intermarry with non-Christians, then the purity in the body of Christ would stand out like a light shining from the top of a hill. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14a), but the greater part of the church has hidden the light under a basket weaved out of unequally yoked relationships. All of the unbelievers masquerading as God’s children make true believers indistinguishable to the world, and the glory of God’s holy name is drug through the mire in the process. God forgive us?