1 Corinthians 7:14 What is Paul’s Meaning?: “The Unbelieving Husband or Wife Is Sanctified.”

1 Corinthians 7:14 states, “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.”

The aim of this article is to discover Paul’s intended meaning by the use of the word “sanctified” as he uses it here to instruct the Corinthian believers.  It is abundantly clear that Paul is not saying that unbelieving spouses of believers have bypassed the need for justification and gone straight to the process of sanctification.  To do so would be contrary to the Holy Spirit’s method or application of saving grace.  Secondly, in this passage itself the Holy Spirit is not said to be the agent of this sanctification but rather the believing spouse is the one whom Paul credits (not meritoriously but positionally) for this benefit to the unbelieving spouse.

With this “sanctification” of which Paul speaks it becomes apparent that God has made an allowance for believers in unequally yoked relationships without which they would be in a state of sin due to being unequally yoked as in the days of Ezra, and thereby they would be susceptible to discipline by the church.

In addition, this allowance is serving another process that God uses to draw the elect to Himself.  When God’s Holy Spirit quickens a new believer very often all of their associates in life are unregenerate.  By quickening one person the Holy Spirit has opened up an avenue by which the gospel can be spread to all who are associated with this new believer.  In this passage Paul is demonstrating the two potential outcomes of this divine process as it intersects with unequally yoked marriages, which holy writ has universally and ubiquitously forbidden.

The Old Testament provides a parallel scenario where this sanctification was extended to Israel prior to God divorcing her because of her idolatry.  Israel was depicted as God’s bride with God wooing her with His love and provisions.  But Israel was entirely worldly and continually worshiped false gods.  God would have been guilty of sin against himself by being unequally yoked had it not been for the fact that Israel was under this same sanctified protection of which Paul is speaking about in the passage under scrutiny.  Once God divorced Israel her sanctification was gone as well.

Here in first Corinthians, Paul’s focus is not God and Israel but rather new believers with unrepentant spouses.  In fact, everyone associated with a new believer who hardens to the gospel and expresses a desire to end the association with God’s new saint are free to do so, and the saint bears no guilt for the broken relationship(s).  But all who step away from God’s saints are relinquishing their sanctification by association to a new believer in Christ Jesus.  In this text, Paul makes it clear that the marriage relationship is included.  “If the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace” (1 Corinthians 7:15).  Since the sanctification enjoyed by the unbeliever comes from their attachment to the new believer, it is clear that detachment from the saint severs them from this benefit.


The wrench that is often thrown into this entire process is that a huge percentage of believers are not meek but weak in their presentation of the gospel.  And stating it in this way is being generous because many fail to open their mouths at all.  Due to this failure the unbelievers do not even know the gospel well enough to harden to it and reject both Christ and the saint who serves Him, which leaves the saint in a perpetual state of being unequally yoked.  The consequence to the saint is a lifetime of being unequally yoked to a child of Satan.

So then, Christian sanctification means to be set apart for holiness.  But, based upon Paul’s usage of the word “sanctification”, it is necessary to ask: For what purpose has the unbelieving marriage partner been set apart?  First, understand that they have not been set apart in order to be unrepentant members of the body of Christ.  Nor have they been set apart to make a certain percentage of the body of Christ unequally yoked.  So why are these unbelieving spouses and children (close friends too) sanctified by their association to God’s newly regenerate soul?  In order that they be aggressively exposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  As the children are supposed to be raised in the admonition of the Lord, so too must the unsaved spouse be actively exposed to the ways and gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

If the children grow to maturity and harden to the gospel, then the sword of Christ will, in God’s timing, separate them from their believing parent (Matthew 10:34-36).  Adult children do not need to be yoked to their parents in order to maintain some relationship.  The timing is different for the spouse.  Since the unbelieving spouse is already an adult the process should always move much quicker.  They will generally soften or harden to the gospel in a very short period of time if they are being actively evangelized by their believing partner.

The problem with the vast majority of Christians is that they value their unequally yoked marriage more than they value obeying God’s command to not be unequally yoked.  This causes them to tip-toe around their unbelieving spouse catering to their desire to be left alone, and the believer fails to actively promote the gospel.  They fall prey to the psycho babble argument that instructs unequally yoked believers to just love on your unbelieving spouse and see how positively they will respond.  Imagine if God followed such foolish advice in His dealings with Adam and Eve?  These believers fail to obey God’s command to evangelize the lost at the great cost of missing out on a life of great joy with a believing spouse…either the one that will be converted by the gospel witness or the believing spouse that God will provide once the believer faithfully gets out of their unequally yoked marriage.  This is not quitting on their marriage…it is obeying God’s command, and it is enjoying Christ’s promise to receive a hundred fold in this lifetime (Luke 18:29, 30).

This sanctification provides the immediate family members temporary, restrictive access into the body of Christ, but they only have, in essence, a visitor’s pass.  Because of this sanctification the church is to love them and teach them the word of God and explain fully the gospel of salvation hoping to win them over into the body of Christ.  But these set apart family members do not yet possess forgiveness of sin, the Holy Spirit, peace with God, eternal life, fellowship with the body of Christ or any of the hundreds of blessings bestowed upon the elect of God.

Paul provides one clear proof that this sanctification is temporary when he says, “If the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace” (Vs. 15).  Unarguably once the unbelieving spouse has left the marriage they are no longer sanctified through their believing spouse.  The same would be true for children who reach adulthood and leave the fellowship of the saints.

This sanctification is temporary not because it does not continue on into eternity, but because it is not intended or designed to be permanent even in this lifetime.  As the sword of Christ separates father from son and mother from daughter and brother from brother and sister from sister so also does it separate husbands and wives (Matthew 10:34-36).  As one family member grows closer to God while the other becomes more hardened to the gospel the believer realizes a need to separate themselves from their unrepentant family member.


God has always required his children be separated from the world.  He has done so because unequally yoked relationships corrupt believers into idolatry.  Unrepentant partners indubitably demand that their gods be served.  Failure to comply is met with efforts to force compliance.  Once a believer is yoked to an unbeliever their lives, like threads, become interwoven into one fabric.  Dividing this fabric afterward is possible only at a great cost.  In these relationships the unbeliever holds hostage the things their believing spouse cherishes in order to get the believer to bow down to their gods.  At some point both partners come to realize that failure to worship the unbeliever’s gods on the part of the believer will result in the unbelieving spouse tormenting the believing spouse until they comply.  Among the unbelieving spouse’s tactics are aggression or passive aggression, noncooperation, emotional and/or sexual withdrawal, lying, social humiliation, liable, ruined reputation, financial harm, threat of a nasty divorce, the ruining of a family, adultery, using children as pawns, threat of restricting access to children, etc.

As a result the believer is required to kowtow to the demands and desires of the unrepentant spouse.  The believer will be forced to break with their conscience on sins such as making compromises unthinkable between two believers, spending or saving money in ways inconsistent with godly stewardship, rebelling against godly council or advise, missing worship and bible study opportunities, not having godly friendships with believing couples, failing to biblically discipline children, acting in a lazy fashion instead of a diligent fashion, etc.  The longer the unequally yoked marriage lasts the more bound or interwoven the couple becomes, so the unbelieving spouses’ demands inevitably become more demanding over time until they fully get their way, which requires complete conformity to their god rather than to Jesus Christ.  Once a believer enters into an unequally yoked relationship they really only have two choices: They can either serve the unbeliever’s god or they can repent of (get out of completely) their unequally yoked relationship and pay the increasingly growing consequences of having become interwoven with a vessel of God’s wrath.  Note: Today a third option is very often chosen by default.  In the 17th and 18th centuries during the infancy of the United States a British law was frequently enacted particularly in the south.  It was called a bed and board divorce.  It meant that the couple lived entirely separate lives while remaining bound to one another until death.  Many believers fail to repent of their unequally yoked marriages and they either succumb to their godless spouse in most things or they embark on this third option, which is to stubbornly hang on to a forbidden relationship even as the sword of Christ severs them from their godless spouse.  These are the loveless marriages that are so common in the Christian world because the church has failed to recognize God’s instructions for believers who find themselves unequally yoked to unbelievers.  

Luke 18:29-30 says, “And He (Jesus) said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.'”

To the unsaved spouses of God’s children I say to surrender your life to Jesus Christ while you are still under this sanctification because a hardening of your heart will come very soon and you will surely die in your sins and reap the eternal fires of hell.  Today is the day of salvation.

To my brothers and sisters in Christ I say to actively share the gospel with your unrepentant family members and friends with the hope that God will save some of them because the day is quickly approaching when God will make it clear that you are to separate from them and turn them over to Satan.  Bad company corrupts good morals.  Do not hang on to unequally yoked relationships longer than God covers your unrepentant loved ones with this sanctification.



About Joe Porter

By the abundant lovingkindness and grace of God I have been in Christ for nearly 40 years. I live to love and serve God in whatever capacity He has in mind. And can do no other but to follow my conscience as scripture and reason guide me threw the shadow lands. I raised 5 children one of whom now sees clearly as he walks on streets of gold. God has blessed me after all these years with a godly, prudent wife. I cannot imagine a greater gift on the earth. I have a Masters of Divinity from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. I own a business in Nebraska, but I live to serve God. I have preached in three different churches for a period of 10 years. I love preaching God's word. Because of my divorce I am not currently serving in any official capacity, but I know that the Lord has a ministry for me. My goal is to write a book on the topic of divorce when unequally yoked, and this blog is a step in that direction. No brother or sister in Christ should divorce their spouse solely upon the advice they find here or anywhere else for that matter. Immerse yourself in God's word, and go before the Lord--wait upon Him and He will make it clear when the time comes that you are called to repent of your unequally yoked marriage. Christ's continued blessings, Joe View all posts by Joe Porter

5 responses to “1 Corinthians 7:14 What is Paul’s Meaning?: “The Unbelieving Husband or Wife Is Sanctified.”

  • Fred

    I want to do free a crtique by a lady I know regarding this post:

    “Assuming that anyone who doesn’t repent or accept Christ quickly after they have heard the gospel is a wrong attitude to have. That means that all missionaries across the world only have to present the gospel once and then come back home. Why do they spend years and years in a field building relationships and preaching the gospel? The challenge of being married to a unbeliever is there desires are different from a believer. Over the years I would say that there have been plenty of things I have abstained from with my spouse. But I hope it has been give and take. Example: I will watch this piece of poop movie if you watch “God’s not dead”. But that has to also be the case of two believers being married. I know in the case of two believers you would probably explain your convictions and the believers would respect and honor that conviction. I have also objected and explained my convictions and John has always honored my convictions whether he believes them or not. Being married to a unbeliever is very difficult, challenging and discouraging. I have to go get ready for work and then I will be out of town so I can continue this at a later time. I really enjoy that this challenges me spiritually. Also I gave John the gospel message just a few weeks ago when his father died. May God penetrate John’s sinful heart & mind so he will accept this wonderful news of Christ.”

    • Fred

      That should have read above– “I want to offer”
      Also, the lady quoted above has been a Christian for nearly all her life, been married only to him and have three grown children.

    • Joe Porter

      A missionary injects (from the outside) himself into someone’s life for a relatively short stint for the purpose of evangelizing an unbeliever and then pulling out eventually. They do not continue to evangelize the same person for decades, but rather hundreds and perhaps thousands of people are their focus. This is galaxies away from marrying an unbeliever and raising children with them. The missionary is just that: a messenger for a short time. A spouse is a life-long partner who is bound to you physically, spiritually, emotionally, and will be bound to your children physically, spiritually, emotionally, etc. There is all the difference in the world between meeting someone on the street and having coffee with them for a few hours, and bringing them home to stay with you for life and sleep in your bed. The above paragraph is from the author’s wife.

      Nobody is saying that evangelizing a spouse is a one and done task, which is why I understand Paul’s advice in 1 Cor. 7 to be a temporary staying order. The believer who finds themselves unequally yoked does not need to immediately divorce their spouse, but rather wait upon the Lord to see if God will resolve the unequally yoked relationship by saving the unrepentant spouse. By and large, we evangelize from outside of unequally yoked relationships, and since the Lord has commanded us to come out from unequally yoked relationships we cannot justify staying in them for years on the basis of evangelizing. The reason God wants Christians to be set apart from the world is that “bad company corrupts good morals”. An old friend, as in not a friend anymore, once responded to that biblical passage to the Corinthians, “It doesn’t have to.” I told him that “He’ll need to take that up with God who said it”. As for me, I believe the words of God are true; therefore, bad company does in fact corrupt good morals. Believers are forced to honor the gods of the lost when they become unequally yoked to them. I fully appreciate that my understanding of God’s word on this subject is contrary to the vast majority in the churches today and throughout most of the history of the church, but I do not follow and obey church history or the crowd. I follow and obey the word of God and the Lord God Himself. The fact that the “marriage relationship” is worshiped in many cultures is no reason to misunderstand God’s ubiquitous, straight forward commands not to be unequally yoked to unbelievers. Among the saddest stories in the bible takes place at the end of Jehoshaphat’s life. If he would have made a covenant with God for his son to divorce the wicked Athaliah and then never worked with her evil father king Ahab as God warned him, then this tragedy would have never taken place. The warning is found in 2 Chronicles 19:2: “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord and so bring wrath on yourself from the Lord?” It was a rhetorical question that would be answered with Paul’s emphatic, “By no means–may it never be!”

      • Fred

        Hi Joe, I appreciate your study on this issue. Is it your intent to suggest that a believer and unbeliever should get divorced if the unbeliever shows no sign of conversion after a time or are you just saying that divorce is a Biblical option for a believer whose spouse will not convert after a time ? Thanks

      • Joe Porter

        Your interest in this very important topic is refreshing. Bear in mind, that the significant biblical doctrine is separation and not divorce. Once separation is properly understood, then what to do in an unequally yoked marriage will become pretty clear. How to do it is where wisdom is necessary.

        To get to your question: I am saying that God does not want believers yoked together with unbelievers. Once believers become unequally yoked they are living outside of the will of God (Read: The Will of God dictates divorce for the unequally yoked). In order to get back under the will of God they need to evangelize their lost partner so aggressively that their partner will either repent and believe or they will want out of the relationship (“If the unbelieving spouse wants to leave let them leave, the believer is not under bondage in such cases”). What typically happens is that Christians get unequally yoked and then do precious little evangelizing knowing the heart of their unrepentant partner. They basically live their lives agreeing to disagree and the believer’s morals are greatly corrupted to the point of regularly committing idolatry by worshiping the god(s) of their unbelieving spouse. At best they are bringing together the temple of God with idols (2 Cor. 6:15-17). The commandment of God, “Do not be unequally yoked to unbelievers” is just that–a command. It is not an option, but a command. Studying God’s position on this topic in His word and petitioning the Holy Spirit to give us the courage to do the right thing are both necessary. Then putting together a god-honoring plan on how to best carry out our obedience is wise and kind to those who will be effected. I am not saying this is easy…repentance rarely is easy. But in order to be back under the will of God it is necessary. The silver lining is that Jesus promised to reward us a hundredfold in this lifetime if we would leave unrepentant loved ones for His sake and the gospels.

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