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.
SANCTIFIED FOR THE GOSPEL
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’S PURPOSE FOR SEPARATION IN THE FIRST PLACE
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.