What should I do now that I'm engaged to an unbeliever?

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What should I do now that I'm engaged to an unbeliever?

Mar 18, 2013 |Candice Watters
Question

I'm very stressed and broken and confused. I've been in a long-distance relationship for three years, and I am engaged. When we were dating, my boyfriend was always a bit too quiet about his faith for my tastes, but knowing that I more openly discuss my faith than most people my age (and knowing that in every aspect of life he is a very quiet person) I tried to be understanding, whether that was a poor choice or not. I knew he should be more open about it, and I tried to work on improving our spiritual discussions.

As things moved forward, I continued to try to pry into spiritual conversations directed at his beliefs, whereas most conversations were a bit one-sided. He would always say he believed in God, but I felt a deep uncertainty that I, very unfortunately, feared and avoided. He had always been willing to go to church with me when he visited, and he never reacted negatively to my always talking about the Lord and the Bible, and he would say at times that he would pray for me. But still, when we got engaged I was hesitant, and I believe my "yes" should have been at least a "let me think about it."

In the last couple months since the engagement, he has finally started being honest about his beliefs. I truly believe that throughout college, his faith has slowly disappeared, and I don't think he was necessarily lying about what he thought before we entered the relationship, but at this point, I suppose he doesn't have faith at all.

I just told him that based on current circumstances, though I love him very much, I know it would not be right for us to marry. Clearly this broke his heart, as it's broken mine, but I know in my mind that this is too important to ignore, even if my emotions want to keep an attachment.

Right now we are on somewhat of a "break," just a period of time to step back and figure out things. He says he will try to read the Bible and seek that faith, but I am at a loss. I told him I didn't feel comfortable marrying someone unless he loved the Lord more than he loved me. It's not the sort of thing that can be easily placed on a timeline, and I guess that's the issue.

He's going on a nine-month deployment in a month, and I feel so stressed. I know I should have had better discernment and fully addressed this sooner than I did, but I can't change that now, so I am trying to be as wise as I can. What is the appropriate way to handle this situation?

Answer

Dear Reader,

Thank you for writing. I'm greatly encouraged that you did!

As hard as this may be to hear, I believe based on what Scripture says that you should not be on "somewhat of a break," but that you should break off your engagement for good. You've said repeatedly that you recognize you were unwise in how you conducted this relationship, especially in your continuing to progress from dating to engagement, even knowing that you are not of one mind about the faith. Continuing on as you have will be to continue unwisely, to continue in what Proverbs calls folly.

Though your letter implies that you are a Christian, you did not come right out and say so, and I don't want to make any assumptions. You did say you tried to encourage spiritual conversations with your boyfriend, including talking about the Lord and the Bible, and that when he visited, he would go to church with you. But all of these things, while commendable, aren't necessarily evidence of saving faith. What's concerning is that you've been moving toward marriage with an unbelieving man. If you are a believer and are doing so, your actions are speaking to him more loudly than your words. You may tell him you're a Christian, but to be a Christian means to follow Christ — to obey Him. Christian marriage is necessarily between two believers — two Christ-followers. So if you've been willingly dating an unbelieving man and moving toward marriage, all the while claiming to be a Christian, your actions and decisions are telling him you don't really believe what you say you do.

I think the fact that you wrote to Boundless is evidence that your conscience is not seared. And this is good news. I suspect you know already what you must do. The Bible is clear that Christian marriage is to be between two believers. In speaking about widows, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:39 that they are free to remarry as long as they marry someone in the Lord (for more on what that little phrase means, listen to John Piper on the subject). And in 2 Corinthians 6:14, he says we are not to be "unequally yoked" with an unbeliever. Practically, this makes sense because if you belong to the Lord as one of His children, this is your fundamental identity. It will be impossible to be intimately linked with a husband who is ambivalent about God, or uncertain about God, or even hostile to God (as all of us were before we were saved, Colossians 1:21).

What you must decide is who you will obey: your heart or your Lord. If Christ is Lord, then you must marry only a man who is committed to faithfully following Christ.

If your fiancé demonstrated over the course of your long dating relationship that he is not a believer — a believer being someone who is trusting Christ for the forgiveness of his sins and for salvation — and if you are trusting Christ for salvation, then you must repent for your disobedience, as well as your poor witness to this as-yet unbelieving man. Then you must end your engagement. This will certainly be difficult, but it is a great mercy that you are realizing this now, before you are covenanted to him for life (see 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 and 1 Peter 3:1). Give thanks to God for His kindness in revealing the folly of your current path, then cling to Him for the grace to obey Him. Ask the Holy Spirit for the power to walk faithfully as a Christian. And ask the Lord to bear good fruit in the life of this man as he observes your repentance and obedience. Who knows but that God may use your repentance as a picture of saving faith to break through to this man's own unbelieving heart. Certainly your disobedience is a hindrance to him. But your obedience may yet be a help.

You're right that you can't change the past. But you can repent for your disobedience, and you can start acting from this point forward with biblical wisdom. How do you do that? By praying and asking God for wisdom (James 1:5); by studying God's Word so that you can know what it says and what it requires of you (Psalm 119, 2 Timothy 2:15, Micah 6:8); and by asking your pastor or the elders of your church for help and accountability. I wonder what your friends and mentors at church think about your boyfriend and about your relationship, and especially your engagement? Have you asked for counsel and prayer from those in leadership? The body of Christ is a strong help to us when we're facing major decisions, if we will walk with other believers in the context of a biblically faithful church.For more on what constitutes a biblically faithful, healthy church, please see www.9marks.org.

In the end, you must obey God, not man (Acts 5:29). The difficult emotions that will surely follow, his imminent deployment, the loneliness and self-doubt, and any number of trials — none of these are reasons to continue in disobedience and unfaithfulness to your Lord, if indeed He is your Lord. There is great reward, joy and life to be had in the path of obedience. I pray God will equip you for what you must do.

By Grace Alone,
CANDICE WATTERS

Copyright 2013 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.

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