I’m 24 years old, currently in my third year of medical school. I’ve been a Christian for most of my life but really started to walk with God the last few years. I have a decent network of Christian friends, though I’m not currently attached to a church or Bible study due to the fact that I travel a lot for my clinical rotations. I try to go to church when I can, but I haven’t been able to plug into one church since I am on the road so much.
Anyway, during my first year of medical school I met and started dating a wonderful guy, and we’re starting to think about serious commitment (i.e., engagement). He is very sweet, kind, smart, funny, all those great things … and he’s a medical student like me. In short, we’re basically perfect for each other. The problem is, I’m not sure where he is spiritually. He says he believes in God and accepts Jesus as his Savior; however, sometimes I’m afraid he’s only accepted Jesus in his mind and not in his heart. If you gauge it by his religious practices, then some might say he isn’t Christian — he doesn’t go to church, he doesn’t participate in Bible studies, and he doesn’t pray openly (he’s more of a private pray-er). But if you look at the way he lives and the way he treats people, you could say he is Christian. He is a very loving person, and I believe he loves the way the Bible teaches — unselfishly, unconditionally, etc.
I know he would make a good husband and father, but all of my Christian friends seem to think otherwise because he is not outwardly Christian. I know they have my best interests at heart, but I think they’re making Christianity too legalistic by saying he’s not Christian just because he doesn’t go to church and read the Bible every day. Aren’t we told not to judge other people’s hearts? God is the only one who can know whether or not my boyfriend is saved. I appreciate the input of my friends and family, but I really think this is a decision that has to be made between myself and God. I have prayed endlessly for conviction on this, and yet I continue to feel conflicted. How can I figure out what God really wants for me? Am I praying for the wrong thing?
It’s funny that your friends are convinced this young man isn’t a Christian because he doesn’t attend church or Bible studies. Considering that you opened your story by saying you’re too busy for church and Bible study, what must they think of you?
First things first, if you’re too busy to go to church — to be in fellowship with other believers (Hebrew 10:25) — you’re too busy. Yes, getting saved is essential. But it’s just the beginning. It’s impossible to stay grounded in the faith and grow in spiritual maturity without living in community with other followers of Christ. Especially given the toxic climate we live in, spiritual nurture — and service — is essential. That includes daily personal prayer and study of God’s Word, but it also means weekly instruction in the context of a Bible-believing church. Though it’s not ideal to attend a different church each week — it’s impossible to build communal relationships that way — it’s better than not attending at all. And sometimes school and work schedules require it. With so many churches now offering multiple service options, including Saturday nights, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a service to attend each week when you’re on the road.
I have to wonder, too, how important does he perceive church and Bible study to be to you? Since your attendance is erratic, isn’t it possible that he and his friends see you as the unspiritual one? I realize I’m working with limited information, so it’s possible I’m way off. But one thing’s certain, by treating church as optional and not attending somewhere regularly together, you’re establishing habits that will be very difficult to break once you’re married. Now is the time to make him aware of how high a priority church attendance and Bible study is to you. Not after you’re married.
Without community, we die. We cannot make it in this race we’re running if we try to do it on our own. To avoid being any of the soils that failed to produce fruit in the parable of the sower and the seed, we have to work together. Without the accountability, fellowship and support other believers provide, the soil of our heart will never be fertile enough to bear much fruit (Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-25; Luke 8:4-18).
That’s the first issue: your lack of Christian fellowship. Now onto the second: his testimony. I assume from what you’ve written that you’ve had some conversation about the state of his salvation, of his willing receipt of Christ’s gift of grace. What’s not clear, however, is why you continue to question what he says. I suspect you’re harboring your own concerns and even doubts. Scripture is clear about a believer’s need to be open about his faith in Christ (Luke 12:8-9) both acknowledging Him and being prepared to talk about Him (1 Peter 3:15).
While prayer is extremely intimate (some Boundless writers have compared it to sexual intimacy and argued it’s best reserved for marriage), it is not something that’s meant to be only private. And a decision to wait to pray together till you’re married is a lot different than an unwillingness to pray aloud together now or later. Yes there are times when we go away, alone, to our prayer closet. And nothing’s worse than a Pharisee who prays out loud and in public simply for the praise it earns him. But an inability or unwillingness to ever pray with other believers is what I would call a red flag. But again, if the two of you are not in fellowship with other believers, who can call him on this? There’s nothing worse than a Christian woman trying to nag or beg her man to be more spiritual. That’s not the role God designed women to play. Your young man needs the counsel and mentoring of a more mature Christian man. And you would both benefit from the input of an older believing married couple.
One of the great things about mentors is that they can ask questions of you individually and as a couple that you wouldn’t be comfortable asking yourselves. And they can pray with you. And for you. Mentoring can provide clarity about your spiritual compatibility.
Considering marriage is a serious thing. It’s probably the most important decision you’ll make in your lifetime after deciding to follow Christ. This is the time to get wisdom and input from counselors you trust. That includes family and friends. If you’re hearing from them that this isn’t a good match, it’s important to at least listen to their concerns and consider the possibility that they’re seeing something you’re not. Often our friends and parents have insights that elude us in the fog of emotion.
Human nature being what it is, it’s safe to say that what bothers you now about your beau will not go away once you’re married. Chances are, it will grow to be more of a concern, not less. So whatever it is that you feel still needs resolving, it’s always better to address those concerns before taking a permanent vow of lifelong marriage.
The good news is that if this guy is as great a man as you say he is, and if he is a true believer in Christ, you should certainly be able to talk about your concerns. And with the help of some mentors (your parents or another Christian couple you both trust) get to the place where you can marry him, confident that you’re equally yoked.
I do pray God will use this relationship to draw both of you closer to Him.
Copyright 2009 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.