It's a question that is regularly asked, but not always accurately answered. It confuses, perplexes, and even angers both Christians and non-Christians alike. It sounds elitist, holier-than-thou, and downright condescending.
But trust me, it's not meant to be.
I'm 28 this year, I'm single, and one of the most common things I hear from my friends goes something along the lines of: "Why so picky? Really must be Christian? If your standard not so high I would introduce you to my friend(s) already la." And while I wholly believe in their well-meant intentions, I think it’s about time someone explained the reason behind this "pickiness", lest it be classified as another irrational, snobbish Christian standard to live by.
A long time ago, I went out with someone who, besides not being a Christian, was more or less perfect for me. Perfect in the sense that he was almost exactly like me, we liked the same things, had the same tastes, he knew what kind of stuff I would like, we even supported the same football team… perfect. All except for the fact that he wasn't a Christian. It didn't matter to me at first, but I think all along at the back of my mind, I knew it would be an issue someday. And sure enough, after awhile, I decided I couldn't go on with it anymore, because it was "wrong". And so I broke up with the perfect guy all because he wasn't a Christian. Everyone (including myself, sometimes) thought I was nuts and couldn't for the life of them understand it. I'm not sure he did either, and for that I am the most sorry. But decisions like this do baffle, and so they should and must be clearly explained.
While I do want non-Christians to understand this, I am much more concerned about us Christians. Because from the relationships and attitudes I am seeing around me (and sometimes even in myself), we sometimes forget the ‘why’ and get confused trying to do the what.
I think the biggest example of this, and I'm not going to sugarcoat it here, is Christians who extend "dating a Christian" to "dating someone whom I will bring to church", "dating someone who is open to Christianity", or "dating someone who calls himself a Christian but hasn't really been to church in a few years". I could go on, but you see my point. To do something like that is to miss the point of wanting to date a Christian in the first place. It's taking God's wisdom and stretching it so we find a loophole.
So yes, back to the reasons why Christians shouldn't date non-Christians. There are probably more, but here are four simple ones.
- You believe in completely, absolutely different things
Any committed Christian will know that Christianity is not just a nice little side project that surfaces on Sundays and on Christmas - it involves and demands a total change in worldview, nature, lifestyle, decisions and priorities. It's not an "agree to disagree" kind of difference - like whether Manchester United or Liverpool is better (is there really an argument anyway?), its played out in how you spend your time, money, what you teach your future children, how you deal with hardship... I could go on. Some of these you may or may not have to deal with before marriage, but they will certainly apply after.
"Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?" - 2 Corinthians 6:14
Marrying a non-Christian means a lifetime of split loyalties, and a severe endangerment of your relationship with God. One way or another, one relationship (or even both) will have to be compromised.
- It is never "just dating"
I should also clarify at this point that by "dating", I do not mean a casual, just-for-fun romance with no likely future - I mean a relationship entered into with the intention to find out if you are suitable for marriage. "What?!" You say. "I ain't ready for that!" Well then, perhaps you are not ready for dating. Casual dating is usually self-centered and self-serving: it's fun, it makes me happy, who cares what happens in the future? If we know for sure we will never marry said person, then being in a relationship with them is unfair to them as well. As Christians, the most important question we should ask is "Does this make me more like Jesus?" Casual dating, especially with non-Christians, almost certainly does not.
Something else just became more important than God
I can almost hear the argument being formed right now, that, basically, there is nowhere in the Bible that says it's a sin to date a non-Christian. In fact, the Bible doesn't even talk about dating: so how can we say what God's view is for sure?
Even if we gloss over passages like 2 Corinthians 6:14 above which tell us not to "be unequally yoked", common sense and godly wisdom tell us that a close relationship (and if we are dating, it's probably one of the closest relationships we have) with a non-Christian cannot be wise, let alone helpful. If the goal is to be more like Christ, then we are intentionally and knowingly making it harder.
"If then you have been raised with Christ... Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God... Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry." – Colossians 3:1-5
When we are willing to jeopardize our relationship with God for anything else - could be career, money, pleasure - then that becomes our idol, no matter how "good" it is in itself. Even a Christian relationship can become an idol if it takes precedence over God. So, even if not explicitly stated as a sin, the fact that we are willing to endanger our faith to cling on to this other person shows our heart's true desires.
The joy of having a Christian partner
And finally, we have to consider not just the possible pitfalls of dating (and marrying) a non-Christian, but the considerable benefits of dating a mature, growing Christian. "Dating a fellow Christian" is not just fulfilling a ticked box on the checklist of Christian dating, it's having the pleasure of being able to lead or be led by someone you can trust will have God's (and your) best interests at heart, someone who will care for and even nurture your spiritual growth, who will encourage you through Scripture during hard times, who will love you because Christ first loved him/her, who will be someone your kids can model and follow spiritually, and whose true home, like yours, is heaven.
"Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." – Proverbs 31:30
"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her... so that he might present the church to himself in splendor... that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself." - Ephesians 5:25-28
It's not always natural or easy to look for and desire these things in a relationship when other things like looks, personality and so on have such a magnetic pull - but I'm convinced that these are the most important things to have for the long term. Don't get me wrong, it's not that good chemistry and attraction are not important - they are just not as important as we think.
That is not to say that a Christian marriage is short of its share of troubles. No marriage or relationship, Christian or otherwise, is perfect. But that is precisely why we need a spouse that will see and address these imperfections through the light of Christ's perfect love for us.
So it is not merely a matter of going to different places on a Sunday morning - it's a matter of ending up in different places for eternity. As a Christian, are you convinced that your salvation and relationship with God is more important than your relationship with anyone else? Are you certain that heaven and hell exist? Do you believe that obedience to God's word sometimes involves things we don't want to do, or don't even understand? Because there is no sitting on the fence - if your answer is yes, then you cannot continue knowingly disobeying God. And, rather more worryingly, if your answer is no, then you might have to ask yourself what you truly believe in.
I just want to say that this issue is just one of the many sins that we fall prey to, and that you are not more sinful or a worse Christian just because you are going through this. The Christian life is a constant struggle with sin - and the most alarming part is not when we sin, but when we stop struggling with it altogether, and even try to tell ourselves that it's okay.
It wasn't easy for me to write and post this - it actually took me more than a year since drafting it to actually get it out there; because I felt I couldn't do it until I really could come to terms with it. And even as I write this, I still have half a mind to leave it lounging in the 'Drafts' section. It is that hard, and it is that close to my heart.
If you are struggling with or facing this issue, I pray you will find the courage to obey God, and the faith to trust that this obedience will not leave you short-changed. Trust me, its something I battle with every single day.