This scenario has played out more times than I can count. A believer, typically a woman, is saved and growing, yet at home, an unbelieving spouse will remain unchanged for years. This phenomenon is all too common and proves tremendously difficult on marriages. Often times, the gap feels too wide; the differences too great.
Is there anything that can be done? Thankfully, there is.
God Loves Marriage
By nature, the gospel divides. Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword… and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household” (Matt. 10:34, 36). While Jesus is not in the business of starting fights and destroying families, the requirement for every Christian is to love the Lord Jesus more than anyone else (vv. 37-39). The act of loving Christ supremely can divide families.
But what does this mean for married couples?
God is the author of marriage. He created it and implemented it with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. “For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Further, Jesus adds, “Consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt. 19:6).
Both passages in Genesis and Matthew give no qualifying hint of partiality: believers or unbelievers. The statement is regarding all marriages. In fact, God loves marriage so much, He even hates divorce (Mal. 2:16)!
Why does God love marriage so much?
Without exploring the vast number of reasons, the main purpose to be noted is that marriage reflects a blessed relationship between the Lord Jesus Christ and His Bride—the church (Eph. 5:22-33). In marriage, the husband acts as a symbol of Christ and the wife, the church. Regardless of whether or not a married couple are Christians, by nature, their union is a God-ordained depiction of His own relationship to those who love Him.
And while there are legitimate grounds for divorce (Matt. 19:9), God’s desire is for marriage to be lifelong and monogamous (Deut. 24:1-4). God desires that married couples stay married and do all they can to keep their marriage covenant intact.
Keep It Together
In 1 Corinthians 7, the apostle Paul deals with the phenomenon of Christians being married to non-Christians. Certainly, the best scenario would be for two believers to marry, but in the case of spiritually-mixed marriages, Paul addresses the wife: “[she] should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband)” (vv. 10-11; see also v. 13). So, just because a woman’s husband is not a Christian, she does not have grounds to leave him, but rather, the Lord desires her to stay with him.
Paul reiterates his same point, this time to the husbands: “if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, let him not send her away” (v. 12). As long as the unbelieving spouse agrees to stay together, the Christian spouse has to obligation unto the Lord to strive to make the marriage work. Again, this glorifies God!
For what purpose?
Paul gives the ultimate reason in verse 14, “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.” Now, this verse gets misinterpreted all the time. The non-Christian spouse does not become a Christian simply by being married to a Christian, rather, the unbeliever is exposed to close, intimate Christian witness by living in the same house with a believer. And the chances are much better that the spouse might get saved through the believing spouse’s witness.
So, here we see a tremendous opportunity for evangelism in a person’s own household. And not just the spouse, but the children as well. Therefore, it is extremely important that a believer’s faith is genuine, especially in front of your immediate family—they’re watching!
However, if the unbelieving spouse decides that they just can’t take be married to a Christian any longer, Paul concedes, “let them leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace” (v. 15).
But for all the instances where the unbelieving spouse is willing to stay in the married, how do you lead them to Christ?
Glad you asked.
The Art of Husband-Winning
In Peter’s first letter, he instructs the church on how best to maintain a strong witness even in a world full of persecution. He encourages believers to manifest true righteousness and demonstrate the grace of God before outsiders. When he arrives at chapter 3, his instruction is specifically toward Christian wives to un-Christian husbands.
In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear. (1 Pet. 3:1-6)
Space does not allow a detailed exposition of this passage, but let me point out a few principles of “husband-winning”:
1. Voluntarily submit to your husband joyfully
This flies in the face of feminism, but it’s God’s gracious desire for you. Peter exhorts women to be “chaste” and “respectful” (v. 2) in order that simply by your conduct, you may win your husband to the Lord.
Instead of being contentious and getting angry at him for not believing, yield to his leadership and encourage him. Praise him when he makes good decisions and bear with him when he doesn’t. This does not mean you act as his doormat, but rather, that you make being married to you such a joy, he draws closer and sees the love of Christ in you and through you.
2. Practice modesty
While there’s nothing wrong with dressing up or making yourself presentable, the Lord desires you to focus inwardly, not outwardly. A woman who obsesses over her appearance (hair, jewelry, clothes, etc; see verse 3) tends to become self-absorbed and runs the risk of feeding idolatry in her own heart.
Modesty sends a powerful message. It boldly declares inner value, as a woman who acts respectable and chaste exudes strength and dignity. She puts the glory of God on display, as He has made her in His image (Gen. 1:26-27).
3. Devote yourself to godliness
Rather than expending all your energy on making your exterior glamorous, focus your attention on your inward beauty. Peter encourages, “let [her adornment] be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” (v. 4).
Beloved sister, God has made your wondrous. Truly, humanity is considered to be the crown of His creation—the woman is the crown jewel! But the Lord calls virtue and godliness “precious”. Strive to clothe yourself with wisdom, love (1 Cor 13:3-8), and fruitfulness (Gal. 5:22-23).
4. Imitate the faith of godly women
In verses 5 and 6, Peter makes note of the women of Old Testament times, exemplified by Abraham’s wife, Sarah. While no woman in the Bible is perfect, many of them possess desirable qualities to be imitated. Devote yourself to learning Scripture, and pay particular attention to the lives of faithful women. And in your own church, find older women who can exhort and encourage you (Titus 2:3-5).
While there is no magic formula for salvation; no guaranteed method to turn your spouse into a Christian, we know that it is “the gospel [that is] the power of God to salvation” (Rom. 1:16). Remember, no one is beyond saving, and God can do all things (Mark 10:27).
Pray for your husband.
Live righteously before him.
Trust the Lord.