Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Audio Transcript

A young man writes in to ask, “Pastor John, is it a sin for me to date a non-Christian woman?”

I want to ask, What does he believe sin is? In other words, if I were talking to him here — before I would say yes or no — I would say, “Tell me what you think sin is.”

“If you have a felt need for companionship that is greater than your felt need for God, then you are sinning.”

And here is what I would be listening for. In Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” So sinning is falling short of the glory of God, it seems. What does that mean? What does “fall short of the glory” mean? And the word υστερεω (hoos-ter-eh’-o) means lack, so sinning is lacking the glory of God. Well, lacking in what sense? I am not supposed to be as glorious as God is. Well, lacking in the sense of Romans 1:23, probably, where it says that sinners “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images.” When they exchanged, they lacked it. In other words, they looked at the glory of God, they looked at images — maybe the one in the mirror — and they chose against God. And, thus, they lacked God.

Consider Your Cravings

Sin, I would say, is a preferring of anything over God. And sins, plural, are the kinds of attitudes and desires and actions and words that come out of us when we prefer other things to God — when God is not our supreme desire, our supreme treasure. So that is what I would be looking for.

“If you are on a trajectory to fall in love with and marry a woman who is outside the Lord, you are on a trajectory to disobey God’s word.”

So, let’s come to dating now. What is that? Is dating an expression of a desire that another person has become more precious to me than God? Is it? And if it is, I don’t care if the person is a believer or an unbeliever, Christian or non-Christian. You can date a Christian and be sinning. You can date a non-Christian and be sinning because your affections or your love or your need for that person might reflect that God doesn’t have a place in your life nearly as big and powerful and satisfying and beautiful as he ought to have in your life. If you have a felt need for companionship that is greater than your felt need for God, then you are sinning. And it doesn’t matter who it is that you are taking out. You need to go back and find God to be your treasure.

Consider Your Aim

So that is more, probably, than what he was asking, but here is what he really wants to know, probably. Let’s say I don’t have that problem. I am not craving another person more than I am craving God. Is it a sin to date an unbeliever? And my answer to that is “What is dating for? What are you treating dating as?” And you might say, “Well, I don’t have any romantic interest at all. And I want to testify to the grace of God to this unbeliever over pizza in the hope of leading her to Christ.” In other words, this is just pure evangelism and not romance. And I would say, “Okay, go for it.” But be careful, because any time one man and one woman spend time together, more can happen than evangelism of a more personal, intimate kind, especially when you are talking about deep things. I have seen it happen and I would caution against it.

“Marriage cannot be a deep union if two people have different supreme treasures, one Christ and another something in creation.”

But what if he said, “Well, I really am attracted to this person. And dating for me is part of a cultivation of a romantic relationship that could lead to marriage.” Then I would say, “If you are doing that, if you are pursuing an unbeliever with a view to awakening, quickening, and deepening a romantic relationship that could lead to marriage, you are compromising your love for Christ and you are going against what the Bible says and you are doing something wrong.”

First Corinthians 7:39 says that we are to marry “only in the Lord.” And if you are on a trajectory to fall in love with and marry a woman who is outside the Lord, you are on a trajectory to disobey this text. And to be on a trajectory to disobey a text is to disobey a text. And 2 Corinthians 6:14, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers,” ties in with that as it relates to marriage. And I think the reason is that marriage is a union of the deepest kind. It is meant to be a union of soul as well as a union of body. And there can’t be any deep union of soul if two people have different supreme treasures, one Christ and another something in creation. There is a deep disunion from the outset.

So to pursue a dating relationship, cultivating a relationship that would lead to a forbidden marriage, is, I think, forbidden.


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