2. Be realistic. Unrealistic expectations act as one of the greatest hindrances in any marriage. Refusal to adopt a realistic outlook toward your spouse results in tremendous anger, frustration, and depression. If you are already frustrated, examine realistically your current expectations concerning your mate. What are some unrealistic expectations that you should avoid?
First, ask yourself how you expect your mate to behave. Is it realistic to think that your unsaved mate will act like a Christian? You would probably respond, “Of course not. I would never expect this!” But, have you ever heard yourself say “Why doesn’t he or she do _______?” Ask yourself; would the fruit of the Holy Spirit in his or her life produce this desired behavior? If you answer yes, then your expectation is not realistic because your spouse is not a Christian nor does he or she have access to the power of the Spirit. Therefore, continuing to hold on to this expectation in your heart will only bring you frustration.
Second, do you expect your mate to be saved immediately? Are you supposing that since you have come to Christ and have “seen the light,” that he or she should too? Remember, every person comes to Christ in his or her own time. When the disciples asked Jesus when He would restore the kingdom to Israel He said, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (Acts 1:7). In other words, Jesus explained that the Father had times, seasons, and purposes that He was fulfilling in His own way. We have no concept of these purposes and therefore simply need to trust Him to complete His work as He sees fit. We know from history that this restoration of Israel didn’t occur for another 1900 years.
Therefore, rest in the assurance that God is at work in your unsaved mate’s life as He has promised. You must hold onto the promise God gave to the Prophet Habakkuk: “Look…and watch–Be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you” (Habakkuk 1:5). Beloved, believe that God is working that same work in your spouse that He did in you. He loves your unsaved mate just as much as He loves you. He is working!
Therefore, examine all your expectations and be sure that they are realistic and biblical. Compare your thinking with what God has promised and then leave the process to Him.
3. Remember why you are married. Why would God allow you to become a Christian while married to an unbeliever? This question is specifically answered in Scripture. You are in this marriage to sanctify your spouse. This is what Paul declared in 1 Corinthians 7:14: “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy.” What does it mean to sanctify your spouse?
First, let me tell you what it does not mean. To sanctify your mate does not mean that you will automatically bring salvation to your spouse or your children because you stay in the marriage. This is a complete misunderstanding of the meaning of sanctification. Let me explain briefly what sanctification means.
The word sanctify is the same root word that is translated “holy,” “set apart,” or “perfecting holiness.” The same word is also translated “sanctified” or “holy” at the end of verse 14 in reference to your children. This word sanctify is first used in the Old Testament of the utensils that were set apart for use in the temple offerings. These utensils were holy and set apart for this service alone. Therefore, to sanctify means to set something apart or to set someone apart for God’s purposes. Consider four ways you are sanctified:
(1) You were sanctified before you came to Christ. God set you apart and sanctified you by the Spirit of God as He drew you to Jesus Christ. In John 6:44 Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.”
(2) At the point of salvation Scripture declares that you “were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 6:11). Therefore, after you received Jesus you were then sanctified by God, washed from your sins, and placed in His kingdom (Col. 1:13).
(3) You are also sanctified as you walk with Christ and grow in personal holiness. This transformation of your life occurs as He sets you apart by conforming you into the image of the Son. Paul called this work, “perfecting holiness” (2 Cor. 7:1). This sanctifying work occurs as you trust and apply God’s promises in your personal life.
(4) Finally, God’s sanctifying work is completed at the moment you meet Jesus face to face at death or when He returns for His own. Paul referred to this completed work when he said, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23).
Now that you understand the purpose of sanctification, let’s tie it in with our subject of a believing spouse living with an unbeliever. When a Christian is living with a non-Christian, the unbeliever is being set apart and worked on by the Holy Spirit as a direct result of the believer’s presence in the home. Remember, you are a light in the darkness of your mate’s life (Matt. 5:14-16). Since your mate is willing to dwell with you, he or she will naturally have a greater potential for being saved than if you were not present in the home. Paul implies this with his question: “For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife” (1 Cor. 7:16)?
A further reason to stay in a marriage with an unbeliever is for the children’s sake. According to 1 Corinthians 7:14, children living with a Christian parent are holy rather than unclean. This word unclean is the same word translated “common” many places in the New Testament. Remember Peter said to Jesus, “I have never eaten anything common or unclean” (Acts 10:14). If your children are common it simply means that they are not in a sanctified position. This is the same principle that was referred to above concerning your sanctifying influence over your unbelieving wife or husband. Therefore, since your presence has this sanctifying influence upon your spouse and your children, if your mate is willing it is best to stay in your marriage.
People have said to me many times, “I don’t want to stay with my unbelieving spouse just for the children.” But, in light of this instruction, I think it’s an excellent reason! God is again trying to motivate you to stay and work out the problems. Do you realize that if you leave your spouse your children could end up living with a non-Christian parent or step-parent, which would put them in an unsanctified position? All the time, I counsel parents with children living in non-Christian homes. The believing parents and their children face tremendous struggles with the evil influence of an ungodly parent or step-parent. When the children come home from visiting the unsaved parent, the Christian spouse has to undo all the damage done over the weekend or summer.
Therefore, remember that your presence in your home has great beneficial influence.
COVENANT KEEPERS © 2014
If you would like more information on the marriage ministry of Pastor Steve Carr or his book Married and How To Stay That Way, please visit us on the Internet at Convenant Keepers.