Now let’s consider the flip side of this issue. What if your non-Christian spouse is pleased to live with you? Paul teaches clearly,
“If any brother has a wife who does not believe,
and she is willing to live with him,
let him not divorce her.
And a woman who has a husband who does not believe,
if he is willing to live with her,
let her not divorce him.
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.”
– 1 Cor 7:12-13
God’s Word is clear, don’t divorce this person. Why? Because, as a believer, you sanctify your non-Christian mate. What does it mean to sanctify your spouse?
First, let me tell you what it doesn’t mean. To sanctify your mate does not mean that you automatically bring salvation to your husband 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 “sanctify” or “holy” at the end of verse 13 in reference to your children. This word sanctify is 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, how do these truths relate to our subject of a believing spouse living with an unbeliever? When a believer is living in the same home with a non-Christian, the unbeliever is being set apart by the Holy Spirit just because of your influence and presence in the home.
He or she will naturally have a greater potential to be saved than if the believer were absent. If a non-Christian is willing to dwell with you, the better chance you have of leading your non-Christian husband or wife to Jesus Christ. Paul makes this clear when he asks:
“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.
“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.”
(1 Cor. 7:14)
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 referred to above concerning your sanctifying influence over your unbelieving wife or husband.
Therefore, because your presence has this sanctifying influence upon your spouse and your children, it is best to stay in your marriage if your mate is willing.
However, 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 important reason! God is again trying to motivate you to stay and work out the problems. Do you realize that if you leave your spouse that your children could possibly end up living permanently with a non-Christian parent or stepparent, which would put them in an unsanctified position?
I counsel parents all the time that have their children living in non-Christian homes who have tremendous struggles with the unsupervised evil influence of ungodly parents. When the children come home from visiting the ungodly parent, the godly spouse has to undo all the damage done over the weekend or summer.
Finally, realize that you have a very powerful influence upon your spouse, your children, or anyone in your family. Use that influence. Be salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16). Be the example God has called you to be (1 Tim. 4:12).
Are you the example you should be: of how a believer loves, how a believer speaks to others, how a believer walks in faith and lives in purity? Your behavior will affect all the people who live around you. You may not see an instant change, but I guarantee you that you will be sanctifying them by your life.
Remember, your family is watching to see how you will handle the trials and triumphs in your life. Therefore, be a good witness. Sanctify those around you with your words and your behavior.
Missed Part IV and need more biblical advice? Check out Understanding Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage – Part IV
Excerpt republished with permission from Covenant Keepers by Pastor Steve Carr, Copyright 2013.