Dear Young Romantic,
A playful smirk can be hard to shirk – no matter who it comes from. A “harmless” smile from a handsome guy can often be memorable – regardless of whether he is a believer or not.
In your last letter you mentioned to me a romantic interest who is becoming hard to resist in your mind. All the right factors seem to be in place – cute charm, dreamy looks, social suave, a pleasant appeal and even conservative convictions. The only thing missing is… Jesus.
They don’t necessarily oppose Jesus, he just isn’t present. There is not a hostility towards God, the Bible, church, or even moral living. It just is not something they talk about much or “get into.”
There even seems to be a remaining shell of religion from times past. Perhaps dating a Christian is just what they need? They are so close to the truth and they love so many good things the Bible supports, surely they would be compelled to follow Christ fully if they were enticed by a godly companion.
I am glad you are wanting to reach out with the gospel, but I am not convinced this is the way to go about evangelizing. I don’t think the way to share Christ is through candle lit dinners and gushy love notes. The way of the great commission isn’t “flirt to convert.” Dating an unbeliever is actually one of the most unloving acts we can do towards them. I believe there is a better way to display the love of Christ and serve the lost.
Here are three truths I would like for you to consider:
True love is soul deep.
What do you find romantically attractive in someone who is not a believer? It would be unbiblical and frankly ridiculous if I were to say that all unbelievers are repulsive. Every human is made in the image of God and bears his beautiful thumbprint. Unbelievers can be kind, generous, endearing, and attractive. This is not the issue. The issue is: do you understand true love? If the Scripture is true that God is love, then how can someone truly understand love apart from knowing Christ intimately? (1 John 4:8)
Take a good look at them. What makes them tick? What consumes them? Is it a red-hot love for Christ and his Scripture? Do the pages of the Bible leap out to them with joy and delight? Are they moved to tears by the mercy and wonder of God?
Do you catch them washing the feet of those who can never repay them this side of heaven? Do you find them praying for you and have you seen God answer their prayers? Are they willing to be spit-upon and laughed at for the sake of the cross? Are they willing to stand for the oppressed even when it is not popular? Has the glory of God set their heart ablaze with passion to see Christ reign over every human heart?
True love is soul deep. You want the kind of love that still stirs at old wrinkles. You want to clasp hands in the nursing home with a committed believer who has lived vigorously for the glory of God. An unbeliever doesn’t have what it takes to keep cultivating long term attraction to their wrinkles. Charm is deceitful, and beauty is fleeting, but a man or woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Dating isn’t the place for darkness.
God is the author of romance and to be in a romantic relationship is to involved in how God created this world. God is the fiercest lover of all and his love is the purest we can possible imagine. Romance is one of the most intimate pursuits we can know as humans. Since it is so deeply personal and life altering, there should be no room for darkness in our dating life. What do light and darkness have in common? Nothing. Light is designed to put away darkness. (2 Corinthians 6:14)
We are called to be lights to the world, but we are not called to let darkness into our lives – particularly in the areas in which we covenant together. To date an unbeliever is to invite darkness into a room in which only light is meant to dwell.
It is one thing to share a meal with an unbelieving friend, but it is a completely different matter to contemplate swapping vows of marriage together. The believer has nothing in common with the unbeliever regarding the most important reality in the universe. Dating an unbeliever brings shadows and dimness where there should be brightness and clarity. This leads to the final point to consider.
Romance isn’t offensive
Flirting to convert ultimately fails because it is not offensive enough. The Apostle Paul says the cross is offensive (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). The cross is gruesome because it calls the world to forsake all and treasure God first and foremost. The cross requires repentance on our part – this is offensive to our selfish desires.
But Holding hands is not hideous. Red roses are not repulsive. Whispering “sweet nothings” is not offensive.
Dating an unbeliever is actually one of the most unloving acts we can do towards them. It is actually the opposite of evangelism. It says, I value you more than I value what Christ says. It brings confusion where there should be a clear call to repentance. I am not saying that God cannot use romance to bring about the salvation of a soul. Our God is in the heaven and he does whatever he pleases (Psalm 115:3). But for every person who is saved through an intentional dating relationship, it is in spite of it and not because of it.
Evangelistic dating is dangerous because it can exalt the gift over the Giver. Who wouldn’t want to convert in order to marry the person they are crazy about? Who wouldn’t want to say “yes” to Jesus in order for their significant other to say “yes” to them?
God doesn’t want to be a carrot on a stick. He wants people to come and die at his feet in order to find life. (Luke 14:26)
What should you do if you are in a relationship with an unbeliever?
I highly recommend seeking advice from your local church in how to best end the relationship. The call of the hour is to speak the truth in love to the one you care about (Ephesians 4:15). The call of repentance must be clear and you must not be the prize if they turn from sin. You will need to spend time explaining the gospel and pointing out the deep chasm of worldviews between the two of you. They need to know how different you think on the most important issues in life and why it is a deal breaker. Ending a relationship does not mean ending a friendship, but it does mean ending all romance. It will serve them best to point them to Christ instead of continuing to kindle feelings for each other.
Who knows? This obedience to God may be the means Christ uses to revolutionize their life for the gospel. If so, praise God and don’t immediately move back into the romantic relationship. Growth requires time and baby trees need more than one night to bear fruit.
That is all I can write for now, I look forward to hearing more from you soon.
The content for this post has been updated and expanded in Letters to a Romantic: On Dating which will be released in 2017 by P&R Publishing.