Do you need to be a Christian to have a good marriage?

Last week I wrote a post on what makes a good marriage. When I was initially sketching out my points, I instinctively wanted to include something about letting Jesus lead your marriage, or having the power of the Holy Spirit in your life. I feel like Jesus is a huge part of my marriage, because I know that I live and breathe in Him, and it’s hard to separate Him from my own experience of my life with Keith.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I couldn’t put those points in that article, for one simple reason: I know a lot of people who weren’t Christians who have great marriages. 

I think Christians make a mistake when we think that the only way a person can do the right thing is to know Jesus.

God created humanity in His image. And in Romans 1, Paul writes about how people can sense different elements of God’s character from nature alone. He writes in the next chapter about people who have never heard the message of Jesus but who still instinctively act as if they have. And all that leaves me with this conclusion:

All of us are made in the image of God. When we do the right thing, we’re reflecting Jesus, whether we realize it or not.

Many people are walking through this earth reflecting the image of God–being image bearers, so to speak. They may not know it. They may never call it that, or even vehemently deny it. But when we act with love, we reflect God, because God is love.

And that’s why, I think, non-Christians can have great marriages.

Now let me add another layer to this.

A while ago in the comments, we were talking about setting boundaries when husbands cheat, and someone made a list of things that shouldn’t be tolerated, and in that list was child porn. I replied to that comment off-handedly, saying something to the effect of, “oh, and if your husband uses child porn, call the police! Real children are being harmed, and the police need to know so that they can potentially rescue them. And this stuff needs to be turned over to law enforcement.” Well, a commenter was super offended by that, and wrote back. I told the story on Facebook, and it resulted in hundreds of comments in response:

My Facebook Thread:

Should you report a husband who uses child porn?

In a comment recently, I said off-handedly to someone who had used child porn as an example, that if you find your husband using child porn, report it! The police need to know so they can rescue as many kids as possible, and that’s a serious crime.

A woman commented back this: “Report them? Your spouse shares something with you and instead of getting them treatment you report them? You have no clue what marriage is. You have no loyalty to your spouse. I am frankly shocked. I will look elsewhere on advise for a Godly marriage.”

Let’s talk about a godly marriage, shall we? A godly marriage is one where we pursue GOD, not just marriage. If we cover up a serious crime out of loyalty to our spouse, then we are making marriage an idol. Let’s remember that Sapphira got to choose between doing what was right and covering for her husband. She chose covering for her husband, and God struck her down. Pretty clear what side God was on!

Child porn is one of the worst scourges in our lifetime. Real children are being raped. It needs to be prosecuted.

This idea that loyalty to our husbands is the end all and be all is the same root that makes abuse so difficult to address. People close ranks out of loyalty, rather than doing what is right. Churches don’t address the abuse in their midst because “it might ruin our witness.” Families don’t speak up about the creepy uncle who hurts kids because “it’s not right to speak ill of family.” Well, you know what? God sides with the abused.

Whenever you choose image and appearance over truth, you make an idol of something, and God is not pleased. In everything, seek Jesus first, and do what Jesus would do.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26

While the vast majority of commenters completely agreed, asking, “why is this even a question?”, I did get some comments that I found concerning. Several comments hit this tone:

Let’s all remember that we would be the ones not only watching child porn but making it if it wasn’t for the Lord. The Holy Spirit restrains some from being as wicked as they could be. I know it can be tempting but we have no room to look down on others. That could be us but by the grace of God!

What she’s essentially saying is that without Jesus, we’re all scumbags who would watch child porn. (There’s also a huge problem with sin-levelling in this comment, by saying that all sin is equal. But that’s a huge topic for another post!).

Now, I realize the theology behind it: without God, our works are all as filthy rags. I get that. But the simple truth is that (thankfully!), most non-Christians do not watch child porn, let alone make it, and most would never, ever think of such a thing. Many even commented in reply and were quite offended!

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I think we need another way of looking at why we do good things.

People who don’t know God are capable of doing good things. In fact, I would say that many people I know who don’t personally believe in God are far kinder, loving, and more generous than many Christians I know. To say that the reason we do good things is only because we know Jesus is far too simplistic.

We do good things because God is good; God made humanity; and we are created with “eternity in our hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) so that we know what is good and what is evil.

That doesn’t mean that everybody knows that. Many can silence their conscience. But humanity is in the image of God, and God is love, and so we should not be surprised if non-Christians act in a loving way!

When we talk as if non-Christians can’t do anything right, though, because they don’t know Jesus, we sound crazy and judgmental.

Telling a non-Christian something like:

I’m so glad I’m a Christian because otherwise I could be watching child porn!

Is not really a recipe for them wanting to come to know Christ. Remember, people can deny God and still be image bearers. That isn’t a good reason for becoming a Christian–so that then you won’t be a raging rapist or a Hitler in training. If I were to sum up why people should want to know Jesus, I would talk about these aspects:

  • You know that there is a purpose to your life
  • You feel a sense of belonging. You know someone knows your whole life, and is watching over you, and cares.
  • You feel deeply loved.
  • You have a mission now–a reason to keep going. You realize that you are infinitely important in the broader scheme of things.
  • You live with God’s power within you, so that you can grow, and you can change for the better.
  • You know that this life on earth is not all that there is; there’s a greater future for you, where you’ll get to know God better and be perfect in the way that you were actually made to be.

I think we would have a much easier time talking to those who don’t know Christ if we acknowledged that many of them act better than many who do claim Christ. I think telling those people, “You know, I believe God looks at your marriage and it makes Him so happy,” will do a lot more to lead people to Christ than telling them, “Do you realize that without Christ, you could be Hitler?”

God is pleased when people do the right thing, whether or not they know Him.

Think about the story of Jonah. God sent Jonah to talk to the people of Nineveh because the people were horrendously violent. He told them to repent or God would smite them. They repented, and God relented. But nowhere in that book does it say that they understood who God was or started practising the Law (which was how people knew God back then). They simply stopped being violent, and that made God happy.

Or take the parable of the Good Samaritan! Jesus pointed out that the Samaritan, who did not know God, actually acted more like God than the Levite and the priest who DID know God. And Jesus told us to go and be like that Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37).

I think Christians make a mistake when we think that the only way a person can do the right thing is to know Jesus.
And to say that the reason we do good things is only because we know Jesus is far too simplistic.

So why do I follow Jesus?

I’ll leave you with two quotes–one from the apostle Peter, and one from C.S. Lewis.

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John 6:67-68

So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

And here’s C.S. Lewis:

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

Knowing Jesus opens up life. I am forever grateful. I am growing. But I don’t need everyone who doesn’t know Jesus to be terrible and awful to give my faith meaning. I think that’s a better perspective.

Non Christians Can Have Good Marriages - Do Only Christians Have Good Marriages?

What do you think? Can you act right without God? Let’s talk in the comments!  

Check out these posts on safe versus unsafe counselling practices: 

SheilaSidebarAboutMe - Do Only Christians Have Good Marriages? Sheila Wray Gregoire has been married for 27 years and happily married for 22! She loves traveling around North America with her hubby in their RV, giving her signature "Girl Talk" about sex and marriage. And she's written 8 books. About sex and marriage. See a theme here? Plus she knits. Even in line at the grocery store.
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