Don’t Marry Him Just Because He Says He’s a Christian!

by | Apr 8, 2019 | Faith | 22 comments

Is he really a Christian? Don't marry him if he doesn't bear fruit

Do we emphasize the wrong thing when talking about what makes someone marriage material?

We receive a lot of emails from people in, frankly, horrible marriage situations. Oftentimes it’s an issue where sin or selfishness has been allowed to roam free for a while in the marriage but the couple is really trying to get their relationship back on the right track. Those emails are often easier to answer–I can point them to some good posts, some good resources, like my Honeymoon Course and 9 Thoughts that Can Change Your Marriage – and there’s a relatively clear answer since it’s two people who want to do the right thing and are open to change.

Do you have a hard time asking for what you want?

You can change the dynamic in your marriage and make talking about your own needs easier!

If your marriage is in a communication rut, it’s time for some change.

But sometimes I get emails that are really heartbreaking. People who are married to spouses who have really really bad character. And it tears me apart because reading these stories all I can think is, “Man, I wish you hadn’t ever married this person to begin with.” And what do you do with that thought? I can’t say that to this couple because it’s not helpful. They are married, and it’s tragic they are married to someone who genuinely does not have any interest in curbing their selfishness for the sake of the marriage or their spouse.

So it got me wondering–what kinds of messages are we telling in the church that so many people can marry these “great Christians” who turn out to be terrible spouses? Obviously at some point we have to make our own informed decisions, but I do worry that sometimes we are told things that aren’t quite true and it causes us to miss some red flags.

My daughter and I tackle this in today’s video:

In the video we talk about this main contrast: emphasizing words or emphasizing actions.

I’m concerned that we’re told to find someone who talks the talk but doesn’t necessarily walk the walk. Because if he or she can sound like they know all the answers, they MUST be a Christian, right?

I don’t agree with that one bit. Yes, we need to understand the Bible. But the fruit of the Spirit is how we identify true believers. And that’s important to understand when looking for someone to marry!

I think too many churches today end up elevating doctrine over character and fruits of the Spirit. That’s wrong. That’s unbiblical. 

I’ve written a ton about this in the past, so I wanted to link to some of my favourite posts if you want to read more about how to find a great spouse:

Choosing a Good Spouse: What to look for

First off, let’s start with the things that you need in a husband!

The 4 Things You Need in a Husband

The 4 things you need in a husband--the rest doesn't matter as much! Marriage advice for dating, engaged, and single women!

These are real things that get to the heart of the matter. A great place to start assessing their character is to watch for these four things!

Is He Worth Falling in Love with?

When Should I Fall in Love? The two things you need in a guy before giving your heart away!

If 4 things to look for was too many, I’ve made it even easier. Here are just 2 things. Just 2. This helps you figure out if a guy is worth dating!

Choosing a Good Husband: Red flags to avoid

So we’ve gone over the good things you want to look for, but what kinds of red flags may show you if he has BAD character? Both are important, so let’s jump into the other half now:

How to really get to know someone’s character

Here’s the truth about figuring out if someone has good character while you’re dating. Because it’s not always easy–but it’s so important. And basically: If you have to convince yourself he’s not the wrong guy for you, then he’s likely the wrong guy for you.

10 Things to ask a friend who is about to get married

If you have a friend who is about to walk down the aisle, and you’re afraid that she may be making a mistake, here are 10 questions that can help her see if her relationship is built on something solid. And it will give her a chance to think through these things, too, if she hasn’t yet in the wedding-planning frenzy!

How to prepare for marriage–not just the wedding!

You may date someone and have a great time, but you can’t really know someone unless you do life together. Too many couples don’t do life; they put on their best behaviour, and so you marry without really understanding what the person is like. Here’s how to identify the red flags!

How can we start a wider conversation about looking at people’s character, not just their beliefs?

In all the church scandals that have been happening in the last  year, there’s one big commonality. Warning signs were there for all to see for years, but people couldn’t believe that these pastors were actually bad men because they gave such great sermons and they had such great doctrine. 

That’s not what Jesus said. In the New Testament, we learn that someone is a Christian not because they believe a whole bunch of stuff about God, but because they come to Him in repentance, confess what they’ve done wrong, and decide to live life with Jesus as Lord. Because of that, they receive the Holy Spirit who bears fruit in their lives.

If someone is bearing no fruit, they aren’t a Christian! Jesus said:

I think too many churches today end up elevating doctrine over character and fruits of the Spirit. That’s wrong. That’s unbiblical.

And later, Paul writes about what really matters in the Christian life:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Character matters. I think too many churches today are too busy trying to be this “exclusive” in club, where we’re the ones that have the special track on what God is really like, and so we end up elevating doctrine over character and fruits of the Spirit. That’s wrong. That’s unbiblical. And that’s often why people will make such bad marriage choices. We’re never taught to judge character. We’re just told: “Make sure he’s a Christian and he knows his Bible!”

That’s important, but it’s not enough. Character matters. Now let’s start teaching that again!

Don't marry him just because he says he's a Christian! Character matters more.


What do you think about the way we talk about what makes a good spouse in the church? What are some of the BEST pieces of advice you ever received? Let’s talk about it in the comments! 

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Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Jane Eyre

    We married later in life (mid-30s), so we had strong views about what we wanted in a partner: faithful and loves God; pro-life; has a good relationship with their family; and intelligent.

    The very first person I dated talked about what a great Christian he was, but he complained endlessly that I wouldn’t have sex with him, treated me like dirt, was condescending to his mom, and, well, the list goes on.

    Now I’m married to a wonderful, even-tempered deacon who teaches Sunday school, tithes, has great relationships with everyone at church, loves his family, and loves God far too much to treat His children badly.

    We do such a bad job, societally, about telling young people what to look for in a spouse. We tell people that their standards are “too high” when they meet people of bad or mediocre character and don’t think a relationship with such a person is wise. We act like doing “everything right” is a guarantee of finding a spouse on one’s own timeline, not God’s timeline.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Completely agree! Glad you ditched the first one, too!

  2. Natalie

    This is a great topic.

    When I first started getting to know my now-husband, he wasn’t a Christian but had more godly characteristics than most of the Christian guys I knew in our youth group/campus Christian group in college. Ultimately, he did end up becoming a Christian while we were dating (right around the time his grandpa died too, so I think the Lord had been working in his life for a long time & that’s just when it all came to fruition). Since I knew his character & that he was now a Christian, I felt comfortable accepting his marriage proposal right after we graduated. Ultimately, I don’t regret my decision; I just wish I had the knowledge I have now of marriage and had had some different, deeper conversations with him before we actually tied the knot.

    However, another point I think is important is that the man you marry should be growing in his faith (as should you). Obviously, we’re all sinners and imperfect. But (especially if he’s a new/young believer) you should be able to see noticeable improvements in his spiritual growth.

    We’ve been married 5 years now, & while he does go to church with me every Sunday, he still isn’t comfortable praying with me (or out loud in general) and we don’t read the Bible together, two things I think are vital to growing spiritually individually and as a couple.

    So the whole “Don’t marry him just because he says he’s a Christian” is true for both those who say they’re a Christian but don’t show much fruit like you discussed in the video, but also for those who say they’re a Christian, show some spiritual fruit, but aren’t actively trying to improve their relationship with Christ on a daily/weekly basis. Ultimately, you want to marry someone who is perpetually on a quest of self-improvement in every aspect of their life, and that includes their spirituality and relationship with Christ. It’s when we become lackadaisical in certain areas of our lives that we start slipping as spouses and as people in general.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very well said, Natalie! I agree completely. If you love Jesus, and a relationship with Jesus is important to you, then it needs to be important to your future husband, too.

    • EM

      That prayer issue is so hard! My husband did pray with me and study the Bible with me when we were dating. But after we got married, it kind of faded away. He became actively resistant to praying with me. Part of it was because even though his family is Christian, they didn’t really pray together outside of church or mealtime so it wasn’t comfortable to him. But we are now realizing it was a deeper issue of him being uncomfortable with true intimacy and being vulnerable. Finally, after 15 years, praying together is becoming more natural as we are working on intimacy in other areas of our marriage. Part of the solution was me offering to pray for his day in the morning, and not expecting him to return the favor right then. Feeling pressure from me always make things more difficult for him.

  3. Kate

    Yes! An article written for us single people.

    I soooo agree with you Sheila. Many of the problematic marriages i often see have me asking myself how could they have ignored the blatant red flags! The way people speak about their spouse when they were dating portray them as Angels and when they marry them somehow they turn into Satan. And i always silently pray, Lord please don’t allow my lust to make me miss these red flags because i don’t want to be miserable like these people.

    The entirety of the Christian faith has always been action (fruit) based walk/living. Head knowledge (Biblical wisdom) is very good, for it’s what guides our actions. You have recommended Gary’s book, Sacred Search, and THAT is the main thing he emphasizes, as you know. Just yesterday at Church an acquaintance of mine got engaged and i KNOW for a fact her marriage will be wonderful (not perfect) because this is the type of thing our church emphasizes. They are doing marriage counseling and they are being taught this very thing there.

    Thank you for this gem of wisdom. I weep for the horrible marriage choices people are making. There is a way out because believers can do ALL things through Christ, but first BOTH must to be willing to, otherwise you reap what you sow.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you, Kate! And I’m glad you find the blog useful, even though you’re not married. That makes me smile!

  4. Lauren

    YES. This is all too-important, especially as we find out that more and more “Christian” marriages are marked by abuse, infidelity, and other horrible sins. I am still in contact with my last boyfriend. He and I broke up so we could work on issues of maturity in ourselves. To grow and learn. He actually initiated it and told me he needs more mentoring and counsel first. I appreciate his honesty (even though it was very painful). I pray God will work through and in this time so we can have a strong foundation to a future marriage.

    I’ve broken up with 2 other boyfriends because of MAJOR character issues. Praise the Lord, He revealed those to me before we became serious. I pray every day, “God, take away anyone who would not be good for me, who wouldn’t push me towards you, with whom I wouldn’t build Your Kingdom effectively.

    My first two boyfriends actually claimed Christ and Christianity, did mission trips, lol…but were living double lives.

    Be very careful. People can be deceptive. We can trust our God.

  5. Mrs. O

    Yes, seeing how they treat their family is huge! (something you don’t get to see if you meet a potential spouse at college) Are they willing to give up their free time to help others, are they humble when they are corrected about something? I met many guys at bible school who had a lot of head knowledge but were lacking a lot of character, and I met my husband after my time there, through church family. He may not be the most “book smart” about the bible, but he has some very good observations when we read together, and he has an amazing heart to serve and help others in behind the scenes roles that a lot of people don’t like to do.

  6. Ruthie

    Well said. I wonder if our social media saturated culture at the moment is affecting how we look and what we look for. Someone who can articulate things about God well on twitter or Facebook or who has the appearance of spiritually having things all together might be lacking in mercy, self control, humility and selflessness. Or they could be a straight up narcissist!

    Something else I have noticed is that in western Christian culture boys and girls have been fed the message of boys will be boys their whole lives. I’m really thankful that address this destructive idea in many of your posts Sheila! My point is that if your guy is a Christian who has grown up saturated in this message you need to be very careful you don’t end up marrying an emotionally stunted, lustful, disrespectful, entitled man who says the right things at bible study but doesn’t allow God to transform his heart.

    There are so many faithful Christian men who walk the walk and believe all the right things but who may not be able to articulate faith in a particularly profound way on a regular basis. I know so many men like this who might get overlooked. (although don’t automatically overlook people who may be good at talking the talk, they may also be walking the walk and could make wonderful spouses!)

    I liked Rebecca’s comment about what a worry it is when someone has all the head knowledge but there’s a disconnect with how they love and live. I mean, I’m totally guilty of that. But if your heart isn’t open to being changed by Jesus then how can you be a spouse growing into Christlike news?

    • Andrea

      You make an excellent point, Ruthie, and Sheila is doing God’s work on this blog, but I would like to say that “boys will be boys” is not just the mentality of western Christian culture, but a world-wide phenomenon that is even worse in some other cultures (like those that don’t have laws against marital rape, which most western countries do). I will say though, that within North America, it is the Christians who give the impression of being the most rape-y precisely because too many of them don’t even believe you can rape your wife.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes, I’d agree, Andrea. It is a worldwide phenomenon, and Christians simply must get this right. It’s terrible that we aren’t the salt of the earth or the light of the world in this regard. (Actually, that’s not fair to say, because I’m Christian, and I’m saying this, and thousands of people read this blog and agree. I think it’s that there’s a large, loud subset of Christians who teach this, but not the majority, and the rest of us just need to speak up and reclaim the ground!)

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Awesome, Ruthie! Totally agree. And this sentence is bang on but grieves me deeply at the same time: “My point is that if your guy is a Christian who has grown up saturated in this message you need to be very careful you don’t end up marrying an emotionally stunted, lustful, disrespectful, entitled man who says the right things at bible study but doesn’t allow God to transform his heart.”

      I’m afraid that our Christian culture is raising boys to be lustful. I find that it is more of a problem in the church than in the world, in terms of being able to treat women with respect. It’s scary, and so, so sad.

    • Ann

      Ah I so wish I’d had someone to say these things so clearly to me in 1992/3 when I was preparing to marry my first husband. Ruthie commented “…you need to be very careful you don’t end up marrying an emotionally stunted, lustful, disrespectful, entitled man who says the right things at bible study but doesn’t allow God to transform his heart.” This is him to a tee! But my extreme low self esteem, desperation to be married (apparently my late grandmother said I was in love with the idea of marriage, not with him. She was right I think but no one said this to me at the time), and desperation to marry a Christian lead me to ignore a field of red flags. Would I have listened though? Maybe not. After 17 years married, I finally got free of him and I’m now married to a wonderful man who despite not currently declaring a faith (he was a Christian in his uni days but faded away) shows more Christian character than my first husband ever did. Even my pastor at the time said that! He supports me and stands alongside me as I worship in church every week. Many people I have met in recent years who knew my first husband have not been surprised that it didn’t work out, nor that I had a terrible time.

      BTW, my first husband is now working through a lot of things as he is married to a much stronger woman than I ever was, who is making him make the changes.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I’m glad, Ann, that you’re with a wonderful man now who truly loves you. And I’m glad your first husband is waking up as well. Isn’t it interesting (and sad) that men will often do that for the NEXT wife, but not with you? I have seen that in my extended family as well.

  7. Tiffany

    Yes! I love this and hope people listen! I struggle with the after. What do you do when they STILL get married and then have problems! I want to be supportive but have trouble with the ‘well if you would’ve listened and not gotten married in the first place’ mentality because I don’t see many options for someone of bad character!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      When they do have bad character, it is very difficult. One person cannot make a marriage work, all on their own, when the other has no intention of being loving or selfless, and only takes. Each individual situation varies, but get good licensed counseling. Pray hard. And ask for guidance.

  8. Lily

    I loved this post! A very dear friend of mine is getting married soon, and this post puts words to the fear and dread I have about the man she is marrying. All along, I have felt that something is very wrong, that she is looking for someone who meets all of the basic criteria (Saved? Check. Knowledgeable about theology? Check.) rather than someone who is actively growing in his faith and with whom she can grow. As someone who has grown up in the church and who has attended Christian college where “ring by a spring” is a serious stress for some people, I believe this is something that is not talked about enough. Sometimes with my peers (I am in my mid-twenties), I feel that I am the only one who is looking for more than a guy who is just saved. To me, that’s the very minimum, not the ultimate standard. Honestly, I think this applies to close friends as well, and not just romantic relationships.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Absolutely, Lily! I hope you’re able to talk to her about it. I’d just ask her questions, like, “what in his life shows you that he’s growing in Christ?” “Can you tell me what fruits of the Spirit he demonstrates, and give me some examples?” Stuff like that. See if that helps!

  9. Lisa

    I am the mother of 5 children and I am trying to teach them it is OKAY to be single. That finding “the one” and getting married will not solve your problems, make your life easier, be more fun than being single, cure loneliness, etc. etc. etc.

    I’m not against young marriage but I will not encourage it. I’ve seen far too many people marry young (which I would define as prior to age 25) and their spouse met all the right criteria but they were both too young to really know the other’s true character or know what they wanted out of life. Almost everyone under the age of 25 thinks they know how the world works and want they want out of life. They think they have it figured out. The divorce rate is much higher when people marry young and I think it is because young people haven’t seen enough of life.

    I think we need to support the single people in the church without assuming they’re just DYING to get married. If you are okay being single, if you know how to seek fulfillment on your own, you are in a much better place to choose a spouse and be a spouse.

    I did marry young (age 23) and I thought I knew what I wanted. Now I’m 46 and I have regrets. I don’t regret choosing my husband but I wish we had waited a few more years to marry.

  10. Ebenezer

    I totally agree with it. You made an excellent point. People should know about this. Well done!

  11. Diana Winkler

    Amen. The church culture seems to push young people to get married too quickly because they aren’t having sex. So many people get married without really knowing someone. Go on a trip with someone. Help someone out of a house. You really show your true colors in stressful situations! Look at his cell phone and computer to see what he is looking at. How does he treat family he doesn’t like? Does he have private time with God? Being a Christian and knowing the Bible isn’t enough. Does he spend his money wisely? Do you have similar viewpoints on important issues? So many things to list, but the important thing is to take the time to really know a person before marriage. Everyone has flaws, including ourselves. Are we working on our shortcomings with God’s help?


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