What’s the Difference Between a “Christian Marriage” and a Good Marriage?

by | Aug 19, 2023 | Theology of Marriage and Sex | 99 comments

Difference between Christian marriage and a good marriage
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How do you have a Christian marriage?

And is a healthy Christian marriage different from a healthy marriage of two non-Christians?

I had this comment after our podcast last week looking at the quest for a biblical marriage:

You guys do a wonderful job showing what biblical marriage is NOT but sometimes I’d love just a clear and concise discussion on what a good Christian marriage actually looks like. My daughters are starting to get to the age I need to have these conversations about what to look for in a future husband and I’m having a hard time articulating it.

I think that last sentence is so interesting:

She has a hard time articulating what a Christian marriage is.

Let me tell you a story. Back in 2001, a sociologist named Sally Gallagher decided to do a huge study on how evangelicals actually do marriage. She reviewed the big Christian marriage books of the time, plus used comprehensive survey data and focus groups. (sound familiar?)

What she found was that the vast majority of evangelicals considered male headship an intrinsic part of a Christian marriage. However, the vast majority of them did not act out male headship at all, but instead practiced what Gallagher termed “pragmatic egalitarianism.” Their marriages really looked not that much different from healthy secular marriages. They just talked about them differently.

Gallagher concluded that the whole idea of “male headship” was about claiming a distinctive identity rather than it was actually doing marriage differently. It was very important to Christians to be seen as doing marriage differently from “the world.” But in practice, the healthy relationships actually looked pretty much the same.

Incidentally, this is what we found in our research for The Great Sex Rescue too! Most Christians who say they believe in male headship do not act it out. And when they do? As we explained in chapter 2 of The Great Sex Rescue, terrible things happened.

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What if our reasons for wanting a “Christian marriage” are off?

As Gallagher showed, it was about a quest for identity. Evangelicals wanted to be sure we were different from “the world.” We saw life as us-vs-them. So there has to be some distinctive way that we are doing things differently so that we can show that we are Christians!

Have you ever heard anyone say something like:

“Loving your wife as Christ loved the church is a huge ask, and we can’t do it in our own strength. I could never love my life properly and selflessly without Jesus’ strength.”

This sounds super holy. But think about what it is insinuating: You cannot be a good husband without being a Christian. Thus anyone who is not a Christian is not actually able to properly love their wife, and will never have a great marriage. 

I actually hate it when people imply this because it’s just so obviously untrue. All of us know people who aren’t Christians who have amazing marriages–often better marriages than the marriages we see in the church.

Can we let go of the idea that only those who claim Christ can have good relationships? 

Can we instead believe that there are certain universal truths about human flourishing that pertain whether one is a Christian or not? And when someone aligns themselves with these truths, and acts in accordance with them, they can have a flourishing marriage even if they don’t know Christ?

Romans 1 tells us that the truth about God is evident for all to see even just in creation. Even if you’ve never heard of God. And Romans 2 tells us that many who do not know God still have “the law on their hearts”:

14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)

Romans 2:14-15

Jesus is the Truth. People can actually know what healthy relationships look like even if they don’t go to church and don’t know their Bible because we all have “eternity written in our hearts.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We all have consciences.

Now, when we know Jesus our hearts are softened and transformed, so that it should become easier to do the things of God. The Holy Spirit comes and gives us the power to to live a life following Jesus, and heals many of our wounds, and sanctifies us (makes us more and more like Jesus). 

With Jesus, we become a healthier version of ourselves. A better version of ourselves. But health is still health.

Think about it this way: Are you a good friend, or a Christian friend? Are you a good employer, or a Christian employer? Are you a good parent, or a Christian parent?

What if there isn’t really a difference between a good relationship and a Christian relationship? When people who don’t know Christ love and forgive and cherish and act selflessly, they are living out the Jesus way, even if they don’t acknowledge it.

The only way to true health is through the way of Christ, whether people know it or not, because the way of Christ is Truth. So when people have healthy relationships, they are already doing things in the way of Jesus!

So maybe we, as Christians, should stop trying so hard to define what it means to have a “Christian marriage” and start just trying to be a Christian in our marriages. What if we simply act like Christ, and practice the fruits of the Spirit

And when people who don’t know Christ also do that, they have a marriage that glorifies Christ, too, even if they don’t realize it. They’re aligning themselves with the Way and the Truth and the Life. 

Centering Jesus makes you healthy, because Jesus is the Way (he models the path our life should take); the Truth (when we follow Him, we’re in alignment with the way that life works, and thus we’re doing what brings health); and the Life (he gives us power to have life abundantly).

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When we align ourselves with Truth, we get healthier.

But when we’re so sure that the only way to do marriage right is to do it differently from the world, and do it in a way that no non-Christian would ever try, then ironically we often end up walking away from health. If we’re so sure that we have to look completely different, then we can end up hurting ourselves. We don’t want to mimic what the world thinks is healthy, so we have to work AGAINST what people know is healthy.

But Jesus is the Truth, people! Health is health. In practical terms, there isn’t a difference between a Jesus-centered relationship and a healthy relationship, except for the spiritual practices in that relationship.

If you want to know what the Christian way of doing marriage is, and how we can show the world we’re different, we don’t do it through gender roles or hierarchies or anything like that.

I’ll remind you what Jesus said:

They will know we follow Jesus by our love.

That’s it. By our love. And when we love, we align ourselves with God’s purposes in the world, that His will is done “on earth as it is in heaven.” And what is His will? That we be transformed into the likeness of Jesus (Romans 8:29), that all of us look more and more like Christ. That we manifest the fruits of the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. That we care for others as we care for ourselves. That we bear each other’s burdens. That we spur one another on to love and good deeds.

That’s it. 

And those are all things that emotionally healthy people who don’t know Christ will also be doing, and that doesn’t pose a threat to us as Christians. 

Instead, we can celebrate when people do things the Jesus way! Do you not think that it makes God happy when people treat each other well and love each other and cherish each other, even if they don’t know Jesus? Isn’t he still happy that his children are treating each other well?


Are we trying to find the “secret sauce” of Christian marriage?

I sometimes wonder if what we really want is something that makes us different from the world more than we want something that makes us look like Jesus. So we want to know what makes our marriage actually CHRISTIAN. And if a pastor said that a Christian marriage means every morning you get up and spin 10 times to the right and say “ooglygoogly”, some people may actually believe it!

There is no secret sauce. There is simply looking more like Christ and having the mind of Christ in our marriage.

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What if we could calm down about “Christian marriages”?

What if the reason we can’t figure out what a Christian marriage is, as opposed to a healthy secular marriage, is because we see the world too much in terms of us vs. them, and forget that where there is truth, life, health, goodness, the world aligning itself with Christ, even if it doesn’t realize it? And that’s something to be celebrated?

My plea is that we stop focusing on having a “Christian marriage”, where we “own the libs”, and we start focusing on how to be Christians in our marriages. 

Love. Spur one another on to love and good deeds. Have the mind of Christ. That’s how you have a Christian marriage.

Right now I’m writing the first draft of the marriage book that Keith and I are writing with Baker books, and I’ve been wrestling with all of these questions and immersing myself in a ton of research journals.

And all the research says the same thing: Emotional health and wholeness and flourishing and treating one another well makes a great marriage. Christians do tend to do better at this than the general population–but many in the general population have good marriages too.

And when Christians focus too much on hierarchy, then we lose the flourishing.

I’m having a lot more fun writing this than I thought I would! I hope you love it when it’s finished–but it won’t be for quite a while!

Difference between Christian marriage and good marriage or healthy marriage

What do you think? Why are we so insistent on finding the “secret sauce” of Christian marriage? Let’s talk in the comments!

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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. Mara R

    Back in the day, when I was confronted by people who wanted to use Ephesians 5 (and similar verses) as the trouble-shooting portion on marriage in the Big Owners Manual from God I would point out that perhaps backing up a bit and applying the Two Greatest Commandments and The Golden Rule first might be a better route to start with a troubled marriage.

    They looked at me like I had lobsters crawling out of my ears.

    They couldn’t see that skipping over the Author and Finisher of our faith and rejecting The Chief Cornerstone was their biggest problem. all the answers were in wives submit.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire


    • Jane Eyre

      Mara, you’re amazing.

  2. Codec

    I find it fascinating how you bring up the idea of finding a didtinct identity away from the world.

    It reminds me of what happened with the Satanic Panic and how people got angry at bands like Black Sabbath or Alice Cooper or even Stryper failing to even try and understand. The results would have been different if they did.

    It is funny really John Gottman, Alice Cooper, King Solomon, and Gomez Adam’s all talk about what make marriage and life in many ways successful. Find things to praise in your loved ones, have fun, be willing to endure alongside each other. Those are solid principles.

    I think many today are feeling void of meaning. When you are void of meaning some choose the void as their meaning.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Well said!

      • Codec

        Thank you.

        I find it amazing that Jesus is able to relate to people across time and different cultures. He is just as profound to the Carolingian empire which helped to inspire the mythos of King Arthur as he is to metalheads. He is as profound to fantasy fans as he is to classical musicians. I find that amazing.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          It absolutely is! (And bonus points for knowing Charlemagne was the “Carolingian empire.”!)

          • Codec

            Thank you.

  3. Connie Burgess

    Church people generally have a problem with discerning counterfeit from opposite. Like, sex is used for evil so celibate must be spiritual. Mennonites: pianos are used in bars, so instruments are evil. To find where satan lurks, we need to look for what looks nearly the same…that is counterfeit. For example, the counterfeit of belonging is fitting in. I could give lots of examples.

    • Codec

      Ozzie Osbourne calls himself the prince of darkness so he must be a bad guy is the nonsense logic that is being employed there.

      There is a bit in the Screwtape Letters where Screwtape talks about the idea of making demons seem ridiculous by using the image of a cartoon devil. If something looks silly it is not worth thinking about is the lie screwtape tells. Last I checked judging a book by its cover is a bad idea.

  4. Angharad

    The problem is with our use of the word ‘Christian’. ‘Christian’ marriage should mean either marriage between two Christians or a marriage ceremony where vows that reflect the Christian faith are used. Now, it means something vague that reflects the speaker’s view of what marriage should be like.

    My husband and I are both Christians and were married in a church ceremony. On this basis, we have a ‘Christian’ marriage. That is a fact, and doesn’t change. But how Christlike our marriage is…that changes on a daily basis, depending on how closely we are walking with Jesus!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire


  5. Nessie

    I don’t think it’s wrong that Christians want their marriages to look better to the “world” so long as they actually ARE better… but fully agree that simply does not mean that secular couples have less loving marriages. Like so many things, if you have to diminish another group to raise up your own, you’re doing it wrong. (I noticed on a Women’s Day once that many people were publicly “exhaulting” women by bashing men. To me, that isn’t exhaulting women. Quite the opposite- they were instead lowering the bar.)

    A Christian friend is married to a non-Christian and they have way better dynamics than my marriage of 2 Christians. I think Christ-like marriages *should* be better because they not only can love as well as secular couples but they also know the deep love and forgiveness of God which- in theory at least- should increase the depth of love they are able to give. If Christians want their marriages to look more loving, then they need to up their game- they actually have to *be* filled with even more extravagent love instead of rules followed. That rarely happens imo.

    Love what Codec shared, especially. “When you are void of meaning some choose the void as their meaning.”

    Gotta admit, spinning and saying ooglygoogly just sounds fun, though not for virture-signaling purposes, lol.

    • Codec

      Thank you.

      • Codec

        On another note I too hate this idea we see in our culture today that good relations between the sexes is some screwed up zero sum game where if women are to do better then men must suffer and Vis versa.

        Look as a man I want women to do well because in my own life I saw my mother be abused and that messed me up. When I see people like Andrew Tate say that being a man is to have women at your beck and call I think he is being a fool. Tate thinks he is some kind of Conan the Barbarian esque figure of masculine strength in the face of a world gone mad. He is not and as a fan of Conan the Barbarian Conan would be appalled by the way Tate acts. Conan was a barbarian but he was also honorable and he despised those who abused women and children. Some may point to the story “The Frost Kings Daughter” to try and say otherwise but in that case he was being charmed by a fae princess who was trying to seduce and murder him it just so happened that Conan was way stronger than she thought and she realized quickly that she messed up. The frost queen winds up breaking her own charm to save her life and Conan points out that he felt very uncomfortable under the charm and that he find it appalling that she would manipulate people like that. He also as king realized that violence’s could not possibly solve every problem and in many ways could make things worse.

  6. Taylor

    Being a parent who’s a Christian, rather than a Christian parent. Being a Christian in your marriage, rather than a Christian marriage. I can’t even tell you how freeing this concept is.

  7. EOF

    The idea of a “Christian marriage” is off to at its very base, as Christ never married! He also rarely addressed marriage, and certainly didn’t speak about ROLES, nor did he glorify the Roman household codes. Plus, his disciples were either single or living as single while following him. We read about Peter’s mother-in-law, so the assumption is that he was married. Yet I’m not aware of his wife ever being mentioned. And Paul said it was better to remain unmarried, if already single.

    When I first got married, my particular denomination took the us-vs-them thing a step further. How often people claimed that nobody in our denomination had ever gotten a divorce! (We really have it down! Look at us!) Then later people started saying that the only divorces in our movement were when one spouse left God. (Wow, we’re so spiritual that only wicked unbelievers cause divorce!) Thankfully, nobody spouts that nonsense anymore.

    When I first got married, I assumed that a Christian or Biblical marriage meant that we would live as Christians in marriage. Makes sense, right? How wrong I was! Imagine my shock when I was told that my husband was my new authority, that I couldn’t please God without first pleasing my husband, that I needed to submit to him even though he was screaming profanities at me, that I had to learn to like the kind of sex that he liked no matter how I felt about it, etc.

    These harmful teachings and lies need to go!!

    • Tim

      Peter’s wife is mentioned indirectly in 1 Corinthians:
      “Do we not have the right to the company of a believing wife, like the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?” (1Cor 9:5, NET)

      (Cephas is the Greek form of Peter)

      Obviously that doesn’t contradict your general point, just a mildly interesting bit of Bible trivia.

      That aside, I’m really sorry to hear how your husband treated you. I hope things have improved!

      • EOF

        Intersting, Tim! I never noticed that. I always appreciate learning something new. 🙂

        As for my marriage, it’s a road of hills and valleys. Overall, things have come a long way — but at the same time there’s still so far to go too.

  8. Lindsey

    Sheila, a biblical marriage (looking at how God designed marriage to be) SHOULD look different from the world. Most obvious point being the world says it’s ok for a man to marry a man and a woman to marry a woman. God designed marriage to be between a man and a woman. It isn’t an us versus them issue. It is a Truth versus non- truth issue. We are to be in the world, not of it. This is not an example, as you say, of walking away from health when we do marriage differently from the world. If this is something you disagree on, you disagree with God’s Word.
    The woman’s question was about what a biblical marriage looks like. Should we not go look at what the Bible says about husbands and wives here? “They will know we follow Jesus by our love.” That’s the Christian way of doing marriage? That’s a piece of it. What about the rest of the Bible that talks specifically to marriage then? We should look at all of it.
    People can exemplify healthy relationships having never heard the Bible or gone to church, yes, but human conscience is not fail proof as our moral guide either. An unbeliever could have a ‘good’ marriage but what is good to them or to us? An unbeliever is not looking more like Christ or having the mind of Christ. That is not a transformation happening in an unbeliever’s life. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ Jesus he is a new creation” 2 Corinthians 5:17. I don’t know what the message about “centering” and “aligning” is about. Are you saying unbelievers are able to align and center themselves to Jesus based upon their actions? That is not the Gospel message, just like last week when you said the entire Bible is about doing the right thing. The Gospel is not about what we can do. These are concerning statements. I fear Sheila you have completely missed the Gospel.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Lindsey, any time someone does something good, they’re aligning themselves with Jesus, whether they realize it or not. Jesus is Goodness. He is Truth. He is Light. All light is from Him.

      This does not have anything to do with salvation, but rather that when something good happens, it’s from God.

      As for marriage, the only instructions about marriage specifically are given in the household codes (as we talked about last week), and are about wives submitting to husbands and husbands loving their wives, with the umbrella message being that we all submit to one another. That’s really it. And that can be summed up in love. We are to have the mind of Christ (Philippians 2) and we are to demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). We are to be transformed into the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29). I’m wondering why you think those don’t apply to marriage? They tell us what love looks like. They expand on all of that. And, yes, non-Christians can also show that kind of love. You surely know some, don’t you?

      Again, we’re not talking about salvation. We’re just talking about common sense. Think of all the non-Christians you know. Do any of them have good relationships? How would you describe those relationships? Likely they’re characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, right? Because health is health. It’s not like some things are healthy for Christians, and some things are healthy for non-Christians. No, health is health. And when we see health in the wider world, we should celebrate it! And we should not say, “okay, they’re healthy, but they’re not Christian, so to be a Christian, I have to look different from that!”

      No, when people are doing things right, that’s great! Celebrate it. But health is health. And our measuring stick is always the same: the person of Christ.

      • Codec

        Jesus himself said that even bad people could give good gifts to their children. If even a bad person could do that how much more could God do for you with his gifts?

        It rains on the just and unjust alike.

      • Lindsey

        Sheila, you said it doesn’t have to do with salvation “but rather that when something good happens it’s from God.” But in the post you were talking about when unbelievers “do that”, as in deeds, they align with Jesus. You can see how it sounds works based, because of something they did. That paired with you saying the Bible is about doing the right thing could raise some red flags on your view of salvation, which is why I brought it up.

        If you read my above comment, you’ll see that I said love is a piece of the puzzle but not all of it. So I never said those other things didn’t apply. It’s just that when people ask a question about biblical marriage I expect to at minimum talk about the verses the Bible addresses regarding husbands and wives. We don’t just say it’s all summed up in love. We look at what God has given us and revealed to us through His entire Word, especially when we see specifics on the topic in Scripture. In your comment you have at least gone in to greater detail of other supporting verses so I do appreciate that.

        As far as non Christian relationships, no, to be honest, I can’t think of anyone that I know in that position that exhibits the fruits of the Spirit or would have what I would consider a good relationship. Unfortunately, they are all heart breaking situations. Those individuals are not being led by the Spirit, so I do not expect to see fruits of the Spirit in them.

        Non believers can ‘do good’ but it is not done selflessly. It is done in vain. Look at stories of the Pharisees. Matthew 23:27-28. Things can look great on the outside. An unbelieving married couple can look loving and be kind, but God cares about the heart. What you are saying is that a biblical marriage doesn’t have to look different than that. That is a contradiction of God’s Word Sheila.

        I agree if couples are doing good, whatever standard that might be, that’s great. It is something ENTIRELY different to say that a biblical marriage does not or should not look different from the world. If we are truly being transformed into the image of Christ (which again would not be the case for an unbeliever) then we will appear different. I can’t take a homosexual marriage and say that couple is submitting to one another and they have so much love so that must mean they are healthy and my marriage can look the same. No, we both know that homosexual marriage is not biblical (at least I hope). They are not being led by the Spirit. It’s not about health. It’s about God’s standards. There are differences. We should want our marriage to look different from that. That’s what God has called us to. If you don’t see that, you do not have an understanding of the Bible, and respectfully, should not be teaching others about the Bible.

        • sunnynorth

          Just to clarify, the question was about a CHRISTIAN marriage, not a biblical marriage. I don’t think those two things are necessarily the same.

          And saying that non-believers cannot do good things selflessly is ridiculous and untrue. It is not done in vain just because they have not declared Jesus as their Lord. This is something that we have to wrestle with as believers: why do some non-believers reflect Christ in their actions far more than people who claim to be Christians? I don’t know that there is an easy answer for that, but to deny that reality is to be willfully blind. Maybe you haven’t seen it, but many people have, and have you not seen it because you’re busy assigning selfish motives to people who don’t believe what you believe?

          You are taking the Pharisees out of context and misrepresenting them – they do not represent unbelievers. The verses you cited describes who they are: teachers of the law, who lived in a specific time and place. They identified as religious by definition!

          Non-believers who have marriages that appear good are not hypocrites and to say that even though they appear loving and kind God knows their hearts, implying that they are not loving and kind, is absolute nonsense. Do some marriages appear loving and kind that are not? Yes, and if you’ve read any of Sheila’s work you know that many “biblical” marriages are exactly that. There are many beautiful and good marriages in this world, and sometimes the people in those marriages are Christians and sometimes they are not.

          All people are made in the image of God, and everything good comes from God. They do not have to be followers of Jesus for these things to show up in their lives. You are falling into the trap of defining “biblical” marriage by opposition to the secular, not by how a marriage’s fruit and sacrificial love represents Christ.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Well said! This sums it up: “You are falling into the trap of defining “biblical” marriage by opposition to the secular, not by how a marriage’s fruit and sacrificial love represents Christ.”

            Exactly. We need to look at the fruit of a marriage, and non-Christians can be good. They just can.

            (Also, in terms of believers vs. unbelievers, I agree with you. The Pharisees would have been believers in those days and the Romans would have been the unbelievers. But Jesus praised some Romans too).

          • Lindsey

            So there is no difference in the hearts of a believer versus an unbeliever?

          • Lisa Johns

            Apparently not…!

          • Lindsey

            sunny north, I believe the rules in the comment section are to keep things respectful. A large part of what Sheila does is call out flaws in other people’s messages. I know it can seem weird to have the one who normally does the vetting to be vetted but the mission is the same. It’s good to ask questions and for clarification. If there is error in the message then it should be called out. This is no different from what Sheila does.

            As Christians do we not look to the Bible as our guidepost for marriage and life in general?

            Why do you say the Pharisees were believers?

            I define marriage by looking at what the Word of God says about marriage. Based on what the Bible says, do you think the life of a believer should look like the world? Should we all look the same? Do you think God cares about the heart? This plus Sheila’s response here lines up with only outward appearance being of importance.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Lindsey, the Pharisees were “believers” at the time in the way that many so-called evangelical teachers are “believers” today. They followed the law. They prayed. They claimed to know God. They claimed to know the way to God.

            And they absolutely did not understand Jesus. The best comparison to many leaders today who heap heavy burdens on people, like John MacArthur or Emerson Eggerichs, is the Pharisees.

            If you want to look at who represented “unbelievers” at the time that Jesus was teaching, it would have been the Gentiles, or the Romans. The Pharisees were considered believers; the Romans were considered the world. So Tim is absolutely right.

            Now, I’m not saying the Pharisees were correct. I’m just saying that at the time that Jesus was speaking, people would have understood the Pharisees to be believers, and the world to be the Romans. The Pharisees would NEVER have been considered “the world.”

          • Lindsey

            I think it’s important to address the Pharisees because I’ve received a couple questions about them. These were Jewish Pharisees who didn’t believe Jesus was God or the Messiah and were in such a tiff about him saying he was the I AM, so much so, that they convinced Pilate to crucify him after denying his Kingship. I don’t think that classifies them as believers. What did they believe in? They weren’t Christian believers. Perhaps some of them were saved but the majority were not believers.

            sunny north, you are right and I do apologize to all for saying that unbelievers always do things in vain and selfishly. I should not use absolutes there. My opinion is that those are edge cases. What I am trying to paint with wide brush strokes here is that there is a difference in the heart of a believer and the heart of an unbeliever. We can’t just look at outward appearances.

          • JoB

            The Pharisees were the conservative Bible followers of their time. They were considered “reformers” who wanted to return to fidelity to God’s law. They absolutely believed the Bible to be God-breathed and inerrant. They believed the whole scripture, law and prophets and wisdom literature (unlike the Sadduccees, who only accepted the Torah). They believed the scriptures regarding physical resurrection (unlike the Saduccees). They were scrupulous about following God’s law down to the details and spent a good deal of their time studying, memorizing, copying and discussing the scriptures.

            We’d probably be impressed by them if we met them, they’d make conservative seminary professors and highly esteemed pastors look like lightweights. (They would certainly have agreed that homosexual marriage is unbiblical.)

            Yet they were the ones primarily responsible for Christ’s execution. Because he called them out for their indifference to the poor and suffering in their midst, their secret greed and lust. He saw what was in their hearts. He told them the prostitutes and thieves were getting into heaven before them. He claimed a higher authority than them by actually being God.

            That’s why so many here are referring to them as “believers” – because they were considered the most dedicated believers in the true God, among the people of God at that time.

            Lindsey, you emphasize the difference between a believing and unbelieving heart, as if it’s this black-and-white difference. What about pharisees? What about a believing heart that is carnal and grieving the Holy Spirit with its hardness? What about a heart that “receives the word with joy” but then falls away under the pressures or distractions of life? What about a heart that fails to persevere to the end? What about a pastor who preaches salvation by grace with his whole heart, but is chronically rude to and neglectful of his wife, because he’s so busy serving God that he can’t possibly think about her needs? We as Christians can become prideful about being “right” and lose our humility to continually keep being teachable. God used unbelievers multiple times in the Bible to rebuke true believers when they needed correction, or to give them practical assistance. I think we’d be foolish not to learn from that example.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Exactly, Jo. I think if you were to compare the people groups in very loose terms in Jesus’ day to today, it would look something like this:

            Disciples and followers in Jesus’ day = people today trying to follow Jesus

            Pharisees in Jesus’ day = church leaders who know all the right answers and all the right Bible verses and look nothing like Jesus

            Unbelievers in Jesus’ day (Romans, Gentiles) = people who don’t claim Jesus today

          • Lindsey

            Sheila, so I think we agree then that we know the Pharisees are not believers even though they claimed to know all the things.

            I’m pressing you on points because I have concerns. I hear your point but you won’t concede or state your belief on certain things. I have seen you go head to head with others over important topics before so I hope you can understand the reasoning behind it.

            Curious why is Johnny Mac a Pharisee?

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            John MacArthur teaches things that are demonstrably harmful, like that no one is a victim (despite abuse) and we should focus on our own sin instead, ignoring the reality of trauma and wickedness. He says that all women should submit to all men.

            He excommunicated a woman who went to the church for help because her husband was abusing her and her kids. The man later was sent to prison for sexually abusing the kids; MacArthur still supports the pedophile.

            He has supported pedophiles multiple times. He is not a safe man.

        • Suzanne

          You must keep your circles incredibly small to say you have never known a healthy loving couple that happen to not be Christian. I have a very hard time believing that. The majority of my friends have healthy loving, wonderful marriages and they are Muslim, Jewish, Christian, atheist, agnostic.

          I’m sorry you chose to judge over love. God created mankind, we are ALL his children.

          • Lindsey

            I choose to read the Truth of God’s Word about heart change and the clear differences between believers and non believers. Respectfully, this is a truth versus non truth issue. I stand with truth. And I will not side step the truth because it makes others uncomfortable.

        • Lisa Johns

          “It’s not about health. It’s about God’s standards.”
          Wait, what?
          I just got whiplash trying to follow that.
          God’s standard does NOT contradict health! And people who love well are showing something that God created and died for EVEN IF THEY DON’T KNOW THAT! (Yet.)
          This is not a zero sum game, where Christians always have to be “right” and “different” while non-believers are always lacking some form of basic goodness! We can accept goodness WHEREVER it comes from, and thank God for it!

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Lindsey, a healthy marriage is a healthy marriage. It’s not that the world is healthy one way, and Christians are healthy another way. Health is health. Truth is Truth. What brings human flourishing is the same the world round.

          Jesus is the Truth. Jesus is Goodness. Jesus is Love. When people who don’t know Him participate in these qualities, they participate in Christ, whether they know it or not. All goodness is from him.

          The reason Christians have better marriages (and on the whole we do) is that we have access to the source of Goodness in a direct way. But that doesn’t mean that non-Christians can’t also show these qualities.

          If you genuinely do not believe that non-Christians can have better marriages than some Christians, then perhaps your view of health is skewed. If we say, “health is anyone who says they know Christ,” then we’re not actually measuring healthy dynamics anymore. We’re just trying to be superior.

          It’s not a threat to our faith to say that other people can be good parents or good spouses. What IS a threat to our faith far more than that is that so many Christians DON’T show the fruit of the Spirit, not that non-Christians might. What bothers me far more than non-Christians having good marriages is when Christians give advice that works directly against health. Jesus Himself said that we aren’t to concern ourselves with judging the world, but rather judge those inside the church. Maybe instead of insisting that non-Christians don’t have good marriages, you could look at why it is that so many Christians do not?

          • Lindsey

            Sheila, why not look at how to define a ‘biblical marriage’ by looking at the Bible. Do you not believe the Bible to be God-breathed, all-sufficient, inerrant, powerful Word of God? Do you? If you do not, then that will help explain a lot of things for me.
            You are still refusing to look at homosexual marriage as an example of a difference in marriages. That tells me you care more about acceptance from the world than from God.
            And you are still denying a difference of the heart between believers and non believers. You keep going back to health is health without touching on the points I have brought up. You are more concerned with what the world says is healthy versus what the Word of God says. Why?
            Did you go back and read in Matthew about the white washed tombs and the differences of hearts?
            Sheila, is there a difference in the hearts of a non believer versus a believer?

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Lindsey, once again, I think you’re missing the point. No one is talking about one’s standing before God. No one is talking about salvation. We are simply talking about what is emotionally healthy and brings human flourishing.

            And that is the same, whether one is Christian or not. It is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It is loving others as you love yourself. That brings human flourishing.

            And people can do that even if they don’t know Christ.

            No one is saying this makes them saved. No one is saying this means that they are spiritually washed. I am just saying they are in line with health.

            Do you think that non-Christians can’t love others wholeheartedly and selflessly?

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Or, to put it another way, do you think a parent who is a Christian is automatically a better parent than someone who is not a Christian?

            Again, we are not talking about standing before God here. We are simply talking about the skills and practices that lead to human flourishing and emotional health and wellness.

          • Lindsey

            Sheila, you still are not answering my questions. Please answer what you believe about the Bible from my last comment. I see it is not listed under your beliefs on your website. You wrote a post saying a biblical marriage doesn’t have to look different from a non-believer’s marriage. You are saying that an unbeliever can possess the fruits of the Spirit, although not led by the Spirit. These “skills and practices” should be part of what we aim for, yes, but to say it all looks the same across believers and unbelievers insinuates that there is no difference in our hearts. This is what I am getting at. Again, this is not a they versus them issue. It is a truth versus non-truth issue.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Lindsey, people who are healthy tend to act the same way. They love. They sacrifice. They forgive. They draw boundaries. They act responsibly. They are mature. We know what the markers of healthy relationships look like.

            And, yes, non-Christians can have that and can even excel at it.

            That does not mean that they are saved. But look at Romans 2 and Romans 1. Look at how we were all created with a conscience. Non-Christians can sense what is right and can sense what intimacy is, and if they are humble and loving they can achieve healthy marriages.

            This shouldn’t challenge our faith. It’s just fact. Open your eyes and look around!

          • Jo R

            Lindsey, are you saying that all Christian marriages are good and that all non-Christian marriages are bad?

            Are you saying all Christian husbands are completely and totally Christlike in their behavior toward their wives?

            If you think the latter, you need to check out Pateick Weaver and Sarah McDugal, among many, MANY, others.

          • Jim


            I think that what Lindsey is asking is what is the standard of what makes a ‘good marriage’. If you are a Christian, it should be based on the teachings of the Bible.

            As you have noted many times, people can believe that they have a ‘good marriage’ but in fact one or both spouses are miserable. So then the question is why is there a disconnect?

            From what I can see here, you and Rebecca seem to give more weight to the surveys that you and others have done then to Scripture. I would not be surprised if you referenced studies more than the Word of God. With the main audience of this blog being Christians, I believe that the Bible and God should be the first place that we go, not the last. Surveys and studies are important and can be useful, but the Bible is greater than all of them.

            I have seen many that claim to be Christians that sound more like the world than Jesus. Paul gives a warning about this and we need to be very careful what we teach and make sure that it aligns with what God has told us time and time again.

            “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

            6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:1-8 NIV

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Jim, a good marriage is one where people are treated well, feel honored, and feel seen. It’s just intimacy. It’s oneness. God created us for connection!

            And people can connect, even if they don’t know Jesus.

            A Christian’s life is different because we have the power of the Holy Spirit, AND we have the desire to fulfill Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations. We want to be transformed into His likeness.

            But as I keep saying, over and over again, HEALTH IS HEALTH. No, there is not “healthy marriage for Christians” and “healthy marriage for non-Christians” which looks different. Health is health. Intimacy is intimacy.

            This really isn’t hard. Jesus told us what health looks like: It looks like Him. It looks like the fruits of the Spirit, acting in relationship.

            There is a huge difference between a couple’s relational health and emotional connection and our calling in the world to fulfill the Great Commission. As Christians we know we have a calling, and because of that, a Christian marriage will also have a calling. But not because it’s a “Christian marriage”, but because it is a marriage with two Christians who are meant to fulfill the Great Commission, and so they will do that together now that they are married.

            Do you not think that non-Christians can have close and warm and healthy marriages?

          • JoB

            Lindsey, fwiw, Jesus had the most conflict with the Pharisees, who believed in the Bible with a fervor that would put today’s most fundamental evangelicals to shame. They accused *Jesus* of not believing the Bible, disregarding God’s commandments, and even of being in league with the devil. They were always asking trick questions to get him to reveal that he really wasn’t as orthodox as they were. Yet, they were the ones he called whitewashed tombs and sons of the evil one… not the pagan Romans who were worshipping idols and oppressing and crucifying the Jews.

            It’s certainly your prerogative to “vet” anyone you want to engage with to see if they fit your definition of an acceptable Christian teacher. However, I am not sure what you are trying to say. Is your emphasis on what salvation is, or on the need to have certain standards in marriage?

            If the latter, what is that standard? Many of us grew up being taught things like: wives always submitting to their husbands wishes; wives not working outside the home; couples not using birth control; divorce never being an option; disciplining children with a physical rod. If that’s the case, the nations of Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan probably have the most biblical marriages and family structures in the world. I don’t mean that as a slam against anyone from any particular country, but just to point out that the fruit of “biblical standards” might not be what we’ve been led to believe.

          • Jim


            “Do you not think that non-Christians can have close and warm and healthy marriages?”

            I do think that non-Christians can have close and warm and healthy marriages just as much as non-Christians can be good people.

            The issue is what is their standard. How do they know what is good or bad? Because it feels good or gives them pleasure?

            You can have ‘good’ people that don’t believe in Jesus and you can have ‘bad’ people that do. Two things can be true at the same time.
            The main difference is that the people that claim to be Christians should know better. However, in the Western world, our culture has been heavily influenced by Christianity for centuries but it has been waning in the last couple of decades.

            You said previously that Jesus said that we should not judge, but that is actually incorrect. We are to judge but we must be careful to make sure that we can meet the same standard that we judge others by. Jesus said this to the Pharisees as a rebuke of them judging too harshly and adding more to the Law then was originally given.

            1“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

            3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

            6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

            Matthew 7:1-6 NIV

            In this same chapter is one of the greatest warnings to those of us who call ourselves Christians calling us to take His Word seriously.

            21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

            24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

            Matthew 7:24-27 NIV

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Jim, they may not know the right standard. But we do. We know what emotional health looks like. And non-Christians can be emotionally healthy. That’s just a fact. I’m not sure why this is so confusing for people.

            Do you not know very many non-Christians?

          • Lindsey

            Sheila, I don’t think you see that you are blurring the lines of the heart of an unbeliever and the heart of a believer. You are saying that an unbeliever has the same capacity to love and forgive as an unbeliever. No differences? Then how are we set apart? How are we not conformed to the world? So there is no transformation taking place in the life of the believer because there is no difference. This is what I am pointing at because this is unbiblical. ‘Looking around’ at the world should not be your go to. God’s Word was given to us and is all-sufficient so we should be looking there first.

            It seems in some comments you are aware that there is a difference for those whom the Holy Spirit indwells but you don’t apply that to the marriage relationship? As in, believers do have the power of the Holy Spirit but when it comes to marriage relationships the existence of the Holy Spirit in a believer is null and void because we can all exemplify practices of the Spirit whether we have the Spirit or not?

            Still no answers to my other questions?

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Of course a believer has a greater capacity, because we have the Holy Spirit!

            That does not mean that no non-Christians can show love.

            Seriously, do you know any non-Christians?

            We have access to Jesus, so we SHOULD have better marriages overall–and research shows that we do! That’s wonderful.

            But it doesn’t follow that all non-Christians have bad marriages. Many non-Christians have better marriages than many Christians. That’s the piece that should cause pause: why is it that so many Christians don’t have good marriages? Let’s try to answer that, instead of insisting that no non-Christians are able to have truly good marriages.

        • Lisa Johns

          Lindsey, you keep pressing on the homosexual marriage issue, so let’s take a moment and answer that. No, I don’t necessarily believe that a homosexual marriage is the best thing for a man or a woman to be in. I don’t believe that is what God wants. But does it necessarily follow that two people in such a relationship can not love each other and be willing to make sacrifices in order to bless each other? The issue is not whether homosexual marriages are condoned by God, but whether two people in a broken place can still love each other and build a relationship that brings them both comfort for their short time on earth. In the end, they answer to God for how they conduct themselves, not you or me or Sheila. So what you or I or Sheila think about their relationship doesn’t really make a bit of difference.
          The whole purpose of this article was to comment on the quality of RELATIONSHIPS, not on what is approved or disapproved by the world. It wasn’t about life-styles, but about what is healthy and will bring growth to a relationship rather than undermining it.
          How do you build love?

          • Lindsey

            Lisa, the concerning thing for me is that Sheila doesn’t confirm or deny that homosexual marriage is biblical. She also does not confirm or deny the authority of Scripture.

            The issue I’m getting at is the difference of the heart of a believer and the heart of an unbeliever. If unbelievers do not have the Holy Spirit are they able to possess the fruits of the Spirit? Does their heart look different from the heart of an unbeliever? Or are we unchanged and all the same?

          • Lindsey

            JoB, what you are saying about the Pharisees being called white washed tombs is the point I was getting at when I mentioned that verse earlier. An unbeliever looks good on the outside and that couple appears to have a healthy marriage. But what is on the inside? God cares about the heart. My argument here is that Sheila is making no distinction between the hearts of believers and the hearts of unbelievers.

            And yes, in my opinion we should be vetting everyone. Even Sheila does a large amount of work calling others out on the errors in their messages. And I know she has said in the past it’s important to hold people accountable.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Lindsey, this is getting old, and I will start deleting your comments because you are not listening.

            I have said repeatedly that I am not talking about the state of a believer’s heart or an unbeliever’s heart. I am only talking about whether or not a non-Christian can act in ways that we know are emotionally healthy and that build good relationships. That is ALL I am talking about. You keep insisting for some reason that non-Christians can’t be emotionally healthy. That is blatantly untrue.

        • Lisa Johns

          Lindsey, since you keep pressing on the issue of homosexual marriage, let’s take a moment and answer that. To be clear, I do not think that God wants people to be in homosexual marriage. I don’t believe that it is His plan. But does it follow that two people in such a relationship can not love each other and make sacrifices that build their relationship? Does it follow that they can never find ways to build each other up and support each other? These things are part of what it means to build health into a relationship, whatever that relationship appears to be in the eyes of the world.
          Ultimately, people in such a relationship will answer to God, not to you or me or Sheila, so it really doesn’t matter what you or I or Sheila think about it. The point of the article is that we as Christians have often emphasized appearances over truth — appearing to have “better” marriages over really learning how to have truly healthy marriages. As many of the women who post in this space can attest, this has not led to good fruit. Homosexuality and the ways in which people deal with it are completely a side issue.

          • Tim

            Lindsey, I’m not the first to point this out here, but you keep referring to the “whitewashed tombs” as if it relates to unbelievers, which is almost exactly the opposite of the point. It’s about judgmental, hypocritical believers who parade themselves as good and religious, but haven’t experienced any genuine heart change.

            It’s obviously not in the context of marriage either, but I don’t think it’s a leap at all to apply that to the unhealthy Christian marriages Sheila is talking about in this post. Following the right religious rules (or appearing to) isn’t what leads to health and wholeness. Though of course, there are plenty of non-religious routes to an unhealthy marriage too.

            ““Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs that look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of the bones of the dead and of everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you look righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Mat 23:27-28, NET)

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Thank you, Tim. Exactly. When Jesus was talking about white-washed tombs, he was addressing so-called believers (teachers of the Law), not unbelievers or the world (the Romans).

          • Lindsey

            Tim, why do you say the Pharisees were believers?

            I think we both agree that heart change is of importance. This is the point I make when we talk about a non believing married couple who looks good on the outside. The post is talking about how marriage looks the same for non believing and believing couples. I am saying a non believing couple can look ‘good’ on the outside but God cares about the heart.

          • Lisa Johns

            Lindsey, my experience — and that of many people I have talked with — is that my “Christian” marriage looked good on the outside as well. We were not able to make it truly good, though, due to dysfunction and refusal on the part of *one* spouse. (Well, dysfunction on the part of both, but *one* of us was working on those issues.)
            That situation is not exclusive to unbelievers. And loving each other well is certainly not exclusive to believers (nor even all that common, apparently )

          • Lindsey

            Tim, I put this comment above but the thread is getting large. I just copy/pasted my thoughts on the Pharisees…

            I think it’s important to address the Pharisees because I’ve received a couple questions about them. These were Jewish Pharisees who didn’t believe Jesus was God or the Messiah and were in such a tiff about him saying he was the I AM, so much so, that they convinced Pilate to crucify him after denying his Kingship. I don’t think that classifies them as believers. What did they believe in? They weren’t Christian believers. Perhaps some of them were saved but the majority were not believers.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Lindsey, I have absolutely no idea why you are still arguing.

            This is really very basic: Emotional health is emotional health. Abiding by the fruits of the Spirit; acting as Jesus did and as Jesus instructed–all of these things lead to emotional health.

            Non-Christians can also do this. Christians obviously do it more easily because we have access to God, and we have the Holy Spirit, and it should be to our shame that many non-Christians have better marriages than many Christians.

            But health is health. And we need to start acknowledging that, rather than assuming that non-Christians can’t truly love one another.

            This is just blatantly true. Just look around you! Just look in the windows of the houses around you. You will see good marriages.

            I don’t know why you are resisting this so much. We aren’t talking about salvation; we are merely talking about what brings relational flourishing. And health is health.

            You do not appear to be listening, so I will cut off comments soon. This is going around in circles. I don’t know why you think non-Christians can’t have good marriages, and I’m sorry for that. I hope you don’t view all your non-Christian neighbours as somehow “less than”, because that will prove a major barrier to really showing them Christ’s love.

          • Tim

            The Pharisees were highly Torah observant worshippers of God. Of course, whether their belief was genuine is for God to judge. But in Mat 23 they’re criticised mostly for their behaviour rather than their belief. It’s true that they ultimately rejected Jesus, but the question of whether their Christians is a category mistake. This is pre-Easter so there were no Christians.

            This is off the top of my head so maybe too broad brush, but generally speaking Jesus talks about three groups of people:
            – non-believers (Romans and other pagans)
            – believers focussed on appearance rather than faith and justice (Pharisees etc, and I guess the Sadducees too, to an extent)
            – true believers (disciples)

            Jesus criticises all three groups at times but, I think it’s a fair generalisation that the Pharisees are criticised more harshly than the pagans or disciples.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            HA! I made a really similar comment with the three groups. I guess we think alike!

    • Taylor

      For me, focusing on a “biblical marriage” that looked different from the world exacerbated my abusive situation. I was so focused on what we looked like–being the happy wife, making my husband looked good to others, etc–and completely unable to recognize that what I was dealing with was a white-washed tomb.

      I have been a single parent now for over three years. And it’s way better than my understanding of “biblical marriage” ever was.

      If I marry again, I want my focus to be less on making my marriage look different than the world, and more focused on following Jesus, being a real person, and letting the appearance be transparent so that the substance is visible.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        That’s beautiful! And I’m so sorry that everything was so messed up before. I’m glad you’re rooted in Christ now.

      • Lisa Johns

        I’ve been in that headspace too — being “the happy wife,” making sure everything looked solid, looking “different from the world…”
        It all implodes when all you have is a facade. You’re living a lie.

        • Taylor

          Yea, Lisa, implode is an accurate description. For me, the implosion ended up being a good thing. Because the lies were in pieces and couldn’t be pasted together. Truth finally had a chance to make an appearance, and ultimately that’s been so healing.

          Thanks, Sheila. I don’t necessarily feel “rooted in Christ” yet–more like “rooting in Christ.” Finding out who He actually is, and recovering from purity culture has been a process. And your work has definitely been a significant part of that. Thanks for all you do here.

          • Lisa Johns

            Taylor, I am so glad that truth has been so healing to you! Much blessing! ❤️

    • Jo R

      The Bible says very few things directly about husbands and wives, but it says a boatload of things about how CHRISTIANS should be acting, about the fruit they should be exhibiting.

      It’s very concerning to me that some people think the few marriage verses get to completely override all the “one another” verses,” the golden rule, the two greatest commandments according to Jesus, the fruit of the Spirit, etc. And also that wives should overlook blatant sin by husbands, as listed quite extensively in several places in the NT, just because “expecting perfection is unreasonable” and “well, wives are sinners too.”

      Yes, it’s true that perfection in this life is unlikely and that wives sin, but continued, unrepentant sin cannot simply be prayed about and submitted to more. To suggest otherwise is to deny the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and it’s nigh on to blasphemy.

    • A

      Lindsey said, “An unbeliever could have a ‘good’ marriage but what is good to them or to us?“ We could argue that in the light of eternity, it not a lot of good to them or to us. However, it is evidence of God’s common grace towards all of creation. He allows even non-believers and the unregenerate to experience goodness, love, and blessing in their life. That is good and we should rejoice! It shows that God has not totally given the world over yet. There is still yet hope for salvation. And as all people bear the image of our Creator (yes, even unbelievers), then when they love others and do goodness, justice, mercy, and righteousness in the world, then that is evidence of that image-bearing. Yes, sin mars and diminishes it, but it is Christ who works in us to transform us to reflect that image more fully.

      But what does it say to the world when so many so-called Christian marriages are just plain bad. Whether there is abuse, adultery, porn use, marital rape, etc., etc… God often uses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. In other words, if secular research shows again and again (and we can see it bear out in real marriages) that the lead/submit model leads to poor outcomes in marriage, mental, spiritual, and physical health—well then, maybe God is trying to get our attention? Maybe we have over-indexed on one verse in Ephesians instead of focusing on the Greatest Commandment, Golden Rule, and outdoing one another in love. Noticing that something is true is not counter to the Gospel message. All truth is God’s truth. We can rejoice with secular couples that have good and loving marriages and say to them: Come and see a love that is even greater! I think that is a beautiful opportunity.

      • A

        And btw, I am a bit flummoxed about the accusation that Sheila is not using Scripture, or that she references surveys more than Scripture. Quite the contrary! If you read through her posts and her responses, they are filled with God’s word. When she talks about the surveys and research, she always brings it back to what God says and how it lines up. What I think is bothering people is that she isn’t just focusing mainly on Eph. 5, but rather taking the whole counsel of God as a guideline. Which we should all do. We get into dangerous territory when we take a small part of Scripture and make whole doctrines and theologies out of it. We should look to the example of Jesus—the author and perfect of our faith, and to the whole Bible to understand how to live that out and grow in holiness.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Exactly! Very well said.

  9. Laura

    Love this article! Throughout my life, I have met plenty of non-Christians who are wonderful people. In fact, I think they behave much better than some Christians I know. They are not judgemental, they don’t gossip, they are not fixated on always following the right rules, and they have morals too. When I first became a Christian at 17 then heard the message that God designed marriage to be a hierarchy where husbands are in charge, I did not want to be a Christian anymore. I still believed in God but if being a Christian meant having to believe a certain set of rules that just went against my conscience, why would I want to have anything to do with organized religion?

    When I rededicated my life to Christ after my divorce at 26, I focused on His love and did not give that whole hierarchy in marriage a lot of thought. I think I always knew in my heart that Jesus did not advocate for hierarchy in marriage and He believed we are all equal. After having been in an abusive marriage where my husband thought because he was the man he could dominate me, I know I don’t EVER want that kind of marriage again. How could anyone who’s not a Christian see the supposed “Christian” marriage as good? No wonder there’s a lot of non-Christians who don’t want to be Christians.

    I thought maybe I should just stay single forever because then I would never have to worry about submitting to a man all the time and I could do my own thing. Well, God did not create us to do life alone, but that does not mean we all have to get married, yet I still have that desire especially after I’ve gotten to know a wonderful, godly man for quite a while now. Thankfully, he does not believe that one gender should be in charge of another.

  10. JoB

    It’s interesting to me how several of the recent posts really tie in to the evangelical teachings I absorbed growing up.

    I remember a lot of emphasis on how the world would notice that believers were “different”, that they had a “peace and joy” that others would be attracted to and want to know more about and eventually accept Christ and be saved. There was also a lot of talk about how people experienced radical change when they got saved and stopped drinking, swearing, abusing their families, being criminals, etc. So the idea that unsaved people could be normal, happy or healthy didn’t really fit in to this equation. Certainly they couldn’t be as forgiving as us, or ever genuinely love their enemies, because that power was reserved for born-again Christians.

    So I guess it’s not surprising that a lot of evangelicals feel the need to “experience marriage as God designed it” or “raise children God’s way” or “handling your finances God’s way” etc, in a way that is noticeably “different” or “blessed” (nobody likes to say morally superior, but that’s kind of the idea).

    I write this as a person who doesn’t really know what she believes, but to me it feels like that mindset is a bit of a Christian urban legend.

    And I don’t have time to go into detail, but the theology behind the DG article seems directly behind the evangelism strategy of telling people their “respectable”, “ minor” sins are the moral equivalent of much more noticeable sins. Ie, “did you ever steal a pen from a doctor’s office? Well, then you’re a thief, just like Bernie Madoff.” Which leads to, “did you ever experience unrighteous anger? Or eat in a gluttonous way? Well, then you have the same sins as your spouse who is screaming obscenities at you or addicted to pornography.”

    • Lisa Johns

      Christian urban legend. Yes, that sums it up nicely!
      The myth of the happy complementarian… 😆

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, good point. I think this is also why so much of Christian marriage advice is geared at making things look good on the outside and not really doing the messy work of addressing the root. We’re so desperate to be better than the world, and to not have divorces, that we make people accept bad behaviour and not complain about it.

  11. Lisa Johns

    I actually have been asking my pastor for us as a church to stop using marriage and parenting materials just because they are “Christian,” and seek out materials that are evidence based and written by qualified teachers (and not liars like Gary Ezzo!). One of the major issues for me over the years is that, as I have sought help for my struggling marriage, NONE of the counselors that I sought out in the church (because we HAD to have CHRISTIAN counsel) knew enough to know that they were not able to help us. When I FINALLY came across materials such as those written by John Gottman, I was blown away to realize that THIS NON-CHRISTIAN HAD SOME GREAT WISDOM TO SHARE! And this made me realize that so much of the “Christian” teaching I had received and tried to implement was just garbage — stuff written by men with opinions but no knowledge. Even Dobson, who at least had the education that should have given him some good perspective, had an agenda in how he presented material, and would slant much of it to support his agenda rather than to actually help us to learn better ways of marrying and parenting, and he really was no help to me at all.
    And back to the counselors who didn’t know their own limitations, none of them knew enough to refer us to professionals, either. In retrospect, it is heartbreaking to realize that our insistence on obtaining “Christian” help instead of seeking out actual health played a large part in the demise of our marriage. (To be very plain, much of what we dealt with was individual sin and NOT couples issues, but even in this it would have been nice to have someone acknowledging the ill health that was so apparent, so that perhaps I could have moved toward freedom much sooner. The Christians we were around weren’t anywhere near going there.) I wish we could all have started on the Great Sex Rescue journey much earlier! But I guess we have to start somewhere … and here we are, right? 😀

    Sorry, I feel like this was one big ramble. But there’s a lot going on, and I have a lot of thoughts!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Don’t apologize! It was a great “ramble”!

      • Lisa Johns

        Thank you! I have another thought here: where in the Bible does God “establish” marriage?
        One would think it would be from the very beginning (Genesis!) but I don’t find it (except in interpretation of “a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife…” but that is already an assumption, not an edict where God established marriage.) So how do we arrive at the place where we think that marriage is the be-all and end-all of family requirements? Seems to me that this “God-ordained” institution might be a little bit of an extrapolation!
        I will be plain here: I am not suggesting we abolish marriage. But I do think we might need to consider where we got this thing and why we keep it, and what it’s supposed to look like and why.

  12. Nessie

    Just like a square is always a rectangle but not all rectangles are squares, all Christian (between 2 Christians) marriages *should* be good, but not all good marriages are Christian. Unfortunately I think many people wrongly assume all Christian marriages are good, and all non-Christian marriages are bad. Absolutes are easier- then we don’t have to utilize the gift of discernment God often gives.

    “Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of the heavenly lights who does not change like shifting shadows.” It doesn’t say: Every good and perfect gift comes down from God the Father, unless it’s bestowed upon a non-Christian, in which case it is a big lie. Codec nailed it with “It rains on the just and unjust alike.”

    And marriage can and should be a gift to anyone who marries.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Well said!

  13. Taylor

    Regarding whether or not unbelievers can show goodness, and whether or not this accords with Scripture, two things come to mind.

    First, Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan. He goes out of his way to make a Samaritan (who had a different ethnic and religious background) the hero of the story.

    Second, in Acts 28 after Paul was shipwrecked on Malta, Luke specifically mentions that the islanders showed them unusual kindness. These were clearly not believers–they thought Paul was a god when he didn’t fall over and die after getting bitten by the viper.

    Salvation goodness only comes through Jesus. But the Scripture demonstrates that yes, unbelievers are able to be decent, upright human beings. And my personal experience definitely concurs: I have a child with special needs. Aside from me, it would be hard to find someone who loves my child more than his school teacher–and she isn’t a believer. She is just one of many examples I can give.

    As far as text capacity goes, the Scripture spends less time focusing on how evil people are who don’t know God, and more time focusing on the evil of people who purport to know God but who are doing horrible things.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly, Taylor! Thank you.

  14. Perfect Number

    Yessss thanks for writing about this! I have heard many sermons/ read many Christian articles about “in order to [have a good marriage/ have a happy life/ be a good parent/ etc] you have to center it on Jesus” and just taking it for granted that non-Christians can’t have healthy relationships or satisfying lives. This kind of teaching was so normal, I didn’t realize how wrong it was back then. Bearing false witness against our neighbors.

  15. Mandy

    So what marriage book can we read and recommend until your new marriage book comes out?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      John Gottman’s 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work is really good, but it isn’t specifically Christian. I’m trying to find a good Christian one to recommend!

      I do like Boundaries in Marriage a lot, but it’s not really a general marriage book. But it is very good.

      • Mandy

        Thank you! My daughter is engaged and her in-laws are pushing marriage counselling with a local pastor. I don’t think it is a great idea. I gave them your sex guides but I thought if they had a marriage book to go through maybe the in-laws would be content with that. .

  16. JoB

    Been thinking about this more… it’s really similar to the elements of our physical health that we have control over. The Bible does have some guidance that pertains to our physical health- not being gluttonous with food or drink, treating our bodies as God’s temple, Sabbath rest while avoiding sloth, allowing the Holy Spirit to develop self-control in us. Yet I don’t think anyone would claim that Christians are inherently better at maintaining their physical health (ie, moderate healthy eating, physical exercise) than non Christians.

    A lot of health, physical or emotional, is a result of how healthy or unhealthy a family we’re born into- some people are going to be given more at the start. The direction we’re moving in is just as important as where we are on the journey. What’s concerning is having Christian teachings that normalize unhealthy conditions and practices and don’t help people to change in healthy ways.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes! I love that. The direction we’re going is just as important. And we need to stop teachings that normalize unhealthy behaviours and dynamics.

  17. Jim


    I do know quite a few non-Christians because of some of my hobbies and family. So I am speaking from my own experience and conversations that I have had with non-Christians.

    Non-Christians and Christians can have what is considered ‘healthy’ marriages or ‘unhealthy’ marriages.

    Please address the concerns that I and Lindsey have brought up instead of using the logical fallacies of non-sequitur and ad hominem and threatening to censor us (of which you have done to me multiple times). What are you afraid of? I am shocked that you would act so dismissive of concerns about following Jesus’s example of holding the Word of God in the highest esteem.

    An excellent example is when Jesus was talking to Nicodemus.

    “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

    “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”
    John 3:10-21 NIV

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly, Jim. Non-Christians and Christians can have what is considered healthy vs. unhealthy. And many non-Christians have healthy marriages.


      And all health, and all goodness, ultimately comes from God, since He is the author of it.

      That’s literally all I’m saying.

    • Jo R

      Upstream, you said, “The issue is what is their standard. How do they know what is good or bad? Because it feels good or gives them pleasure?”

      LOTS of Christian men are quite happy in their marriages while their wives are dying inside living as empty shells of their former selves. These men feel good, so THEY feel no need to change.

      Does it matter if the women feel good? Or what if they never feel the joy of abundant living? Marriage may not be able to MAKE us happy, but should it become a millstone, a prison sentence, or hell on earth because the church is teaching that SHE needs to be the only one doing all the giving in the relationship?

      I asked a question of Lindsey that she never answered. I’ll ask the same one of you: do you think that all marriages between Christians are happy and that all marriages between non-Christians are unhappy?

      I’ve seen happy, contented marriages between non-Christians, in family, in neighbors, and in co-workers.

      And I’ve seen lots of desperate women living out functional singledom and, worse, single motherhood, while married to “Christian” men.

      Is the latter situation “healthy” just because both parties are Christian? Don’t the care, consideration, and mutual respect I’ve seen in non-Christian marriages count as making “healthy” marriages?

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes, exactly. We know what emotional health and high marital satisfaction look like. We can measure it. And we know what the ingredients are. And the ingredients are the same, whether one is Christian or not. Mutual respect. Love. Forgiveness. Iron sharpening iron. The fruits of the Spirit. The things that Jesus tells us bring life actually do bring life. I don’t know why people are making this so hard!

        Just because one says they are a Christian does not mean they are healthy, like you put so well. But health is health, it isn’t that confusing.

    • Tim

      I find it really ironic that Sheila is being criticised for focusing on studies rather than the Bible here. I just reread this post and by my count it refers to studies three times (including passing comments on the GSR survey and unspecified research at the end) and to the Bible at least 10 times. There are only 4 or 5 Bible passages explicitly referenced, but a bunch more quotes that are obvious to anyone who knows the Bible well. I’ve definitely heard sermons with less Bible than this short blog post!

      You could take issue with the interpretation or which passages are included or not of course, but the claim that more weight is being given to research than the Bible is a bit ridiculous. (I’d also argue it’s a false dichotomy but that’s another discussion).

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Thanks, Tim!

  18. Willow

    Just wanted to comment on one aspect of this discussion that seems to be left out: the idea that non-Christians operate without any sort of moral structure in their lives.

    This is incorrect. While I’ve met a handful of people who seem to operate without moral structure, most non-Christians I’ve met do have a moral structure in their lives, and try to live according to it. This moral structure may be based on a Judeo-Christian religion, or some other religion, or a non-religious/humanist philosophy or ethics. But it is not just “doing whatever sensually feels good.” (FWIW, the Epicurean vs Stoic debate goes back a good 300 years before Christ – try telling a Stoic that they have no moral structure and are just pleasing their senses!)

    When non-Christians have healthy, lasting relationships, it is not usually because such relationships “feel good.” All relationships take hard work. The people I’ve met who have healthy, lasting relationships do so because they are actively abiding by some sort of moral structure that emphasizes focusing on the happiness of others before one’s own indulgence.

    Recognizing that most people have a desire for moral living is, among other things, a benefit toward sharing the Christian faith with non-Christians: you can validate that they have a desire for truth, which helps them be more receptive as you lead them toward the source of Truth.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly! I love this so much.

  19. MarieCarmenNicole

    quote from Rediscover Jesus by Matthew Kelly.
    So never mind the labels, strive to be the-best-version of yourself and bring that to all your relationships…


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