In 2 Corinthians 6:14 the apostle Paul wrote:
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?
Imagine being in a relationship with someone you love and care for deeply. You take long walks together, talk till dawn, share many of the same interests. Your companion seems to be the one you have been searching for all your life. There’s only one problem — that person doesn’t share your faith. What should you do?
When Paul says that Christians shouldn’t be “yoked” together with unbelievers, he uses the image of two draft animals pulling a load. An ox and a donkey fastened to the same yoke won’t work well together. They are “unequally yoked,” with serious differences in height, size, and gait. Struggling to compensate for their differences, they squander their strength.
Paul’s example is a good metaphor. In some ways, a “team” of two people is better equipped to handle life’s load of stress and responsibility. But unless a husband and wife are working together as a team, their union becomes a liability rather than an asset.
When Paul warned the Corinthian Christians about avoiding an “unequal yoke,” paganism and Christianity stood in sharp contrast. Corinthian paganism involved sacrifices to idols and flagrant sexual immorality. Today, 2,000 years of Christian influence on Western culture has softened the distinction between “pagans” and “Christians” in some ways. Modern “pagans” have often adopted enough Christian values to be decent, moral people by Christian standards, and there are many nominal Christians who don’t understand the meaning of Christ’s words, “I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” ( John 3:3 ).
Even so, being unequally yoked is never a minor matter. In Ephesians 2:1-5 the apostle Paul vividly described the difference between Christians and non-Christians. No matter how decent, moral, or likeable a modern pagan may be, he is spiritually dead, at odds with his Creator. Without God, his goals are irrational and unsatisfying, and he is drifting on a downward arc toward absurdity, chaos, and — ultimately — hell. Like a sleepwalker, a person who hasn’t been supernaturally awakened by the Spirit of God may seem conscious, but actually he is unaware of the most important things around him ( Ephesians 5:8-15 ).
How can someone who is supernaturally alive through the miracle of God’s grace live in harmony with someone who is dead? How can someone who is awake communicate with someone who is asleep? How will the two of them set priorities, rear their children, select their major relationships?
Christians should take the command in 2 Corinthians 6:14 with the utmost seriousness. Of course, God’s grace still is at work in the lives of people who are unequally yoked, and apart from the grace of God we would all be lost ( Ephesians 2:8-10 ). Unbelieving spouses sometimes do become Christians through the influence of their mates ( 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 ). But a believer should never presume upon God’s grace ( Romans 6:1 ). There are consequences for disobedience, and the risks are much too high.