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I was brought up to believe that women win their unsaved spouses by actions, not words, because of dissension in the the home and that sort of thing. Would love your thoughts.

One of the most difficult and stressful situations a Christian woman can walk through is being married to someone who is not saved. Sometimes this happens because husband and wife are both unsaved when they get married and the wife gets saved later. Sometimes it happens because the wife (and sometimes the husband, too) think the husband is saved and it later becomes obvious that he is a false convert. And sometimes what happens is that a spiritually immature Christian woman goes into marriage knowing her husband isn’t saved, and she either doesn’t care or she thinks she’ll change him right away.

Single ladies, please take heed and take this to heart: know your man well, spiritually, before you get married. While it’s impossible to know with 100% certainty whether or not another person is saved, do your best. Make sure this is a man who can be the spiritual leader of your home – a man who will make wise and godly decisions, who intends to parent biblically, who is able and eager to lead your family in Bible study and prayer, and who is committed to faithfully attending and serving the local church. Many women who went into marriage thinking these things would somehow take care of themselves can tell you from sad experience that the issues you and your husband have before marriage will only get worse after marriage.

That’s the best way to answer the reader’s question: prophylaxis. Prevent the problem before it happens.

That said, God is the One who decides when you get saved, and if you and your husband weren’t saved when you got married, but you are now, praise God for that! What a wonderful thing that He saved you and that He has placed a 24/7 witness to the gospel in your husband’s life!

If you ever feel alone in having an unsaved husband, take comfort and think about all the ladies in the first century when Christianity was brand new. Many, if not most, Christian women were in your situation. They worried and agonized over their husbands’ salvation just like you do. In fact, it was such a common situation in the early church that Paul and Peter each dedicated part of their writings to instructing and encouraging wives about walking out their faith in a marriage to an unsaved husband:

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. 1 Peter 3:1-6

 

If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy…For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? 1 Corinthians 7:13-14,16

I believe the reader’s question focuses in on 1 Peter 3:1:

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.

If we isolate this verse from its immediate context of surrounding verses, the context of the book of 1 Peter, and the context of the New Testament, it seems to say that a wife can win her husband to Christ simply by her Christlike behavior with no need to ever open her mouth and share the gospel with him. However, if we take a step back and even just think about it logically for a minute, we know that can’t be what this verse is saying.

Think about how you came to saving faith. Did you get saved exclusively by watching someone act humbly, patiently, lovingly, etc.? Or did someone explain to you that you were a sinner in need of repentance, that Christ paid the penalty for your sin on the cross, that He rose again on the third day, and that if you placed your faith in Him, He would cleanse and forgive you and give you eternal life? Those are things you can’t get just by watching someone behave kindly and lovingly. They have to be explained by a friend, a sermon, a tract, the Bible, or some other use of words. (This is what’s problematic with the old cliché “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” Words are always necessary for explaining the gospel.)

Next, let’s think about the context of the New Testament at large as well as 1 Peter. Can you think of any instances in which Christians are told to share the gospel with anybody simply by modeling good behavior? No. The iconic evangelism passage, the Great Commission, tells us to “make disciples…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” You have to talk to people, and maybe even use books or other written materials – with words – in order to teach and disciple. The theme of 1 Peter itself is largely, “Walk in holiness, a) because it’s the godly thing to do, and b) because it could open a door for you to share the gospel with others.” Peter never suggests that godly behavior is the stopping point of evangelism, only the starting point.

Another great example is the account of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. The Ethiopian eunuch was actually reading a gospel passage from the Bible, when Philip arrived on the scene. “Do you understand what you’re reading?” Philip asked. “How can I unless someone explains it to me?” he answered. At that point, Philip did not put on a little skit of good works for the Ethiopian to watch, he climbed into the chariot beside him and explained the gospel from Scripture.

The 1 Corinthians 7 passage adds clarity as well, indicating that God has essentially placed a saved wife and mother in her family to be a missionary to her husband and children.

Now let’s think about this verse in the context of 1 Peter 3:1-6. If you look at those six verses as a set, what is the main idea of the passage? It’s not witnessing, it’s being winsome. Through Peter’s pen, the Holy Spirit is helping women to see that godly behavior sets a gorgeous table from which the main dish of the gospel can be appetizingly served. Don’t be confused – it’s not about dressing like a supermodel dripping with jewels; that’s not what’s going to have the most profound impact on a husband’s heart – it’s about being beautiful from the inside out. Your character, your demeanor, your submission and self-sacrifice, “a gentle and quiet spirit.” That’s the focus of this passage – laying the foundation – so that when an opening presents itself to share Christ with your husband, the gospel is adorned with your grace and godliness instead of your behavior and attitude being an impediment to his receiving the good news.

The primary characteristic of having a “gentle and quiet spirit” is trusting God. And that plays into this passage too, because the scariest and weightiest thing you’re going to have to trust God with is your husband’s salvation. God has to save your husband in His good time just like He saved you in His good time. You cannot convince, lecture, or nag him into the kingdom of God, even though it will be tempting to try because you want it so badly.

That’s another application of this passage that can be very comforting and helpful. Maybe when you first got saved, you were so eager for your husband to know Christ that you harped at him constantly about it. You overwhelmed him with the gospel to the point that he said, “Please stop talking to me about that.” This passage in 1 Peter reassures you that it’s OK to back off. You’ve shared the gospel with your husband. He’s heard it. Until or unless a moment comes when you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Holy Spirit is intensely working on your husband’s heart, he’s “ripe for the picking,” and he needs you to pray with him or explain the gospel again, your job is over. It’s the Holy Spirit’s turn. Stand aside and don’t get in the way of the work He’s doing through the gospel seed you’ve planted, your prayers for your husband, and your godly behavior.

God can save your husband even if you’ve messed up and said the wrong thing. God can save your husband even if you don’t say that “one more thing” you think will push him over the edge of salvation. Yes, share the gospel with your husband, but realize that God does not place the burden of saving your husband on your shoulders. Only Christ is strong enough to bear that burden. Rest in that, trust Him, and walk obediently. You are not responsible for saving your husband. God is.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

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