HOW DOES ONE SANCTIFY AN UNBELIEVER?

T. PIERCE BROWN

In 1 Corinthians 7:14, we read, “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the brother: else were your children unclean; but now they are holy.” Since the word “sanctify” in its various forms is often used to signify a state of holiness or being in accord with God, it is thought to relate to salvation from sin. That this is not so would be evident if one looked at every context in which the word is used. When we are told to “sanctify the Lord in our hearts” it is evident that we do not save him from sin. The basic meaning is “set apart,” and whatever or whoever is set apart for some purpose is sanctified. A vessel in the Tabernacle was called holy because it was set apart for a specific use.

So, when we read that the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife, it is evident to one who knows anything about God’s plan of redemption that an unbelieving husband is not saved just because he is married to a believing wife. Salvation is always an individual matter, depending on an individual’s personal response to the gospel.

Since the context clearly shows that Paul is speaking of the marriage relationship and the propriety of a believing mate dwelling with an unbelieving mate, it seems certain that he means that the relationship is sacred, set apart of God as special, despite the condition of either partner in terms of salvation. Marriage is just as binding on two sinners as it is on two saints, or one saint with one sinner. If that were not so, Paul suggests that the children of such a relationship would be looked upon as “unclean.” That is, they would not be legitimate if the marriage was not legal and binding. The child being “unclean” has nothing to do with it being lost or saved, but it is in the same category as those mentioned in Deuteronomy 23:1-2 who were not allowed to enter the congregation. Anyone who reads in the Old Testament about the lepers and various other kinds of persons who were unclean understands that it had nothing to do with being sinful. Of course, in some contexts “unclean” refers to spiritual defilement, or sinfulness, but, like the word, “adultery,” it is usually not hard to tell whether it is “spiritual adultery” where a person is unfaithful in his relationship with God, or physical adultery, where he is unfaithful to his marriage relationship.

To summarize: the unbeliever is sanctified in the relationship with the mate because God sanctified the marriage relationship without reference to whether either or both were in fellowship with God. For the sake of society, God ordained marriage, and two sinners are married or joined by God the same as two saints, or one saint and one sinner.

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