That is an argument many spiritual leaders hear from singles looking for a partner. “He’s not a Christian, but he’s super sweet!” What is wrong with falling in love with a “good” atheist person?
He is generous, both with his finances and with his time. He volunteers with a community organization and is always available to help his family and friends. He is honest, even if telling the truth is disadvantageous to him. He is respectful, and he keeps his promises. These are all qualities that a child of God should have. Especially if they are led by the Holy Spirit, but these are also qualities that an atheist can have. We don’t need to be saved to be good.
Jesus also met such a man. His story is in Luke 18. “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ ” And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth” (Luke 18:20-21 NKJV). In short, he was the perfect example of a good person. But yet, this good person felt that something more was needed to be saved. He was a good person, even though he was not saved.
There is only one way to be saved. “So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Luke 18:22 NKJV). To be saved, we must follow Jesus. We must not only put aside our sins and bad choices, but we must also give up our good works and our strengths and qualities. We have to be convinced that there is nothing good in our humanity. “No one is good but One, that is, God” (Luke 18:19b NKJV).
We can be “good” people but not be free. Salvation is to be free from sin (Romans 6:7), free from human impulses, and free to enter into the presence of the most holy God (Hebrews 10:19-22). Nothing can make us righteous enough to stand before God except the blood of the Lamb. So even if your suitor is the sweetest and most generous man in the world, if he is not saved, he is not free, he does not have access to the throne of God. Jesus didn’t come to make people good, He came to make people free.
Marriage is more than a relationship between two people pampering each other. Everything we do must be for the glory of God (Colossians 3:23), for the advancement of His Kingdom (Matthew 6:33). It also includes our marriage. We must marry not only to form a family with or without children (Genesis 2:24) but also to grow the Kingdom of God. Which is, of course, impossible if both partners are not saved.
“But I know a couple where one of the partners is not a Christian, and they are very happy!”, we sometimes hear. And yes, just as it is possible for an unsaved person to be a good person, it is possible for marriages to be happy even if they do not have God as their foundation. But these marriages will not be able to bring glory to God nor to advance His Kingdom. This couple will have no spiritual legacy to leave. And we must not forget that the faith of the Christian person in the couple could be put to the test in a relationship with a non-Christian partner. So gather treasures in heaven instead of on earth (Matthew 6:19-20), and choose a Christian partner (1 Corinthians 7:39).