By Drew Larson

The One Dating Question You’re Not Asking—but Should Be

“I mean, I met him at church. Why doesn’t he seem to care that much about spiritual things?”

“It’s so confusing—we started dating because I saw her at a Bible study, so I just assumed she loved Jesus.”

We’ve all heard the stories at least once. Maybe we even know someone for whom the story is true.

Nice Single Christian meets Super-Duper Other Christian. It’s in a religious setting—church, Bible study, dating website, ministry employer, etc.—so everything seems safe. Surely they’re a Christian—otherwise why were they there? Crushing ensues. Sparks fly. Relationship starts.

Now it’s months, or even years, later. They’re seriously dating or recently married. And one day, while you’re having coffee together, Nice Not-So-Single Christian leans toward you and blurts it out: they’re stuck.

Super-Duper Other Christian isn’t all that super. They weren’t that much of a Christian after all.

It’s a bad situation, and sadly common, but generally preventable if you ask your most recent crush one simple question:  

When was the last time, prompted by what you read in the Bible, that you repented of sin and changed your behavior?

There you go. Tweak the wording how you like, but that’s the question in a nutshell. Does your potential special friend’s life demonstrate a consistent pattern of real repentance in response to Scripture?  

From here, the conversation belongs to you. Be blunt in pursuing satisfactory answers to this question. Why? Because demonstrated, biblical repentance in their life will tell you the following nine crucial things about your special friend’s spiritual life.

  1. The person has an active relationship with Jesus.
  2. The person is in a right position in relation to God; he or she knows that God is the supreme and commanding authority over their life.
  3. The person has both a desire and a willingness to submit to that authority.
  4. The person has not only a desire to change but also the fortitude to enact change despite its difficulty.
  5. The person sees themselves as not only under God’s authority generally but also under the authority of the Bible specifically.
  6. The person is actively in God’s Word with regularity.
  7. The person is not just reading God’s Word, but reading it with a hunger to apply it to their life.
  8. The person is willing to be honest and open about their sin, both with themselves and others.
  9. The person understands that repentance does not threaten their identity as a child of God, but rather reinforces it.

Wishy-washy, non-committal, or “I don’t know” answers to your questions about repentance are red flags and call for a full stop. Why?

Because asking about repentance weeds out many of the two types of people you want no part of dating: Fakes and Fringes.

Fakes will have all the right words. They’ll talk a good game, and thus look great in Christian contexts. Sadly, words are easy to manufacture on the spot. It’s easy to just say things because the tongue has a direct connection to our imagination, and our imagination has a direct connection to our sin nature.

But life is not easy to manufacture on the spot. Life, rather, is an accumulation. It collects. One’s life as a whole is impossible to invent in a moment because it itself is not manufactured in a moment, but by the sum of many moments. Repentance, then, will always have observable effects of accrued obedience.

Admittedly, part of the challenge of dating is that it can be difficult sometimes to observe a person’s life. A skilled Fake can play in the praise band, lead the Bible study, own a Rich Mullins record, drop the trendy conference names, and speak Christian lingo with convincing fluency. Add enough charisma to the recipe and it might seem like God cooked up the ultimate catch, just for you.

But the Fake will have no real accumulation of real repentance. Their life will have been all about performance. Not only will they have never truly repented of something, but the idea itself will also be foreign. When your identity is built on a charade of looking like a big-shot Christian, repentance—with its admission that you are, in fact, not—threatens the entire façade.

Your typical Fringe, meanwhile, understands the idea of repentance but has never had much appetite for it. They may have felt pangs of conscience over a mistake, had streaks of religious fervor, gotten swept up in emotion at a conference, but nothing has ever coalesced.

Fringes have hung around the edges of the God-life and are used to floating with its current. They’ll go to church, own a Bible, attend a small group. They might even sponsor a Compassion child. They’re not actively putting up a front like the Fake. They’re nice, well-meaning people.

Nice, well-meaning—but their faith doesn’t go deeper than that. They might be floating with the current, but they’re not swimming. And if the water switches directions—which it does for the Fringe, every time they’re not in a church or Christian setting—there they go.

Thus repentance does not accumulate because it’s never really occurred to them to do it, except in times of great trauma or religious fervor. They believe they’re already following Jesus—they’re in church, at Bible study, listening to Christian radio, being good people. What more is there? What’s to repent of? Why should I have to do this all the time? It’s such a drag.

A Fringe will never lead a family spiritually. A Fringe will never dive deeper into Scripture, desire for more of their life to exalt Christ, lay down more of themselves to love and serve a spouse. All of that is found in the deep currents of following Jesus. A Fringe likes to bob along at the surface.

I assume you want something better than a Fake or a Fringe. If not, by all means find one and make them yours. Good luck with that.

But I doubt it. I suspect you never want to have that coffee-shop conversation with your friend. I’ll bet you want more.

If so, be sure to ask our one simple question, and pay careful attention to their words and life for the answer. It might not tell you everything, but it will tell you quite a few important somethings.

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Drew Larson works as a writer on InterVarsity’s Communications Team in Madison, WI. Follow him on Twitter at @drewspelleddrew

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