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. - 1 Corinthians 7:14
What does it mean when the text says that the unbeliever is sanctified (or made holy) by the believer? And how are children of this mixed relationship considered holy?
Some Baptists interprete the previous passage as saying the believing spouse has a sanctifying influence upon the unbeliever. That is to say, the unbeliever becomes outwardly more righteous bc of the presence and influence of the believer. So the unbeliever may quit smoking or stop cussing because of the godly influence of the believing spouse.
But this verse says that the children ARE holy. They do not progressively become holy, but rather, they enjoy the status of holiness. This verse must help to interpret the former. The spouse does not become progressively sanctified. He becomes holy in that he enters into the state of being holy.
This holiness, we must understand, is not an internal holiness. That can only be experienced by the believer. The holiness of the believer is patterned after the holiness of Christ himself, and is a work that is part of the regeneration of the believer's heart.
The holiness spoken of here is of another kind. It is outward; or may be called an "external holiness." It is the holiness associated with being brought into God's covenant and becoming a member of the visible church.
To be holy simply means to be "set apart." Unbelievers who are married to believer's become holy in that the are much like the utensils used in the tabernacle in the Old Testament. They are set apart from the rest of the world unto God.
In the Old Testament a Jew could take for themselves a wife from among the Gentiles. Perhaps as part of the spoil from a war. That woman would become a member of God's people. She would be "made holy" in that she had come into the covenant community and was now a member of Israel. She might not be saved, but she was definitely in a new status before God. Moreover, the children would have the right of circumcision, which meant that they would be marked as ones belonging to God.
So it is in the New Testament era. God looks upon the unbelieving spouse and the children of this mixed relationship as members of His covenant and participants in the visible church.
The visible church, of course, is made up of believer's and unbelievers, wheat and tares. It is distinct from the invisible church, which consists of all who possess true faith.
This is further verified by verse 16, which goes on to say, "How do you know whether you will save your unbelieving spouse?" Paul recognizes that the unbelieving spouse is not internally holy (i.e. saved). The unbeliever must still profess faith and experience the saving power of the Spirit which is demonstrated in the renewing the heart.
Despite the unbeliever's lack of faith, he still maybe said to be a member of the covenant community. He may be an Esau, but he is no less a part of the covenant body.
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