February 2, 2017

Should Christians be friends with unbelievers?

by Jesse Johnson

Should Christians be friends with non-believers?

Well there are two biblical concepts at play in this question—the first is the principle of purity and the second is the mandate for evangelism. 

The Principle of Purity:

Christians are called to be pure. We are supposed to guard our hearts, our thoughts, and our ways. The danger of a friendship with a non-believer is that might bring the Christian down. It could bring a Christian down morally, intellectually, and spiritually.

The Bible says that “Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Be spending time around those who don’t love Jesus or fear the Lord, we run the risk of negatively impacting our own morality, hampering our world-view, and compromising spiritually.

That is not a prohibition to Christians against these kind of friendships; but it is a warning—a warning that our friendships we guard our hearts, minds, and affections.

The Mandate for Evangelism:

To counter the principle of purity, we remember that we also have a mandate for evangelism. We have received the great commission, and respond knowing that we are to go into all the world to make converts from non-believers. And one of the most effective ways to evangelize is through our friendships.

When we befriend a non-Christian, we can use our friendship to open up conversations about the gospel. But these kind of friendships are not token, and they cannot be superficial. They have to based on real love for the person, and a real sense of common interests and affections, with a real concern for the well-being of the other. In other words, it has to be an authentic friendship, not a manipulated one.

The purpose behind these kind of friendships is the love for the other person—you want what is best for him—so it must make it back to the gospel. The warning for friendship evangelism is that his has to come back to the gospel, or it represents a missed opportunity. You have to ask the questions that take the friendship from the things of this world into the things of eternity.

So should Christians be friends with unbelievers? Absolutely, if they are using their friendships to advance the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • Mary Elizabeth Palshan

    I agree 100%.I have many. But should a Christian theologian bring a Muslim into a CHURCH setting and allow them to give their gospel? There are stern warnings, in Galatians, about God cursing false religions. I know that John MacArthur won’t even share the stage with false teachers when he is invited to do conferences.

    • elainebitt

      Who did that? Of course you know the answer, I think you’re just telling what happened. Only a foolish person would allow a Muslim to come to their church to present a false gospel.

      • Mary Elizabeth Palshan

        I agree 100%, Elaine. It was a big mistake. That is inviting the enemy into the House of God.

        • Pavle Bujanovic

          Mind telling us who you’re referring to?

          • Mary Elizabeth Palshan

            No. He is a wonderful person and a great apologist. I think it was just poor judgment on his part.

          • Pavle Bujanovic

            Fair enough. 🙂

  • Kermos

    Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

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  • alexguggenheim

    Social compatibility between a believer and unbeliever is common in many arenas. Hence, some level of friendship will occur. Family, sports teams, professional occupations and hobby groups and so on are examples.

    What really is at issue is what do we have in view with respect to friendship.

    For the maturing believer whose life is occupied with Christ it would seem incongruous with that kind of direction to share great personal intimacy and friendship with an individual who did not have those properties.

  • Pavle Bujanovic

    Thoughts on being friends with a person who has made it clear that they will reject the Gospel? (I still hold out hope that they will eventually turn to Christ in spite of what they say, but….) What about them? Should we be friends with them?

    I have friends that fit this criteria but going by this standard, I’m not sure that I should.

  • Mary Elizabeth Palshan

    I look at it this way. Christ went among sinners to convert them, but he did not “partake” of their entertainments, false religions, philosophies, or ideologies. It was for the sole purpose of introducing His Gospel message.

  • 4Commencefiring4

    Your last sentence troubles me. “…if they are using their friendships to advance the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Friendships between believers and unbelievers exist and thrive without their being either a negative influence on the believer, nor an evangelistic one on the unbeliever.

    If my unsaved neighbor has let me know, either directly or indirectly, that they are content to live out their lives without Christ, but are otherwise willing to be a good friend or helpful neighbor I can count on to be there when I need him (and vice versa), I see no reason to say, in essence, “You’re not my kind of friend.” If I can trust him to be in my home with my wife and family when I’m away, I’ll be fine with that. There are christians, after all, who I might NOT trust in the same way…and we all have stories.

    I don’t see the unsaved as universally evil, nor the saved world as universally righteous. I maintain friendships that serve my purposes, and I would assume everyone else does, as well.

  • Kermos

    Since the Lord Jesus Christ referred to Judas Iscariot as “friend” at the hour of darkness (Matthew 26:50), it is wise to examine how “friend” is used in the Scriptures to ascertain God’s intention.

    The English word “friend” for this exercise translates from the Greek word hetai­ros – properly, a companion (normally an imposter), posing to be a comrade but in reality only has his own interests in mind – Helps Word Studies for Strongs 2083 (http://biblehub.com/greek/2083.htm). The Greek word hetairos occurs three times in the New Testament, and these are the three passages (all New American Standard Bible [NASB]):

    Matthew 20:11-13

    11 “When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner,

    12 saying, ‘These last men have worked [only] one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’

    13 “But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius?

    Matthew 22:11-13

    11 “But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes,

    12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And the man was speechless.

    13 “Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

    Matthew 26:49-50

    49 Immediately Judas went to Jesus and said, “Hail, Rabbi!” and kissed Him.

    50 And Jesus said to him, “Friend, [do] what you have come for.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him.

    In Matthew 22:12, that manner in which Lord Jesus used the word hetairos (friend) is downright chilling! The way hetairos is used by the KIng of kings brings much meaning to Matthew 20:13. Christ Jesus’ use of hetairos in Matthew 26:50 is clearly visible.

    Hetairos sure sounds like feign-friend, imposter-friend, and/or counterfeit-friend.

    Returning to James 4:4, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. A person with the Holy Spirit WILL NOT embrace the world in friendship, no, the saints are not unequally yoked. We children of God are salt and light – God’s light to penetrate the darkness of the lost that sinners be saved to the glory of God!

    Mary Elizabeth Palshan wrote something that is poignant and supported by the Word of God, “Christ went among sinners to convert them, but he did not “partake” of their entertainments, false religions, philosophies, or ideologies. It was for the sole purpose of introducing His Gospel message.”

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  • Christina

    I have a good friend who was raised Muslim but professes no religion at this time. She thinks Jesus was a prophet but will not go the next step. She has attended church with me quite a few times and reads the Bible. I don’t know what her hold up is with accepting Christ, I just pray for her daily. With all that, she is one of the best friends I have ever had and has been there for me through a lot….since we met in 2000. She is one of the most straight-laced people I know….even though she is not a Christian. She actually keeps me grounded……and will ask me how things tie in with my Christian faith. I pray my friendship with her ultimately leads her to Christ (as I would hate to enter the kingdom without her) but I am not her friend just for that reason. We all grow through our friendships……even when we are different.