Remember when you first came to Christ and everything in your life turned upside-down? Remember wondering what you should wear to church and what version of the Bible you should buy? Remember the thrill of discovering something fresh every time you cracked the Scriptures or heard a sermon? Remember the reactions of your friends and family when you shared your new faith with them? Wholesale changes indeed!
Well, there are still many aspects of our Christian lives where change will continue as we tarry in this life. We grow in our knowledge of Jesus Christ and His love for us. We see more of our sins. We make decisions that seek to align our daily living with the revealed will of God.
One of those decisions is how we are to relate to those who are not Christians. How frequently do we share the Gospel with them? How much of their ungodly behavior do we overlook? And specifically here, what kind of relationships should we form with them?
Many have either eliminated all relationships with unbelievers and many have continued their relationships with unbelievers no differently than they did prior to salvation. I believe both of these responses are wrong and serve as an easy cop-out to excuse us from deeply processing each situation with God and determining a proper response. You most likely have it right if you experience the tension in this situation. For some of us, there are probably some relationships that need to be ended, some that need to be enriched and some that need to be started. These decisions are oftentimes complex and sometimes painful. There is definitely is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach in this matter!
So while each of you will need to ultimately make these decisions for yourselves, along with your own prayer and wise counsel, permit me to provide some biblical guidelines to assist you in the process.
The overarching guideline in this issue is from 2 Corinthians 6:14 where we are commanded “not [to] be yoked together with unbelievers.”
These are the times when it is wrong to be in a relationship with an unbeliever:
1. When such a person is teaching a false Gospel. 2 Corinthians 6:14, “For what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” Aligning with false teaching and thus their message is damning to our souls.
2. When a professing Christian is unrepentant. 1 Corinthians 5, verses 11-12, “Actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler – not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church?” If a professing believer is unrepentant, believers are to disassociate when it comes to spiritual fellowship. The aim here is to not allow the individual to presume everything is right with him or her and the Lord when it is not. The goal is always loving restoration.
3. When there is an opportunity for Gospel mission. 1 John 5:11-12, “And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.” In these cases, it is impossible to move forward in spiritual gain, compromise to some degree is always inevitable and a false assurance is given to the unbeliever that he or she is right with God.
4. When a significant business partnership is seeking to be formed. 2 Corinthians 6:15, “What has a believer in common with an unbeliever?” Believers should not form bonds with unbelievers when major decisions will need to be made between the two that relate to financial or ethical matters. When your worldviews collide, rarely will the two of you be on the same page.
5. When a particular relationship has become detrimental to one’s spiritual health. 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’” Though it is never easy, believers should not remain with unbelievers who continually seek (intentionally or not) to pull them away from Christ.
6. When it comes to pursuing a marriage relationship? 1 Corinthians 7:39, “A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” How can you ever expect to come to agreement on how you worship God and spend money and raise the children? How can you want to devote your life to someone who won’t share with you the Person in Jesus Christ that means the most to you? How can you want to be “one flesh” with someone who is an enemy of your Savior?
These are the times when it is wrong to separate from an unbeliever:
1. When the person is simply an unbeliever. 1 Corinthians 5:9-10, “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world.” How can we share Jesus if we remove contact with all those who need Jesus?
2. When a Christian is married to a Nonchristian. 1 Corinthians 7:12-13, “But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away.” Here it is reasoned by the partner that since marriage is a strong union and best between two Christians, believers should divorce their unbelieving spouses. The biblical response to the contrary on this one is clear.
3. When an unbeliever enters the church. Paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 14:14-15, “But if…an unbeliever…enters, he is convicted by all…he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.” The church should be the most loving and hospitable place an unbeliever has ever encountered.
4. When two Christians differ on personal convictions or preferential issues. Ephesians 4:2-3, “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Nonessentials should not bring divisions in the church.
Let’s remember that we are called to love and respect all people. Though our primary goal in all relationships is to win others to Christ, human beings are not simply pawns and instruments we are to use for Christian purposes, regarding of how noble our intentions might be. May our relationships be genuine and seasoned with God’s grace, but may they also be ones that are wise in our desire to do the Lord’s will in all the areas of life.