Can I be friends with non-Christians?
The book of Proverbs has some really good stuff about choosing your friends: "The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray" (Proverbs 12:26). Stay away from foolish people (13:20, 14:7), from people who lose their temper easily (22:24), and from those who rebel against God (24:21). All these things describe people who have not trusted their lives to Jesus Christ.
We are constantly bombarded with temptations—temptations that we struggle with or have to resist every day. Making good choices about what we are exposed to is practicing self-control and protecting ourselves from things that would make us wander away from God. In order to keep close to Him, we have to be aware of the things we do, the people we hang out with, and the words or images we allow into our heads.
You can pick your friends, but...
First Corinthians 15:33 talks about how we can easily take on the bad characteristics of immoral people around us. Unbelievers are slaves to sin (John 8:34), but Christians are slaves to God (1 Corinthians 7:22). Those are two very important differences! It's wise to be cautious about forming very, very close friendships (especially dating relationships) with non-Christians. Second Corinthians 6:14 says, "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?"
That said, we should still NOT turn our backs on unbelievers. After all, how else will the love of Christ be shown to them if we don't interact? The key to these friendships is in how we represent Christ through our own actions and words. How can you show your friends God's love?
Second Timothy 2:24-26 encourages us to be kind and avoiding fighting with people. Be gentle with those who do not believe in God; we are representing Him and should not do so in anger or with any bitterness. Be patient when people are hard to deal with. "Let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly father." (Matthew 5:16)
So, yes, if the opportunity arises, be a friend to anyone God puts in your path—Christians and non-Christians alike—so that they can see God's light shining through you. Maybe they'll notice that light and say, "I wonder what that is?" There is awesome power in the prayer of a righteous believer, so talk to God about your friends, and He will listen (James 5:16).
Close but Not Too Close
Remember what I said earlier about being careful not to develop very, very close friendships or dating relationships with non-Christians? The reason you need to be wary is that someone who has not chosen to follow Christ is not going to have the same spiritual and moral compass as a Christian. Allowing yourself to be influenced by a person who doesn't believe in God (or even hates Him) could cause you serious problems. Without vigilance, you could fall into a sinful lifestyle or start habits that are not honoring to God. Even worse, you might inadvertently turn others away from God by misrepresenting Him or what it means to be a Christian.
Of course, that could happen with Christian friends too. After all, none of us is perfect in every way. It's important in any friendship—with Christians or non-Christians—to always be careful about how much we allow others to influence us. Be on your guard, but don't allow yourself to feel superior to anyone either. All sin is the same to God, and we are no better or worse than any person around us. Yeah, it's hard to find that balance. No one said life would be easy, but God is your strength and Jesus is your guide (John 16:33).
There's nothing wrong with building great, meaningful friendships with unbelievers. But the main focus of your friendship should be to love them like God loves them and help them discover Christ by the way you live your life.
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