We should follow Jesus’ example by cultivating friendships with nonbelievers.
Christian community and being part of a local church are essential for a healthy life of faith. God delights when we are active in the body of Christ, his family. But too many Christians get so invested in relationships with their believing friends that they forget to develop and nurture friendships with those who have not come to experience and embrace the grace of Jesus.
It is easy to circle the spiritual wagons and take a defensive attitude toward the world. Some Christians see nonbelievers as the enemy. When this attitude prevails, we tend to break off our relationships with people who are not Christians. If we do interact with nonbelievers, we tend to keep these relationships shallow and safe.
This way of thinking is diametrically opposed to the example of Jesus. It is contrary to the very heartbeat of God. Think about it—God left the glory of heaven to come and live among people who hated him and would one day kill him. While we were sinful and rebellious, Jesus entered our world to give his life for us. God loved the people of the world so much that he offered his beloved Son as the sacrifice for our sins. The story of Christmas is the perfect example of God’s commitment to enter relationship with the people who needed him.
When Jesus walked on this earth, he did not cloister himself in a religious community and avoid the irreligious people of his day. On the contrary, Jesus loved to hang out with sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, and outcasts. These people, who were ostracized from the religious community, were drawn to Jesus. In the Gospels we learn that Jesus was so comfortable with the irreligious and broken of his day that some of the “religious elite” were offended and bothered.
When was the last time you were accused of being a “friend of tax collectors and sinners”? Jesus had this label slapped on him, and he wore it with delight. So should we. As followers of Jesus, we are to live as he lived, love as he loved, go where he went. Ultimately we should reflect the teachings and example of Jesus.
If you are a follower of Jesus who spends little or no time with people who are spiritually disconnected from God, it may be time to be reckless, make some new friends, and spend consistent time with them. If you are at church during all of your free time, you should evaluate your priorities. If you say, “I really don’t have any close friends who are nonbelievers,” God has a message for you.
He wants to bring love, grace, and the good news of his Son to our world, and you are called to be part of this mission. You are God’s light on this dark planet. You are the salt that God wants to use to cause people to thirst for the living water that only Jesus can provide. God wants to work in and through you to share his love naturally with others through organic outreach. This can only happen when you are in close proximity to people who need Jesus. It happens as you establish authentic and loving relationships with people outside your church.
Bridging Your Worlds
You might be thinking, which is it? First you write about the importance of spending time with Christians and being an active and investing member of a local church. Then you emphasize the critical importance of having authentic and deep friendships with nonbelievers and you say, “Spend less time with Christians and don’t get overcommitted at church.” You might be thinking, make up your mind—should we invest heavily in the church community or in the people who are still far from God?
The answer is, both! This is not an either/or proposition. God expects us to commit ourselves to both of these with great passion. Some people reading this book need to work on developing relationships with other Christians and connecting in a local congregation. If this is you, you might need to find a church, get in a small group, and go deeper with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Most of your time is spent connecting with people who are not believers and you need to grow closer ties with other Christians … but still keep vibrant friendships with the spiritually disconnected. Your reckless move is to open your heart to the people in a local fellowship and go deeper with Christians.
Others are overinvested in the church and should leverage more time in their friendship with spiritual seekers. If this is you, it might be time to take up a hobby where you can meet some new people in your community. Maybe you need to contact a nonbelieving acquaintance you have not spent time with for quite a while. The truth is, you have a long list of Christian friends you love, but God is calling you to spend less time at church and more time in the world. Your reckless move is establishing a balanced rhythm in your life that affords good time with people who still need to experience the amazing grace and love of Jesus.
When we are committed to nurture healthy community with other Christians and build strong friendships with spiritual seekers, the fun really begins. This is when things can get reckless, exciting, and transformational. When this happens, you can begin to build intentional bridges between these two relational worlds. Sadly, many Christians keep these worlds separate. They have a circle of Christian friends who only hang out with other believers. They also have a group of nonbelieving friends from work or some social setting, but these two worlds are like islands. They seem so far apart. What God wants us to do is bridge these worlds and bring people together.