I believe every Christian should have a couple of friendships with people who are not believers in Jesus Christ. These friendships are what I call gospel friendships.
There are two dangers that every sincere follower of Jesus needs to be constantly aware of when it comes to their relationships. The first danger is getting way too close with somebody who is not a follower of Jesus. This danger becomes clear when a Christian man or woman falls in love with a non-Christian man or woman. In almost every circumstance, that romantic relationship is going to drag the Christian’s faith down. By the grace of God, perhaps the non-Christian will become a believer through this romantic relationship – but in almost every case, it will also negatively impact the Christian’s faith.
The second danger is becoming too isolated as a Christian- never developing relationships with anyone who is not a Christian. Sincere followers of Jesus are commanded in Matthew 28:18-20 to impact the world for the Lord Jesus Christ. Acts 1:8 makes it clear that you should be willing to go to the ends of the earth to develop these kinds of friendships. I don’t know how it’s possible to be a committed Christian, trying to live out the great commission, and not have a couple of friendships with people who are not yet believers in Jesus.
So, what I want to do for the next couple of minutes is just describe for you how to balance between these two dangers. How do you walk on this tight rope of developing a gospel friendship with somebody, without crossing the line and allowing that friendship to become more than it ever should be? The answer has been succinctly described this way… “Be in the world but not of the world”. Here’s what I believe that looks like in gospel friendships:
Don’t use people
All people have a built-in sincerity detector. They know whether you honestly care for them or whether they’re just treating them as a means to an end. Since this discussion today is about people, and I believe all people are created in the image of God (meaning they have intrinsic value as a human being), people should never be “used”.
What I’m trying to say, is don’t treat gospel relationships like a notch on your pistol belt. That person is a human being with great worth in God’s sight. Therefore, gospel relationships are always for the sake of the person who needs to hear about Jesus. That gospel relationship is also for the glory of God. The gospel relationship doesn’t exist for me to feel good about myself as a Christian. That’s why I don’t use people as a means to an end. Even if that end is presenting a life-changing gospel through faith in Jesus Christ.
Don’t go too shallow
Since unchurched people have intrinsic value, Christians should be willing to wade deep into their world. I have found, gospel relationships are most effective when you and I have demonstrated that we care about them as human beings. It’s really easy to say that you care about somebody; it’s a lot harder to show them you care. Chances are, it’s going to take time, energy, and a little bit of heartbreak on your part before they really believe you care.
Once you have convinced them that you care, the door is wide open for you to start to speak truth into their life. As soon as you’re able to speak truth into someone’s life, you are able to introduce them to The Truth (John 14:6)!
Don’t go too deep
It’s only natural, when you start to wade deep into someone else’s life, that you start to connect with them at the heart level. This is where a Christian has to be very careful. Many saints of the Bible made this mistake as well. Sampson wasn’t strong enough to protect his heart from non-Christian women. Solomon wasn’t smart enough to preserve his heart from foreign relationships. If it can happen to these two men in the Bible, it can happen to you as well. Don’t let what happened to Demas happen to you (2 Timothy 4:10). Don’t fall in love with the world and desert the faith.
Be in the world but not of the world. Develop gospel friendships with people- don’t use them, go deep with them- just don’t go so deep that it endangers your faith in the process.