Should Christians befriend non-Christians?

I love it when the blog starts to buzz. We've just started our conversation on friendship, but already many of you are wondering, "Is it okay to be friends with (fill in the blank)?" or "should I stop being friends with someone who does (fill in the blank)?" Here's a sample of what you've written.

"I have quite a few friends who I really think I can be a positive influence on and who are really sweet once you get to know them, but they don't always dress the way they probably should. Do you mean that that can reflect on me, and I should like ... break off a relationship?" "I'm a very social person. I mean I'm not into all the things they do but I do like to meet new people and be nice to them. Does it mean I can't be friends with bad people? We need to have a positive influence on them, right?"

The underlying question here is "should Christians befriend non-Christians?" And I think it is a question worth asking. Let's look for the answer in God's Word. In Scripture, we frequently find Jesus hanging out with sinners. For example, in Matthew 9:9–13 we find Him having dinner at the house of Matthew the tax collector. Matthew and Jesus were joined by "many tax collectors and ‘sinners'" (v. 10). Jesus initiated this dinner party with "sinners," and Matthew went on to become one of His 12 disciples. The reason why Jesus spent time with sinners is the clincher here. When questioned by the Pharisees for His decision to covert with non-believers, Jesus said this, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.... For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (vv. 12–13). These days, we call that witnessing. Jesus didn't hang out with sinners because they were the cool kids. He wasn't drawn to the danger and rebellion they had in their lives. He didn't run with a rough crowd to get back at His parents. He had one purpose in mind in spending time with non-believers and that was to point them toward Truth. In Matthew 5:13–16, Jesus calls this particular friendship principle being salt and light.

"You are the salt of the earth.... You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."

In John 13:35, He said it this way: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." In other words, it's our mission to love others, especially those who do not know the Lord. Sounds like friendship to me. But I feel compelled to offer a warning or two. While it's true that we can influence non-Christians positively by reaching out to them and being good friends, it's also true that such friendships have the power to influence us as well. I can't tell you how many young women I've counseled who have found themselves sinning as a result of poor friend choices. Yes, Jesus spent time with sinners. But He didn't spend all of His time with them, and His closest friends believed in Him. It's important that we continue to take our cues from Him by ensuring that our closest friends are those who share our belief in Christ and can encourage us in our Christian walk. There's another verse about friendship that bears repeating here. James 4:4 says, "Don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God." Now that is a serious warning! Friendship with the world is hatred toward God. Being friends with non-Christians is not a permission slip to do the things they do or go the places they go. It doesn't fly to justify spending time at parties, watching movies you shouldn't watch, spending insane amounts of time online, dressing immodestly, or using crude language in the name of influencing others. When stacked up against the example of Jesus, those behaviors simply don't hold water. So the short answer to the question "should Christians befriend non-Christians?" is yes. But here are the key points to remember when forming relationships with non-believers.

  1. Remember your mission. Always be mindful that your purpose is to point your friends toward Christ.
  2. Your closest friends should be those who share your belief in Christ and can encourage you in your walk with Him.
  3. Being friends with non-Christians doesn't give us permission to love the things of this world or to participate in worldly behavior.

About the Author

Erin Davis

Erin Davis is married to her high school sweetheart, Jason, and together they parent four energetic boys on their small farm in the midwest. She is the author of more than a dozen books and Bible studies, the content manager for Revive Our Hearts, and a host of the Grounded videocast. You can hear her teach on The Deep Well with Erin Davis podcast.