Should Christians be friends with non-Christians? What does the Bible say about close friendships with unbelievers (or other types of relationships)? Would it be a sin for a Christian to have a close friendship with an unbeliever?
Next, we have the question of friendship. What constitutes a “friend?” When we say friendship, do we mean mere acquaintances we interact with at the office or at school? Do we mean people we occasionally see or talk to, but not often? Or do we mean close friends that we hang out with regularly and have a deep bond with them?
Should Christians Be Friends With Unbelievers (Non-Christians)?
The Bible commands Christians to be the “light” in a dark world. We need to be loving, kind, and gentle with all people. We need people to see Christ in us. This means whether they are the nicest people we know, or whether they are terrible pagans doing every sin in the book, we are supposed to be “like Christ.” We are supposed to set an example and love all. We aren’t supposed to engage in sin, or love sin, but we are called to love people.
How else would we show our light? How else would we ever win people over to Christ? But a lot of confusion and disagreement on this topic of Christian friendships comes from not defining the word friend. There are certainly different types of friendships. When we define friend, we can frame a more proper perspective of what the Bible teaches on the topic.
For the purpose of this article, I’ll define two basic types of friendships: Close friends and Acquaintance friends.
- Close Friends–This refers people you spend a great deal of time with (outside of a job or other forced time). You spend time by choice. This means you call each other often, email often, text regularly, spend time together often, go out to eat, see movies, etc. These are people you trust, people you care very deeply about and you may share many common interests. You will tend to have a serious and deep relationship with these friends. They know you on a deep level, and you know them too. You probably confide very personal things in this type of friend.
- Acquaintance Friends–These are people you merely come across in you daily life. Perhaps it is a co-worker, perhaps it is a friend of a friend, perhaps a distant neighbor, someone online, etc. These are people who you are friendly with, but don’t really have enough in common with them, or for some other reason, simply never really spend any time with them. You tend to only see them or talk to them on rare or isolated occasions (unless you work together), and that is the extent of your relationship. These are usually more shallow in terms of emotions and bonds, and you probably don’t confide personal things to them.
And yes, almost everyone has these types. Even Jesus had a disciple whom He loved a bit more, and we know this when the Bible says, ‘John, the disciple Jesus loved.’
Should Christians Be Friends with Acquaintance Type Friends?
Yes, you need to be on friendly terms with any person you come into contact with. Love they neighbor (Mark 12:31). Who is your neighbor? Anyone you see or come into contact with, so be loving and friendly with everyone.
So if there is a co-worker of a different faith, you need to be nice, friendly, and loving to that person, even if they disagree with you. The same applies to any person you may come into contact with in your life.
This “acquaintance” friendship is a more shallow type of friendship, but it is a friendship nonetheless. We need this type of friendship with all people. This is how we can extend love to our fellow humans. It is how we can even occasionally share the gospel with them. We can also learn a great deal and grow spiritually by having these friendships.
Even if they reject the gospel, we Christians need to maintain this type of a friendship with all people. We must love and respect our fellow humans. Did you ever notice that Jesus had many acquaintance type friendships with sinners? The Pharisees would criticize Jesus about this. They would accuse him of occasionally hanging with a sinner or eating with them.
How did Jesus respond? He replied,
“On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17
Here are scriptures that tell us to be loving to all:
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” Luke 6:27 ESV
And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth… 2 Timothy 2:24–26 (NIV)
In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16 (NIV)
The second is this: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:31
These scriptures above clearly show that we are to be kind, loving, and “friends” to all people. We should love everyone as our self. Our neighbors are our friends, and we should love and respect all.
But what about close friendships? What about spending time outside of the office, or school, or whatever? What if a person rejects Christ, rejects the gospel, or is simply an unbeliever? Should a Christian have a close friendship with the person then?
Should Christians Have Close Friendships With Non-Christians or Unbelievers?
At the same time we must make a distinction between the different types of friends. Should a Christian be hanging out constantly with a person who is not very Godly? Should we form a deep bond with someone who rejects our Lord? Not according to the Bible. God has said in His word:
Can two walk together, except they be agreed? Amos 3:3
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 2 Corinthians 6:14 (NIV)
Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” 1 Corinthians 15:33 (NIV)
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of Godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. 2 Timothy 3:1-5
Not only are those scriptures crystal clear, but look at what Jesus himself says regarding an unrepentant brother:
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
“I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will bed bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will bee loosed in heaven. Matthew 18:15-19
Also, the Bible warns us to break off fellowship with other Christians who are living in wicked, unrepentant sin:
But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.
1 Corinthians 5:11
And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.
2 Thessalonians 3:14
In the scriptures above, it is very clear that we are to NOT have the very close types of relationships with those who have NO interest in God’s will, or even close associations with so called “Christians” living in unrepentant sin. When we develop close relationships with those who reject God, we risk being influenced in a negative way. We risk being associated with certain ideology or beliefs that the other person may have. Let me just give you an example:
Extreme Example of Acquaintance Friendship: Let’s take two people on the opposite ends of the spectrum for an example: Billy Graham (the great evangelist) and Marilyn Manson (very anti-Christian/Gothic rocker).
Now if Billy Graham was at the same place with Marilyn Manson (say it was some conference or something), he should absolutely be an acquaintance type friend. He should be nice to Marilyn, not rude or ignore him. He should set an example, and be kind and loving. He doesn’t need to turn up his nose and act “holy.” That would be the appropriate Christian thing to do. There is nothing wrong with having a conversation or shaking hands. The scriptures command to be kind and loving to all people.
Extreme Example of a Close Friendship: Now let us suppose that Marilyn invites Billy Graham to hang out with him. Okay, no big deal, right? Perhaps Billy can eat lunch and share the gospel with Marilyn (even though Marilyn rips up Bibles at his concerts and blasphemes God).
But now suppose suddenly Billy Graham is hanging with Marilyn every day. Suppose you see pictures of Billy Graham hugging Marilyn at his house (with big Satanic pictures in the background), and the two are playing video games together. Here is where the problems come, because 1 of 3 things will happen:
1. Billy Graham will have to compromise his beliefs in Christianity and be “slack” in order to fit in with Marilyn Manson’s worldview (religion).
2. Marilyn Manson will have to convert to Christianity and follow it tightly in order to fit in with Billy Graham’s worldview.
3. Both Billy Graham and Marilyn Manson will each hold tight to their differing religious views on life. In this case, their friendship will naturally (and gradually) slide from a close friendship down to an acquaintance type friendship. Why? Because the two will simply disagree on far too many things. They will have little-to-nothing in common. One day Marilyn may speak about how he can’t stand those silly Christians. At that point, Billy would get offended and say, “Christians are God’s people.” Then Marilyn may insult God, which would terribly offend Billy Graham…you get the picture.
It isn’t too hard to imagine the differences that would arise when a person who rips the Bible during concerts, suddenly hangs out with a person who preaches the Bible to millions.
Should Christians Be Holier Than Thou? Should We Ignore People That Reject God?
I am certainly not suggesting to have an arrogant or “I am better than you” type of attitude. This is not about being “holier than thou.” Instead, this is merely about following what the scriptures tell us regarding close relationships with unbelievers.
Didn’t Jesus hang with sinners? Sure, but notice what Jesus did: Jesus only hung with them to share the Gospel. Jesus viewed himself as a doctor trying to heal a “sick” person. He certainly didn’t hang with sinners for the thrill or exposure of sin, or because they had similar interests. He hung with them to try and save them. And Jesus was unique in that sin couldn’t defile Him. He could touch sinners without sin touching Him.
You’re never going to win a soul to Christ by becoming more sinful, or lowering your morals to be acceptable to your friends. God does not call us to do that, but to be light in a dark world, to stand for truth in a world of lies, and to be healing salt in a world of festering filth. If you adjust to the world, you are not in God’s will, for the Word of God declares:
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you,
2 Corinthians 6:14-17
Also notice another point: Jesus hung with them long enough to be friendly and share the gospel, and then moved on to other people and other areas. In other words, Jesus wasn’t BFFs (best friends forever) with people who rejected God’s will. In fact, Jesus even says he won’t know these people. He says they won’t inherit the Kingdom of God.
Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
We are certainly all sinners aren’t we? But isn’t there a difference between committing a sin and repenting, and committing a sin and enjoying it (with no intentions of repenting)? There is a world of difference between those two. In fact, you might say that that is the difference between a Christian and non-Christian. Both are sinners, yet a Christian runs from sin while non-Christians run to it.
Should Christians Just Drop Non-Christian Friends?
I once heard a great sermon by the late Adrian Rogers. He once said something like, “Sometimes when a person converts to Christianity they ask if they should leave their old friends. You won’t have to, your friends will probably leave you.”
This is sad but often true in life. When people develop two differing world-views (or religions), sharp differences arise and it is often best to simply not spend as much time together (simply because you won’t have as much in common). Either you will not enjoy hanging with your older friends as much, or they won’t enjoy hanging with you.
All it takes is a few conversations in which you strongly disagree, and you may find the relationship strained. Perhaps someone takes God’s name in vain and you correct them. Or perhaps they talk about drugs, partying, pornography, or some other hot-topic and you strongly disagree and share the gospel.
If you can imagine this whole friendship thing like a spectrum of extremes. On one hand you have a very light friendship, on the other a very close friendship. The spectrum can swing from one extreme to another. Here is simple example below:
The idea here is not that Christians should just “abandon ship” when they have non-Christian friends. But the scriptures are telling us to not be too involved with these people. So we would move the “O” above closer to the acquaintance type of friendship. This means to limit the time spent with people who are not on the same “page” as you (spiritually speaking). Especially if you tried to witness, and they rejected Christ.
Again, this is just common sense, and will probably be the natural outcome anyway. If you are a true Christian, will you enjoy hanging out with someone if they are not doing God’s will? For example, if your friends talk about having promiscuous sex, drugs, partying, lying, pornography, music with curse words every second, bad movies, going to clubs, and things like that? Wouldn’t a true Christian feel uncomfortable or offended in those cases?
And what about their political or social views? Should a true Christian be best friends with a person marching for gay rights? Or what about someone who supports abortions? What about a person who thinks there is nothing wrong with frivolous sex, cheating on a spouse, etc.? How could a Christian view this as appropriate, and have a deep relationship with someone like that?
At that point, what would the two have in common? They may still have some things in common, but certainly not many things. Also, it is a FACT that you will pick up some traits of your close friends. As the scripture says,
“Bad morals corrupt good company.”
1 Corinthians 15:33
He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.
Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go: Lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul.
The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.
If you are struggling to do God’s will, do you need extra temptation leading you astray? Do you need to have deep relationships with someone who hates your Lord? Do you want a relationship with a person who may rub off on you in a bad way? God’s word speaks against it.
Conclusion: Christians Should Obey Scriptural Commands on Friendships
The Bible calls Christians to be loving to all people, to be light to a dark world, and to be kind, regardless of faith. Nevertheless, the Bible warns us to not have close friendships with people of this world, that we should not be unequally yoked with non-Christians, we should avoid “Christians” who live in unrepentant sin, and that we should choose our close friends very carefully.
Do not EVER try to twist the Bible to fit in with society or the world. It just won’t work folks (it never has and never will). Instead, twist yourself to fit in with the Bible. That is the will of God, and the Christian goal. You must change your life to fit in with God’s will. It is impossible to twist God’s word as to make it compatible with society’s morals. It just won’t happen.