“The past few decades have seen American Christians going in two different directions. One group in the church regularly pits scorched-earth, “come out and be separate” teaching against another group proposing the “love your neighbor as yourself” command of Jesus as paramount. Some what to save America, while others want to save Americans. Many believers have been taught that we should shun nonbelievers, since any friendship with them might cause us to stumble and fall into sin ourselves. The response is to construct a protective boundary that keeps us at a safe distance from those “living in sin.” It results in a subculture of churched people who are the equivalent of evangelical Amish.
While it is important for Christians to have and proclaim the moral standards as we have received them in God’s Word, our challenge is to avoid arrogance. Becoming prideful of our standards can have the inadvertent side-effect of us thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think.
Here are a few ideas to help us retain humility as we engage those who believe differently than us or even have no belief at all.
Be willing to acknowledge truth where it is found. In our day, many conservative Christians have bought the political ruminations of talk radio and believe that “incrementalism” is the worst enemy. As a result, many such people brush aside anything spoken or written by one with whom they disagree, lest that political or theological opponent appear to gain an upper hand. Jesus did not do this. In fact, He was quick to affirm when and where His opponents were right, even as He spoke to their errors. When we approach an unbeliever as a person to correct it usually seems to come across as we have all the answers. If we really want to impact people’s lives, we should be willing to learn from them what we can while openly admitting that our own knowledge is limited. The Scriptures are inerrant, but we aren’t.
Learn to recognize unbelievers first as people loved by God. Does “For God so loved the world” only apply to people who are like us or people whom we like? We must remember that all people who choose to reject Christ are still loved by God. Who are we to pick and choose persons we will love? When we recognize unbelievers first as people God loves, it will be easier for our love to follow.
Learn to recognize unbelievers as victims of the enemy. The Scriptures say that all unbelievers are under the deception of the wicked one. They are not the enemy; their souls are enslaved to sin and held captive by the enemy. They have the same need to be rescued as we had before our own salvation through Jesus Christ.
Intentionally befriend an unbeliever who is “out there.” People are not projects; they retain a marred version of the image of God and desperately need to be restored to wholeness of the life of Christ. When Jesus saw Zacchaeus in the tree, he did not say, “Well, well, well. What have we here? A rebellious, God-hating tax collector!” On the contrary, he invited himself to Zacchaeus’s house for dinner and a conversation. With Zacchaeus, Jesus was willing to push beyond the surface of obvious differences to his actual point of need. It is a place that Zacchaeus might have ignored or not even known existed, but it is a place that can be uncovered by a friend.
Commit to befriend and genuinely love people even when they do not come to faith in Christ. This is not to say we stop sharing the gospel but that we remain faithful friends even if others are resistant to it. If we predicate our friendships simply on “an opportunity to lead them to Christ” without a passionate commitment to the relationship itself, we will come across as disingenous and may even turn them away from the faith we declare.
It is not without reason that Jesus said, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17). It lends power to the description of Jesus as “a friend of sinners.”
Infiltrating culture with the gospel is the first priority in the context of mission. Those who live in the West will move forward when we relegate the culture wars to the back burner in favor of living out the love of Christ.”
Other articles in Not Like Me were written by Amena Brown, Margaret Feinberg, Kevin Harney, Dr. Gerardo Marti, Kim Martinez, Lon Wong, Mark DeYmaz, Princess Zulu, Dan Kimball, and Erwin McManus (Foreword).
What are your thoughts on Ed’s advice?