Interestingly, Jesus chose 12 young men who, at the time, had no real relationship with God. They resided within the fringe of religiosity. They were Jews, yes, but not born-again believers in Jesus Christ. That didn’t happen until after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Until that time, they were disciples (“learners”) and friends of the man they hoped was the Messiah, the one who would redeem them from Roman rule.
Does that surprise you: that Jesus chose unsaved, Jewish-born men to be his closest followers? That was his intention, honestly. He was sent by God to purposely “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Seek in Greek (zēteō) means “to search for, to crave.” Jesus intentionally searched out and craved relationships with those who were unregenerate, with those who were the antithesis of himself: sinless, pure, and holy.
The reason I bring this up is that many believers today have unsaved friends in their circle of relationships, and they may feel guilty (or even ashamed) that they do. After all, some believers think that Christians should keep the unsaved at a distance, citing 1 Corinthians 15:33 as justification. Yet, we, of all people, should, like Jesus, be seeking out the unsaved, craving their friendship (though not their influence), with the intention of being ambassadors for the Almighty, out of obedience to fulfilling the Great Commission of “making disciples,” and with the hope of bringing these unsaved friends to the Light, to receive the free gift of grace through faith.
I have unsaved friends and acquaintances. And I believe, based on Jesus’ example with his disciples, that that’s a good thing. From my own experience, here are a few ways (which are not exhaustive) to express our love to our unsaved friends. These can also apply to unsaved family members, co-workers, neighbors—anyone in your relationship sphere who doesn’t know Jesus as Savior and Lord.
1. Value Them
This should go without saying, but in fact, in our culture today, which is so fraught with polarization around issues, sometimes we believers can tend to—perhaps unknowingly and unintentionally—“devalue” those who hold opposite principles than us. We can tend to think less of them, dismiss them, and even pass judgment on them out of self-righteousness and false piety.
But every person, whether we agree with them politically, morally, religiously, or ethically, has value for the simple fact that they are created by God and bear his image. Even in their sinful state, they still carry his imprint. They bear the common-grace markings of him through the expression of emotions, intellect, and creativity.
So, first off, value each unsaved friend as a God-created, God-imprinted person. Look past their opinions, beliefs, and leanings. Look at them through the lens of Creation, based on Genesis 1:27: “So God created mankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (emphasis added).
2. Accept Them
Accept them where they’re at. The unsaved are going to act as, well, unsaved. Their souls, minds, and hearts are unregenerated. They will think, believe, and act out of their sin-nature. They will speak profanely, they will drink (often to excess), they will be promiscuous, and they will slander and hate. They will act foolishly, irrationally, and sinfully.
Given this, we’re not to condemn them. Frankly, we should expect them act unbecomingly in their depravity. It should not shock us nor surprise us. After all, we once did, too, before we surrendered our lives to Jesus as Savior and to the Holy Spirit as Sanctifier (Titus 3:3).
Therefore, God says we have no business passing judgment on our worldly-minded, worldly-living, unsaved friends, based on 1 Corinthians 5:12: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?”
However, we aren’t to condone their behavior, either. We graciously accept them as a person without condoning their sinful choices. But when asked, we gently and respectfully tell them we don’t agree or approve of their behavior (1 Peter 3:16), and we use the opportunity to share how we are compelled, because of what Jesus did for us, to now live under the guidance of God’s ways.
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3. Listen to Them
Oftentimes we think the best way to show love is to talk—even if it’s about God—when in actuality, it’s to listen. That old idiom, “God gave us one mouth and two ears,” rings true in this case. When people feel listened to—really listened to—they feel respected, valued, and cared about.
Not to mention that God values a genuinely attentive listener. “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: you must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (James 1:19).
As people, they also have hopes and dreams, desires and aspirations, and pain and long-buried hurts, some of which may have been caused by the Church or other Christians. Listening to them helps us to build commonality with them, and compassion for them, especially in their suffering.
Listening also breeds understanding. We may not agree with our friend’s views, but listening allows us to come to an understanding of how and why they think and believe the way they do. Furthermore, people like nothing more than to be understood and appreciated for their opinions, values, and beliefs, even if they’re on the wrong side of the Bible.
Another benefit of listening—which was a new thought for me—is that it breeds patience in us, the listener. Says Mental Health Training in its podcast, “Sitting and listening to someone you disagree with is difficult. You will have to have patience. And if you haven’t already developed the necessary tolerance for this task, just the practice of hearing others more often will help you to create it. If you find you are struggling with the activity, try to remember you are listening to learn something new. You can also listen with the intent to ask questions, and this will help you focus on the words the other person is saying more carefully.”
So, listen to learn and understand. Listen to show respect and value. Listen to cultivate patience and compassion.
Conversely, listening will also earn you the right to be listened to. Tit for tat, so to speak. And then you have the wonderful opportunity to speak the truths of God, and your unsaved friend will likely be more apt to listen.
4. Pray for Them
“Prayer is the work,” someone once told me. How true that is. Prayer is the behind-the-scenes work in which all believers should be engaged. Prayer is the work of seeking open doors for Gospel witnessing, of building God’s Kingdom. James even tells us that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).
With regards to your unsaved friends (or whomever the Lord has burdened your heart with):
- Pray for their hardened hearts to be softened (Romans 2:5)
- Pray that God implants a new, humble, clean, pure, and believing heart within them (Ezekiel 36:26, Matthew 18:4, Psalm 51:10, Matthew 5:8, Romans 10:10).
- Pray that their darkened minds may be enlightened to understand God’s truths, to be renewed, transformed, and focused on things above rather than on things below (Ephesians 4:18, Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23, Colossians 3:12).
- Pray for blind eyes to suddenly “see” the Light of this world, which saves, and the glory of God and his goodness (2 Corinthians 4:4, Luke 4:18, John 3:3, Psalm 34:8, John 8:12).
- Pray for plugged ears to suddenly “hear” the Good News (Romans 1:16, 10:14, 17).
5. Show Them Grace
Jesus was God’s grace personified. He came not to condemn but to show grace to those who least deserved it: the sinners. He extended a helping hand to those who were suffering, a kind word to those who were desperate, and, when necessary, he spoke truth in confronting sin, yet with love. Grace upon grace.
We should be God’s grace personified, as well, to our unsaved friends. We may be the only people who show them grace when they fail or sin grievously. Our extending grace to them when all others are judging and dismissing may just be what they need to experience for them to finally see their need for a Savior, to repent, and to receive salvation.
As believers in Christ, yes, we’re called to remain holy (“separate”) in our conduct and are not to conform to this world. But that isn’t justification to withdraw from the world or from its people. Quite the opposite. Distancing ourselves from the unsaved is not an option, nor is it biblical. Rather, Jesus told his disciples and us to “Go” into the world (“to all nations”) and to make disciples. And many times, that happens when we intentionally and prayerfully build genuine friendships with the unsaved.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Sarah Mason
Denise is a former newspaper reporter and current freelance writer. She has been published in numerous online and print publications. She is also a former Women’s Bible Study teacher. Denise’s passion is to use her writing to bless, encourage, and inform others. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children (another has grown and flown). You can find Denise at denisekohlmeyer.com.