Should Christians set boundaries with who they become friends with?

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The Bible clearly warns all Christians not to be united with unbelievers, and also to beware of bad company because it corrupts good morals. Because of this, many Christians are often faced with the question: is it okay to be friends with unbelievers, or those the Bible frankly calls a "sinner?"

What are friends anyway?

The term "friend" means "a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection," or "a person who is not an enemy or who is on the same side." The term "acquaintance" on the other hand means "a person one knows slightly, but who is not a close friend." See the difference?

Following these definitions, we can clearly say that Christians should have some distance when it comes to having unbelievers as close friends, simply because we are not living the same kind of life anymore (see 2 Corinthians 6:15). Here's what the Bible has to say about making friends with those of the world:

James 4:4 – "Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."

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1 Corinthians 15:33 – "Do not be deceived: "Evil company corrupts good habits.""

Does this mean it's not okay to be friends with unbelievers?

It simply means not to be one with them. We still need to reach out to those who do not know or have strayed away from Christ.  Friendships should be grounded in what you have in common so if their lifestyles are not godly or spending time with them exposes you to temptation then a friendship simply isn't wise, no matter how wellmeaning your intentions might be. And certainly, we are warned not to prioritize these friendships more than we do our relationship with God.

Jesus said in Matthew 10:34 that He did not come to earth to bring peace, but a sword, so sometimes as believers we do have to make some tough choices that can seem cold or heartless, but the reason is actually good, because we are called to follow after God first and pursue godliness. One truth about Jesus' declaration in this passage is that there has to be a separation between those who are following Him and those who are not.  So yes, by all means spend time with non-believers and even share fellowship where this is godly, but put your faith first.

The Bible presents sobering descriptions about those that will be allowed and not allowed to enter His Kingdom:

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 – "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God."

Galatians 5:19-21 – "Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God."

Make friends for the Kingdom of God

Many of us Christians need to realize that we cannot keep wrong friendships any longer (see 2 Cor. 6:17). We need to maintain connections with our unbelieving friends if only for the purpose of bringing Christ to them and bringing them to Christ.

Keep in mind that Jesus Himself became a "friend of sinners," a friend to all of us (see Matthew 11:19). He did not do that because He wanted to do what we used to do, but so that He could show us that God loves us, and wants us to be reconciled to Him.

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