Is it OK to be friends with unbelievers?

On this episode of Upstream, Macie poses a question many Christians often ask themselves: “Is it OK to be friends with unbelievers?” Matthew Haste takes us to John 17 for the answer.


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Video Transcript

Macie: Hi guys. My name is Macie. Thank you so much for watching Upstream, which is brought to you by Boyce College. Today we’re joined by Dr. Haste who teaches classes here at Boyce in biblical counseling and biblical spirituality. Dr. Haste, I grew up in a Christian home with a lot of Christian friends and I didn’t have a ton of unbelieving friends.

Today’s question kind of relates to that. Is it okay to have friends that aren’t believers? And if so, do you have any advice for that?

Dr. Matthew Haste: Yeah, it’s a great question. To the first question, is it okay? Absolutely. In fact, I would say it’s not okay to not have any Christian friends.

The Bible is clear. Christian fellowship is a vital part of how God grows us and encourages us in our walk with him. But the Scripture is equally clear that we are commissioned by God to represent him to the world. We are, as Paul called himself, ambassadors of Christ. And so it would be very difficult to be obedient to that command if we had no meaningful relationships with unbelievers.

So it’s absolutely okay. It would be wrong in some sense to have zero significant relationship with unbelievers. But that second question is important. How do we do that wisely? How do we think about those relationships in a way that we’re making sure that we’re having a greater influence on them than perhaps we might think they are having on us, as we seek to honor the Lord with our lives? A passage of Scripture I would encourage you to go to, and read through, and think through some of the categories in, is John 17.

In John 17, it’s a fascinating scene. Jesus is praying to the father, so the son is praying to the father. He says, “I’m going to pray for my disciples.” He’s praying in the presence of his earthly disciples at the time and all who would believe upon their message. In one sense, Jesus is praying to the father for you and I, as those who have believed on the message of the disciples.

He says, I am coming to you soon, but I do not ask that you would take them, meaning, my disciples, with me. I do not ask that you would take them out of the world. But rather that you would leave them in the world. The idea is—Jesus is asking the father to actually leave his followers in the world.

That gets to the first part of the question. We’re intended to be in the world. But what Jesus says is that we are to be in the world, but not of the world. We are to be present in the world, we’re to have significant relationships with those outside of the faith, but we’re not to be unduly influenced by them. Or we’re not to be marked by them or characterized by their ways.

We instead are to be in the world with a unique purpose as ambassadors of Christ. I think that purpose is exemplified in a couple of key words at the end of that prayer. In John 17, Jesus is praying to the father. He says, “sanctify them in the truth.” And then he speaks of sending us into the world.

I think those two words are helpful as we think about how to navigate friendships with unbelievers. We are sanctified and we are sent. We are sanctified, meaning God has set us apart for his holy purposes as representatives of him. And we are sent into the world to represent him to others.

And so as we’re thinking through how to navigate our friendships, how much time we should spend with this person or that person, and how to have difficult conversations with people about subjects that we know we disagree with them on, how do I speak the gospel to a person whose maybe hostile to the faith in some way?

It’s helpful to remember who we are in Christ. We are those who have been sanctified and we are those who have been sent. Those two ideas are helpful to us as we go into the world, as we engage in friendships with unbelievers, and ultimately, as we try to extend the hope of the gospel to them and tell them about the hope we have in Christ.

Macie: That’s very helpful. Thank you so much, Dr. Haste. Thank you guys for watching Upstream. If you have more questions, please visit us at

We’ll see you next time on Upstream.