I have started attending a Christian church, and I like the teaching and the activities. However, I have long-time friends who do things that the church does not approve of…. I don’t believe that those friends are bad people. As a matter of fact, I think highly of them, as they and their families have shown me a lot of loyalty, respect, and affection. I don’t want to push them away, yet I feel that I am being pressured to discriminate against them because they aren’t living a Christ-like life…. I have been able to see that they believe in God, but without being a part of any Christian group. I don’t know what to do.

Dear Friend,

The word Christian means many different things to many different people, so when you say that you attend a Christian church, each person will have a different idea of your meaning. Millions of people around the world attend churches that have images of Christ and replicas of crosses over their altars, so to them your attendance at a Christian church would not seem to require anything so drastic as abandoning your friends. Besides, everyone knows at least one church attender who lies, cheats, and lacks integrity. Consequently, going to church, even going to a Christian church, is no more than a tradition for some and belonging to a social club for others. Friends who believe in God fit right into that type of religious activity, whether they actually attend church or not.

For you, however, it has become more than just a tradition or belonging to a club. You are learning the teachings of Jesus Christ and have decided to actively follow those teachings in your daily life. As a result of that, you have begun to question whether your long-time friends may be a negative influence on your decision to have a personal relationship with Christ. Will those friends understand that your Christian beliefs have changed your way of thinking and your lifestyle?

When Jesus walked on this earth, he made friends with sinners on the fringes of society while scorning the religious leaders who were more interested in their religion’s rules than in relationship. So, if we are followers of Christ, we will try to do things His way. That means having friends who do not follow Christ’s teachings, as long as they know our beliefs, are respectful of our decisions, and do not try to influence us to abandon our standards of behavior. However, we must also follow Jesus’ example to share the Good News with each of our friends.

Jesus Christ was not a follower; He was a leader of men. So He had the strength to surround Himself with sinners and not be influenced by them. Unfortunately, many followers of Christ today do not have that strength, so they find it easier to limit the time they spend in social relationships with those who might be a negative influence on them. Only God knows whether you can be a leader and influence others to follow your example, or whether you are more of a follower who might be likely to let friends influence you to follow their examples. Ask God to give you the wisdom and discernment to make the right decision with regard to each friend.

We wish you the best,