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One of the most difficult things you’ll have to do as a born-again believer (besides being kind to those who are unkind to you) is to separate yourself from those who are not born-again. At some point, you’ll have to leave them behind, including family and friends. Jesus did, and so did all of his early followers. If you don’t leave them behind, they’ll hold you back and drag you down. And while they’re doing it, they’ll compromise your witness.
Oh, you say, I’m not worried about that. My faith is strong. My witness isn’t affected by my family and friends.
Really? Your witness isn’t affected by your family and friends? Then why did Jesus cut his ties with his family and then with everyone in his hometown? Was his faith not strong enough? Why did all the disciples leave their wives and children when they started to follow Jesus? Going back further, why did the Jews who’d married non-Jews leave their wives and children when Judah returned to Jerusalem after the exile in Babylon? The reason is because having close relations with people who do not share your beliefs negatively affects you. You may not think it does, but it does. You are constantly compromising what you believe in order to keep the peace. Your spiritual growth is stunted, or worse, you risk falling away.
Think about what happened to Solomon because of his unbelieving wives. He eventually became a demon-worshiper.
Paul says not to separate from unbelieving spouses IF the spouse wants to remain with you. But the unspoken proviso here would be that the spouse should in no way interfere with the believer fully living his or her faith. I know many believers who live with unbelievers, but the unbelievers hold sway over them, so that the believers can only “be themselves” when they’re not around their spouse. This is not what Paul intended.
Scripture is clear that being a follower of Jesus requires us to die to who we were in order to come back to life as an entirely new creation. Most (if not all) of our family and friends are not born-again and so no longer have a place in our life. Does that mean we should shut them out completely? Of course not. Jesus provided for his mother by giving her into the care of John. Mary later became his disciple, as did his brother James. Jesus didn’t run them off like diseased dogs; he separated himself from them so that he could do the work appointed him by God. The same with the disciples.
The same should be with us.
In the Gospels, Jesus tells his followers that their new family are believers who do the will of God. Jesus is very clear about this. Of course, you have God-given free will so you can defy Jesus and keep on living and socializing with those who are not born-again, but you’ll suffer for it and eventually you’ll regret it, likely forever. That’s a long time to wish you’d done what God had advised you to do when you had the chance.
Again, I’m not the one who’s telling you to leave your family and friends, God is, through Jesus. As I mentioned earlier, this is one of the most difficult things you’ll have to do as a born-again believer. There is no easy way around it; it just has to be done, and the sooner, the better.
Scripture says not to go to them, but to let them come to you. Mary eventually turned and came to Jesus, as did James. Chances are that your family and friends may yet turn, if there’s still time for them, but being with them as a compromised believer and tolerating their sin is not going to help them turn. You need to separate from them, and then let them come to you if and when they become believers.
Jesus extended the redemption invitation to us when we were still in our sin, but he didn’t live with us while we were still in our sin. He only started to live with us when our sin was purged from us through spiritual rebirth. Effectively, then, we went to Jesus spiritually; he didn’t downgrade into sin to live with us while we were still in our sin. He stood apart from us, let us know he was there, and waited for us come to him.
We need to separate ourselves and let our unbelieving loved ones – if they turn – come to us, just like we went to Jesus when we turned.