What if Your Friends are a Bad Influence?

renunculasIn my recent advice column at Boundless.org I answer the question “How can I end a friendship that pulls me away from Christ?” The author of the question writes,

When I began graduate school a few years ago, I formed a close friendship with a non-Christian classmate. Although I’ve tried to plant seeds in her life that the Lord could water to bear good fruit, I realized recently that … she’s influenced me more than I’ve influenced her.

… I’ve realized how draining this friendship has been on my time and energy — I’d begun to feel smothered without noticing it — and how toxic this friendship has been to my walk with the Lord. The Lord has shown me the folly of my own pride in thinking that I had to be the one to lead her to Christ and my “fear of man” in trying to curry favor with her instead of seeking to obey Him by speaking truthfully of my convictions.

How do I extricate myself from this in a way that honors the Lord, especially since this woman feels threatened, judged and condemned by Christians (most of her relatives are Christians) because of the choices she’s made and the liberal views she celebrates?

In my reply, I  answer:

You’ve rightly understood the power of friendship to influence your beliefs and actions — that’s one reason Scripture returns to the theme of friendship so often.

Scripture is full of warnings to avoid foolish and wicked friends precisely because of their ability to lead us into great harm. Bad friends can lead us astray (Proverbs 12:26), shame our parents (Proverbs 28:7) and lead to the squandering of wealth (Proverbs 29:3). Scripture is unequivocal when it comes to the power of friends: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals'” (1 Corinthians 15:33).

It occurred to me after writing the post that I left out one key point: her own heart. The problem with this, and all relationships, isn’t primarily “out there,” it’s “in here.” Meaning, her biggest hurdle is her own heart; her own fallenness and temptation to sin (Jeremiah 17:9). This is true for every one of us. We are prone to blame our sin on bad influences. But our own hearts are ultimately to blame. Adam’s efforts to blame Eve for eating the fruit, against God’s command, did nothing to lessen his guilt. Each of us each of us “will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12).

As we submit our hearts to God, repenting for sin and seeking forgiveness, we must strive in the strength of the Holy Spirit to seek out godly friends and avoid the influence of those who are hostile to the things of God, knowing that breaking off intimacy with bad company may be difficult. Peter warns us about what may happen when we say no to “what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you;” (1 Peter 4:3-4). At the point of embarrassment or anxiety over being rejected by unbelieving friends, listen to the words of the wisest man, Solomon, who said, “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe” (Proverbs 29:25).

What sort of friendships should believers seek out?

If you desire to grow in godliness, you should seek friendships with women who are more godly than you are so that you can learn from them (Titus 2). In friendship we need a Paul, a Silas and a Timothy: someone ahead of us who can disciple us; someone walking beside us whom we mutually exhort; and someone following in our footsteps whom we disciple. In the context of those righteous relationships, we can reach out to unbelievers and call them to faith. What’s not modeled in Scripture, and is instead warned against, is intimate friendship with unbelievers.

To read the rest of  my answer, including some practical suggestions for ending this friendship, as well as options for changing the emphasis from entertainment to evangelism, visit Boundless.org.