Faith

What should you do when faith costs you friends, family

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You are excited and full of joy in a way that you’ve never experienced. You just made a decision to put your faith and hope into a relationship with Jesus. You are a Christ-follower, something you never expected to call yourself.

Your ideas of “religion” were wrong. You now understand there is much more to being a genuine Christian than you imagined – much more.

A weight has been lifted from your shoulders. You might not know all the answers you are seeking, but now you now know where the answers can be found. Your eyes have been opened in that you see the world in a totally different perspective.

Maybe you have been set free of an addiction, or a bad habit. You have been forgiven of the horrible things you have done, said and believed in the past.

You have hope for a better tomorrow and an eternity free of the things that seem to keep you from becoming the person you know you were created to be.

You have been restored physically, emotionally and spiritually. You are beside yourself with enthusiasm. You discovered there really is a purpose for your life.

You know one thing for sure – you want those people closest to you to enjoy the same joy and sense of freedom you now possess. You want them to meet the Jesus you know in your heart. Why? Because you know how that relationship can change their lives.

For you, heaven won’t be nearly the incredible experience you imagine it will be without your closest friends and family members by your side – the people on earth you love more than anyone else.

But, when you share your news with others and suggest that they have “religion” all wrong, they show indifference or outright anger. It’s like they popped your birthday balloon or smashed a treasured heirloom.

They tell you in unmistakable language not only that you are wrong, but that they want nothing to do with you or your faith. To them, you have just become another “holy roller” Jesus freak.

Soon, you find they aren’t returning your messages, they’ve unfriended you on social media, and they’re telling your mutual friends how weird you’ve become.

Your heart is broken. What can you do?

Romans 12:18 makes it clear that we aren’t to retaliate.

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

Remember, they don’t know what they don’t know. Jesus said the same thing in his dying words on the cross. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Although Christianity is very clear in your mind and heart, they still have some misconceptions to overcome.

Overcoming unbelief

Many people who don’t share your enthusiasm are convinced that:

  • Religion is all about rules – Perhaps they grew up going to a church that put a great deal of emphasis on doing the right things, avoiding some foods or behaviors, and saying the right things. They prayed beautifully-written, holy-sounding prayers read from a book, rather than helpless pleas from their heart.
  • Religion is fake – Maybe every time they have ever been to a church the service requires reciting the same words in the same order over and over again. They have not seen God’s power at work.
  • Christians are phony – Some people think it is disingenuous to have strangers who don’t know their name shaking their hand and telling them how glad they are to see them.  Maybe they see people who party hearty on Saturday nights waiving their hands in the air and singing loudly on Sunday mornings.
  • God isn’t real – Perhaps they grew up being told that it was foolish or immature to believe in an all-powerful, all-knowing creator who was watching over them.
  • God is an unhappy disciplinarian – They may have never experienced genuine grace and view God as being a strict authority figure just waiting for them to screw up so he can bring out the holy strap to punish them.
  • God isn’t real – Forgetting that God granted everyone free will to make their own decisions, they rationalize that if God was real, then why do bad things happen to good people?
  • God doesn’t care about them – Even if God is real, they may believe he doesn’t care about them personally. Many times, this stems from unanswered prayer. They found themselves in a hopeless situation and uttered a prayer to see if it would work. If the situation didn’t turn out as they had desired, they conclude God doesn’t care.
  • Church is all about money – They see ornate churches in poverty-stricken areas, or multi-millionaire celebrity pastors begging on TV. They are told to give, give again and give some more. They don’t see money as a heart issue in which God seeks to help us develop trust in him by tithing. They see giving as wasteful coercion.

There are dozens of reasons why people may react indifferently, smugly or even violently to any discussion of faith.

Yes, some immature Christians may encourage that reaction by passing judgement, telling them they will go to hell or insisting that they clean up their own acts before God would even want to have anything to do with them.

So, what can you do?

First, pray that God would soften their heart. Perhaps God will give you unique insight into a situation that impacted their lives in a negative way. Perhaps God needs to soften your heart, too. So pray for empathy.

Then watch your tongue and listen closely. When people don’t feel they will be judged by what they currently believe or what they have done in the past, they may be more open to a rational discussion of faith-based issues.

Next, look for open doors. Some day, your friend might make a comment that seems to invite discussion. Maybe it is related to something she saw on the news, or a situation he is personally experiencing. I know a number of people who stepped forward to ask if they could pray for me YEARS before I even considered becoming a Christian.

Finally, be transparent and willing to share your story. Admit your failures and struggles. Part of the problem is that people often see Christians as hypocrites who believe and say one thing, and do another.

One thing is certain, people can’t argue with your story. They can debate theology all day, but they can’t argue with your personal life story.

“I once felt this way or experienced this situation. Then I met Jesus. Today my life is different.”

People don’t need to be hit over the head with Scripture verses and sermons. They need the unconditional love you received from God in order to experience God’s forgiveness and grace themselves.

It is not up to you to change people. Only God can do that and only when they are ready to embrace that process with his help.

In the meantime, continue to be a source of light and hope for them. That will attract more attention than any moralizing mini-sermon who attempt to deliver.

However, losing friends may be an important step in your maturity as well. Perhaps God is signaling that a specific relationship is toxic and needs to end in order for you to move forward. Just keep the door open and the light on. You may be the only genuine Christian he or she ever meets.

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Greg Gerber

A native of Wisconsin who moved to Arizona in 2009, Greg Gerber is a DODO -- Dad of Daughters Only -- to three grown daughters. He worked as a journalist for many years before pursuing a career as a faith-based writer, author, coach and speaker. Greg is the author of Pornocide: How Lust is Killing Your Faith, Stealing Your Joy and Destroying Your Life.

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