I can remember being at a dinner party and overhearing two godly Christians talk about their lives, and in the course of their conversation they started talking about non-Christians. One of them commented to the nodding approval of the other, “I don’t have any non-Christian acquaintances or friends. In fact, I don’t think I’d know what to do or say to a non-Christian—I’m very uncomfortable in such situations.” Given the context, I didn’t have the opportunity to engage these fellow Christians on this particular issue, but the comment has stuck in my mind nevertheless.

How could someone get to the point where they didn’t want to interact with unbelievers? I think one of the reasons is that Christian parents rightly shield their children from the world because they want to protect their souls. I know that in my own home, my wife and I are very careful about the children we let our kids play with, the books they read, and the movies they watch. If there’s something questionable, we are sure to discuss things with our kids so they understand what the Bible has to say on such matters. But there comes a point in a child’s life where they find great comfort within the Christian bubble and decide they don’t want to leave. On the one hand, I perfectly understand such thinking. Why would you want to leave what you know? Why would you want to get involved with people that do not share your morals, faith, or convictions? But on the other hand, if we never want to interact with unbelievers, or even befriend them, how can we possibly expect to share the gospel with them?

In the Christian life we have to maintain a careful balance. The Bible is very clear, we must not love the world: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). Within context, John identifies the “world” as “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride and life”—all of these things are “not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:16). We must not, therefore, engage in the moral, ethical, and spiritual rebellion of the world. To do such things is to love the world.

On the other hand, if we are to represent and reflect the redeemed image of God, then there is a sense in which we must love the world. “God so loved the world,” John tells us, “that he gave his only Son” to it (John 3:16). Moreover, Jesus commands us to love our enemies—to love unbelievers, even those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44). If we are supposed to love and pray for unbelievers, we must at some level interact with and get to know them. Recall that even Jesus supped with sinners and tax collectors (Matt. 9:11). He spent time with unbelievers in an effort to share the gospel with them.

Protecting your children from the dangers of the unbelieving world is one thing; refusing to leave the protection of the Christian bubble once you’re a mature adult Christian is entirely another. I’m not saying that you need to dump your Christian friends and enlist a cadre of unbelievers. Rather, look for opportunities to befriend unbelievers. How many of us, for example, know our neighbors well? How many of our next-door neighbors go to church? A simple place to start is to host a finger-food party and invite a few of your neighbors. Don’t pounce on them with the gospel the moment they enter your home, unless of course they immediately ask you about it. Rather, befriend your neighbors—get to know them. Have them over more than once. Be willing to go to their homes. Like most people, they probably have challenges and struggles. If they tell you about such things, then offer to pray for them. Once you’ve established some rapport, then invite them to church. If they don’t accept, that’s fine. It’s not on you but ultimately up to God, his Spirit, and his effectual call. But don't be afraid to be a good neighbor just because you're neighbor isn't a Christian. Be friendly, helpful, and even sacrificial and show your neighbor the love of Christ in word and deed.

In the end, don’t fear the world. Boldly go into the world and be ready to share the gospel, but at the same time, know that you can’t share the gospel with unbelievers if you don’t know any!