Who are the Non-Believers?
Anyone who is trusting in the death and resurrection of Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and a right relationship with God is a believer. So, a non-believer is anyone who does not believe in Jesus, as he is proclaimed in scripture. So a non-believer may believe one or more of the following:
- Jesus never existed
- Jesus was only human
- Jesus wasn’t crucified
- Jesus wasn’t resurrected
- Jesus’ death doesn’t forgive our sins
The Bible tells us that there are many more non-believers than there are believers. Jesus described belief as a narrow gate that only a few find (Matthew 7:14).
Living among Non-Believers
As Christians, because we live among and interact with non-believers, we frequently encounter questions about how we should relate to them. We will examine some situational questions further on, but first, let’s examine the principle that should inform all of our interactions in the world:
Even as we live among people who do not believe in Jesus, we must live in a manner that reveals His love, grace, and transformative power in our lives. And this is a life that we live in humility and grace, never forgetting that each of us was at some point a non-believer, and it is only through God’s grace that we have been changed:
Having been transformed by grace and empowered by love, these are the qualities of Jesus that should be evident in our interactions with the people of the world.
Forgiveness is central to the Christian’s life because of the forgiveness that we have received. So Jesus teaches us to be gracious toward unbelievers, by loving them, and praying for them (Matthew 5:44). In doing so, we reveal the grace of God in our own lives and acknowledge that God causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on believers and non-believers alike (v 45).
Paul reinforces our aim to overcome evil with good by citing the wisdom of Proverbs 25: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head” (Romans 12:20-21).
Forgiveness answers wrongdoing with grace, not with condemnation. And grace offers warm healing and new life to the cold and unbelieving heart.
Remembering that we all have been saved by grace, Christians do not have the authority or standing to judge those who do not know Jesus. While addressing a matter of church discipline, Paul took caution to emphasize this important, but easy to overlook point:
What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ” 1 Corinthians 5:9-13
Non-believers will be in our midst as long as we are in the world. And while it is right that we expect believers to learn and grow in the faith and live by God’s Spirit instead of by the ways of the world, we cannot expect the same of those who don’t believe. For this reason, we do not have the jurisdiction or authority to judge non-believers.
As Paul adds elsewhere, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14-15).
This leads us to our next question…
The gospel is pointless if we do not share it with others. As we discussed earlier, each of us has been saved (converted) from non-belief into belief. And Jesus commissioned the church with the continuing work of calling non-believers to repentance through the sharing of the gospel, saying “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
As we have read already, the witness of our lives and our acts of grace reveals the power of Christ within us. But for hearts and minds to receive Him, ears must hear the truth of the gospel proclaimed. So Paul continues, “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Romans 10:17).
Still, as we live our calling to reach the lost and to carry Jesus into the world around us, there are certain boundaries that we must maintain with non-believers.
Dating and Marrying Non-Believers
In the Old Testament, the Israelites were prohibited from intermarrying with neighboring nations. This mandate was given because marriage is such a deeply intimate relationship that when two spouses become one, they exert a great deal of influence on one another. So God drew a line at intermarriage in order to prevent the Israelites from being led by foreign spouses to worship false gods.
Similarly, because believers and non-believers do not share the same worldview, an intimate relationship between the two will eventually lead to compromise, which is why Paul says:
We should note that while marriage is the most intimate and personal of all partnerships, the caution against being unequally yoked applies in other areas of life, too.
The metaphor uses the imagery of two mismatched creatures working (pulling a plow) together. It is impossible for such a pairing to produce the straight, evenly plowed row that the farmer desires. Likewise, the work of the kingdom, such as the administration of the church and the teaching of the word, also belongs exclusively in the hands of believers.
Can Non-Believers Take Communion?
Non-believers are certainly welcome (and encouraged) to attend church, hear the gospel message, get to know Jesus, and form connections with believers. The church would die out if we did not welcome non-believers. But Jesus specifically instituted the sacrament of communion as a means for believers to remember his sacrifice.
A non-believer, who has not yet accepted the grace given through Jesus’ blood and body, should decline to participate in communion since he cannot remember what he did not first receive. This is why Paul cautions everyone to examine themselves before partaking in communion. It is an act of proclamation (1 Corinthians 11:26) that we ought to only make if we truly believe what we proclaim.
What Happens to Non-Believers
Just as belief is a narrow gate that leads to salvation, Jesus described the broad gate and wide road of non-belief as one that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13).
Ultimately, Jesus will return, and He (through His angels, not through the church) will separate the unbelievers from the believers, like a fisherman sorting his catch:
But until then, it is the call of believers to live with integrity and love with grace, so that more non-believers around us may find the narrow gate and be saved.