While sharing for Alpha at our home church a few weeks ago, a Latino man came to me after the session with some pertinent questions about evangelism. He had come from a lifestyle of blatant sin less than a decade ago and was curious how much we should "be-friend" non-Christians and how much we should avoid them if they are causing us to struggle with our faith.
This is an age old question with a great response from Scripture. In fact, it's one of my favorite Bible verses. Jude v.23 (only one chapter in Jude):
"Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear--hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh."
A good way to summarize the point of this verse would be to say "Share but Beware."
1. Share - a massive majority of those who come to Christ do so because of a Christian friend cared enough to pray for them and either invite them to church or talk to them about Christ. Thus, it is vital as believers (for our sake) and theirs to be intentionally building friendships with our neighbors, co-workers and others on path in our daily routine. Now not all non-Christians are the same. Some are neat people with regular jobs that just haven't made a decision for Christ. Others are blatant sinners and blasphemers of everything that is true. And of course, there are people who fit every description in between. Jude tells us to "be merciful to those who doubt" and "snatch others from the fire and save them." In the words of William Booth, "Go for sinners, and go for the worst." Another good quote towards this end is from missionary C. T. Studd, "Let others have a quiet chapel beneath an ivy covered bell, but let me run a rescue ship one foot away from hell." God has called us and equipped us to reach out to the worst sinners known to man. It is in this rescue process that his glory is greatly revealed and his transforming power made evident to the world.
2. Beware - along with this mindset of passion for evangelism, we also must be mindful of our own salvation and our own walk with Christ. Jude also warns, "to others show mercy mixed with fear - hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh." There is a healthy tension between mixing with non-Christians in everyday life and in letting our lives be corrupted by those transactions. D. L. Moody preached, "a Christian in the world is one thing, and the world in a Christian is quite another. A ship in the water is all right, but when the water gets into the ship, it is quite a different thing." St. Francis of Assisi also understood this relationship between evangelism and it's effect on personal holiness. The great struggle of his early life was whether or not to hide away as a hermit in perpetual prayer and study or to fulfill what God was laying heavily on his heart - evangelism and preaching the Gospel. He knew that when he went out among sinners he may have to constantly be aware lest it rub off on him. Of course, after prayer and fasting with his community, St. Francis chose to "do the work of an evangelist" along with his friar preachers; and the rest is history. Really, depending on how much we have fallen into sin in our past lives before Christ will be a determining factor of how much we can bear when reaching out our hands in friendship to those without Christ. Christ himself was a "friend of sinners," who ate and drank in the homes of those he came for (Luke 19:10). However, we must beware and watch. When we think we are standing strong, we should still be careful to remain in Christ with all our hearts.
To put it short ... Share but beware.