There are three important points to consider here:
(1) This is a question that each one must answer for oneself. There is no one answer for every disciple, for there are many circumstances.
(2) If one's living companions do not become hostile or negative, why separate? The one rule that applies in every situation is "Love your neighbor as yourself." Separating from unbelieving family members is not an act of love. Abiding with them and loving them is the best testimony one can give.
(3) To consider that other disciples that remain with unbelieving individuals after becoming disciples must separate from them is to make judgments of others that we are forbidden to make.
To expand on these points, we offer a more detailed answer:
We are still a part of this world even though we are not of this world by following Jesus. A disciple of Jesus is a living witness to others, believers and non-believers. Where you live and who you live with is a personal choice.
Jesus dwelt with his followers, but he also dwelt with those who did not really believe in him. Many who followed him abandoned him later on, and we surely know of one who betrayed him. We also know that Jesus lived with his family for many years into his adulthood, and we know that many of his family members did not believe in him.
One should always consider the importance of maintaining one’s obedience to the Word first. It is following the Great Principle that Jesus sets before us that should be the foundation for all his disciples in regards to their decisions.
Jesus asked the Father to protect us even though we were still in this world. He knew we would always be with nonbelievers of His Word while in the world.
Yet, anyone who imitates Jesus can expect to be the object of animosity. The True Faith is no prescription for good relationships with one's neighbors and relatives. Loving our neighbors after the manner of Jesus does not solve our relationship problems. It may add to them. The Gospel is no free ticket to a smooth ride in the world. We will have all the problems that others have, and sometimes, depending upon the nature of our calling and the state of world affairs, there will be additional ones.
Lifestyle is irrelevant to one who hates life in this world, as Jesus did. The lifestyle we happen to experience will be incidental to whom and what we are. It is never an object for consideration within itself. It is only the life that becomes ours because of discipleship. There is no circumstance that would cause us to make lifestyle one of our goals. Jesus only asks for obedience. Whatever life results from that is the one we must lead. The life, or lifestyle, is not a consideration as we contemplate the will of the Father.
Should one live with an unbeliever? This is a decision that must be reached by each individual in considering their own personal circumstances. There is lack of evidence in the Words of Jesus to say that all believers should never live with nonbelievers. Some may choose to not live with unbelievers, and others may choose to continue living with nonbelievers. We are not condemned by our worldly associations. Yet, those who obey Jesus’ Words must always adhere to his commands above all.
It is a matter of one’s heart. It is a matter of one hating their life in this world, accepting their position “in the world” while choosing to be not “of the world” as Jesus teaches us.
Think of marriage. Is one to divorce a spouse and discontinue living together? What does Jesus say about divorce? Does Jesus not tell us that what God has joined, man should not separate?
Think about earthly family obligations of caring for children. What if you have a teenager under your care who is a nonbeliever? Are you to kick them out on the street? Or an elderly parent who relies on you for care?
Yet, if one is in a situation where they need not necessarily live with a nonbeliever, such as one who is not married or caring for another, and can live with another believer or by themselves, this lifestyle choice is theirs to choose freely.
The point is that Jesus asks us to obey Him, regardless of our living situation. Some will be challenged more than others depending on our lots in this world. Yet all disciples of Jesus are commanded to obey him, commanded to love others, commanded to not judge others, commanded to be a living witness of His Word while we are “in this world” though not “of this world.”
Can one find other evidence from the gospels to sustain this?
Yes. There was a Roman centurion in
who sought help from Jesus. He did not seek it for himself, but for his sick and dying slave. When Jesus responded by approaching his house, the latter objected saying, "I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority with soldiers under me; and I say to one, 'Go.' and he goes, and to another 'Come.' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this.' and he does it." And Jesus replied: Capernaum
Truly I say to you, not even in
have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth (Matthew 8:10-12). Israel
This man was a Roman officer who was the commander of soldiers in the army of occupation. He maintained a house and owned slaves according to the custom of the times. Yet Jesus gave him high praise, with words that made him a strong candidate for the Kingdom. Significantly absent from Jesus' response was any command to resign his post or commission, free his slaves or forsake his house, family, and Roman associations. Instead, Jesus granted his request and healed his slave, while giving him high praise for his great faith.
There was a man in
named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector (a publican) and he was rich. Being also short of stature, he climbed a sycamore tree to view Jesus above the crowds. Jesus commanded him to come down and invited himself into the man's house. Zacchaeus received him joyfully and said, "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold." Then Jesus replied: Jericho
Today salvation has come to this house, since he also a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:9-10).
Jesus granted salvation to this man who had resolved to give up only half his wealth. Nor did he say anything to him about abandoning his house, or resigning his office as a tax collector.
Again, a young lawyer (scribe) once stood up in the crowd to put Jesus to the test. He said, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus replied:
What is written in the law (Luke 10:26)?
He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." And Jesus said to him,
You have answered right. Do this and you will live (Luke 10:28).
Here, as before, Jesus promised eternal life with no evident radical qualifying demands. We now know that the love of God entails the radical hatred of life, yet Jesus did not see fit to press this lawyer on the details. He did not command him to alter his occupation or other functions in the world. Perhaps Jesus, knowing the man was hostile, chose not to waste words. We know that he would not "cast his pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6). Yet Jesus' complete prescription for life here is simple obedience to two commandments, which the man himself enunciated.
Finally, we have the very different case of the rich young man who came to Jesus asking, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?" Jesus replied,
Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter into life, keep the commandments (Matthew 19:17).
Then Jesus quoted certain of the Ten Commandments and the young man replied, "All these I have observed. What do I still lack?" Jesus answered,
If you would be perfect, go sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me (Matthew 19:21).
Then the young man went away sorrowfully, for he had great possessions. Now here, for a change, is a radical demand! Why require so much from this man, and so little from the others? The answer is implicit in the mood of the young man as he went away, sorrowfully. His possessions possessed him. They had infected his heart and molded his character. He could not part with them. Jesus, knowing his heart, knew this also – and with Jesus, the heart is critical. This man's love of money was in the same category as an alcoholic's love for alcohol. The cure for both is the same – abstinence! He was not free to embrace the love of God until he had dealt with his love of money – therefore he could not enter eternal life. On the other hand, the centurion, a commander in the hateful army of occupation, was a good man who was mercifully attentive to the needs of the Jews. He had built their synagogue! His heart was open to the love of God in Christ. His office did not possess him. If Jesus had required him to resign his commission, he would doubtless have done so. Therefore Jesus did not require it. This man could have maintained his position in the world without guilt or qualms of conscience while circumstances permitted him to use the office to express love. This tells us that guilt comes not solely by association. It is the heart that is determinative, not the uniform!
But changing circumstances can make a vast difference. A generation later, when the Roman army brutally suppressed rebellion and purged the
, the Roman officer mentioned above would certainly have resigned his commission before ordering his men to kill. Jesus' command to love the enemy (Matthew 6:44; Luke 6:27, 35) would have taken precedence over any order to muster his troops and march on of land Jews . Jerusalem
It would be an unnecessarily radical response to the Lord for one to resign every worldly association. We will continue to be "in the world" until death, which is our most obvious association. Jesus also was in the world and his Father did not condemn him. How could he? He came only because the Father sent him.
One thing is needful – that we love the Lord and keep his commandments (John 14:15).
While the association permits this, there is no need to sever it. If, however, the association compels one to disobey the Lord, a severance is in order. This includes our association with life itself. The associations in which we find ourselves when we come to Christ, of themselves, bring condemnation to no one. If it were otherwise, we would end our association with this world in the moment of our conversion.
Understanding the application of the Gospel can be a tricky business. It is important to recognize that the Roman officer, from the moment of his commitment of Christ, ceased to be "of" the Roman army, though he may have remained "in" it. When you have committed your heart to Christ, you cease to be "of" anything that is of the world (John 15:19).
There are some associations in the world that do not permit this detachment while allowing a continued involvement. Then it is necessary to make a clean break. If one does not, compromises will destroy the faith. So the rich young man mentioned above went away with his wealth rather than break that association to follow Jesus.
Jesus' response to Zacchaeus implies that it is possible to be a disciple and retain the possession of wealth if it does not possess our hearts. Zacchaeus' readiness to give half his wealth to the poor while restoring four-fold any fraudulently obtained funds probably would have left him penniless anyway. Whatever the details, it was his willingness to begin such a divestiture that was his salvation, for it revealed that his heart was pure.
We are free to accept others. That means that we have no compulsion to condemn them because of their associations, circumstances or natural characteristics. We have no right to judge others who follow a different course. Only God knows what is in their hearts! Besides all this, we have the commandment of the Lord,
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge shall you be judged (Matthew 7:1-2).
We are free to be or to become anything that is in accord with the will of God. There are no compelling worldly allegiances or loyalties, such as family or nation, that can dictate the course of our lives or that can continue to hold us contrary to the will of God. The essence of this, of course, is the hold that life itself would continue to place upon us. These things are crucial to the freedom that Jesus promised when he said,
If the son of man shall make you free, you shall be free indeed (John 8:36).
The application of the principles of Christ to life in the world is so simple that a child can understand, provided one has once realized that our only purpose here is to qualify for hereafter. Having realized the Truth, having found the
, we hate life in this world and do not any longer wish to remain here. The Father also does not want us to remain, but wants only that we share with him his eternal Glory. of Kingdom God