What if my spouse or a family member isn't a Christian?

Many, if not most, believers have at least one family member who doesn't share their faith. The thing to remember is that there are in essence three components involved in any relationship you have with another person: You, the other person, and the unique relationship that exists between the two of you. That's all of it, right there: That's the whole Relationship Combo. You handle correctly each of those three aspects of every relationship and each of those relationships will come out all right.

So the guiding question is, what attitude-what guiding principle, what constantly motivating emotional truth-should you take care to bring to each of those three dimensions in your relationship with a nonbeliever, and especially with one who's a family member?

About yourself, be humble.
Toward the other person, be loving.
Toward the relationship between the two of you, be patient.
Humility, love, and patience. There is no mountain these three can't move.
Let's take a quick look at each.

You must keep your awareness of this quality at the fore of your consciousness whenever you're relating to a nonbeliever with whom you're close. Failing to do so is likely to result in your demeanor becoming strident: You will (however subtly) begin preaching, lecturing, telling them what, how, and who they should be. That's not the kind of oil that keeps the wheels of a relationship spinning smoothly.

We all know we must be humble before God. Let us also not forget to be humble before the people in our lives-each one of whom is, after all, an illustration of God's greatest creation, and made in his image. Remember: You didn't deserve to be saved. Being chosen by God isn't anything to be proud of. It's something to be grateful for.

As God loves us, we must love others. Of course, this can be difficult-just look what it cost Christ to unconditionally and absolutely love us. If our Lord can suffer that, we can suffer whatever psychological or emotional pain it causes us to remain loving toward someone-and especially toward any nonbeliever, for whom we can trust that God has an acute interest.

God wants us to love others, to be his loving agents on earth. Simply love the nonbeliever in your life. Christ will take it from there.

This is God's world, not ours. We keep time; we have watches and calendars and clocks and so on. God sits at the heart of eternity. You can bet on this: He's not wearing a wristwatch. When it comes to the relationship between you and a nonbeliever-and particularly a nonbeliever to whom you're necessarily close-be patient. Wait. Never stop waiting. Have no agenda. Let God's will, in God's time, shape the relationship.

When you're involved with a nonbeliever, you're involved in one of the most important, precious dynamics given to any believer. Don't try to start driving that relationship in the way you think it should go. Give God the wheel. All you have to do with your nonbeliever friend is climb into the backseat with them-and then, side by side, relaxing and looking out the window, the two of you can enjoy the ride together.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us (1 Peter 2:12).

Of course, sometimes people aren't happy to let you be you, while they are who they are. Sometimes people throw hostility (and more) your way just because you're Christian.

How to Respond to Attacks on Your Faith

How should you respond if someone is attacking your faith in Christ? It depends. If someone is being virulent to you about Christianity, the best thing to do is politely walk away. It's usually not helpful or productive to try to thoughtfully or rationally engage such a person. As the inimitable British playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote, "Never wrestle with a pig. You get dirty; and besides, the pig likes it."

Not that the person denigrating Jesus is a pig. Still, what kind of person makes a point of maligning the faith of another? That really is a pretty ...oinky thing to do.

Interesting, isn't it, how some people seem to focus-if not to say obsess-on the idea that Christianity is something against which they personally, fervently, and usually quite vocally need to react? It's not hard to imagine that what such people actually want is to engage in an honest and open conversation about the faith; why poke a bear with a stick if you truly have no interest in the bear? So to the extent you find it feasible or possible, always remain open to the possibility that what the person who seems to hate Christianity might be responding against is an inextricable (and perhaps even subconscious) pull toward the very object of their disdain.

Bottom line: If it's someone you don't know who's attacking your faith, exit gracefully-but exit, and don't look back. If it's an acquaintance you're basically or conditionally linked to for a while-a coworker, a classmate, that sort of person-then be patient, and polite, and if they grow too offensive, ask them to please stop speaking to you as they are, to please have the same respect for your beliefs that you have for theirs. (And do ask them to talk to you about their beliefs! Start a dialogue!) Always, in both cases, remain open to the possibility, no matter how apparently small, that at some level all the other person really wants is to just talk about Jesus.

Maybe a little martial-arts principle will help. Rather than knock heads, go with the attacker's momentum and enjoy the engagement. And turn it into a practiced, developed skill. The truth is, there always will be people who are either going to be mean to you or do mean things to you. And once they do, you have a new responsibility to get over it rather than live under it.

The above piece is an adaptation from Being Christian, by Steve Arterburn and John Shore. Bloomington, Bethany House Publishers, 2008.

Stephen Arterburn is the founder of New Life Ministries, the largest provider of Christian counseling and treatment in North America. As host of the daily New Life Live! radio program, he is heard nationally on over one hundred and eighty stations and at www.newlife.com. Steve is the lead speaker at The New Life Weekend, a conference with specialty programs for Marriage, Balancing Your Life, Anger, Fear, Boundaries, Depression, Weight Loss, Abuse, and Forgiveness. Steve is also the creator of Women of Faith® Conferences and the author/coauthor of over fifty books, including Healing is a Choice, Lose it For Life, Internet Protect Your Kids, Every Man's Battle, Avoiding Mr. Wrong, Reframe Your Life, and Midlife Manual for Men.