Friend of God
HOW TO BE A FRIEND OF GOD
By Mark E. Hardgrove, D.Min.
Text James 2:21-24, NKJV
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God . 24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
How many of you know that it matters who your friends are? Proverbs 12:26 says, "The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray. A few years ago Garth Brooks hit it big with a song that said,
Cause I've got friends in low places
Where the whiskey drowns
And the beer chases my blues away
And I'll be okay
I'm not big on social graces
Think I'll slip on down to the oasis
Oh, I've got friends in low places
Later that year Larnelle Harris sang:
I've got friends in high places,
So high, but not so far away.
I've got friends, in high places,
And I'm gonna be with them someday.
The contrast between these two songs is clear. Brooks has friends in low places, places like the bars and the clubs. The writer of Proverbs tells us that people in low places can only bring us down. On the other hand Larnelle sings about people in high places, and he's talking about heaven. Notice that he even sings it in a high voice, further emphasizing the contrast between his song and Garth Brooks' song. Unlike friends in low places, friends in high places lift us up and motivate us to do better and to be better people.
I) GOD IS IN THE HIGH PLACES
If I had to choose between friends in low places and friends in high places, I'd rather have friends in high places, and there is no place higher than the throne of God. Isaiah said, "I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple" (Isa 6:1, NKJV). God said of Himself, "For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: 'I dwell in the high and holy place'" (Isa 57:15, NKJV). There is no one higher than God, so if we have a friend in Jesus, a friend who sticks closer than a brother, then that is a friend in high places.
There are several songs about having a friend in Jesus. There's the classic, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," then there's, "Friendship with Jesus," "I've Found A Friend In Jesus, He's Everything to Me," and even "Jesus Is My Best Friend." But there's another song, an old hymn written by Johnson Oatman entitled, "I'll Be A Friend to Jesus." I like this because it expresses the intention of the writer to be a friend to Jesus.
This gives rise the question: How does one become a friend of God? Friendship doesn't just happen. I know a lot of people who are not my friends. We may be cordial to one another, but we aren't friends. Perhaps we could become friends, but it would require something on both of our parts to become friends. Likewise, if we want to be (as is said of Abraham) a friend of God we must respond to God's invitation. God has extended the invitation to us to be His friend, but how do we respond? Some would say that we just have to have faith, but James tells us that we have to faith with works, that is, our faith must take action. This is what Abraham did, and Abraham was a friend of God.
Look at the text with me.
II) ABRAHAM'S FAITH
Most of us know the story of Abraham, first known as Abram. He was raised in an idolatrous family in pagan culture. The story in Genesis doesn't begin with Abram seeking for God. The story begins with God choosing Abram. God could have chosen anyone. God didn't owe Abram this opportunity and Abram hadn't done anything to merit God's call. It was grace from beginning to end. So what did Abraham do to become a friend of God, and what does Abraham teach us about how we can become a friend of God?
If you go back to the first interaction of God with Abram, in Genesis 12:1, you find that God initiates the conversation. God breaks into Abram's world and He does so with an unusual command. God says, "Get out of your country, from your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you."
That is a rather radical request isn't it? So this is how God initiates friendship? He says, "Pack up and leave everything you've ever known. Leave your country. Leave your culture. Leave your friends and leave your family." Notice that God doesn't even tell Abram where to go. He just says, "Go now, and I'll show you were I'm going to take you."
Then God gives Abram this promise, "I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Gen 12:1-3, NKJV). That's a pretty sweet deal right there. It is pure grace, but you receive grace through faith. So how did Abram respond?
Verse 4 says, "So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran." Notice that Abram doesn't argue with God, or ask for proof or anything like that. Abram heard God, Abram believed God, and Abram obeyed God. That's what a friend does.
How do we know that Abram believed God? We know by the actions Abram took. He packed up and left, just as the Lord told him to do. His faith is revealed in his actions. Faith without works is dead. However, according to James the ultimate test of His faith was when God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac on the altar.
God does not and would not desire human sacrifice, but this is symbolic. It really prefigures the sacrifice that God would give when His only begotten Son dies for humanity. The substitution sacrifice of the ram for Isaac is symbolic of Jesus dying for our sins. But the point for Abraham was that he was willing to do whatever God asked. He was willing even to give up his own son, the son of promise, if God asked him too.
James says, "Abraham's faith was proven in his actions. Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness, and he was called a friend of God." What God asked Abraham to do didn't make sense, but he believed God. What God asked him to do was going to be the greatest sacrifice that a man could be asked to give, but Abraham believed God. What God was asking ran contrary to everything Abraham thought he knew about God, but Abraham believed God and he was willing to go the distance, to give everything, to put his hopes and dreams on the altar and say, "God, I don't understand, but I trust you. I don't like what I'm about to do, but I believe you and I love you."
Proverbs 17:17 says, "A friend loves at all times." If I am a friend of God then my love for God does not rise and fall with my circumstances. If I am a friend of God, then I will love God whether I'm on the mountain or in the valley, whether I have much or if I have little, whether I'm in health or if I have a thorn in the flesh.
III) BECOME A FRIEND THROUGH FAITH AND OBEDIENCE
How do you become a friend of God? You believe. Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as for righteousness and Abraham was a friend of God. How do you become a friend of God? You respond by faith to God's grace and you obey. How do you become a friend of God? You say yes to the invitation of Jesus. Jesus said:
13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. 17 These things I command you, that you love one another. (John 15:13-17, NKJV)
God chose Abraham and Jesus chose us to be His friend. Abraham wasn't looking for God and we weren't either. Jesus came looking for us. He came to seek and to save them that were lost. He came with an invitation for us to be His friend. He said, "I have called you friends."
Jesus made this statement not long after observing the Lord's Supper and washing the feet of His disciples. Each time we observe the Lord's Supper we are reminded that He still calls us friend. He lay down His life for us, and there is no greater love. He calls us friend, but will we be a friend to Jesus? Will we do whatever He commands us to do?
The words to the song, "I'll Be A Friend To Jesus" say this:
- 1. They tried my Lord and Master,
With no one to defend;
Within the halls of Pilate
He stood without a friend.
- o Refrain:
I'll be a friend to Jesus,
My life for Him I'll spend;
I'll be a friend to Jesus,
Until my years shall end.
- 2. The world may turn against Him,
I'll love Him to the end,
And while on earth I'm living,
My Lord shall have a friend.
- 3. I'll do what He may bid me;
I'll go where He may send;
I'll try each flying moment
To prove that I'm His friend.
- 4. To all who need a Savior,
My Friend I'll recommend;
Because He brought salvation,
Is why I am His friend.
Today we will observe Communion together, and in doing this we are saying, "I am a friend of God." But before we distribute the elements, let's take a moment and examine ourselves. Am I ready to trust and obey God, as Abraham did? Am I ready to lay down my life for Jesus?