Many Reformed people object to the idea of God as our friend, or at least are uncomfortable with it. Since he is God incarnate, the same reasoning is applied to Jesus Christ. I imagine they’re reacting to that type of American evangelicalism which portrays our relationship with God in terms too casual. Speaking of him as our friend seems to endanger a proper understanding of God’s majesty and holiness — that applies to all three persons of the Trinity.
Surely we want to have the proper respect for our God and Saviour. He deserves to be honoured in the highest degree. But what if Scripture speaks about our relationship with God in terms of friendship? The Bible has to be our standard, not an over-reaction against extremes found elsewhere. What does the Bible say about this? On the basis of God’s Word, can we say that God is our friend?
In general, in the Old Testament, we do find that some well-known believers were said to be friends of God. Exodus 33:11 says, “Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses, as a man speaks to his friend.” Though Moses was a sinner (why couldn’t he enter the Promised Land? Failure to obey!), God related to Moses as one friend to another. Abraham is another example. No less that three times does Scripture say that Abraham was a friend of God:
Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham, your friend? (2 Chronicles 20:7)
But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend… (Isaiah 41:8)
…Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness — and he was called a friend of God. (James 2:23)
I remind you that Abraham too was an inconsistent believer, a sinner like us. Yet, wonderfully, God called him “friend.”
One might be tempted to counter, “But Moses and Abraham were special. None of us can claim their special place in God’s redemptive plan. They might have been friends of God, but that was something reserved for these unique figures.” Certainly they were unique figures in some respects. But what about in this respect of being called friends of God? To answer that, we need to let Scripture interpret Scripture.
An important start is made with Psalm 25:14, “The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.” If you fear God (honour him with reverence), he promises you friendship. He will make known to you his covenant — his special relationship of fellowship. That is an amazing verse! It doesn’t say God’s friendship is only for prophets and mediators. It doesn’t say God’s friendship is reserved for key figures in the history of redemption. It is for all those who fear him. He will be a friend to all genuine believers who trust in him and stand in awe of him.
Now remember that Jesus Christ came to this earth to reveal God and what he’s like (John 1:18). So what do we see in his earthly ministry? In Matthew 11:19, Jesus said the Jewish religious leaders were offended at him because he was “a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” Note well: Jesus does not deny it. In fact, in John 15 he speaks further along these lines. Here he is speaking to his disciples:
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:13-15)
Note the echoes of Psalm 25:14 when Christ says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” In other words, if you fear the Lord Christ and do what he says, he is your friend. Moreover, in verse 13, he says he is the one who lays down his life in love for them. That is the love of a friend! In response to that gracious love, we honour our friend by lovingly following his precepts. There is no contextual indication in John 15 that these words are restricted to the apostles — as if Jesus only calls the eleven his friends and no others. No, there is every reason to believe what he says here applies equally to all disciples, including Christians today.
The biblical evidence is clear. True believers may consider themselves to be in a friendly relationship with God — thus, he is our friend. We may rejoice knowing that Christ calls us, those for whom he died, friends. Those truths in no way detract from the reverence we have for God. In fact, if we do not have the fear of God, we are being pretentious in claiming friendship with him. We are deluding ourselves if we think Jesus is our friend when we have no desire to follow him. To be in this relationship means we never treat him casually, as if he is a human buddy or mate. But it does mean we can be confident that our Creator and Redeemer God is on our side and cares about us deeply. The gospel promises us friendship with God. Believer, he is your friend.