4 Privileges We Enjoy as a Friend of God
Blessed with Spiritual Blessings
Christians are the most privileged people on earth. Every human being benefits from God’s daily mercy and kindness—every bite of food, every breath of air, every experience of love and happiness finds its origin in the benevolence of God (cf., Matt. 5:45, James 1:17). But those who have been united to Christ by faith receive gifts and privileges far beyond anyone else. We experience God’s common grace like the rest of mankind, but on top of that we are also “blessed . . . with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” (Eph.1:3)
If we are being honest, though, most Christians that I know (myself included) do not walk around every day giving off an “I am extremely blessed” vibe. The cares of the world often weigh on us, anxieties about the future sometimes will not stop nipping at our heels, and when we allow ourselves to think about it, we generally do not feel that we are doing a great job of following Jesus. We find ourselves easily excited—by a win in the big game, a promotion at work, a new relationship—but the happiness rarely lasts for very long. The Bible leads us to expect that Christians will have a source of joy and hope that should be evident to the world around them, but many of us do not consistently live like we do.
Friendship with God
What does it mean to be friends with God? Each chapter of this book takes a key insight from John Owen’s Communion with God and clarifies it for modern readers.
We might be tempted to think that this state of affairs is the result of life in the modern world, with all its difficulties, busyness, temptations, and distractions. But it might be helpful to know that Christians throughout history have testified to a similar struggle. Back in the 17th century, the English pastor and theologian John Owen wrote that many believers in his day “go heavily, when we might rejoice; and (are) weak, where we might be strong in the Lord.”1 For Owen, the cause of these struggles was clear. He wrote, “unacquaintedness with our mercies, our privileges, is our sin as well as our trouble.”2 That is to say, our problem is that we don’t really understand the many wonderful privileges we enjoy because we have a relationship with our heavenly Father.
Imagine a toddler who opens a gift on Christmas morning and only wants to play with the cardboard box that the gift came in. In that case, the child is presented with two objects—a gift and a box—and is unable to distinguish which is valuable and which is unworthy of his attention. To borrow from Owen’s language, we might say that he is unacquainted with what he has received. He doesn’t know the joys of zipping around on a tricycle or crafting a tower with building blocks, and so his attention is captured by the thing he does already understand—the box. We are just like that child when we find our hearts captured by the announcement of a new superhero movie or the prospect of an upcoming vacation but relatively unmoved by the thought of the blessings and privileges that we have as God’s people.
So, what do you do with the child who is playing with the box and ignoring the gift? You draw his attention to the present that he’s received. You show him what it can do and how he can play with it. You spark his little imagination with ways that this gift can bring him joy that the box never could. That’s what John Owen does for believers in his great work Communion with the Triune God. In that book, Owen unpacks the truth that when God gives a person new spiritual life, he doesn’t merely forgive her sins (though that alone would be far more than we could dare hope or imagine), but he brings her into a happy and pleasant relationship (Owen calls it “communion”; we might call it “fellowship” or even “friendship”) with him (I John 1:3, I Cor. 1:9, II Cor. 13:14). The warm and loving relationship that we have with God the Father, Son, and Spirit is a marvelous gift full of privileges that, when understood properly, have the power to capture our hearts and help us to live with joy.
In Communion with the Triune God, Owen details many of those privileges; it is one of the things I like best about the book. As a sample, here are four privileges that especially relate to our status as God’s adopted children.
First, we have liberty. The apostle Paul tells us that where the Spirit of God is present, there is freedom (2 Cor. 3:17). The work of Christ has liberated us from the things which used to imprison our souls: shame, sin, guilt, and the condemnation that comes from breaking God’s law (Gal. 5:1). We no longer carry those burdens around with us; they are no longer barriers to our soul’s joy.
This liberty that we have as God’s people changes the way that we think about our obedience and our service to God. It’s one thing to serve someone because you must; it’s another thing altogether to do something for a friend. Think about it this way: If I were kidnapped and forced to cut down trees all day, I’d find that work to be miserable. But if a friend had a tree fall on his property and needed some help clearing it off, I’d be more than happy to spend a day helping him. The knowledge that my work is pleasing to someone I love makes the labor a delight. In the same way, the liberty we have as God’s children makes our service to him an act of love and joy rather than a burden.
The second privilege that Owen mentions is a new right. Before God saved us, we had no claim to any good thing from God. The only thing that we had a right to was death, hell, and judgment. But now, as Christians, we have a legitimate claim to all the privileges and advantages that come with being part of the King’s family—not because we deserve it, but because Christ deserves it and we are united to him. Those privileges include all that we will inherit as “heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17): salvation (Heb. 1:14), righteousness (Heb. 11:7), and eternal life (Titus 3:7).
As Christians, we have a legitimate claim to all the privileges and advantages that come with being part of the King’s family . . .
That brings us to the third privilege that Owen mentions, which is boldness (Eph. 3:12). Imagine you were preparing to meet a VIP, a head of state, a famous athlete, or your favorite singer. If you’re anything like me, you’d probably be too nervous and intimidated to really enjoy the meeting. But you know who isn’t nervous around those people? Their friends and family. They have a confidence and comfort around that person because they are sure of their relationship. In the same way, we don’t have to come nervously and timidly into God’s presence (Heb. 4:16). We can have a bold and comfortable relationship with God–the VIP who puts all others to shame, because he loves us and has made us his friends and family.
The final privilege that Owen mentions is his disciplinary correction. Now, that might not sound like your idea of a blessing—in the short run, discipline is unpleasant. But we all understand the need for correction and discipline—it’s not loving to allow a child to do something that will harm them in the long run. And in the same way that a parent will correct a child for his own good, our Father in heaven loves us too much to neglect to discipline and correct us when we need it.
These four privileges (and the many more that we read about in Scripture) are meant to be a great source of joy in our daily lives. Our friendship with God isn’t just a vague concept filed away in heaven; it’s a permanent and stable reality that gives shape and structure to our lives. The things of the world come and go and the joy they provide is fleeting, but when we are “acquainted with our privileges”, we have a reason for joy that will never fade, tarnish, or leave us.
- John Owen, Communion with the Triune God, p. 123.
- ibid., 123.
Mike McKinley is the author of Friendship with God: A Path to Deeper Fellowship with the Father, Son, and Spirit.
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