Have you ever found yourself feeling important simply because you know somebody important? I have. A friend of mine is friends with someone who is himself a close friend of a famous Major League Baseball player. Through that distant connection, I got to go down on the field for batting practice when that player’s team came to my city. Strangely enough, just being around the famous friend of a friend of a friend of mine was enough to make me feel as if I was a big deal. I ran into someone I knew at the game, and I could tell that he was impressed that I was connected to someone as famous as this baseball player.
It's a little silly, isn’t it? It’s not like I’m friends with this athlete. And even if I was, he’s the accomplished one. He’s the one who can actually do something impressive, like hit a round ball traveling at 100 miles per hour with a round bat and make it travel 400 feet. It’s not like his excellence would rub off on me somehow. And yet still it was exciting to be around someone so successful and famous.
Amazingly enough, when we turn to the Bible we see that God himself—the most excellent and accomplished and wonderful person in the universe—wants us to be his friends, and he wants to be a friend to us. In fact, he has gone to incredible lengths to make it possible for us to be his friends, and he has plans to do good to us for all eternity. Think about what we see in Scripture:
In Genesis 3:8, we see God coming to meet with Adam and Eve in the Garden in the cool of the day. That suggests closeness and intimacy, and it shows us that the Lord created the first man and woman for just that kind of direct, face-to-face relationship with him. God didn’t create humanity and then keep us at a distance, but he pursued a relationship with the people that he made.
In the Old Testament, some people are said to have been friends of God. In Isaiah 41:8 the Lord speaks about “Abraham, my friend”—a relationship that is confirmed in James 2:23. In Exodus 33:11, we read that the Lord would speak to Moses “as a man speaks to his friend”.
It’s not just the famous and the important who receive God’s friendship. In the Psalms, King David expands the pool of potential friends of God when he reflects: The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. (Ps. 25:14)
We also see this principle in the ministry of the Lord Jesus. He is the image of the invisible God, God in the flesh, the one who perfectly reveals his Father. So, whatever attitude he took towards friendship with human beings will perfectly reveal the posture of God toward the idea. So, when we look at the Gospels, what do we see? Jesus was criticized for being a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Matt. 11:19), and he made a point of referring both to Lazarus (John 11:11) and his disciples (John 15:15) as his friends.
Add into these examples some of the other images that the Bible uses to describe our relationship to God—fellowship (I Cor. 1:9), adoption (Eph. 1:5), the body of Christ (I Cor. 12:27), the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:32)—and it is clear that God wants a close, personal relationship with his people.
If you are in Christ, you are never without a friend.
At this point, however, I think Christians run into a problem. Even if we have faith to believe this incredibly good news, it can still be difficult to know what it means, practically speaking, to have a friendship with God. Most Christians know that they are supposed to do some basic things: go to church, avoid sin, read the Bible, and pray. Those things comprise a good plan, and we would all do well to follow it. But what do any of those things have to do with being God’s friend? More than that, what does it even mean to have a relationship with God? Should we be seeking an emotional experience when we’re singing in church? Or a new insight into God’s ways? Is a relationship with God found in some kind of spiritual feeling?
A lack of clarity on this issue causes many Christians to live with a sense that we’re missing out, that there’s something out there that would make feel more spiritual and closer to God. But when it comes to friendship with God, there’s nothing magical about it. There’s no secret, and no special higher insight is required.
Think for a moment about friendship. Friendships form when two people value each other, care about each other, and want to spend time together. I have a good friend that I don’t get to see very often, and so every January we try to cram a whole year’s worth of friendship into one day. We drive to Philadelphia (my favorite city) in the morning, spend all day together, and then drive home in the evening. In that time, we try to blitz through the things that make up a friendship—we catch up on how our families are doing, we check in on long-standing personal issues, we talk about work, we seek advice about difficult situations. We also have a lot of fun—we laugh, goof around, and tell stories. In short, we enjoy each other’s company. That’s something of what a friendship is—two people giving of themselves and caring about one another and enjoying one another.
And that’s what friendship with God ought to look like. It is true that we don’t contribute anything to our being made right with God, it is purely a gift of grace. But it also true that our ongoing friendship with God is an active and two-way relationship.
Communion and Union
Here’s how John Owen explained what it means to have this kind of back-and-forth friendship with God (using the word “communion” as roughly an equivalent of our word “friendship”): Our communion, then, with God consists in his communication of himself unto us, with our return unto him of that which he requires and accepts, flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him.1
Owen says that our communion flows from our union with Jesus. Or, we might say, we have a friendship with God because we have been made his friends in Jesus. Because we are in Jesus and the Holy Spirit lives in us, we have a lot in common with God now. Like any friendship, we love the same things our friend loves and we delight in the things that please him.
This communion is a two-way street. God (in Owen’s words) “communicates of himself unto us.” Like a friend, he talks to us and reveals himself to us and shows us his character and his deeds and what pleases him. And like any friend, Christians are able to “return” something to God. It’s not something that he lacks, but it is something that delights him to receive. He has given us some specific ways to communicate our friendship back to him, things like prayer, love, delight, obedience, and participating in the Lord’s Supper. Owen calls them “that which he requires and accepts,” and our role in the friendship is to pursue intimacy with God, knowledge of God, and love for God through those means.
This is such joyful news! If you are in Christ, you are never without a friend. In times of sorrow, loneliness, and temptation, he is there with you! When you experience joys and triumphs, you can know that they are a gift to you from your heavenly friend. Next time you’re reading your Bible or hearing it read or preached in church, think of it as your dearest friend speaking to you. And when you sing his praises or tell him what you need in prayer or love him in your heart, know that you are living out your part of this marvelous relationship.
- John Owen, Communion with the Triune God, ed. Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), 94.
Mike McKinley is the author of Friendship with God: A Path to Deeper Fellowship with the Father, Son, and Spirit
Before we can have communion (or fellowship) with Christ, we must first be in a right relationship with him. That relationship can only come from our being in union with Christ.
What essential ingredients do we mix together to make true friendship?
Some people have good friendships, some don’t. Friendship—true friendship—requires intentionality and even skill.
In the beginning, we walked with God in friendship. Then we walked away. But now, God is befriending us again.