Faith, Works, & Friendship with God
I think the best friend that ever lived was Jesus. I mean, I know that’s the Sunday School thing to say, but he has to have been, right? I think that’s worth noting and it’s a concept I too often overlook: Jesus Christ was the Michael Jordan of friendship. As we read through the Gospels, we see how he loved and served the people around him. We see his dependance on his father. We remember his willingness to say the tough thing, ask the hard question, and call out people’s idolatry. We noticed how he was merciful to many he encountered—often healing them and even forgiving their sins. And in all of this serving we notice a pattern in his friendship: he actually did stuff for other people. Jesus wasn’t just interested in cheap friendship. The way he loved people cost him everything.
You’d think because righteous friendship is so exceptional that it’d be easy to spot a cheap imitation, but it isn’t always. Next to my office, there is an outdoor mural on the side of a Lebanese restaurant. Every summer, high school kids come and take portraits of each other to post on Instagram. I’m talking like 4-5 photo sessions each day when it’s nice outside. A funny amount of people. What I find so intriguing about watching people take these portraits is noticing what they crop out. They never include the ugly air vent next to the mural, or the busted concrete below it. And because of that, I bet the photos look great. It’s actually a pretty cool spot and I’d likely crop a picture the same way. But I think that’s how people want friendship to be. We expect the cropped Instagram version of friendship, not the real-life scene that smells like an alley dumpster.
We expect the cropped Instagram version of friendship, not the real-life scene that smells like an alley dumpster.
We have a way of performing for one another. We try to play the part of a good friend but we aren’t actually a good friend. We may say the right things but our actions never back up our script. I’m ashamed by how often I’ve been guilty of this. If you’re anything like me, I think it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on your closest friendships and asking, “Am I more interested in what this person does for me rather than serving them? How do I attempt to use or control this person? When was the last time I did something kind or selfless for them without expecting anything in return?”
In James 2, Jesus’ brother discusses the relationship of faith and works. He goes to great lengths to tie these two things together which are often separated under the banner of giving clarity to how salvation works. What I noticed today as I was reading James is how he highlights the shared relational intimacy (friendship) that existed between Abraham and God—but he does so in the context of works stemming from faith. Abraham understood that it wasn’t enough to just believe God, he needed to respond by serving. Friendship requires both trust and action motivated by love. If you don’t have either of these, you only have half a friendship.
Wasn’t Abraham our Father justified by works in offering Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was active together with his works, and by works, faith was made complete, and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God’s friend.
A note from Matt:
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