What does it mean to be “friends of God?”
1 Kings, chapter 9; 2 Chronicles, chapter 8; Psalm 136; Romans, chapter 5
Romans 5:1-11 (NLT):
Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.
In verse 8, Paul says, God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. What a powerful statement! As Paul indicates in this passage, people don’t just die for each other – even for people who are “good.” But God loves us so much that he sent Jesus to die for us while we were still sinners! That doesn’t just mean that we were “doing bad things”; it means that we were in open rebellion against God. And he still loved us enough to send Jesus for us!
Peace With God
But what does it mean to us to say that God has made us right in God’s sight? First, Paul says in verse 1, it means that we have peace with God. We need to remember Paul’s Jewish heritage and training when we read this word “peace.” While he’s writing in Greek, I believe he’s thinking in Hebrew. The Hebrew word for peace is shalom, and it has a very deep and rich meaning. The Hebrew greeting shalom means much more than just “peace”; “It is really closer to ‘may you be well.’ To be well, of course, is to be ‘whole, to be complete,’ to have physical and spiritual resources sufficient to one’s needs” (Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. V, 206).
God promises all the “physical and spiritual resources” we need to be “well” or “whole” because we are made right in God’s sight. What an incredible thought! From the desperation and depravity that Paul describes in chapters 1-3 (“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard,” Romans 3:23), we are made right and equipped to live in God’s kingdom. No wonder Paul describes this reconciliation and restoration in verse 2 as undeserved privilege!
The Holy Spirit
Paul further explains how God supplies the spiritual resources we need in verse 5: he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. This Sunday (May 28) is Pentecost Sunday, when the Church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. We often think of the Spirit’s power when we think about Pentecost. The disciples spoke in the languages of all the people gathered in Jerusalem. They spoke boldly about Jesus in the same city where he was crucified. Jesus himself had promised that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 1:8).
But the Holy Spirit does not simply empower us to be witnesses for Jesus; he also empowers us to lovelike Jesus. The greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The “second greatest” commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. But how can we do that? All of us realize, I trust, that we cannot love God with all our heart without his help. We also cannot love our neighbors as ourselves in our own strength. All we have to do is look around at our world. We will quickly recognize that we are incapable of loving each other that way on our own.
But we don’t have to do it on our own! The Holy Spirit fills our hearts with God’s love. He pours his love into us, over and over each day, as we live in surrender to him. So we have peace with God and we are empowered to love God and each other – because of what Jesus has done for us.
Friends of God
Paul closes this passage by reminding us that God has not “just” forgiven us; God has restored us to friendship with him (v 10). The idea of being a “friend of God” connects us back to Abraham, whom Paul discussed in chapter 4. In Isaiah 41:8, God refers to the people of Israel as being “descended from Abraham my friend.” In Romans 4:16-17, Paul points out: “For Abraham is the father of all who believe. That is what the Scriptures mean when God told him, ‘I have made you the father of many nations.’” So all who “believe,” who have faith in Christ, are Abraham’s “children.” Thus, when Paul says in Romans 5:10 that our friendship with God was restored, he is drawing us into the spiritual lineage of Abraham.
But we need to remember that we could not do that on our own. It was because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God (v 11). Paul made it clear in chapter 3 that no one is righteous in his or her own ability. He references Psalm 14 to support the fact that “no one does good, not a single one!” (Psalm 14:3, quoted in Romans 3:12). But that is not the end of the story, because Jesus has enabled us to be friends of God!
I believe God is reminding us that righteousness is not a contest to see who can do the most “good” things (or do the least “bad” things). The idea that we establish righteousness by what we do leads us to compare ourselves to each other, trying to come out “ahead.” God calls us to be like Jesus – so we compare ourselves to him. Obviously, we’ll always come out on the “losing” side of that comparison!
But God doesn’t simply challenge us to try to become like Jesus. He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. As John writes, “God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them” (1 John 4:16b). The Holy Spirit, living in us, enables us to be like Jesus – by loving God, and showing God’s love to others. “And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect.” That’s what it means to be friends of God!
Father, thank you for sending your Son Jesus to die for us while we were still sinners. We rebelled against you, but you loved us anyway. And now we are reconciled to you through Jesus, and your Holy Spirit fills our hearts with your love. What an incredible blessing!
Help us today not simply to experience your love, but to allow your love to flow through us and touch others in Jesus’ name. The great commandments tell us to love you and our neighbors. When selfish thoughts start to creep into our hearts and minds, help our love to grow “more perfect” (1 John 4:17). Remind us that by faith we are friends of God – and as your children, we should love like you. Amen.