I used to travel and play music with a worship band while I was in college. We were doing an event in the Dallas area one summer. Usually, we would play for a half hour, and then the speaker would deliver his message. We had a set of songs that we often played, including one called, "I Am A Friend Of God." After we completed our set, the speaker immediately called the lyrics of that song into question.
"You're only a friend of God if you do what He says." He was right to point out that the song had no mention of discipleship or works. In fact, the song didn't even mention salvation. It just said, "I am a friend of God. He calls me friend." Misunderstanding who God calls friends can lead to a confusion of the entire gospel. In this chapter, we will contrast the difference between being a child of God and a friend of God.
As we have shown in the last two chapters, being a child of God is a salvation issue. Here is what John 1:12 says.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:1
So, clearly, being a child of God is the status of all those who have salvation. However, does that automatically make the saved person a friend of God? Nope.
Being a child of God is about salvation but being a friend of God is about discipleship. We know this because the conditions for being a friend of God are different than the condition for gaining eternal life. In speaking to His disciples, Jesus said it this way.
You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.2
Not much clarification is needed. He puts it plainly when He says, "You are My friends if you do whatever I command you." It might be said that friendship with Jesus is a little different than human friendships. I wouldn't expect absolute submission from my earthly friends. However, friendship with Jesus requires obedience. Why?; because Jesus is going to be King of the world. Those who wish to have a close relationship with Him must obey Him as Lord. This is another way of saying they must be on the path of discipleship. Anyone who rejects or neglects discipleship is denying their potential friendship with Jesus, and therefore God. James puts it in the strongest terms possible when he explains how to be a friend or enemy with God, in chapter 4 of his letter.
Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.3
No one wants God as an enemy. James makes it plain, only a few verses earlier, that he's talking to immature Christians. He reiterates this a verse later, as well, when he confirms that the spirit dwells within them collectively. So, indeed, he's talking to believers who are saved.
You may find it surprising to see that someone who is saved can become an enemy of God. This does not constitute a loss of salvation, but a loss of discipleship and the benefits that come with it. James' words echo what Jesus said when he declared, "You are My friends if you do whatever I command you." James adds that we are His enemies if we don't.
A person who is saved has a choice. They can either be an enemy of God, or they can be a friend of God. How sad it is that there are many people who are saved, and will certainly be in Heaven, but have made no effort to be His friend.
When we understand that all it takes to have salvation is faith in Jesus, but it takes obedience to be His friend, the Bible begins to come alive. Saved people have clear instructions to get busy, and by doing so, we will be His friend. Being a child of God is about salvation. Being a friend of God is about discipleship.
1 John 1:12.
2 John 15:14–15.
3 James 4:4.