What a Friend We Have in Jesus

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Pastor, Zionsville, Indiana

You were made for friendship with God. God does not just want us to know about him; he wants us to know him — and to experience his friendship. Jonathan Edwards urges us to “Let it be [our] first love to enter into an everlasting friendship with Christ that never shall be broken” (WJE Online Vol. 44). The gospel calls us to trust Jesus as our Savior, submit to him as our King, and value him as our Treasure. It also calls us to enjoy him as our friend.

But do you view him this way? What does it mean for him to be our truest friend, and how do we experience his friendship?

He Gladly Calls Us Friends

Jesus gathered his disciples one last time, on the night before his death, to prepare them for the next day and beyond. In the midst of this sacred evening he said, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). To be called Jesus’s servant is an immeasurable privilege. Yet Jesus confers a greater honor. He brings us even closer. He calls us friends.

“You were made for friendship with God.”

Two pieces of evidence show his sincerity. First, he opened his heart with transparency. While a master doesn’t tell his servant what he’s doing, Jesus revealed his Father’s will to us. And he would send his Spirit to ensure that all future disciples would hear these words (John 14:26; 16:12–15).

Second, the cross proves his friendship. He said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). He wanted his disciples to see the cross and think: I understand now: He substituted himself for me under God’s wrath, and he did it because he views me as his treasured friend. He wants us to view the cross as an affection-filled sacrifice for friends.

Friendship is in the deepest heart of Christ and it’s at the very center of the gospel.

He Is Not Our King or Our Friend

Yet for some, friendship with Jesus seems to diminish his glory. I’ve often heard the sentiment, “Jesus is not our friend; he’s our King.” But we don’t have to choose, because both are true — Jesus is our exalted king and he is our truest friend. This doesn’t minimize his glory; it magnifies it — because it displays the immeasurable riches of his grace (Ephesians 1:6–7). Only grace explains the sovereign King welcoming sinners as his friends.

But does relating to Jesus as a friend diminish his authority in our lives? Not at all, because when he calls us friends, he still remains our King. He said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14). Jesus tells us to obey him; we never tell him to obey us. And our obedience doesn’t earn, but rather, proves, our friendship with him.

“Christ wants us to view the cross as an affection-filled sacrifice for friends.”

Jonathan’s friendship with David in 1 Samuel gives us a clear parallel. We rightly think of them as exemplifying friendship. But their story specifically pictures how we can be friends with the Christ, the messianic King. Jonathan was the friend of David, yet David was Israel’s anointed king. And when David called on Jonathan to demonstrate faithfulness, he responded, “Whatever you say, I will do for you” (1 Samuel 20:4). As David points forward to Jesus as the King, Jonathan points forward to all who follow Christ as friends.

We need to avoid two errors: One error is flippantly calling Jesus a “chum,” “buddy,” or “pal”— as though friendship is trivial. On the other hand, we could so emphasize Jesus’s kingship that we neglect his companionship. We could so emphasize his authority that we don’t enjoy his affection. But Jesus offers himself to us as both our cosmic ruler and our closest friend.

Cultivating Friendship with Christ

How do we cultivate this relationship?

First, let’s expand our vision of him. Consider how he is the greatest friend to great sinners. He draws near in our suffering, and he remains committed even in our stumbling. He lets us all the way in, and loves us to the very end. He doesn’t just justify us and then nudge us aside; he welcomes us into his deepest heart.

He knows us better than we know ourselves, and he loves us more deeply than anyone else ever could. We are closer to his heart than anyone has ever been to ours. As Jonathan Edwards wrote, “Whatsoever there is, or can be, that is desirable to be in a friend, is in Christ, and that to the highest degree that can be desired” (Works, 19:588).

“He knows us better than we know ourselves, and he loves us more deeply than anyone else ever could.”

Second, cultivate friendship through communion. Relationships thrive with conversation. As we read, receive, and remember God’s word, we hear him address us as friends. And then we pray — we thank him, we confess our sins to him, and we share our burdens with him. We do this throughout the day, not reporting as servants, but relating as friends.

Finally, let’s prove our friendship through obedience. How much would change if we knew that the one who loves us so deeply is with us so constantly? Is not his companionship itself one of the greatest deterrents to sin? If our great friend died for our sins, how can we treat them so lightly? When Jesus says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you,” let’s respond, like Jonathan, “Whatever you say, I will do for you.”

Jesus chose us as friends, he died for us as friends, he caused us to trust him as our friend, and he will remain our friend for the endless ages to come. What a friend we have — moment by moment, now and forever — in Jesus.