As an associate pastor, one of my responsibilities at the church I serve is to teach children’s church on a regular basis. I am always grateful for the opportunity to share the Word of God with the children and point them to Jesus Christ. I also recognize temptations in teaching children the Bible. The first is to teach Bible narratives as if they are merely stories with a good moral point. However, if the Bible is truly the Word of God, the narratives found in Scripture are based in history. Children need to hear the narratives of David and Goliath and Jonah and the big fish are not fables but were actual events. This is not the only temptation with teaching children, though. A second temptation is to water down the response of the gospel. It is this second temptation I want us to consider in greater detail.
“Jesus Wants to Be Your Friend”
A common phrase I have heard some use to encourage children to respond to what Jesus has done on the cross is “Jesus wants to be your friend”. After all, does it not say in James 2 Abraham “was called a friend of God” (2:23)? Moreover, the Gospel of Luke tells us Jesus is accused of being “a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (7:34). These two verses seem to indicate Jesus can be your friend. The issue needing to be dealt with here has not to do with the text but with the context. In other words, James 2:23 is clear Abraham was a friend of God. Yet, to understand this friendship rightly the context of James 2:14–26 is essential.
Jesus: A Different Type of Friend
When we think about friendship, we do not think in terms of hierarchy. We view each other as equals. One person is not in authority over another. Now consider the same framework in describing Jesus as your friend. Does such a mindset contribute to a biblical concept? No. Jesus is a different type of friend. James 2 teaches us this. In verses 14–26 James is making the case saving faith is evidenced by good works. True faith in Jesus Christ will produce works for Christ. He uses the example of Abraham to illustrate this. He says, “and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’—and he was called a friend of God” (2:23). Abraham was called a friend of God because He placed His belief and trust in God. To be sure, this belief was not found without proof. James continues, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (2:24). James is not saying here works are required for salvation. This would be in contradiction to the testimony of Scripture and to the gospel. Rather, James is making the case true saving faith will be seen through good works. To state it another way, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (2:26).
Our Lord and Savior, then Our Friend
Just as Jesus is our example only after we trust in Him as Lord and Savior, Jesus is our friend. If we have not repented of our sins and placed our trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then we are still enemies of God (James 4:4). To tell children, or even adults, to respond to the gospel by saying, “Jesus wants to be your friend” misses the point. To be a friend of God, we must confess our rebellion and sin against Him. We must place our faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. The evidence we have believed in Him as Lord will be evidenced through obedience to His Word. When we ask for forgiveness for our sins and look to Christ only for salvation and hope, we will be found as friends of God!
- Why is it important to understand Jesus is our Lord and Savior before we say He is our friend?
- How does understanding Jesus is our Lord and Savior before He is our friend affect the way we encourage people to respond to the gospel?
This post was written by EBG Lead Writer and Founder Theron St. John. His joy is serving God and His people, both in the church and the academy. He is the associate pastor of Blue Ridge Christian Union Church in Shelbyville, Indiana and an adjunct professor at Crossroads Bible College in Indianapolis.