Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE FRIEND OF GOD”

James 2.23

 

In four weeks, we have our Friends Day push to get as many people into our auditorium as we can. In order for that special day to succeed, we need good participation by everyone. We need our men, women, boys, and girls to work hard to get people to church that day.

Men, not only do you need to bring people to church, but you need to be flexible enough to enable your wife and kids to invite and encourage people to come as well. This needs to be a total church family effort. Let me explain why in somewhat more detail than I have so far to date.

Decisionism is defined as the belief that a person is saved by coming forward, raising the hand, saying a prayer, believing a doctrine, making a Lordship commitment, or some other external, human act, which is taken as the equivalent to, and proof of, the miracle of inward conversion; it is the belief that a person is saved through the agency of a merely external decision; the belief that performing one of these human actions shows that a person is saved.[1] It is a belief that is false, but which pervades Christianity these days.

Therefore, when most churches have a big day such as we have planned, the goal of that big day is entirely different from our goal. We know that although some sinners will, from time to time, respond to the gospel the first time they hear it and come to faith in Christ, and are saved, the overwhelming majority of those who end up as Christians are only hindered and confused by attempts to prematurely rush them into a decision for Christ. So, though you may have attended churches that had big days for the purpose of preaching a gospel sermon, in the hopes of getting lost people to respond to the only gospel sermon they were likely to hear, such an approach does not reflect what the Bible teaches about conversion, and is not the approach we are taking.

Real conversion occurs when a sinner who has some understanding of his sinfulness knows enough truth to have real faith in the Jesus of the Bible. But, honestly, though God is pleased to use the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe, one sermon is almost never sufficient to communicate enough truth upon which saving faith can be based to actually bring a sinner to Christ for deliverance from his sins. For that reason, and our experience has born out what the Bible shows about depravity and the spiritual deadness of the lost, we recognize the need to not only get sinners under the sound of the gospel once, but to get them back under the sound of the gospel again and again, as we pray and work hard to guide them to Christ.

Our interest, then, is not in persuading sinners to feel so badly about their sins that they are persuaded to bow their heads and repeat the words of a contrived prayer that we give them, never to see them darken the doors of our church again. No, we want to see God do such a work in their lives that they come to the decided conviction that they are in desperate need of Christ and that their only hope is real conversion. However, what is conversion?

Conversion is the result of that work of the Holy Spirit that draws a lost sinner to Jesus Christ for justification and regeneration, and changes the sinner’s standing before God from lost to saved, imparting divine life to the depraved soul, thus producing a new direction in the life of the convert. The objective side of salvation is justification. The subjective side of salvation is regeneration. The result is conversion.[2]

Therefore, you see, though we plan and prepare, pray and work hard, what we are utterly dependent upon is God’s willingness to work the miracle of the new birth in the life of the individual sinner. Since we cannot predict who the next convert will be, or when the next conversion will occur, our job is to get sinners into our auditorium, and then do whatever it takes to get them to come back repeatedly and again.

Is such an approach to evangelism scriptural? Yes, it is. Remember what Jesus taught in the parable of the great supper, in Luke 14.23: “And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” When the people who were invited failed to show up, the master of the house sent his servant out to compel people to come in. The word “compel” translates a Greek imperative verb, anagkason, which refers to compelling someone, or urging someone to do something.[3] This is our marching order to get folks into the church house.

However, notice how this is contrasted with Paul’s reference to persuasion, in Second Corinthians 5.11: “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” Here Paul uses the word peiqw, to describe his approach to evangelism, which refers to convincing someone and bringing them around to a point of view or a course of action.[4] This would be our model for dealing with people once they are here in church.

Herein is the flaw of decisionism revealed. Decisionists not only compel sinners to come in, but they also compel sinners to make professions of faith. That is, they impose their will upon sinners who sit under preaching, or who they are dealing with at the front door, which results in a sinner complying by means of some outward form, usually praying a sinner’s prayer. Tragically, the result is so frequently anything but real conversion.

The scriptural approach to evangelism, I believe, involves compelling sinners to fill God’s house, thereby getting them under the sound of the gospel. However, once sinners have been compelled to come in, an entirely different approach is used to persuade them to come to Christ. You see, in its essence, getting people to church is getting someone to comply with your wishes, urging a sinner to bow somewhat to your will. Since that kind of dynamic occurs in every area of life, it does not really cause anyone any harm . . . unless you employ that dynamic in your evangelism, something Paul understood very well.

Do what you can to get people to come to church. It will not hurt them. However, you have no business employing those same means to obtain a profession of faith in Christ. Such an approach as a means of making someone a Christian will hurt actually him, because he will think he has become a Christian by bowing to your will and complying with your wishes.

So you see then, there is one dynamic that is appropriate and acceptable as a means of getting a crowd, which is the context in which we should understand the Savior’s directive to “compel them to come in,” but there is an altogether different dynamic that should be employed once they are in when seeking to bring them to Christ. Are we to persuade them? Yes, because we know the terror of the Lord. However, we must know where to draw the line so we do not make the mistake of coercing anyone to become a Christian.

Decisionists have never understood the difference between compelling and properly persuading, with the result being their efforts to not only compel sinners to come in, but also trying to compel sinners to come to Christ. What must be realized, and what our efforts are focused on, is compelling sinners to come in so God’s house may be full. But we then make use of the scriptural approach to evangelism by preaching, by teaching, and by discussing, in an effort to persuade them, realizing that it often takes a great deal of time for God to work in a sinner’s life, and also knowing that a sinner can only come to Christ when he is fully persuaded to do so by the operation of the Holy Spirit.

Do you see how the two approaches differ? Decisionists try to coerce or pressure sinners into complying with their wishes, as they with faulty good intentions try to bend another’s will toward the outward form of praying a sinner’s prayer, or some such similar thing. What we seek to do, which is what Paul was commenting about, is showing sinners why they need to comply with God’s demand to obey the gospel, without ever forcing or pushing someone. We realize that sinners will only really come to Christ who want to come to Christ, as the Holy Spirit deals with them.

So, work really hard to get people here and then trust God to work in their minds and hearts with the truth they are exposed to once they are here. Then, work hard to get them to come back, without that sinner ever feeling that you are pushing him to become a Christian. Remember John 1.13: “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

 

SERMON:

 

The theme of our Friends Day on October 8th is, obviously, friends, or friendship. Proverbs 18.24 tells us that “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” In that verse, we find two phrases. The first phrase, “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly,” shows us the responsibility that each of us has with respect to making and keeping friends. We are obligated to be friendly towards our fellow man. The second half of the verse, “and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother,” reveals to us that there is a friendship that transcends what is normally thought of as friendship. Christians rightly understand this phrase to be an allusion to the Lord Jesus Christ, Who said, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.”[5]

My friends, there are friends, and then there are friends. As well, there are friends, and then there is the friend that sticketh closer than a brother. So, obviously, there are different levels of meaning and depth to this whole idea of what a friend is, and what friendship means.

This morning I want to speak to you about a man who is unique in God’s dealings with mankind. He is a man who, in many respects, was blessed by God in ways that no other man has been or will be blessed again. Of course, I speak of Abraham, the first Hebrew, the father of the Jewish people, the prototype of a sinner who was justified by faith, and the man with whom God established the Abrahamic Covenant, the framework around which so many of God’s dealings with men relative to biblical prophesy is based.

You may be somewhat familiar with Abraham, that he was called from Ur of the Chaldees, that he married Sarah, that he was the father of Isaac, and the grandfather of Jacob, the first of the nation of Israel’s patriarchs. However, it is about Abraham as the friend of God that I want to speak to you today.

Please turn in your Bible to James 2.23. While you are finding that verse, listen to what Jehoshaphat said, in Second Chronicles 20.7: “Art not thou our God, who didst drive out the inhabitants of this land before thy people Israel, and gavest it to the seed of Abraham thy friend for ever?”

As well, let me read to you what God said, in Isaiah 41.8: “But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend.”

So you see, Abraham was acknowledged by Jehoshaphat to be God’s friend, and in Isaiah, we note that Abraham was declared by God to be His friend.

Now that you have located James 2.23, stand with me for the reading of today’s text: “And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.”

Let me speak in very general terms before coming back to Abraham, the friend of God.

 

First, THE NATURE OF GOD

 

What is God like?

How are we to understand Him?

Of course, there are some aspects of His nature that can be understood by examining His creation. You can tell something of the artist by carefully studying his portraits or his sculptures. However, the conclusions that we draw from studying God’s creation are necessarily limited and incomplete. If we want to really know what God is like, we need Him to tell us what He is like. Thankfully, He does precisely that in His Word, the Bible.

I would suggest that anyone who wants to get an idea what God is really like start reading your Bible from Genesis chapter 1, or from where you are in your reading through the Bible in a year schedule, with a note pad and a pen. Whenever you come across a verse that gives some insight into what God is like, jot the verse down and what you think it reveals about God.

For example: If you are reading through the Bible with us, you will read Second Samuel chapter 4 today. In Second Samuel 4.8, we read that the LORD avenges. In the next verse, we read that the LORD lives. So, in only two verses we find that God reveals Himself in the Bible as a God Who gets revenge and as a God Who is alive. So you see how it is possible to find out what God is really like, how different He is from what most people think, what His true nature is. That being so, I want to direct your attention to Exodus 20.5-6. Once you reach that passage, you will probably recognize that it is part of what we call the Ten Commandments, those ten commands written on two stone tablets that were given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai:

 

5      Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

6      And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

 

This is the third of the ten commands. In this command we see that God is a God Who commands, Who describes Himself as jealous, Who visits the iniquity upon those who hate Him, and Who shows mercy to those who love Him and who keep His commandments. Of these four aspects of God’s nature, I want you to zero in on His jealousy.

What is jealousy? It is a concept that we are familiar with, boyfriends who are jealous of their girlfriends and husbands who are jealous of their wives, but how is God jealous? Let me read part of the entry under the heading “Jealousy” from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:

 

<jel’ ([ha;n]qi, qin’]; [zh~lov, zelos]): Doubtless, the root idea of both the Greek and the Hob (sic) translated “jealousy” is “warmth,” “heat.” Both are used in a good and a bad sense — to represent right and wrong passion.

 

When jealousy is attributed to God, the word is used in a good sense. The language is, of course, anthropomorphic; and it is based upon the feeling in a husband of exclusive right in his wife. God is conceived as having wedded Israel to Himself, and as claiming, therefore, exclusive devotion. Disloyalty on the part of Israel is represented as adultery, and as provoking God to jealousy. See, e.g., Deuteronomy 32:16,21; 1 Kings 14:22; Psalm 78:58; Ezekiel 8:3; 16:38,42; 23:25; 36:5; 38:19.[6]

 

You see, because God is jealous, He rightfully insists on having you all to Himself. Because God is good, righteous, holy, just, and merciful and possesses so many other worthy qualities, it is only proper for God to have us all to Himself. Therefore, if God cannot have you all to Himself, He will severely punish you. To be sure, He knows that you have needs that He fully intends to meet. He longs to show His love for you by meeting your need for forgiveness, your need for companionship, your need for fulfillment and satisfaction, and so many other needs. However, He is jealous, and rightly so. He insists on being your first love, your first concern, your first consideration, and the One to whom your primary loyalty and devotion is directed. This, then, is the aspect of God’s nature that is important to our understanding of Abraham, the friend of God.

 

Next, THE NATURE OF MAN

 

Do I need to point out the obvious concerning this race we call man? We are a fallen race. We are a race of sinners who prefer to deceive ourselves. We think that we can stand alone. We think we do not need God at all. Alternatively, we think if God does figure in our lives He can be neatly stored in a convenient corner to be ignore until we decide that we need Him.

For the most part, mankind is a race of individuals who recognize their need for other people, but who all too often have no thoughts for actually needing their Creator. Of course, here in the United States not even the need for other people is typically acknowledged very often. We Americans have taken this sense of independence and individualism to such an extreme, that we isolate ourselves. The problem is so severe that many of us do not know our neighbor’s last names, and many of us have no one with whom to share the intimate details of our lives, even married people.

However, almost everyone recognizes, at some point in his life, that he needs companionship, that he needs some type of interaction with other human beings, that he needs a friend. However, are these real friendships? Consider our text, where Abraham is described as “the Friend of God.” That word “friend” translates one of the Greek words commonly translated “love” in our Bible.

There are three Greek words typically translated into our English word “love.” There is eroV, a word that is not found in our Bible, which is love that responds to the object of love that is attractive in some way to the one who loves. This love seeks to satisfy one’s own need in some way. It can be selfish. Our English word “erotic” is derived from this word.

Then there is agaph, which is such love one has for the object of your love that you give to and provide for the one you love without any requirement of the other being attractive to you. This kind of love which sees only that other’s need, and moves to satisfy. It is not selfish.

Then there is filoV, the word that is here translated “friend.” It has to do with a relationship based upon common interests. Is that not like most friendships? Guys who like cars. Guys who like baseball. Guys who like money. Guys who like guns. Guys who like girls.

So, here is the situation we have: People want friends, people with whom they have things in common. Abraham was God’s friend. That is, Abraham had some things in common with God, and was called God’s friend. It was not a description he gave to himself. It was not a relationship he initiated himself. But Abraham had some things in common with God, and God called him Friend.

Because of the sinfulness of people, they want nothing to do with God, so they go about to establish their own relationships. And how do they go about doing that? They form, or try to form, friendships based upon the common interests they have with other people. Guys who like cars. Guys who like guns. Guys who like motorcycles.

The problem with such friendships, of course, is that they are entirely unfulfilling. How can you have anything like a real meeting of the minds with a guy whose only common interest with you is a piece of steel? You get together once a week and stare at each other’s car, or tinker with each other’s car, or talk about each other’s car. Then you go home, unfulfilled until next week.

Maybe your thing is not cars, but guns. Or maybe it isn’t guns, but money. Or maybe it isn’t money, but working out. Or maybe it isn’t working out, but baseball. But do you see what I mean? That is the basis for your friendships? That’s it? How very empty. How terribly lonely. What a horrible waste of a life. But it must be so, because sin separates. Sin creates divisions between people. Sin makes it impossible for people to really connect, to really interact in a meaningful and fulfilling way. Sin leaves a destructive path of loneliness, and the most shallow friendships, in its wake.

But that is not all. Remember God in all this. Remember that He is jealous. Remember that He wants you. He wants your love, your devotion, your adoration, your service, your homage, your worship, and your attention. And when He does not get you, because He is a jealous God, He does something about it.

My friend, God wants you. And because He does not have you, He will not let anyone else have you. That is why your friendships, such as they are, are so shallow and inconsequential. That is why your marriage is so utterly futile and barren of meaningful communion. That is why some people spend all their time in the shop, all their time at the office, all their time playing in one way or the other; because they are lonely and are trying to distract themselves.

You see, the very nature of man, the very nature of individual men, guarantees that you will not love God, honor God, obey God, serve God, or in any way give God wants He wants and demands. Instead, you will go your own way and sail your own course. But sin will sabotage all your efforts, leaving you with only momentary delights at best, while in the main you will still be lonely and isolated. Not to mention God’s reaction.

 

Finally, THE NEED FOR RECONCILIATION

 

What is needed is for peace to be made between you and God. You have severely wronged Him and His forgiveness is needed. As well as forgiveness being needed by you, the establishing of a real relationship with God, such as the one Abraham has with Him, is of critical importance.

So, how is this to be accomplished? How is every man’s desire for friendship to be satisfied, along with God’s demand for your love and adoration? It only happens through God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

Think about it for a moment, if you will. I am talking about friendship with God. However, friendship with God has for its basis some common ground, some common interest, to both God and you. But what could you and God possibly have in common as the basis for a friendship?

It can only be Jesus Christ. Am I right? Does God have an interest in His Son? Yes. Is it possible for you to have an interest in His Son? Yes. Abraham’s friendship with God was established and maintained by faith. In the same way, if you will come to Jesus Christ, which is a faith proposition, then what you and God will have in common as the basis for your relationship will be Jesus Christ.

 

So, you begin to see why our upcoming Friends Day is so important. People need friends, and many people have friends. But there are very, very few people who have real friendships. Why so? It is one of the tragic consequences of sin in the human family, leaving individuals isolated and terribly lonely.

We have a solution for the problem, but it is a solution that we dare not try to force on anyone. Compel people to come to church, but once they arrive here we alter our strategy to then persuade them. Our prayer is that, in time, God will so work in their lives that they will come to Christ, the sinner’s friend.



[1] R. L. Hymers, Jr. and Christopher Cagan, Preaching To A Dying Nation, (Los Angeles, CA: Fundamentalist Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles, 1999), page 38.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 60.

[4] Ibid., pages 791-792

[5] Hebrews 13.5

[6] See Jealousy, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (AGES SOFTWAREÔ, INC. · Rio, WI USA · Version 8.0 © 2000)

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org