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Becoming a Friend of God

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 4:1–5

The person of genuine faith will demonstrate it, not by a sinless life, but by trusting in Christ alone to declare him righteous before God. Romans presents Abraham as a wonderful example of such faith.


Every once in a while, a listener will send me a note and attach a funny story to it. Here is one I received some time ago.

A couple was celebrating their thirtieth wedding anniversary and their sixtieth birthdays. So, they drove over to the beach for a weekend to celebrate this special year. As they strolled along the beach, suddenly a good fairy appeared before them and said to the woman, “In honor of your thirty-year anniversary, I will grant you one wish.” She said, “I wish I could travel around the world and see all the wonderful sights.” Poof went the fairy’s wand, and she was whisked away on her worldwide travels.

The good fairy turned to the man and said, “It is also your sixtieth birthday; I will give you one wish as well.” And he said, “Well, to be honest, I would like to have a wife thirty years younger than me.” She frowned at him and then said, “Very well.” She waved her wand, and the man turned ninety!

That’s what he deserved! And the moral of the story? Be careful what you wish for!

If average Jewish people of Paul’s day had one wish, many of them would wish to be more like Abraham, the founder of their nation. And that is because they thought Father Abraham was inherently righteous. Well, they were wishing for the wrong thing.

Today we set sail into Romans 4, where Paul is going to address that wish. He begins with a question in verse 1: “What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?”

What Paul is going to do here is use Abraham as the key Old Testament illustration of justification by faith. But why Abraham? Were there not other men of faith in the Old Testament?

Of course there were. But I believe there are at least five reasons the Spirit of God is leading Paul to use Abraham as a living illustration of justification by faith.

First, Abraham lived two thousand years before Paul wrote this letter to the Romans. Paul is effectively countering the claim that he is teaching some kind of new idea. This was the redemptive plan of God, now thousands of years old.

The second reason Paul uses Abraham is because Abraham was the forefather of God’s chosen people. From Abraham came the Hebrew people. So, what is true about Abraham’s relationship with God should be true of all his descendants—the Jewish people—to this day.

The third reason Abraham is the perfect example of how to be saved is that he was known as God’s friend. Three times in Scripture—in 2 Chronicles, in Isaiah, and in the book of James[1]—Abraham is called the “friend” of God.

We get all caught up with who our friends are. Somebody we know has a famous friend, and we think how special that must be. Well, imagine being known as the friend of God. By the way, in John 15:14, Jesus says that all who follow Him are His friends.

Since the Jewish people are looking to Abraham as their example of how to find friendship with God, they need to understand how Abraham became God’s friend.

The fourth reason I believe Paul chose Abraham as an illustration is because Abraham was revered by the Jewish nation as the model of faith. So, if Paul can show that Abraham was not justified by keeping the law, then clearly no one can be justified by keeping the law.

The fifth and final reason I believe Abraham is used as the example of justification by faith is because Abraham was believed to be a man possessing righteousness. By the time of Paul, the Jewish people believed that Abraham became God’s friend because he deserved to be—he was a righteous man already.

I think there are a lot of Christians today who think God loves them only if they keep the rules and don’t mess things up. If you do not skip a day of devotions and you attend church, God will love you then. You can be His friend, but only if you are faithful.

Well, the Jewish people thought that way. They were taught that Abraham was the father of God’s chosen people because he deserved to be. And they wished they could be like him.

So, follow this: what Paul is doing here is focusing on the most likely person on the planet to be worthy of salvation. If anybody deserved to be God’s friend, it was Abraham.

But instead, Paul writes this:

For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. (verses 2-5)

By the way, beloved, there is a phrase in this text that will crush every false religion and speculation—right here in verse 3: “For what does the Scripture say?”

The truth regarding God’s plan of salvation comes down to this: What does the Bible say?

  • How do you become the friend of God? What does the Bible say?
  • How are your sins forgiven? What does the Bible say?
  • Is God going to love you only if you keep the rules? What does the Bible say?

The farther you get from what the Bible says, the more vulnerable you become to that roaring lion, the devil, who roams around seeking someone to devour, to discredit, to discourage (1 Peter 5:8).

So, what does the Bible say about Abraham? Well, for one, Paul says again in verse 2 that he has no reason for boasting. In other words, if Abraham was justified by his works—which is impossible—it would give him the right to boast. But even Abraham, Paul says, cannot boast before God.[2]

In the last part of verse 3, Paul says that Abraham’s righteousness was not earned at all by his efforts. Paul quotes from Genesis 15:6: “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”

Beloved, this is how God justifies the sinner. He switches the accounts in His divine ledger. He credits the bankrupt account of a sinner with the righteous account of Jesus Christ. When you give your sinful heart to God, He gives you the sinless record of Jesus.

Here in verses 4 and 5, Paul makes a contrast between works and faith: “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.” That is, he works at his job, and he gets a paycheck for it. But verse 5 tells us that “the one who does not work, but believes” in Christ is given the gift of a righteous standing before God.

So even Abraham was justified, not because he was godly, but because he simply believed in God.

Listen to these lyrics, written in 1861:

Not what these hands have done
Can save my guilty soul;
Not what this toiling flesh has borne
Can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do
Can give me peace with God;
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears
Can bear my awful load.
Thy work alone, O Christ,
Can ease this weight of sin;
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God,
Can give me peace within. …
I bless the Christ of God;
I rest on love divine;
And with unfalt’ring lip and heart,
I call this Savior mine.[3]

That is just another way of saying, “Here is how you can become a friend of God.” And your friendship with God will last forever.

[1] 2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23.

[2] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker Books, 1998), 214.

[3] Horatius Bonar, “Not What These Hands Have Done.”

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