God’s Neighbors, Convicts and Pets
It means something to be called the friend of God.
Most of us, though, don’t think of ourselves as Jesus’ friends (let alone God’s, when we make that distinction). We typically think of ourselves as something like polite, but distant, neighbors who see each other from time to time but have nothing in common and nothing to talk about; or we think of ourselves as escaped convicts, on the run from God’s flashlight and Doberman Pinschers while the angels in the SS track us through life; or at best we think of ourselves as pets, faithfully staying next to God in hopes that He will dole out more treats than torment.
Perhaps, on a cognitive level, we’d scoff at each of these descriptions. We know they aren’t really true. But, strangely, we act as if they are true. We are dismissive of God—not aware of our inability to fully know Him, but unconcerned that we might know more of Him if we cared to—and we are scared of God—not the holy fear of Isaiah, but frightful terror—and we buddy up to God—not in love, but out of a desire to be blessed.
A major reason we’re stuck as neighbors, convicts, or pets is that we simply cannot get our heads around friendship.
It’s important to know that this is the God we worship, our friend-God, because you become like what you worship. The kind of God we worship is one who makes friends with those lower than Himself.
We are wired for worship, there is something within us that calls out to the beyond, but we are also fallen and sinful. It is our sin that leads us away from worshipping God, and it is our sin that leads us to create other things to worship. Sadly, we often create things to worship that are of lesser worth than we are and that create a disdain for others (sometimes we are included in the group to be disdained, as is the case with lust and greed). Through our adoration of these lesser idols, our worth is also compromised and we become less than what we set out to worship. In order for our humanity not to be diminished—and to keep us from thinking of God as pet-owner, Gestapo, or neighbor—we’ve got to understand that God is our friend, and that our friend lives inside of us (Romans 8.11; 1 Corinthians 3.16).
Most of the time most of us forget this last part, that God the Holy Spirit lives in us, and so we try to make our spiritual way forward without the benefit of being God’s friends. We neglect the Spirit within us, because we cannot conceive of God being our friend; so we try to achieve spiritual victory without God’s help, and we fail because the only way for us to succeed is through the Spirit.
That’s why I think it’s important to split hairs about “following Jesus.” We don’t follow Christ, per se. That road leads, again, to an overemphasis on our ability to copy. We have Christ in us. This road leads to a proper understanding that we are carriers, or hosts, of his Spirit, his Kingdom, and his mission.
The incarnation is both once-and-for-all and ongoing, as the One who was and is to come now is and lives his resurrection life in and through us. Incarnation doesn’t just apply to Jesus; it applies to every one of us…we have been given God’s Spirit which makes Christ real in our lives. We have been made, as Peter puts it, partakers of the divine nature.
Len Sweet and Frank Viola
The Incarnation is the foundation for our friendship, our participation, with God. He called us His friends. Friends share. We share in the life of Christ, just as we share in his suffering. It’s time we all understood just how embedded we are with God, so that we can live free from guilt over past sins, free from spiritual failure resulting from ignoring God, and free from loneliness and spiritual isolation. He is not our neighbor. He is not our Policeman. He is not our Owner. He is our friend. And He is here to help.
Dr. David McDonald is the teaching pastor at Westwinds Community Church in Jackson, MI. The church, widely considered among the most innovative in America, has been featured on CNN.com and in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Time Magazine. David weaves deep theological truths with sharp social analysis and peculiar observations on pop culture. He lives in Jackson with his wife, Carmel, and their two kids. Follow him on twitter (@fossores) or online at fossores.com