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Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 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. -- James 2: 20-23 (ESV)
The act of worshipping God Almighty has become a multi-million dollar business. Hillsong United alone rakes in over 100 million dollars per year. It should be of little wonder then, with all of this money on the line, that the lyrics of modern day worship have devolved away from Scripture as rapidly as preaching has. This is more damage wrought by the purpose driven systems and schemes for "church growth." The Purpose Driven Church teaches young pastors to cater to the needs of the "unchurched." To gear their sermons and marketing towards them. Those that are saved already need to be on board with the "vision" or else be "blessedly subtracted" from the sheepfold. When Bill Hybels was opening Willow Creek he canvassed the neighborhood to ask them what they liked and didn't like about church and overwhelmingly the unsaved goats said that images of the cross offended them. Well, it should because their sins were nailed to it. Hybels however responded by removing all crosses from his sanctuary.
The underlying false foundation to these schemes is that there is just a plethora of people "seeking" God. We know this is patently false because the Bible tells us none seek Him. All have turned away. Sure when the chips are down in life we often turn to the hopes of some cosmic bus boy to help clean up our messes but truly seeking God? No beloved, most people in this country are not actively seeking God and the Bible assures us that the mere things of God are utter foolishness to them. Nevertheless, the purpose driven churches now gauge everything through a seeker-friendly prism. Will messages about sin turn off the seeker? Don't preach them. Call them "mistakes" instead. Will songs about the blood keep these imaginary seekers away? No more songs about the blood. The goats want rock music, disco lighting and smoke machines? Bring em in! The actual saints of God? Get with the vision or get to steppin.
This is how we get to such horrible worship songs we see today. Songs like "Oh How He Loves Us"; which essentially is a story about how great we are that God should love us so. Songs like Oceans, where goats cry out for a God they do not know to take them deeper. Considering how shallow their theology is, maybe not such a bad idea. Or songs like the granddaddy of bad worship songs, Friend of God. For the record, I felt this way before Israel Houghton became an admitted adulterer. That is a good side note however to see how the worship industry is no different than the secular music industry. When Israel Houghton was actively cheating on his wife, he was also winning Christian Album of the Year. In the past few years we have seen multiple Christian artists leave the faith and denounce Christ. But I digress.
So what is so wrong with Friend of God? Beloved, what we sing forms our theology. Think about it for a moment. What we say over and over again is bound to become imbedded into what we believe. If you sing "How Great Thou Art" over and over again, you will be left with the belief in the greatness of our God. If you sing "Amazing Grace" repeatedly, you begin to understand that you are the wretch. If you sing "Oh How He Loves Us" enough you will believe that God is jealous for you and that we are His portion. I kid you not. That is in the lyrics. But the hook is what will really stick. The repeated mantra over and over again of oh how He loves us. Listen, God does love everyone through His mercy but this mantra supports the sloppy agape love that many false teachings profess. This agape is so sloppy that teachers like Joseph Prince insist that God is never angry! Never upset with us at all! That Christians do not even need to worry about the Ten Commandments. This is vain worship based upon the commandments of men:
You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:"'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'" -- Matthew 15: 7-9 (ESV)
The definition of vain is twofold. First it means that it is useless or fruitless. It is not worship to tell God how much He loves you. It is not worship to tell God that you are His friend. The second definition of vain however hits the mark even better. Vain is where we get the word vanity from. Vain means to have an excessively high opinion of one's own worth. Yes indeed. In vain they do worship Him. They are really however, merely worshiping themselves. Let that sink in for a moment. So what is the hook in Friend of God?
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
He calls me friend
The verse is very me-focused as it speaks to how amazing it is that God is mindful of me, thinking of me, and once again, oh how He loves me. While this fits with what we have already discussed, let's deconstruct the chorus, which is what is usually repeated ad nauseum during worship services across this country. This is what forms our theology. It is easy enough to analyze as there are essentially only two claims being made. One is that I am a friend of God and the other is that God calls me friend. They stem from the key verses today written by James regarding Abraham. Many may not realize this but nowhere in Genesis does God call Abram/Abraham friend. It is only here in James. Most who espouse the friend of God theology point to verse 23 and exclaim -- "See! Abraham was called a friend of God!" Yes, he was.
But you my friend are not Abraham. I am also not Abraham. To cite verse 23 without the proper context of verses 21-22 is scriptural mischief. You see Abraham did some things that resulted in God calling Him Friend. He was far from perfect as any reading of his account in Genesis will reveal. He did however have two life defining, faith establishing, friendship inducing moments. The first is when he agreed to leave everything he knew behind to go to a land he knew nothing about just because God told him to.
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. -- Genesis 12: 4 (ESV)
So Abram went as the Lord had told him. We have trouble simply following what the Lord has told us in the Bible! God has told us to watch out for false teachers and most do not do that. He has implored us to test everything but we do not. I am relatively confident that if God audibly told us to pick our family up at the age of 75 and move to another country we would dismiss it as a result of bad pizza and a need for a hearing exam. The second moment however, James directly references.
Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." -- Genesis 22: 10-12 (ESV)
Isaac was the child of promise that Abraham had waited 100 years for. Here was God telling him to offer him up as a sacrifice to Him. No explanation. Just do as I command. Abraham had already seen that God enabled Sarah to give birth at 90. He knew already that God had promised his decedents would populate the earth. So whether he thought God would raise Isaac from the dead or provision would come in another manner -- Abraham had faith. That faith along with the act of being willing to sacrifice his only child of promise was credited to him as righteousness. Thus he was called a friend of God. Most of us who sing Friend of God on Sunday wouldn't sacrifice our sacred pew spot, let alone our only child. Therein lies the rub beloved.
A dear pastoral friend from years ago once said, singing Friend of God does not make you a friend of God. There were certain considerations from Abraham's life that resulted in him being considered a friend of God. Considerations I know I have not reached. For years I stood in Pentecostal churches with my hands raised to heaven singing to God that He considers me His friend. How unbelievably arrogant of me. We instead should be focused on our level of obedience and our level of sacrifice. Wait a minute preacher! What about John 15? What about it?
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 (ESV)