As we grow older, our friendships can be formed quickly or gradually, because every individual is different, and every pair of individuals is different. But that simple childhood question is so honest, so innocent, that it's almost haunting. And it makes me wonder: I know Someone else Who was forthright and honest and innocent when He walked the earth - - - although He was also deeper and more quick-witted than anyone who ever lived. What would you say if the Lord Jesus Christ asked you, "Do you want to be friends?" Or, a slightly different question: "Are you My friend?"
It's a deep, deep question. The Lord Jesus Christ has plenty of "acquaintances;" the churches are full of them. Men and women who know about Him, and have an intellectual belief in Him, but have never actually pursued a level of intimate fellowship with Him: in other words, about 90% of the church members in the Western world. (In China, or in Muslim countries, such shallow acquaintance is virtually unknown: it costs something to be a follower of Christ there). And He certainly has many, many enemies. In fact, unless and until you've received Jesus Christ by an act of the will, at a specific point in time (John 1:12, John 3:3-7), you're one of those enemies. That's not my judgment; it's God's: For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life (Romans 5:10, written to those who have received Him). You may claim, like the philosophers, to admire Him as a Teacher; or claim, like the Muslims, that He was a great Prophet; but, until you have become personally acquainted with Him, just as you're acquainted with your neighbors and co-workers, you're not His friend; He considers you an enemy.
Who, then, are His friends? As we've already indicated, it begins with meeting Him, by receiving Him, and being born again. But that's just the beginning. That's the simple part. Anybody can be saved; but there are some very specific characteristics of being His friend.
The first step is believing Him. Not just "believing in Him," but believing in what He says - - - which is found in His word, the Bible. A professing Christian may scoff at parts of the Bible; but a friend of Jesus won't: he or she will believe it implicitly, even the parts that aren't easily understood. God spoke to Moses directly, but He didn't call Moses His friend: And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend (Exodus 33:11). But Abraham was truly God's friend. (This doesn't mean that Abraham was a "better man" than Moses; that has nothing to do with it. Both men were sinners, like you and me.) Speaking to Israel: But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend (Isaiah 41:8). What was so special about Abraham? God tells us very clearly, in the New Testament: in fact, it's so important that God says it three times. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness (Romans 4:3). And, Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness (Galatians 3:6). 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 (James 2:23). Was Abraham God's friend because he offered up Isaac, or because he was the father of nations? No, although those things are inestimably important. According to James, he was God's friend because he believed God. Do you? When God speaks to you in His word, not just about "theological" things, but on a very personal level, with warnings and promises and guidance, do you believe Him, or doubt Him?
Closely related to believing Jesus is obeying Him. (I don't like this part any better than you do!) But there's no getting around it: if we believe His words, we'll believe that He's serious when He tells us to do something (or not do something). Obedience is not the "key" to the Christian life, but it's one of the hallmarks of the Christian life. It's a matter of doing what Jesus wants us to do, instead of what we want to do. And we don't need a Biblical example of this, like Abraham, because Jesus told us this directly: Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you (John 15:14). The inevitable, inescapable corollary? If we don't do what He commands, we're not His friends. Yes, we're still saved; yes, we can still have fellowship with Him; but if we choose our desires over His commands, then friendship is off the table. At times, He'll tell us all the same thing, like commanding us to study the word or spread the Gospel; at other times, He'll have specific, tailor-made commands for each of us: "Don't marry that man." "Don't take that job." "Go to this town, not that one." And when God says these things to us, they're not "requests;" they're commands. And if we do them, He counts us among His friends.
Does that sound unreasonable? "I can't be Jesus' friend if I do things my own way?" Well, it might sound unreasonable ... but I only quoted one verse. Because, before issuing any commands to us, Jesus already counted us His friends, when He went to the cross, to be tortured to death for our sins. That's the context I didn't mention: the passage reads, Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you (John 15:13-14). He doesn't have to prove His love or loyalty or friendship to us; He's already done it. Now it's our turn.
And there's another element in this discussion: if Jesus is to be our Friend, then certain other people cannot and will not be our friends. We have to make a choice. We can't be friends with "the world:" i.e., the world system, which is totally alienated from God, and the people who are comfortable in that system. Speaking to to people who thought that they could have it both ways, God said, Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God (James 4:4). If you want to be like the people who surround you at school or in the workplace, or the people you see in movies and on television, you will not be Jesus' friend. If you place a high priority on "fitting in" and having everyone like you, you'll not be Jesus' friend. In fact, according to this verse, such worldly affections are actually enmity (hostility, opposition) against God. Does that mean that a friend of Jesus can't have unsaved friends? Well, without playing semantic games: we can surely have friendly acquaintances, and a degree of good relations, with non-Christians. God doesn't expect us to be hermits, or to be hostile to everyone outside our own little circle. I have many dear acquaintances who are unsaved. They like me (although they don't understand me), and I like them. But when a crisis comes, they usually don't come to me for comfort or help, and I don't go to them. (There are always exceptions in extreme circumstances.) As everyone knows, it's when you're in trouble that you find out who your friends are - - - and who they're not. A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity (Proverbs 17:17). Jesus calls us His brethren - - - and He wants to be our Friend.
This isn't spiritual snobbery or elitism. Any parent of a teenager (or even a younger child) will advise him or her to choose their friends carefully. Nobody, Christian or non-Christian, wants their children "running with the wrong crowd." And Jesus demands our complete loyalty, if we're to be His friends.
There are other factors, of course. But these are some of the most important. One of the most subtle, yet obvious verses in the Bible says: A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly (Proverbs 18:24). If you want someone to be your friend, you don't shun that person, or seek to avoid him: you look for opportunities to spend time together, and enjoy one another's company. You enjoy being together. That might be part of the definition of friendship, although not the only part. Boy or girl, woman or man, a person likes being with a friend: it isn't a burden or a duty. It's fun - - - or, many times, much more meaningful than "fun:" it's a time of sharing burdens and concerns and talking things out. Friends laugh together, cry together, and, very often, get bored together! But the key word is "together."
Does that describe the time you spend with Jesus Christ? Do you seek out opportunities to fellowship with Him? Do you cry with Him and laugh with him and maybe (I say it reverently) get bored together, like when you're reading a "dull" part of Scripture? It's all part of friendship. And if Jesus is to be your Friend, you must "show yourself friendly:" by not shunning Him, by not "putting Him off," by not sticking Him in your hip pocket until Sunday morning.
He doesn't need your friendship, or mine; but we need His. And He wants it. He wants it very much. After all ... hasn't Jesus already spent enough time alone, shunned and hated by the world He came to save?