Friendship with the Friend of Sinners: Jared & Becky Wilson
Is Jesus a friend of sinners? Like me? Jared and Becky Wilson show us how Jesus' acceptance of us isn't determined by what we do.
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Is Jesus a friend of sinners? Jared and Becky Wilson show us how Jesus’ acceptance of us isn’t determined by what we do.
Friendship with the Friend of Sinners: Jared & Becky Wilson
Jared: I think most of us have the idea that the way that God will relate to us is through our doing things for Him: “If I can obey good enough,”—or to the extent that I obey—that’s the extent to which I’ll experience His approval of me. We tend to think of Jesus like that, as well: “Surely Jesus, the most perfect Man who ever lived, He would not want to spend time with me. Maybe if I am on my best behavior—maybe if I have really done a lot of cool spiritual stuff today for Him—then He’ll want to give me some time.” That’s not the testimony from Christ Himself.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Ann: This is FamilyLife—
Dave: Okay, who’s your best friend?
Dave: Ohh. [Laughter]
Ann: Jesus. [Laughter]
Dave: Okay, we’re not even going to be honest; are we? I know I’m not your best friend; Jesus might be.
Ann: You are totally my best friend. Why would you say that?
Dave: I am your best friend.
Ann: I know.
Dave: But Michelle is your next best friend.
Ann: Yes, she is.
Dave: Yes; friendship is really critical.
Ann: They really matter, and we need them desperately. Many of us don’t have that and couldn’t even say [we] have a best friend.
Dave: We have a new friend in the studio today [Laughter]: Jared C. Wilson is back. No; he’s not my dad, not my brother,—
Ann: —not your son.
Dave: —not my cousin. He’s not related to us. But he is definitely a friend. We’ve had such a great time having you with us at FamilyLife Today. Welcome back!
Jared: Thanks for having me back.
Dave: We are talking about a book you didn’t write too long ago: Friendship with the Friend of Sinners: The Remarkable Possibility of Closeness with Christ.
Ann: Don’t we all want that? I like that you say “…The Remarkable Possibility of Closeness…”
Dave: Of all the things to write about—I know you teach at a seminary and have been doing that for years—
Ann: —you preach.
Dave: —write/preach—but of all the topics, why friendship?—and especially, the Friend of sinners, Jesus.
Jared: For a couple of reasons. One, the idea of friendship with Jesus, I think, has become somewhat lost in that most Christians I know are somewhat content to be in a relationship with the idea of Jesus. They have a relationship with the concept of Jesus and forget sometimes that Jesus is a real person.
Dave: I’m not going to make you do it now, but you have to develop that.
Jared: I will develop that, yes. I develop that in the book, and I will be glad to develop that.
But also, I think we have a real friendship crisis. We have a real loneliness crisis that’s happening right now; there’s research even to back this up. Over the last several years, even before COVID, there were concerns about middle-aged men in particular that the friendlessness or the loneliness epidemic is a health crisis. It’s connected to all sorts of things—mental health wise and even physical health—there are studies that correlate that. Over in Japan, they actually have a governmental position assigned to the loneliness problem. Loneliness is such an issue there that it’s leading to increased suicide and other mental health risks.
Despite the fact that we have social media—
Jared: —and social internet connections; we’re more connected than we’ve ever been—but I think [lonelier] than we’ve ever been. If anything, the social internet has, in some ways, deformed our ability to relate to each other. We have the illusion of closeness. When you get down to it, that’s compounded some of the issues that we have as it relates to relationships.
Ann: Jared, you’re teaching at a seminary. Do you see that with your students? Are they lonelier, do you think, now than they have been in the past?
Jared: Yes, but I also see it just in relation to a lack of emotional intelligence; this is surprising as well. Because the younger generation is growing up connected through social media; and yet, disconnected in reality—but also immersed in a kind of therapy speak/in a kind of therapeutic speak; so very big on being in touch with feelings, just even the notion of therapy, all those sorts of things—yet, socially awkward: find it difficult to go into deep places relationally; somewhat impatient with people’s failings and brokenness, which is somewhat startling, given the superficial knowledge that we have.
You take that problem—the problem of loneliness/the problem of this friendship deficit—and you add the spiritual dimension to it, which we’re all spiritual beings—but when you add the possibility of being in a relationship with God/being friends with God, which is what the Bible holds out as a possibility for us, and it creates a real problem that I think the gospel needs to speak into. That’s sort of the platform for the book.
Ann: Let me ask you guys: “Would you say that Jesus is your friend?”—like one of your best friends?
Dave: Jared would; he wrote a book on it. [Laughter]
Jared: Yes. [Laughter] I wrote a book about it; I better be able to say that. [Laughter]
Ann: Would you say that?
Dave: Yes; but even as I was reading your book, Jared, I related to a lot of your thoughts, because—I’m sure women have the same thought—when you wrote, early in your book, that; and you just said it—the idea of Jesus. We’re having a friendship with someone we can’t see. When we talk to Him, we know He’s listening; but we don’t hear Him listening so we don’t get feedback.
The friendship is a different friendship; it's almost like an online friendship, with the camera turned off and the sound turned off. Sometimes, where it’s like—and we can get into it later—
Ann: I don’t feel like that.
Dave: I’m just saying—
Ann: I would say He’s my best friend.
Dave: I’m saying there’s a lot of guys that feel like that; maybe, women don’t.
Ann: I think, yes, certain women; we all feel that at times.
Dave: Is that where you’re getting at with the idea?
Jared: Yes, even the question/the way you framed the question, Ann, to say, “Would I say Jesus is my friend?” The answer is “Yes”; but more importantly, “What would He say about me?” is the starting point, because I struggle with those things.
Ann: Oh, that’s good.
Jared: That is a challenge for me. I cannot see Him yet; I can’t hear Him audibly yet. That just complicates the relationship on my end, and it makes me a bad friend to Jesus.
The question is: “Would He call me His friend?” I think unequivocally, directly in Scripture, we have the answer: “Yes.” Jesus isn’t challenged by any of those things; He’s not hindered by anything. Just the fact that, in John 15:15, He says to His disciples, who—not only have failed Him and spent so many minutes not getting it throughout their time with Him—they’re not great friends to Him. Even looking forward from this moment, where He says this, He knows Peter’s going to deny Him; He knows Judas is going to betray Him.
Ann: They can’t even stay awake and pray for Him.
Jared: They’re going to be sleeping while He is in His greatest moment of anxiety. They’re going to run away when He’s arrested and crucified. Yet, He says to them: “I no longer call you servants. Servants don’t know what the master is doing. I have called you friends [John 15:15, Paraphrased]”
I believe it’s true—it better be true—I’m glad that it’s true, because I’m a terrible friend of Jesus. Yet, this is the disposition He has to me. He has decided that we are friends. If Jesus decides that you’re friends, guess what? You’re friends. [Laughter]
Ann: That’s a good place to be.
Dave: Yes, do you think there’s any difference for men in their friendship with Jesus than women? The only reason I’m asking is sometimes—Ann and I have talked about this—it’s like she’s relating to a man; and Becky, your wife, same thing.
They want intimacy from us—I’m not talking sexual—I’m talking relational, and vulnerability, and closeness. I want to give that to Ann, [but to] another guy? I want to, too; but it’s different. I don’t want to be too intimate with you; because then, it’s like two guys. [Laughter] Again, I don’t know what I’m saying. But it feels a little awkward compared to being with Ann.
Jesus is a man. Sometimes, I’ve thought, “Is it harder for men because it’s a guy rather than a female?”
Jared: I do think there’s a difference in how we relate—right?—men and women. I think when you said you didn’t have a problem—or it wasn’t a significant issue for you in terms of you can’t see Him or hear Him—I do think for men, even [in] our friendship with other guys, they are so often based on we’re doing things together. We become friends by doing a project together, or working side by side, or being on mission together.
Women, I think, relate more intuitively.
Jared: Yes; so maybe, it’s not as big a hindrance to them.
Dave: We’ve even taught at our marriage stuff—you’ve used this illustration—women sit face to face. If you leave two girls in a room, they’ll turn face to face.
Ann: Women generally bond through face-to-face communication.
Dave: Men often, in the same room, you’d come back; and their chairs are shoulder to shoulder. I love that. I always say that I got a motorcycle because, when I go on a ride with a dude, we’re riding; but we’re not talking. We get to a stoplight and say, “Hey man; how are you doing?” “I’m doing good.” “Okay, see you.” We like that.
But a friendship with Jesus is face to face. That’s great; but sometimes, I think we have to step through that, and say, “Okay, I’m going to have a real intimate friendship with Jesus, because I’m His friend. I’m not His slave; I’m not His servant; He calls me friend”; so lean into that.”
Jared: I think, even having the components of friendship, which for us involves communication—it’s not just familiarity or ease—you talk about the side by side. I know I’m friends with another guy when we can ride in a car together for a long period of time, and we can go through stretches of silence, not speaking to each other; and it’s not weird or awkward. When I’m not friends with someone, and there’s no conversation happening, I get a little uneasy: “I need to be keeping my end up,” or “Why aren’t we talking?”
With Christ, however, there’s the idea of the divine dialogue of:
“How does He speak to me?” It’s through His Word, so I have to be in His Word to hear His voice/to hear Him speaking.
“How does He hear from me?” He hears from me in my prayers.
So, if I’m not reading the Bible, and I’m not engaged in prayer, I’m basically disconnecting from what connects me to Him—at least, in our communion—which is the divine dialogue of Scripture and prayer. Those are the means by which we engage in intimacy with Christ.
Then we wonder—I don’t engage in those things—and I wonder, “Why do I feel so far from God?” or “Why does He feel so far from me?” A lot of it is because I’ve cut off this means of communication with Him. I’m waiting for some kind of spiritual vibe or feeling, despite the fact I’m not actually engaged in the normal conversation that I have.
Ann: I really like your writing; I like how you say certain things. You say: “In His presence, playing pretend seems so stupid; hiding seems so pointless. At His table, we let our guard down; we let our hair down; we sigh; we breathe; we un-suck our gut, because it’s not the idea of us that He loves but the real us: our dumb, old, foolish real selves.” That’s the truth; it’s the truth of Scripture. But why don’t we believe it?
Jared: I think most of us have the idea that the way that God will relate to us is through our doing things for Him.
Jared: “If I can obey good enough,”—or the extent to which I obey—that’s the extent to which I’ll experience His approval of me. We tend to think of Jesus like that, as well: “Surely Jesus, the most perfect Man who ever lived—the Holy God, the Son of God incarnate—He would not want to spend time with me; I’m a miserable person. So maybe, if I’m on my best behavior; maybe, if I have really done a lot of cool spiritual stuff today for Him, then He’ll want to give me some time.”
That’s not the testimony from Christ Himself in the Scriptures: He draws near to the brokenhearted; He loves sinners; He [did] not come to call the healthy but to call the sick. We have, over and over again, His heart is for those who have nothing to offer Him. That means, when He does sit at the table with me, I can be me. I don’t have to be some religious version of Jared—or some spiritual version of Jared, something that I use to fool other people/to impress other people—I can un-suck my gut. I can let down the pretense that I’m anything but who I actually am, because He sees the real me anyway. He’s not going to be fooled by that; but also, He accepts me as I am. It’s wonderful.
Ann: It’s mind-boggling.
Jared: It’s wonderful—
Ann: It’s wonderful, yes.
Jared: —that He is like that.
Dave: You put it in the subtitle: “…Remarkable Possibility...” You’re right; I don’t know how to get [my] brain around it: “We are friends.”
By the way, you didn’t say “…friendship with Jesus.” You said, “…Friendship with the Friend of Sinners.” Why?—because of that?
Jared: Because of that—because He is a friend of sinners; because He comes near to those—He’s even willing to risk His own reputation with others. Think of how often the religious leaders of His day, or others who tried to tarnish His reputation: “Why?” Because He was hanging out with people, who had bad reputations. He was drawn to them—to the people on the margins, to the people who had no religious currency/no social currency—He spent time with them.
I think this is in Mark 5, but it’s when Jairus comes to ask Jesus to heal his daughter who is on the verge of death. In the middle of that encounter, as Jesus goes with him, that’s when that woman with the bleeding issue reaches out through the crowd and grabs hold of the hem of Christ’s garment; she’s healed instantly.
Why is she doing that? Why is she trying to steal that blessing? It’s because, in some ways she believes Jesus can heal her, but she doesn’t think Jesus will heal her. Jairus goes directly, and says to His face, “Will You come heal my daughter? [Mark 5:23, Paraphrased]” This woman is trying to, in a way, steal that healing.
Ann: —because she doesn’t feel worthy.
Jared: She doesn’t feel worthy. She’s been considered unclean; she’s been treated like human garbage all her life. Here is, not just a Jewish man, but the One who is the Messiah—or at least, they say is the Messiah—in her brain: “If that’s true, He certainly won’t want to touch me. I will have to touch Him.” Yet, He turns.
Ann: —and not even Him—but His clothing.
Jared: That’s right—the hem of His garment—and what does He do? He interrupts this going to help this VIP with his problem. He stops, and He turns. He calls her to account: “Who touched me?” which is really fascinating; like, “Did He not know?” I think it’s a very similar moment to when the Lord comes walking in the garden after Adam and Eve have fallen; and He says, “Where are you?” like they could really hide from Him; right? [Laughter] I think He's trying to provoke faith in them/to call them out. I think Jesus is doing the same thing here.
In any event, when He’s finally facing her—He doesn’t rebuke her; he doesn’t despise her; He doesn’t do what she is probably afraid will happen, and has happened in her life—she has good reason to think that this is a possibility that she would be rejected, because she’s always been rejected.
He doesn’t just say, “Your faith has made you well”; He calls her “daughter [Mark 5:34].”
Jared: He uses the language of intimacy with her—the same that He’ll use when He goes and speaks to the little girl—He goes to heal the little girl, and He calls her “little girl” or “little sweetie,”—right?—“Talitha cumi.” The same kind of relational intimate language He would use with the VIP’s daughter—the little girl, who is innocent—He uses with this tarnished unclean woman.
It tells us where Jesus’s heart is: that He doesn’t relate to us the way everybody else might. Everyone else is wondering: “What have we done for them lately?” “What can we offer them?” “Can we be impressive?” “Can we look good?” “Can we do something for them?”
There’s nothing we can do for Jesus; He doesn’t need anything. Yet, He’s so gracious and so open-hearted to us that He would say to those losers at the table around Him, “I call you, My friends.” It’s such a word of grace.
Ann: I remember—I was young in my faith—and this older woman, who was mentoring me, said, “Just close your eyes. I want you to picture yourself being in front of Jesus.” At this point, I hadn’t dealt with any of the sexual abuse in my background, any of my past sins and the things that I had done.
I remember I said to her, “I can’t picture it; because when I picture it, I can’t even get close enough to Him.” She said, “Why can’t you get close to Him?” I said, “Because I’m so unworthy. I can’t even have Him look upon me, because I can’t be in His presence because of my unworthiness.” I think a lot of people feel like that; like, “If you knew what I’ve done.”
Here’s Jesus: “I do know; I know what you’ve done. I know what’s been done to you. I know what you’ve faced; and I’m drawing you,”—just like the woman bleeding—"I’m drawing you; I’m calling you ‘daughter’/I’m calling you ‘son.’ Come close.” It is the gospel, which is the most mind-blowing grace. I can’t even fathom it to know that He wants to be near me/with me to be my friend is unbelievable. It’s such good news; isn’t it?
Jared: Yes; and it changes the way that you look at the Christian life, to know that Jesus would look at me this way. What His disposition towards me is: it impacts my inclination to spend time with Him. So those lines of communication, that I maybe have cut off, what’s the reason for that? There’s spiritual laziness, sure; but sometimes, it’s a matter of that: “I’ve been distant for a while. I’m going to drag myself in front of Him. I better clean up a little bit first before I get there.”
That’s not how Jesus looks at it. His door is always unlocked; He’s always ready. He’s always receptive—He’s always eager—He’s more eager to hear from us than we are to speak to Him. If I think that there’s just a whiff of judgement or condemnation there, I’m going to be reticent to reach out to read my Bible/to pray to Him.
I always say:
It’s the picture of those moments—whatever the toughest moment is in someone’s life—but it’s that sitting at the breakfast table, in the middle of the night, with your head in your hands. Everyone’s in bed, but you can’t sleep; because there’s something—it may be personal/emotional; it may be practical: you can’t pay the bills—there’s something going on in your life, but it’s just that everything’s-going-wrong moment. You can’t sleep; and you’re sitting there in fear, anxiety—maybe, some shame—and Jesus comes and walks into the doorway.
The little light is landing on His face, and you look up. What you see on His face makes all the difference in the world. Is He looking down at you, sternly? Is He looking down at you, disappointed? I just spent so many years, in the Christian life, thinking, “Yes, Jesus is always disappointed in me—just always disappointed in me.”
But if I can, now, picture Him in the doorway—smiling with love, with approval, with the confidence I don’t have, but with an embrace ready for me—it changes everything about how I process what’s going on at that table and in my own head. It may not immediately solve my problems; but it gives me the spirit with which to address them and not to run and hide/not to be afraid to confess sin. It changes everything—the disposition that you believe Christ has toward you—honestly, it can be the difference between life and death.
Ann: I think that’s why I would say, “He’s my best friend”; because now, after years of figuring that out—of understanding the Word, of understanding the gospel, understanding who Jesus is—who wouldn’t want to be around Him and to be His friend, because He offers grace and love unlike anyone on this planet.
Dave, you love me—but as human beings, our love can tend to be conditional—and it is not with Jesus.
Dave: I was thinking, when you were talking earlier, that we have a love or a friendship with the idea of Jesus. Even as I’m listening to you walk through some stories of Scripture, that I know well, that blows away the idea part. Because it’s like, once I see, and hear, and read: “Oh, I had an idea; but it’s not even true. This is the real Jesus.” Then you’re leaning in; you want to run to that Man.
I don’t know if you’ve ever watched any of The Chosen—I’m not saying it’s the best thing in the world—
Jared: I’ve seen one clip, I think.
Dave: —they did an episode on that woman with the blood disease. Again, Dallas Jenkins would say, “We’re not trying to [say] ‘This is perfectly Scripture’; but they [presented] a good sense of helping you feel her shame.
Ann: I loved it.
Dave: This woman—that’s probably what she felt—which magnified when Jesus turns to her. You get it; you [realize], “He is the friend of sinners, and I want to be His friend.” Then you think, “He says I’m His friend; you’ve got to be kidding me!” [Laughter] It’s like you said: “It makes you want to run to Him rather than away.” Like you said earlier, the way that happens is to get in His Word—dig in there; open your eyes, again, to get a fresh vision of who He really is—and I think you’ll be drawn.
Ann: If somebody’s feeling, “I don’t feel any of that. I know Him; I’ve given my life to Him and surrendered. I know the Holy Spirit lives within me, but I feel distant.” How do I get that friendship; and then, maintain it?
Jared: You begin with the truth that just to feel distant from Him does not mean that He is distant. I think that’s the heart of the matter—is to say, “My feelings don’t dictate the reality; they’ll tell me something important.” It’s nice to feel close to God, but how I feel about Him or His closeness does not dictate whether He is distant from me. He is closer than my next breath. If I’m a believer, His Holy Spirit has taken up residence inside of me—just knowing that helps, because I may feel this way; but it also inclines me then to His Word, and to say, “The way that I’m going to feel intimacy”—the felt closeness with God—"is by opening up this line of communication.”
But there’s other things, like the felt presence of Christ; it happens when we gather with our brothers and sisters at church, the body of Christ. We feel the closeness of Christ, because of the means of the grace of the church.
Celebrating communion, as well. These are tangible, practical things that—I’m not a transubstantiation-ist; I don’t believe Jesus is literally present in those elements—but He gave us something tangible that helps us. It’s a means of grace in that way. It can strengthen our faith in a way to know: “Okay, He is real; and He is close. He’s closer even than my next breath.”
Shelby: I’ve found that it’s so important to remind myself of that truth: that Jesus is near; He’s close to you right now. Living as if that’s actually true will change the way you relate, not only to Him, but to all the other people in your life, as well as your circumstances, whether those circumstances are good or bad.
I’m Shelby Abbott. You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Jared C. Wilson on FamilyLife Today. Jared has written a book called Friendship with the Friend of Sinners: The Remarkable Possibility of Closeness with Christ. This book helps you to gain insights into building a close, honest, and unconditional relationship with Jesus. We love this book, and it’s going to be our gift to you when you give today.
You can get your copy now, with any donation, by going online to FamilyLifeToday.com and clicking on the “Donate Now” button at the top of the page. Or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. Again, that number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Or feel free to drop us something in the mail, if you’d like. Our address is FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, FL 32832.
Coming up tomorrow, I’d say that any of us would probably communicate that we need intentional real-life connections. Well, Jared Wilson is back with Dave and Ann Wilson tomorrow to talk about just that, including what it means to be close to Jesus and generous in our relationships. That’s coming up tomorrow; we hope you’ll join us. On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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