13 Nov Why Is It So Hard To Draw Near To God?
<Heb 10:19-22; Jas 4:8-10, 17>
Some people think that as long as they set their mind to it, they are able to come near to God. There are also others who think that they are able to come near to God by having sufficient Bible knowledge. The former trusts in the sincerity of his heart but he will find himself in a helpless state when his heart has no feelings towards God. At that time, he will become weak because he cannot find himself setting his mind to come near to God again. The problem the latter will face is that he will continue to build up his knowledge, but he is unable to develop a love for the Lord from knowledge alone. Sometimes, as a result of building up more knowledge, his faith is focused on an ideal development in this aspect that he neglects the importance of the state of his heart. Over time, these people may end up not enjoying praying or they cannot encounter God in their hearts. Therefore, in coming near to God, many believers face this problem of either relying on their feelings but not having the knowledge, or, pursuing knowledge at the expense of feelings. Ask yourself, are you able to come near to God? If not, what is the reason? Some will emphasize on external factors citing that they are unable to find time to read the Bible or pray because of their busy schedule, or they are unable to come near to God because they have many worries and troubles. Actually, the Bible clearly tells us that sin is the reason why people cannot come near to God. <Psalm 66:18> says “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” But what is sin? Actually, every one of us has sin. It is not the promise from Christ’s gospel if we can only come before God when we are perfect. Therefore, those believers who belong to the Lord must truly recognize that the reason they are not able to come near to God, is due to the sin of being double-minded. When Apostle James in <Jas 4:8-9> encouraged believers to come near to God, he simultaneously mentioned about our sin. What is that sin? That is the sin of being double-minded. Actually, when God graciously gave us salvation through His Son, he did so unconditionally. God did not request that all our weaknesses be completely overcome in order to come before Him. Neither did he request that there shall be no fault in our actions nor no struggle in our hearts (in fact, our hearts are often struggling). On the contrary, <Heb 4:15-16> says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin. Let us approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Here, the Bible talks about our Lord Christ being our advocate who can empathize with our weaknesses, He also wants us to approach Him to receive mercy, grace and help. Try asking, why are we not able to go before God even though we have such a perfect advocate in Christ? Why are we not able to come near God? Paul said in <Ro 8:33-35> since Christ has justified us, He died and resurrected for us, He is interceding for us at the right hand of God’s heavenly throne, who can then accuse us and judge our sins or separate us from the love of God? Then, why is it so difficult for our hearts to come near God? That is because we are double-minded. Not that God does not show us mercy or does not help us, but because there are two gods in our mind, two objects we depend on. We love God but we also love the world; we want to receive what God has given us, we also want things we desire; we rely on God, we also rely on Man; and we continue holding on to such a belief, thinking that it is alright. If we solely rely on the Lord, and ask for His mercy and help, we will be able to see the Holy Spirit’s help regardless of our weaknesses. Today, many believers only seek out various humanistic solutions to come near to God. This includes pursuing certain gifts, healing ministries or holding Bible studies. However, they do not turn from their sin of being double-minded to turn toward God. The Bible promises, “Come near to God and He will come near to you.”
Can only come to God through the blood shed by Christ.
Through Christ, God imputed His righteousness to us.
Actually, when we come before God, the most important is not to believe what our hearts think. Indeed, we have no one condition which can enable us to stand before the Lord. Our hearts are full of deceit and evil. The only reason why we can come before God is because our Mediator Jesus Christ had borne on our behalf all of God’s wrath toward sin. The blood He shed already cleansed all our sins. Only by faith can we draw near to God with confidence <Heb 10:19-22>. Such a heart of bold confidence to come before the Lord is from solely believing in the price Christ had paid for us on the cross, and the redemption He fulfilled. Thus, only by faith, which is completely relying on His grace, and by the righteousness He imputed, can we stand before Him. Here, there is no remaining guilt of our own, and it is also not by any of our own effort or godliness, and we need not have any human sense of indebtedness, but as <Ro 1:17> says, “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith”. If a person cannot come before the Lord, it is not because his actions are not good enough, or his life is not devout enough, but it is only because of one reason, that is, he is not completely relying on Christ’s redemption by faith alone, so he still bears a guilty conscience.
But we sinners often easily misunderstand God’s righteousness and loving kindness
We sinners have huge misunderstanding toward God’s judgment and forgiveness, and this keeps preventing us from coming before God. Because God is righteous, even the smallest sin cannot appear before Him. Our common understanding is some people are relatively more devout, and have good character and conduct, so they do not need to be too accused, thus they can stand before God. (Some people say, “Pastor, you do not seem to have too serious weaknesses, and you are humble, gentle, approachable, and you love God zealously. At most, sometimes in life, you may be a bit of the flesh or you worry a little, but these cannot prevent you from coming before God). Actually, even the slightest weakness or selfishness cannot come before God, because He is completely righteous. Thus, it is impossible for us to even have the slightest thought of coming before the wholly righteous God by relying on our own righteousness. But our sinful, evil heart will tell us, “We are already considered not bad, so we can come before God”. Whenever we fall into such beliefs, we will realise that we cannot draw near to God. Moreover, God is also completely loving. No matter how evil a person’s heart is and what terrible things he has done, God can also love and forgive (just like the robber beside the cross). However, our sinful heart always thinks that some people are worthy of love, but some are not. Then, our love is always selfish. We love more obedient children more than mischievous ones, we are more biased toward those who are closer to us than those who are more distant from us. Indeed, our love is too selfish, sometimes we also spoil our children. Thus, it is difficult for our limited love to understand the Lord’s heart, we not only cannot understand how the Lord love others, but we also sometimes cannot understand how the Lord loves us. Therefore, we with sinful nature always live before God with a deficient view of righteousness and loving kindness. The moment we are weaker, we cannot face the Lord, but keep remaining in a heart of reproach instead. That is because we are currently using our limited perspective on love to view God’s loving kindness, so we are inclined toward a “heart which does not receive much mercy”. Furthermore, when we are stronger and always walk on the path of serving, then we will feel that we can be slightly more bold and confident as we stand before God. Actually, we are just using our own perspective on holiness to view God’s holiness and righteousness, but we do not realise that it is God’s mercy which enables us to stand before Him. Thus, we have unknowingly relied on our own righteousness. Indeed, both these misunderstandings arise from our lack of knowledge of the gospel, such that we cannot stand boldly before God by faith (what Christ’s precious blood has fulfilled). If we do not hold tightly to the core idea of “justification by faith”, then we certainly cannot come before God.
Since Christ fulfilled such wonderful redemption, why do we fail in drawing near to God today?
Many believers falsely think that they are near God, but actually their pursuits made them further away from Him
By faith, we are already justified by God, and have peace with God <Ro 5:1>. But sometimes we also realise that we cannot draw near to God so easily. At times, after we read God’s word, we may feel the rebuke because our heart and current actions are not in sync with what the Lord says. Many believers think that this is because their spirits are accused, so they specially seek liberation. This also causes a few trends to emerge among the churches: (1) The rise of healing and deliverance movement. Such ministries are viewed as a form of up-close contact with God, placing the emphasis on letting human emotions be liberated by God such that they feel good. The methods used bear psychological characteristics, using the visual and audio environment (such as: music, lightings) and the servers’ words which stir up people’s hearts to let people feel emotionally peaceful; (2) the thriving of grace and liberalistic messages. In an era when it is harder for people to draw near to God, we will see the rise of an over-emphasis or skewed emphasis on grace and liberal teachings. In the midst of these, God’s law and ethics are abolished. This is so as not to let the spirits of people suffer any accusation, treating this as faith experience of freedom, joy and power. In this process, easy believism slips into the church, many people wrongly think that by confessing with the mouth that there is the Lord, then one can have eternal life, the spiritual conscience of believers is also more and more weakened, and they feel there is no need to bear the cross to follow the Lord, they instead think that such teaching is legalism; (3) the thriving of prosperity gospel. Eventually, the disguised methods to come near to God will bear physical and material evidences. Health, youth, success, wealth, etc are all what the human flesh desires to pursue most, and these are what people of the world desire most. As long as one possesses these, and if there are no ironies or struggles in one’s spirit, then that is viewed as being near to God, and is a life blessed by God. These teachings and movements are false! They not only mislead the younger generation, but they also deceive the church of God, leading God’s people into false godliness and fake freedom. Those who depend on these beliefs and methods to come near to God are all deceived by their own ignorance and misconception! Are they truly near to God? They only twist the truth to suit their spirits, but they are not drawing near to God with the word they confessed. Thus, people who truly belong to the Lord cannot possibly be liberated by such lies. Their depression will not truly leave, their broken marriages will not be truly restored, their next generation will not love the Lord more than them. Indeed, a packaged life cannot be sustained.
Come near to God and He will come near to you. <Jas 4:8a>
Actually, many people think it is difficult to come near to God. They are mistaken, or self-deceived. The Bible here tells us directly that if we come near to God, He will come near to us. In other words, the main reason we cannot come near to God is not that God is unapproachable, but because we are unwilling to first go near to Him. Actually, through His blood, Lord Jesus has opened up for a new and living path. Indeed, the Lord’s heart is always open for us, and His compassion is not hidden from us, and His help is ever-ready to come upon us, but we are not willing to come near to God. <Jas 1:17> says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights… Therefore, when we go near to God, all these can be enjoyed by us. The joy of salvation, the heavenly peace, the wisdom from above will come upon us. All that we need will be added to us.
The sin of being double-minded causes us to be unable to come near to God <Jas 4:8b>
When a person is not near to God, that is not because his will is not close to God, but because he is double-minded. Firstly, he has greed developed from the sinful desires within, so while he is hoping to receive from the Lord, he is thinking of how to satisfy his own sinful desires <Jas 4:1-3>; furthermore, while he wants to love God, he wants to be a friend of the world <Jas 4:4-5>; he is also self-righteous, while he seems to be obeying the law, he is using the law to judge his brothers <Jas 4:11-12>; finally, while he believes the Lord, he continually sets his own directions for his own life <Jas 4:13-16>. Actually, his sin is not the sin that is savage, but of double-mindedness. His sin is what <Jas 4:17> mentioned, “knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it.” In this world, such people desire comfort, pursue own life ideals, focus on gains and losses, and then realise that it is difficult to come near to God. The moment they think about the matter of the second coming of the Lord, they know in their heart that it is not their desire. They live in a world filled with culture of carnality, but they do not have mourning or crying, instead they hope they can live such a comfortable life. What they give to the Lord is their excesses, not their most precious. Indeed, this is the how believers look like in a comfortable and prosperous city. That is the picture of fights and quarrels, the picture of being a friend to the world, the picture of criticising brothers often, picture of often preparing oneself for tomorrow. In conclusion, that is a life that is double-minded and not being able to come near to God.
How can we walk out of the sin of being double-minded, to draw close to God?
True repentance – Wash your hands, purify your hearts
Hands symbolise deeds, heart symbolises faith. We must never separate these two parts. A truly repentant person will never separate faith and deeds. Some people say, “I just need to have the heart for God”, but they skip services casually, deal with things and people in a worldly manner. They kept harbouring the conviction that “I just need to have the heart. Therefore, <Jas 2:18> says, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” However, others may say that they have the deeds to prove their faith. But the Bible also talks about purifying our hearts, because man may have hidden motives and only carry out their deeds so that they are seen by others. Such deeds will not please the Lord who lives in our hearts. Therefore, to come out from the sin of being double-minded, one must be upright, and not separate deeds and faith. Whether it is hands or heart, they all need to be cleansed by God’s truth.
Battle with the world and flesh that tempt us – Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. <Jas 4:9-10>
This world will be destroyed not because of sin, but because in sin, instead of grief, mourning and wailing, there are laughter and joy. Think about it. If a double-minded believer is not grieving, mourning and wailing because of the temptations he faces each day, and instead desires to be more comfortable, successful and rich on earth, how can such a heart be close to God? We believers must not be afraid of sufferings, and should not seek comfort. Our Lord is the one who gives every good and perfect gift. Similarly, in the Lord’s sovereignty, what He allows us to undergo is for our benefits. Some believers are sick, they may desire to be healthy, but the reality may not be in line with their ideals. If this is the case, let us not be immersed in the attitude to strive to be healed, but in grieving, mourning and wailing, truly produce a heart that thirsts after eternity, and if there is one more day to live, then that is one more day to testify for the Lord. Some believers do not have a happy marriage, and there is always some hurts in the heart. If that is the case, let us walk out of this state through grieving, mourning and wailing, and understand that only the great love of God can never disappoint us, and one must rely on His great love to live his whole life. Therefore, do we have tribulations and hardships on earth? Do not choose strife and put all efforts into trying to win what we want. Do not be intimate with the world or rely on the world’s methods for liberation. Do not plan and arrange everything for yourself tomorrow. If one’s heart is always being deceived, overwhelmed by desires, and tempted, it is time to grieve, mourn and wail, change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Such a person will see God giving more grace and he will be exalted in his humility.