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What the Bible says about Drawing Close to God
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Numbers 16:5

God causes us to "come near"; we do not go to Him on our own. If He did not do what He does, we would never draw near to God—ever (John 6:44)! His work enables us to come into His presence.

Coming near to God is a priest's calling. A priest's work is essentially mediatorial. He stands much like a bridge between God and the people. This is keying us in to what our job is. We are to stand between God and the world. We have an awesome responsibility!

The English term priest comes from a root meaning "first," as in firstborn. A priest is one who comes first or goes first. He goes and then others follow. Our High Priest, Christ, is the first One in the presence of God eternally, never to leave.

We can draw near, but with our kind of character, as variable as it is, we come and go. We are like a ping-pong ball bouncing back and forth across a table. However, we still have the responsibility and the privilege of drawing close to God. He shows in the Old Testament ceremonies that we are supposed to go in prayer at least every morning and every evening, as pictured by the incense offering. David said he went before God "morning, noon, and evening."

"Priest"—or "first" (its root)—indicates a leadership position. Christ is our High Priest. He led us into the presence of God. We follow Him there, and we are, symbolically, very close to Him there. But we are leading others; they will someday follow us into God's presence. Even as Christ's work made it possible for us to get into the presence of God, so—in the future—Christ's work and our work will lead the rest of mankind into His presence. They, too, will have the same privilege that we do. So the whole church of the firstfruits goes first before God in behalf of the people who will follow at a later time.

When the priests in Israel drew near to God, they took with them the thanksgiving, the entreaties, and the sacrifices of themselves and of the people. However, this is a two-way street—or a bridge. They also brought back with them the gifts—namely things like reconciliation, understanding of God's will, and all kinds of other blessings of God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
New Covenant Priesthood (Part One)

Matthew 6:9-13

Memorizing the Lord's Prayer—which is a bit of a misnomer; it should be "The Disciples' Prayer" or "The Model Prayer"—is a wonderful thing to do. Parents should make it their aim to teach it to their children. But unlike many in nominal Christianity, we need to go further and teach our children that the prayer is not one to be mindlessly repeated but a guideline for our personal, private prayers to "our Father in heaven." It maps out the general attitude and subjects of prayer that we should take to heart and cut deeply into our memories.

It is a wonder that so few who frequently use Matthew 6:9-13 both publically and privately know what Jesus says—no, commands—in the immediately preceding verses:

And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. (Matthew 6:5-8)

Christ plainly says that public prayers made expressly to be seen by others is hypocritical, and prayers that are repeated vainly (meaning "carelessly," "uselessly," or "thoughtlessly") are heathen! Obviously, this does not mean that He forbids public prayer; there are many examples of proper public prayer in Scripture (see, for example, I Kings 8:22-53; Ezra 9:6-15; Nehemiah 9:5-38; John 17:1-26; etc.). Public prayer is a necessary part of opening and closing religious services. What Jesus denounces is making a show of praying to enhance one's reputation as a "religious" or "righteous" person, as well as repetitious, canned prayers and overlong, tedious prayers.

Overall, Jesus warns us against two mistakes when praying: making them about us and making them meaningless. Doing either (or both) will ruin their effectiveness and actually work at cross-purposes to spiritual growth. When we pray, we need to remember that it is a formal conversation with the divine Governor of the Universe. We have not entered His court for our own gratification and glory. We certainly do not want to bore Him by endlessly repeating the same five words or giving Him the expanded War and Peace version of our pitiful lives. To the contrary, we are before Him to praise Him, to thank Him, to beseech Him for help both for others and ourselves, and to praise and thank Him. I repeat myself for emphasis.

What would we think of a friend who came to the front door each morning, and upon opening it to admit him, we heard him say the exact same thing that he had said the past 532 straight mornings, droning on for half an hour without coming up for air? We might love him as a friend, but we would surely think he was a bit strange and wasting our time with his endless repetitions. We would soon tune out his robotic, one-sided conversation.

We are blessed that God is far more patient and understanding with us than we would be to such a bore. He listens to our petitions whether we are eloquent or mind-numbingly incoherent (see Romans 8:26). Yet, notice that Jesus tells the disciples—us—that the Father knows what we need before we ask Him. We are not springing anything on Him that He has not already figured out.

So there is no need for us to meander, be vague, or employ some kind of rhetorical device that is "guaranteed" to convince Him that He has to intervene right away. There is no need to try to impress Him with our knowledge or persuasiveness or righteousness. He wants us to be ourselves and to speak with Him as family members do—with, of course, the proper reverence for who He is.

What is most important—what He is looking for—is a "poor and . . . contrite spirit, and [one] who trembles at My word" (Isaiah 66:2). If the attitude is humble, focused on God's will and His plan for us, He will hear and respond. More importantly, we will be drawing closer to Him and taking on aspects of His character that are so essential to Christian life and the Kingdom of God.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh

John 15:4-8

Grafting is the process of joining two plants together so tightly that they grow together into one. The upper branch, called a scion, is tightly bound to the trunk of another plant, the rootstock. The bark is peeled where the two plants join to expose and align the cambium, the thin ribbon of actively dividing cells that produce conductive tissue for the actively growing plant. The two plants' tightly compressed cambiums develop finger-like tissues that grow together into a grafted union.

The practice of grafting has been used to accelerate fruitfulness, improve growth rates, and increase hardiness. Three key factors will result in successful grafting:

  • The first factor is compatibility. The closer the two plants are alike, the higher the success rate. One cannot take a palm tree and successfully graft it to a grapevine.

  • The second factor is alignment and pressure. The two plants must remain tightly bound, and their cambiums must line up as closely as possible.

  • The third factor is proper care of the graft site. The grafter must keep the joint alive, hydrated, and free of disease while the two plants grow together.

These three key success factors of a physical graft are the same elements required for a successful spiritual graft. The first, compatibility and likeness: Paul tells us, as the root is holy, so too must the branches be holy. God has called us to become holy, and if we desire holiness, we must plant holiness! Growing holiness is expensive because it costs us our complete devotion. We must learn to love—as God so loves us—sacrificing and holding nothing back! We must lay down our lives for each other (John 15:13).

The second success factor, alignment and pressure: The more tightly pressed together we are to Christ—the more we love Him and strive to emulate Him—the more aligned we are with Him and His way of life and the tighter our grafted union grows.

The third success factor, keep the joint alive, hydrated, and free of disease: It takes daily care—prayer, meditation, study, and occasional fasting—to ensure our grafted union remains active, nourished, and healthy through the Spirit of God and His living Word. These things, along with putting the things of God into practice as we learn them, help us develop and maintain the right attitude to bear much fruit. Through our strengthening grafted union to Jesus Christ, we receive the nourishment to produce the daily fruit of self-sacrificial love. This is how we become holy and pleasing to God.

We were the wild, unfruitful branches with no potential. But God the Father, the Vinedresser, called us and peeled back our thick, carnal, and sinful bark. Through the sacrificial death of our Savior and the New Covenant, He bound us tightly together in a grafted union to the holy Root. Through Him, we receive the spiritual nourishment and water of life (see Revelation 22:1) required to grow together and produce fruit.

The apostle James uses a similar metaphor of implanting or engrafting, this time in reference to God's Word: “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted [engrafted, KJV] word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).

We must work harder to remain aligned with Him in all things. As mentioned, the cost of holiness is complete, self-sacrificial love. If we hold back love or forgiveness, we cannot be in Him. If we put anything in this world over our relationship with Him, we cannot be in Him. As James urges, we must repent of everything in us that is not like Christ.

We must reach out to Him with all our might and literally cling to Him! He is our everything, and without Him, we can do nothing! As we abide in Him, He abides in us. As we draw near to God, He draws near to us (James 4:8). In this way, our grafted union will grow strong as we produce the righteous fruit that pleases Him.

We are the branch of God's planting, grafted into His Family. As we humble ourselves and embrace His engrafted Word of life, we grow in union with Him, transformed into righteous, holy branches that produce the self-sacrificial fruit of love. One day soon, the branches of God's planting will inherit the land forever and glorify our great God and Father!

Bill Onisick
The Branch of God's Planting

Romans 5:1-2

Without a doubt, our sins separate us from God (Genesis 3:24; Isaiah 59:2; Galatians 5:19-21). Graciously, our heavenly Father desires a closer relationship with us, His elect (John 17:3, 20-21). In Leviticus 26:12, our Creator promises, “I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people.” In John 14:6, that same divine Being—in the form of Jesus Christ—testifies that He provides our ultimate path to God the Father.

In Romans 5:1-2, the apostle Paul flatly asserts that justification brings us access to His grace, the undeserved favor that He grants to His faithful, humble children through Jesus Christ (James 4:6). In Ephesians 2:18 and 3:12, Paul mentions this same access, strongly implying that such access is exclusive to our calling and not available to the world.

By declaring the repentant sinner not guilty, justification helps to remove, not only the disturbing guilt from his conscience, but also the fear of being called before God and condemned (Isaiah 57:20-21; Romans 5:9), replacing the guilt and fear with hope (Romans 5:2; Titus 3:7). Such peace enables the justified to draw even closer to God with a more confident assurance of His mercy (Hebrews 4:16; 7:19; 10:19).

Martin G. Collins
The Fruit of Justification

Romans 7:24-25

The closer a person draws to God, the more opportunities he has to grow in righteousness (Isaiah 55:3, 6). The more righteous he becomes, the greater appreciation he has for God's law and the more sensitive he will become to his own corruption. Paul's words in Romans 7, written about twenty years into his conversion, reflect his own growing sensitivity to sin, leading to his famous utterance: “O wretched man that I am!”

However, we can easily be overwhelmed by the revelation of our tainted condition. We may feel shame and self-disgust and tend to withdraw from our fellowship within the Body of Christ, drifting away from our only hope—our only solution: God. We are readily discouraged, and if we are not careful, such discouragement often leads to even more sin, further drifting, and a vicious circle that can take us down quickly. We will always struggle with our carnal nature, but just as Paul found encouragement in his relationship with Christ, we, too, can turn to our divine Brother. In Him, there is always hope (Romans 7:25)!

Because of our carnality and our deceitfully wicked heart (Jeremiah 17:9), we will always struggle to see our sins as God does, but that is our goal. With God's help, a lot of patience, and persistent effort, we can learn to become more righteous. With daily prayer and Bible study, we can discover how to become more holy. With hard work within the fellowship of the Body of Christ, we can understand what it means to become pure as God is pure. While we must learn to respect and fear the corrupting power of sin, we can become more aware of, intimate with, and faithful to the superior power God grants His children to overcome its corrupting effects (Romans 6:5-6).

We do not need to remain weighed down by the dead body of our sinful, carnal nature. We must, instead, call upon the faith our Creator provides each of us and learn to trust in His promises. He will be faithful!

If we remain faithful, enduring to the end, God, through Jesus Christ, will completely renew us and cleanse the stench of our sinful ways, releasing us from “this body of death.” Then, God willing, we can become a sweet savor in His nostrils.

The author of Hebrews provides us with the perfect summation and conclusion in Hebrews 12:1-2:

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares [and shackles] us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Ted E. Bowling
This Body of Death


 




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