What the Bible says about
Drawing Near to God
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Here, the word sanctify does not mean "set apart" but "consecrate" or "dedicate" or "make pure." The word holy has two meanings: "to set aside" and "to set apart" or "to cut out." However, it always carries a sense of "purity."
Notice what Moses is told to do: ". . . and let them wash their clothes." In the New Testament, clean, washed clothes symbolize the righteous acts of the saints. In this instance, they physically had to wash their clothes—to purify them. What were the people about to do? In a short time, they were going to draw near to God. And in order to draw near to God, they had to be clothed—encompassed—by righteous acts.
John W. Ritenbaugh
New Covenant Priesthood (Part One)
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)
1 Chronicles 28:9
We must make an effort to "dress and keep" our relationship with God. Despite all that He does as aspects of His grace and favor toward us, in giving us whatever gifts we need to submit to and obey Him, we still have a function in this. We see here that one of the functions is to seek Him.
Here is a flat-out promise that if we do seek Him, He will be found of us. Keep in mind that this promise does not apply to just anyone. It does not happen just because a person thinks to seek God. This promise is made to those who have already made the covenant with Him. They have already been invited by God into it, which is the position Solomon was in. He had already made the covenant with God, as had David. We have to consider this as though David were speaking directly to us.
If we seek Him for the purpose of drawing near to Him, He will be found of us since He has already invited us to draw near to Him by calling us. This reveals a spiritual principle. These things always spring from God's initiative, for He is the Creator and Sovereign Ruler. We can thus take advantage of His invitation and come before Him at any time. It is, frankly, our responsibility.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part Seven)
It is interesting that, in the New King James Version, verse 1 begins, “Walk prudently when you go to the house of God.” The King James Version reads, “Keep your foot when you go to the house of God.” Prudently indicates “with care.” “Keep your foot” can just as easily be translated as “watch your step,” which is also a warning to be careful. Careful of what? Following the previous chapter where God is not even hinted at, chapter 5, in which Solomon is observing people going to the House of God, implies a warning to be careful not to leave God entirely out of life.
More positively, we can also take it as an admonishment to make sure that we strive to keep Him actively involved in our lives because at baptism we gave Him a solemn promise always to submit to Him in every facet of life. We have been converted to serve Him. Before committing our lives to Him in baptism, we are strongly counseled that we must count the cost of Him being first in our lives.
Were the attitudes and conduct of those whom Solomon observed such that they were robbing God of the reverence, honor, and respect that He deserves? Were their acts of worship perfunctory, insincere, and hypocritical? Our so-far cursory reading of the context has provided us with a clue: Solomon does not direct the admonishment of chapter 5 toward those who have no relationship with God at all, but he focuses it on those who do have a relationship with Him. They have specifically gone to the House of God, ostensibly to continue the relationship.
However, additional information reveals that, though they have good intentions, their minds wander easily. They find it hard to focus, to give Him their full attention, and to follow through in obedience. This is another gentle reminder to the called of God that in our lives everything matters. Going to the House of God is most definitely not a time to lose focus and let down in our discipline.
To help drive this thought home, notice the next phrase in verse 1. It speaks of those who “draw near to God” but who “give the sacrifice of fools.” “Draw near” clearly describes people who are doing something about their relationship with God, which shows a good intention. The word “sacrifice” indicates something given in the behalf of another, as Christ sacrificed His life in our behalf.
The subject here, though, is a foolish sacrifice. Christ's sacrifice was not foolish in the least. These sacrifices are not merely foolish, however, because Solomon immediately elevates them to a far more serious level: as evil. English synonyms for the underlying Hebrew word translated as “evil,” are “bad” as a modifier and “wickedness” as a noun. Thus, what these people—who have a relationship with God and who are making a sacrifice in attending Temple services—are doing is far more dangerous than they appear to understand.
Strong's Concordance adds that the Hebrew word behind “evil” combines both the deed and its consequences, indicating injury both to the perpetrator and to those around him. Solomon is saying that whatever these people are doing will do nobody any good. It is especially grievous in its effects to those who have a relationship with God because their actions either begin or sustain a destructive course.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Six): Listening
This beatitude, like all the others, has both a present and future fulfillment. Paul says in I Corinthians 13:12, "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known." To "see" God is to be brought close to Him. In this instance the sense is that what we are far from cannot be clearly distinguished. That, as sinners, we are far from God is proclaimed in Isaiah 59:2: "But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He will not hear." Thus James 4:8 admonishes us, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you."
The pure in heart are those who with all their being seek to remain free of every form of the defilement of sin. The fruit of this is the blessing of spiritual discernment. With spiritual understanding, they have clear views of God's character, will, and attributes. A pure heart is synonymous with what Jesus calls a "single" (KJV) or "clear" (NKJV margin) eye in Matthew 6:22. When a person has this mind, the whole body is full of light. Where there is light, one can see clearly.
The sense of this beatitude's promise to see God carries over into the Kingdom of God. In one sense, all will see God, as Revelation 1:7 prophesies: "Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they also who pierced Him. And all the tribes of earth will mourn because of Him." They will see Him as Judge.
Jesus' promise, though, is stated as a blessing, a favor. Revelation 22:4 says of those who will inherit God's Kingdom, "They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads." I John 3:2 reads, "We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." To see someone's face is to be so near as to be in his presence. In this case, the term indicated the highest of honors: to stand in the presence of the King of kings. Certainly David understood the greatness of this: "As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness" (Psalm 17:15).
God places great value on being clean, especially in terms of purity of heart. Also, we can easily become defiled, whereas remaining clean requires constant vigilance, a determined discipline, and a clear vision of what lies before us to serve as a prod to keep us on track. Since it is sin that defiles, this beatitude demands from us the most exacting self-examination. Are our work and service done from selfless motives or from a desire for self-display? Is our church-going a sincere attempt to meet God or merely fulfilling a respectable habit? Are our prayers and Bible study a heartfelt desire to commune with God, or do we pursue them because they make us feel pleasantly superior? Is our life lived with a conscious need of God, or are we merely seeking comfort in our piety?
To examine our motives honestly can be a daunting and shaming but very necessary discipline, but considering Christ's promise in this beatitude, it is well worth whatever effort and humbling of self it takes. It is good for us to keep Paul's admonishment found in II Corinthians 7:1 fresh in mind: "Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God."
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 6: The Pure in Heart
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!
The Branch of God's Planting
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
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
We all need to guard against unbelief as we would against an enemy. Paul is not speaking about a heart in which unbelief is merely present, but a heart that is controlled by unbelief, the kind of heart that will drag a person down even as Peter was dragged down into Galilee's water when he took his eyes off of Jesus. The peril of unbelief is that it breaks the trust on which our relationship with God is based. Unbelief leads to falling away, which is the opposite of drawing near. "Drawing near" is a major theme of Hebrews.
Falling away is the supreme disaster of life, the ultimate defeat, because it completely thwarts God's purpose for creation. It is essential we remember that when a person falls away, he is not merely falling away from a doctrine or even a set of doctrines, but from a living, dynamic Personality.
Faith needs to be cultivated. It grows by reading and studying God's Word, and by meditating on it. It grows in an atmosphere of trial or experience because it is exercised through use. It also grows, as we find here in these three verses, in an atmosphere of exhortation from others who are fellowshipping with us. Exhortation is a preventative of falling away, which is a major reason why fellowship is so necessary. Without it, a person may hold his own, and perhaps his faith will not slip very much, but one who is not fellowshipping with others of like mind will rarely ever grow.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith and Prayer
Let us draw near - God always encourages us to draw close to Him in prayer. Here Paul instructs us to do so with unwavering confidence, fullness of faith, without any doubt, because the sacrifice of Jesus Christ has cleared our conscience and paved the way into God's presence.
Today, some no longer feel the need to pray and study daily. They make the excuse that they do not have enough time. There is not enough time NOT to pray and study! The Day is approaching! Paul writes in Romans 13:11-14:
And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly. . . . But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
If we fail to use these very vital tools of prayer and study—which will help us "walk properly" and "put on the Lord Jesus Christ"—we will find ourselves separated from God. That is the last thing we want as the Great Tribulation approaches!
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
The first thing Paul lays out in this transition is a three-step trigger to prime the Hebrew Christians' latent memories so they will be armed with foundational incentives to rouse themselves spiritually and start moving forward. In verses 22-24, he makes three exhortations.
First, "let us draw near." In other words, get moving! He says, "Take advantage of this privilege of coming before God, and believe without doubting, knowing your sins are forgiven and remembering that God is faithful and merciful to forgive." Recall that in the performance of their duties, the priests had to wash their hands and feet before entering the holy place. This is why Paul mentions water. He is alluding to the Hebrews' need to become clean. He urges them to repent of their lackadaisical attitudes and to meet with their Maker in prayer.
Second, he commands them to "hold fast your profession." Paul uses a similar phrase five times before this. Apparently, lackadaisical drifting was a particularly common problem for them. He wants them to show by their conduct that they believe in what God has promised in the resurrection from the dead. In short, he advises, "Remember your conviction in the awesome hope of our calling." These people were allowing the world to get them down; they were succumbing to a "what's the use" resignation. They were not busy confirming their souls. Paul exhorts them to continue, to persevere in the grace God had already shown them, not wanting them to waste it by failing to look ahead and be persistent. He presses them to yield to God and to allow themselves to be reassured that He is faithful to His promises.
Pay special attention to the third exhortation in verse 24. The word "consider" is very emphatic. He urges them to think upon and to strive for unity by giving conscientious care to each other. He wants the Hebrews to give special attention to their brethren's circumstances, trials, temptations, weaknesses, and needs. They need to "fire each other up" to promote love for God and for each other and to carry out our common responsibilities. Christians do this by setting a good example, by occasional suitable exhortations, by acts of kindness, and by expressions of appreciation.
Notice that as this exhortation begins, Paul calls upon the "big three" Christian virtues: faith, hope, and love. These would form the foundation of what the Hebrews must do if they were to reverse their slide toward the Lake of Fire. These virtues must be implemented because they affect the quality of a person's relationship with God. Because a Christian has God's Spirit, these virtues are already part of him. However, each individual must himself choose to use them to turn his life around; no one can do this for another. Of course, it is understood that God is always there to help a person do this.
John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Power: Our Shield Against Apostasy
Notice that Hebrews 11:6 reads, "he who comes to God," and I Peter 2:3-4 uses a similar phrase. "Coming to God" means that one approaches nearer to God, seeks Him, or he walks with Him. It signifies fellowship with Him.
The Bible shows three stages of coming to God. The first is at God's calling when one begins to draw near. It results in justification and the imputing of Christ's righteousness. The second is more continuous, occurring during sanctification, as a person seeks to be like God, conform to His image, and have His laws written, engraved, into his character. The third stage occurs at the resurrection when the individual is glorified.
John 6:44 clarifies our first coming to God: "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day." Nobody comes to God, no one seeks the God of the Bible, until he becomes aware of his need of Him. Nobody comes to God until he realizes he is far from Him and out of His favor—in fact, he is under God's condemnation and separated from the quality of life called in the Bible "eternal life." God reveals a measure of these things through His calling.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son illustrates this (Luke 15:14-19). The son did not return or draw near to his father until he was aware of his need. This sense of need motivates us to seek God and draw near to Him. This sense of need is a gift of God's grace working on a person's mind and is initially given when God summons the individual to approach Him.
Ephesians 4:17-24 covers the second "coming to God":
This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness on their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ. If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
Verse 30 adds an instructive, albeit sobering, thought: "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." The Holy Spirit mentioned here is God Himself, who is hurt, sorrowed, by our sinful neglect of His gift. Once He bestows this sense of need, it is a continuous impulse unless we stifle it by neglecting to follow through, as those in the book of Hebrews were doing.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Five)
In the end, Jude turns the whole situation over to God so we leave his epistle with the right frame of mind. God is our strength and our refuge in this time of confusion. If we stay close to Him, He will work to produce holiness in us and give us His glory. God alone is our Savior, and to Him goes all the glory.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
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