“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” James 4:8
James invites us to draw near to God just as the priests of the Old Testament would draw near to God in the sanctuary of the temple. Priests approached God in worship – with faith and fear.
When we draw closer to God, God’s promises can become real in our lives. Peace, strength, hope, joy, love… will begin to characterize our life.
What does it mean to approach God?
We draw closer to God through prayer and worship. When we come before him with a humble heart, in submission to his will, and with a desire to glorify him as Lord over our lives, we are able to experience the closeness of God and all the blessings who as a result.
“Let us approach God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us of a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” In Hebrews 10:22 we are given an outline of how to approach God. We are called to draw near to God in worship together with others who love Christ. The basis of this call to worship is the sacrificial work of Christ, the Savior – we trust to enter the holy place through the blood of Jesus (v. 19) and his continuing intercession as our great High Priest (v. 21) . But how do we approach God? Scripture says, “Let us approach with a sincere heart, in the fullness of faith, having our hearts cleansed from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
John Gills’ commentary tells us this about approach: “It must be understood consistent with the perfection of the vastness and omnipresence of God: the saints draw near to God when they present their bodies in his sanctuary; when they tread his courts and assist at his ordinances…they draw near to him when they draw near to the throne of his grace, for grace and mercy help them; when they approach him in prayer with a sincere heart, and lift them up with their hands to God; when they in the exercise of faith and hope, they enter into the veil, and ascend to its seat, and lay hold of it as their God and Father of the covenant; and he approaches them granting them his gracious presence, communicating his love to them. to them, applying the blessings of his grace, helping them in times of need and distress, and protecting them from their enemies, to which the opposite is expressed by keeping away from them. if men could first draw near to God, before he draws near to them; for as God loves first, so he moves first; he takes the first step, and, in conversion, turns and draws men to himself; though it does not respect the first conversion, but after the deeds in consequence of it; nor should it be considered a condition of God’s grace and favor in drawing near to his people, but expressing what is their duty and an encouragement to them”.
For God to be satisfied with our worship, we must approach him by fulfilling four conditions. As believers, we must meet the first two requirements, but Christ has already met the last two. Let’s first see the requirements we have to meet.
1. Approach with a sincere heart
We must first approach “with a sincere heart”. Word sincere means true or reliable. It is more than simple sincerity, although it includes it. Many religious people come to God with sincerity, but not with truth. Our God requires both. A sincere heart is the responsibility of every believer as they come together with other believers as a church family. Therefore, before worshiping, we must make sure that we come to our local congregation with a genuine heart that has confronted our own hypocrisy and known sin. If a conflict exists between another believer and us, we must take the initiative to resolve it, even on the way to corporate worship service (Matt. 5:23-24; Rom. 12:18).
A true heart is also undivided. The psalmist asked, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who can stand in his holy place? One who has pure hands and a pure heart” (Ps. 24:3-4). 1 Chronicles 12:33 mentions 50,000 soldiers who lined up in battle and helped David “with an undivided heart.” A true heart is not divided between God and the world, but is entirely dedicated to Him alone. In repentance, David prayed, “Behold, you desire the truth in your very being” (Psalm 51:6). True worship begins with the truth in the inner man.
2. Approach with confident faith
The second requirement for acceptable worship is to come to God “in the full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22). The first readers of the book of Hebrews were insecure because of their declining faith. Therefore, growth was necessary to increase the assurance of their fellowship with God. In a later chapter we read: “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for he who draws near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (11: 6). To worship with faith is to come with a heart that seeks and rests solely on the merit of Christ.
To draw near to God in worship contains conditions that every believer is responsible for meeting. There are two other conditions; however, but the word “having” (Heb. 10:22) indicates that they have already been met by the atoning work of Jesus Christ.
3. Approach with a clear conscience
We can only come to God in the sincerity of faith if our hearts have been “sprinkled” (10:22). The word “sprinkle” speaks of purging our hearts of a bad conscience. It is in the perfect tense in Greek, which indicates a state or a completed condition; in other words, the guilt is gone. In Christ the believer’s conscience has already been cleansed of guilt. When a sinner comes to Jesus and receives salvation, the guilt is removed.
Even though feelings of guilt remain, real legal guilt is gone because, in the body of His Son, God judged the sin that caused our guilt. “Therefore there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Sometimes as believers we still have feelings of guilt about our past because we don’t fully realize the extent of our purification. Therefore, we must continually speak the truth of the gospel to ourselves and to each other, so that we may learn to live in the freedom that is already ours in Christ. “He did not treat us according to our sins, nor reward us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 103:10).
4. Approach with a clean body
The word “washed” (10:22) is also perfect, indicating that this too is a requirement that has already been met. This condition, along with the previous one, speaks of the Levitical ceremonies that prepared priests for service and both are symbolic of the process by which they were sprinkled with sacrificial blood and thoroughly washed before serving others. Whereas priests had to repeat their purification each year on the Day of Atonement, believers now have permanent and direct access to God through Christ because we have been completely purified by Him.
Jesus told Peter, “He who has washed has only to wash his feet, but he is absolutely clean” (John 13:10). Christ’s atoning work is so complete that it continues to purify us. “If we say we have fellowship with him and yet walk in darkness, we are lying and not practicing the truth; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:6-7). . There is power in the blood of the Lamb of God. There is no sin that God will not wash away when we come to Him on His terms. Coming to Him in faith means giving up all self-confidence, realizing that there is no other hope of forgiveness. That’s what God requires. “Now, to him who works, his salary is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to him who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:4-5). When this empty-handed faith exists, complete purification becomes a reality.
Therefore, as believers, we must remember and encourage one another, with an understanding of the fullness of our forgiveness in Christ. Without it, we cannot truly approach God in truth, sincerity, and trust, and participate fully in the corporate worship of the church.
A prayer to get closer to God
Father, thank you for giving us your Word so we can get to know you. Thank you for being loving, faithful, constant and almighty. Thank you for making all things work together for our good, even when we don’t make the best choices. Thank you for Jesus, who justifies us and allows us to have a relationship with You. Thank you for the Holy Spirit interceding for us. Thank you for allowing us to be part of the body of Christ, sharing our burdens together for Your glory. Help us to come closer to you every day. In the Holy Name of Jesus, Amen.
Paul Tautges is lead pastor at Cornerstone Community Church in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, after serving 22 years in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Paul is the author of eight books, including Counseling One Another, Brass Heavens, and Comfort the Grieving, and contributed chapters to two volumes produced by the Biblical Counseling Coalition. He is also the editor of Shepherd Press’ LifeLine series of mini-books. Paul and his wife Karen are parents of ten children (three of whom are married) and have two grandchildren. Paul enjoys writing as a way to encourage spiritual growth among believers and therefore blogs regularly at Counseling One Another.