Closer: How to Draw Closer to God

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September 09, 2018 • Rob King

 

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[4:10]

We're in between series, so this means this is an opportunity for me to share something that's just on my heart with you all. And so I'm going to do that today. I want to ask you a question this is a rhetorical question—a rhetorical question means that you don't have to holler out if you don't want to... How close are you to God?

How close are you to God today, on a scale of 1 to 10? Ten being like—I always say Billy Graham was close, right? Well, it's really close now because he's with Jesus today. Okay, you know you can't judge everybody, and you don't know who goes to heaven and who doesn't go to heaven but you're like, I'll put money on Billy Graham! You're hoping he made it, right? If he didn't make it…you know, yeah.

How close—scale of 1 to 10—being how close would you like to be? I'll tell you that you're closer than you think. Wherever you placed yourself on that scale of closeness and proximity to God, you're closer than you think, and we'll talk about that during the message.

You know, when I'm preparing messages, usually the Lord speaks to me through prophets, like songs, usually like the Temptations. (I'm going do a series next summer on Motown, the theology of Motown, and so the 9 o'clock service was like you, they were like, YES! And I was like, okay, now I have to do it.)

But, as I was thinking about How close are you to God, and How close do you want to be, and then How we get closer to Him, is that possible? Immediately, there was some great Motown music that came to my mind, and so, hang on just one second, I’m going to play YouTube:

[Music: The Temptations - I can't get next to you]

Man, did you hear that great theology of the Temptations? I can do all of these things, I can change the weather by waving my hand, but there's one thing that I can't do that I desire— I can't get next to you.

I'm starting this by saying, no matter where you think you are on a scale of closeness with God, you don't deserve to be close to God. Are you encouraged yet? There is nothing that you can do to be close to God. You don't deserve to be close to God, you can't earn being close to God, not even on a rainy day when you decide I'm gonna be the spiritual one and go to church. That doesn't do it. That doesn't mean I don’t give you props for it—I'm really glad you're here, it's good to see you—but nothing that you could do, if God hadn't initiated it and taken a step towards you because he loves you—you would have no opportunity whatsoever to get close to God.

IN THE BEGINNING
Let's look briefly at the history of our closeness with God. It started in the garden, and he came and walked with us in the cool of the day, and then what happened? We blew it, and then he kicked us out of the garden, and he put an angel there and the sword was going every which direction so we would never go back and never get back to that place.

ABRAM
After that he spoke to Abram and who would become Abraham, and he said to Abram, “I'm promising you that I'm going to make a covenant with you. I'm going to make a covenant with you and you're going to be blessed, and through you all the people in the world will be blessed.”

And He was even prophesying then that through Abram’s seed there would come a son, a messiah, but he's making the promise. When Abraham goes up and tries to make the Covenant promise and does all the stuff that they would do to make a promise and kind of you know, cross his heart and hope to die and poke a needle in his eye, all that kind of stuff, but Old-Testament style. (They actually cut animals in half and walked between the entrails, but we don't want to get into that.)

But he went to walk and do his thing and say that he was going to keep the promise, and the very presence of God had to come and walk between those animals. What was God saying? “You can't do this. I will do this based on my character and my nature and who I am. I will keep this promise that I've made to you.”

If you're going to be close to God, God has to do something himself. He sends Abram up on a hill and says, “I want you to sacrifice your son Isaac.” As soon as he raises the knife, the angel of the Lord stops him, and then God provides a sacrifice.

All of this is a picture that God was saying, “No human being will be able to approach ME unless I make it happen. You will not sacrifice your son on a hill, but I will sacrifice MY son on a hill. And the proximity that we need to have will be done entirely by me,” says the Lord.

He provides this perfect picture, and he provides the sacrifice.

MOSES
And then there's Moses who gets called by God. And when Moses was called he was—it wasn't unusual in the region of the world where Moses was at for a bush to kind of be combustible; it was, however, unusual that there would be a voice that would come from said bush.

So he walks over. First of all, how close can you get to a burning bush? I mean, you can't hug it—you can get close but then if it starts talking to you, you might back up a little bit. And what did he immediately say? “Take off your shoes (sandals maybe) this is holy ground.” Right? What's the picture here? The picture is the holiness of God and your sinfulness do not mix.

”Approach this burning bush and then take your sandals off. You can't get too close. You don't deserve to be close to God. You can't be close to God.” He calls Moses, and there's this desire to be close again but there's an inability to be close.

So he calls him up on a mountain and he gives him the Ten Commandments. With God's own finger he writes the Ten Commandments which, by the way, would be completely ineffective, powerless to help us live according to the Ten Commandments. He calls him up on a mountain, and he's with Moses there, and what does he do? He surrounds the base of the mountain with a dark cloud and thunders and lightnings, and he tells the people down at the base, he tells Moses, “Don't even let them touch the mountain because my anger might break out against them. Who I am might come in contact with who they are.”

Some people say, “Oh, God show up in all your glory!” You don't want that because you're going to have to get a new body to even contain being in his presence. “Oh Lord show me your glory!” Moses would say, “Show me your glory, Lord.” And God said, “Man, you can't handle the truth. I'm gonna put you in this mountain, and the mountain’s going to surround you. You're just going to be packed in there, and then I'm going to pass by you, and I'm not even going to look at you, because if I look at you—no man sees God's face and lives.” This is how awesome our God is.

So he passes by him like this because he can't handle it. Moses comes down from the mountain. (How long did it take for all the Ten Commandments to be broken? He didn't even make it to the base of the mountain. Got mad at the people, threw the tablets down. He broke all Ten Commandments! That's a terrible preacher joke, isn't it?)

Moses had to go back up to the mountain. What was this conversation like? “Yeah, that whole thing you did with your finger writing on this stone, could you kind of do that again? I was ticked.”

How close were we able to be to God, really?

DAVID
Then there's David the king. David has the ark which is the dwelling place of God, and he transports the dwelling place of God, and he decides that he has a better way than having the priests actually carry it—God gave specific instructions of how you carry it, but he—typical man—he said, “I think I could do it better than you.” So he puts it on an ox cart and it starts to fall off, and what happens? One of the people concerned about the ark goes and touches the ark. Immediately they die and David is angry.

So many people in the world today are angry at God. They don't understand. You don't deserve to be close to Him. They don't understand our sinfulness and His Holiness don't mix unless he does something about it—radically does something about it. And when we touch his holiness death is what happens because we're not holy. We're totally separate and different than God and there's nothing that we can do.

I'm painting a picture right now that you are completely and one-hundred-percent totally helpless when it comes to your relationship with God. Are you encouraged yet? Or keep going?

NEW TESTAMENT
We miss out a little bit when we don't understand the entire purpose of the Old Testament. When a Jewish person comes to faith in Christ, their salvation is so rich because they understand that Jesus is the completion of the entire story of the Old Testament. He didn't come to destroy the law and the prophets, but he came to fulfill the law and the prophets.

And so, when Jesus was walking on the road to Emmaus with two disciples, remember this story? He had hid who he was from them, and they didn't know that it was Jesus and they were all depressed and dejected because Jesus had died on the cross, and he's there walking with them unbeknownst to them. And he says, “Didn't you know that it was prophesied, hundreds of years before in Isaiah, that the Messiah must suffer these things and die? Didn't you see it?”

And then he opened their eyes and he began to teach them from Moses where he was in Scripture. So he'd go back to Daniel who was standing by that river. Yep, Jesus was saying, “I was there.” Daniel in the lion's den? “I was there.” The three Hebrew children? “Now, it was me walking around the fire. Have to admit, been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.”

“I'm all throughout here,” he said. “You searched the scriptures but you don't ever get it. And the reason you don't get it is because you're not looking for me, the Messiah, the Savior.”

See, the Bible, in one sentence, is how God rescued his children, and Jesus is the completion of all of that. See, the truth is, the Ten Commandments don't work for us. We need power. The Ten Commandments are good but they're impossible to follow.

The sacrifices of animals were fine, and once a year the high priest would go in and sprinkle the blood and that was fine, but it was temporary. And not too long thereafter we'd sin again. And the high priest goes back in, sprinkles more of the animal blood. It was temporary. It wasn't a perfect sacrifice. It was a temporary sacrifice, and it didn't bring us closeness with God that God really wanted.

What the Old Testament proves is that we need a better way. We need a new way.

HEBREWS
This is why it's so exciting right now because all of us are in our Project 3:45. We're reading through Hebrews. I'm so glad a hundred percent of us are doing that. I'm thinking of you every morning, like, “Wow! There's a lot of us reading Hebrews.” Because all of us are reading Hebrews, and Hebrews is a book that basically takes all of the Old Covenant and then says, Jesus is better.

I love Hebrews. It's like: The law was good, but Jesus is better. The prophets were good, but Jesus is better. The Old Covenant—oh, wasn't it great! I mean, Moses, his face shone when he was with God, and if his face was lit up by the Old Covenant, how much more when we’re filled with the holy spirit should our life light up for him! The Old Covenant was good, but Jesus is better! And that's the whole book of Hebrews talking about that, but you already know that. You're already there.

Hebrews 9:11 – 15 (Message Bible) says this: “When Jesus arrived.” Aren't you glad Jesus arrived? It's so fragile. If Jesus had not arrived, salvation is impossible.

But when Jesus arrived, high priest of the superior things of this New Covenant, he bypassed the old tent and its trappings in this created world and went straight into Heaven's “tent,” the true holy place. Once for all, He also bypassed the sacrifices consisting of goat and calf blood instead, instead using his own blood as the price to set us free once and for all.

If that animal blood and the other rituals of purification were effective in cleaning up certain matters of our religion and behavior, think how much more the blood of Christ cleans up our whole lives, inside and out. Through the Spirit, Christ offered himself as an unblemished sacrifice, freeing us from all those dead-end efforts to make ourselves respectable so that we can live all out for God.

Jesus now makes it possible for us to be close to God. You know every single person here? God has you in a process.

Some of you, like me—a few of you were hard-headed like me. I came to Christ when I was in graduate school after being a proud atheist for a number of years, and went through a nervous breakdown. Was in a ditch, and it was this traumatic thing. You know, most people are not saved through traumatic events. Most people aren't as dumb as I am, and it's a process where you're making a decision for Christ.

I'm very interested in how people come close to Christ. I'm interested in that process. Aren't you interested in people that you meet? You wonder, where are they at with God, and how are they taking these steps, and what's the Holy Spirit doing in their life? I thought, it would be interesting as we're talking about being close to God, to hear from a person in our church who had a—I think—a more typical experience of coming to Christ. They once were far away and now they're close.

And so I asked my friend Tom to share his story. I think you'll enjoy it, check this out.

[19:52] My father explained to me when I was about 7 that he knew he didn't have the answers, and that he thought religion raised very big questions that would take a very large amount of thinking to understand, and he simply had not invested in them.

But mom didn't get that far. As far as she ever knew, religion was a great, meaningless jumble. She quoted Karl Marx to me who said “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” Mom rejected the supernatural claims and never attended church.

All this took me to a position: Religion was complex, potentially dangerous, and likely logically flawed, and best avoided until the proper time and energy was spent to choose wisely.

In the summer between sixth and seventh grade I plotted out a trajectory for my life: go to an elite college and find the best paying career path. It seemed clear at that time that a career path in engineering was the best way to execute this plan, but that is where the goal was set.

At MIT as a freshman I was approached by two students from Campus Crusade. Their pitch was simple. They showed me two drawings: one of a life with goals and plans scattered randomly about, and a confused soul at the center trying to manage it all. The other had the shining figure of Christ in the middle and all other goals and plans flowed through that Center. The soul remained focused on Jesus and was at peace.

I was asked what picture represented my life, and I said the first. They asked, “Wouldn't I like the life like the second picture?” I answered that I did not have the ability to deal with the issue now.

I moved through my life in college with very little spiritual incident and then into work in Cincinnati. My wife and I had said we were interested in church, but had never moved to pick one. Then one day, she started looking at Saturday's newspaper where they listed church services for the weekend, and we went to the Vineyard for the first time that next weekend.

It was May 1, 1999. I was moved to tears by the worship for reasons I could not understand. We ended up joining a small group which answered many questions about legalism and grace and its suggested readings. One was CS Lewis's book Mere Christianity. It is a book that does not shy from the hard questions. That book challenged me to commit to who Jesus is.

Lewis correctly states that Jesus can be only one of two things: The Lord himself incarnated into human form, or he was a lunatic who must be wholly rejected. I chose Lord and rejected Lunatic.

Now I know and understand God wants me to love him. He wants to hear my soul pray to him. Invite him into my most inner joys, fears, and thoughts, and to praise him for his creation of me and everything else that surrounds me. To invite him into my heart as my creator, my father, and my friend.

Every single one of you have a story of God bringing you closer and closer to himself, and I would encourage you today, if you're here, you've been invited by a friend, or you're just kind of checking out church and you've never given your life to Christ. You have a lot of questions like Tom had...

ALPHA
There's an opportunity for you as Alpha starts. Alpha is the time where we get together around tables. There's a meal that's provided, free childcare. This is my pitch, okay? Free childcare, free food, but the main thing is, is that there's not weird people there. You just get a chance to talk and ask questions, and we'd love to have you be a part of that.

HOW TO BE CLOSE TO GOD
So now let me switch into this: I want to talk a little bit about how can we be now close to God. The first step is this: There comes a point when you need to make a decision whether the claims of Christ are true or not. I was speaking to a guy a couple weeks ago—we were having a great conversation and just talking about life. He was from the UK. And then he asked me what I did for a living. Usually kills the conversation. I said, “I'm a pastor.”

And then his wife turned around and said, “Are you gonna try to make us born-again?” I'm like, [sarcastically] “Thank you, yes, that's exactly what I'm gonna do, right now.” We began, of course—he started talking about Jesus, which is cool, I like talking about Jesus, but he called him JC. And we talked for quite a while about JC, and then we came to a point where I said, “Do you believe that JC was raised from the dead?” He said, “That's the part. I know he was alive. I knew he died on the cross but I don't believe that he came back from the dead.” So we found the location of where his faith kind of stops.

If the only thing that is required for salvation is for you to believe that God sent Jesus to the earth to die for you, that he died and that he came back from the dead... Romans 10:9 says this: “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

I will encourage you today that your salvation is based not on your perfect behavior, but on Jesus's perfect life. Your salvation today is not based on anything that you can do; your salvation is based on your faith in the one who did it all for you. And there's ways that he's changing us and making us new, but if you ever have the enemy (the accuser) come to you and say, “You're not really saved.” All you have to do is ask yourself this question:
Do I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God?
Do I believe that he came back from the dead?

If I believe those things, and I've confessed those things, I am in fact born again. It's not a feeling that you have, it's faith that you have. And what God has said is absolutely true. This is the first step to being close to God.

Then I would say this: We really need to just trust that God is doing the work as you keep your attention on him. If I were to ask you what things you are doing today in order to be saved, you would be able to quickly list out: “Well, I'm, you know, this and that ... I'm doing this.”

And then if I ask you the next question, What is God doing right now to ensure that you are saved? It would probably be quiet. We don't think enough about what God is doing for us.

Salvation is based on God's initiation.
It's His grace,
it's his mercy,
it's his son,
it's him coming to earth,
it's him holding you,
it's him empowering you,
it's him giving you strength.

He's able to keep everything that you've entrusted to him. He's got a better grip on you than you have on him. We don't think a lot about what he's doing. I would encourage you—you're closer to him than you think, and he's doing more for you than you'll ever do for him. And if your salvation is based on what you're doing for him, that's a salvation based on works and that's not what salvation is all about, because salvation comes by faith in Him and what he has done.

Take your eyes off yourself and your imperfection and put your eyes on him and look at him, and trust that he's doing a work on the inside of you.

Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world

He who started a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.

He is the author and the finisher of your faith.

He didn't only bring you to himself like, “I found Jesus!” Like, he was lost. You didn't find him. He found you. He looked you up. He came from heaven and found you, and then by the power of his spirit he found a way to convince you that he loves you—which was not easy in most cases—and then he told you to go to church—and that's not easy in every case. And here you are and how did you get here? You'd have to admit, “He brought me here.” How did you do it? “He brought me here.” And how will you get there? “Well, he'll take you there too.”

We need to put our eyes on him and trust that he's doing a work on the inside of us. You know what he's doing, exactly what he wants to do in your life because your life is surrendered to him, and he's doing more to keep you in him then you'll ever do to keep yourself in him.

Hebrews 13:21 says this: Now may God who puts all things together, makes all things whole now, put you together, and provide you with everything you need to please him.

This is the great kind of irony of Christianity, right? It's God who loves us. He initiates it and then he eventually sends his son dies for us. He goes and sends the Holy Spirit. Now the Holy Spirit lives on the inside of us which enables us—gives us the desire to do right, the ability to do right, the want to to do right, and the follow-through to do right. And then it pleases him, and where did it come from? It came from him in the first place.

God Almighty is saying, “If these people are ever going to serve me well, they're going to need me to do it through them.” Where it used to be a tabernacle where he would dwell, now YOU are the tabernacle of Almighty God. He knew that you wouldn't be able to do it.

Jesus said, “You've heard it said that you shouldn't commit murder,” and we're like, yeah I'm pretty good... I haven't committed murder yet today. And he said, “I'm saying, if you hate your brother, it's murder.” And now we're like, “Oh, crap, because I'm pretty sure I hated somebody on I-75 this morning.”

He said, “You've heard it said that you shouldn't commit adultery, but I'm saying if you even think about adultery...” and then it gets real quiet in the room. He's indicted everybody. What's he saying? He didn't come to lower the bar; he came to raise the bar—make the bar impossible so you'd look to him and say, Can you get over that? He said, I can get over that. And the only way you're going to get over that is with him. And that's how you do it—is with him.

I would also encourage you in this: Don't trust any formulas but be filled with the Holy Spirit. I don't read Project 3:45 to be saved. I'm saved, therefore I read Project 3:45. I don't read Project 3:45 to be pleasing to God, I am a son of God and pleasing to God, therefore I read Project 3:45. It is not a formula.

What's the formula for marriage? All the married people should have laughed out loud. There's no formula for marriage! Some of the young people are like, Are three steps? Please tell me! You're naïve. There aren't steps, and there's no formula to your relationship with Jesus.

I don't care what any church denomination or religion ever tells you. Every religion wants to sell you a formula because formulas are what we like as human beings, and now we can do it. But a relationship hasn't a formula, it's just all messy and it takes heart and guts and work. Failure and trial and error and all of that stuff. It takes all of your heart and all of your life.

And this is why he sent the Holy Spirit to give us help. Luke 24 says this: Jesus actually said, “And now I will send the Holy Spirit just as my father promised, but stay here in the city, don't go anywhere until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.” This is Jesus talking, and with the confirmation of the father. Me and my dad have this idea for you—my spirit living in you.

Now as soon as I say Holy Spirit, those of us with a Pentecostal background can get kind of weirded out because I've watched TV and seen Pentecostal preachers before. A lot of weird things happen and people call it the Holy Ghost or the Holy Spirit.

But look at the Holy Spirit in Jesus's life. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and went around doing good. And everything that he did in every miracle that he performed was in the context of a relationship. It was natural, it was supernatural, it was practical, it met a need, and the miracle was never the point. The point was always the gospel, and it all pointed to the father.

So you are actually created to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. How's that going to show up? He's going to give you words of encouragement, comfort, and exhortation for the people you work with, that's how it's going to show up. He's going to lead you to pray for and care for and then you're going to have the fruit of the Spirit. You know what? That's not just for you.

You're going to have peace in situations what other people would not, and you're going to give peace away. You're going to give love away, you're going to give joy away. And never, I'm telling you—based on the authority of God's Word—will you ever take your jacket off at your work, wave it and have everybody fall down—although that would be kind of a nice thing at some point.

Don't look for formulas. Be led by the Holy Spirit. Matter of fact, today you can actually say, “Father, Your mercies are new every morning; fill me with your Holy Spirit. You're welcome in this place, you're welcome in my home, you're welcome in at work, you're welcome with my kids. Oh, God, be with every family member right now, and fill me to overflowing with your Holy Spirit. Because I know your spirit is good, your spirit is wholesome and healthy and will help me and lead me and guide me.”

There should be no fear in asking the Holy Spirit to fill you. It's not a formula, it's a filling. And then when he fills you he leads you and guides you, and that is the most exciting part about being close to him.

I'll close with this idea: How close are you to God? If God lives on the inside of you, can you get any closer than that?

So, you came in today, and a lot of your closeness was based on what you have done or what you not done. Instead, you should base it on what he did on the cross, how he came back, and the same power that raised him from the dead dwells inside of every believer. My contention is you can't get any closer than that.

LET'S PRAY TOGETHER
Lord, it's so good to be in your family, and we're so thankful for every person that's here today. Lord, we ask you for those folks who are considering a relationship with you, you just encourage them, Lord. Lord, most all of us have been in that process of questioning and wondering and doubting and not knowing. And so we just pray for them today that you would continue to speak to them and comfort them and guide them and lead them the same way you did Tom. The same way you have so many of us. Just lead them to you, Father, and we thank you for that.

Well, we ask you that you'd go with us this week that we'd keep our mind and our eyes fixed on you—the author and finisher of our faith. And God, that you'd help us to get our eyes off of ourselves and what we're doing, and more on you and what you are doing in our lives. We thank you Father that we're close to you right now because you have made that possible, in Jesus name, Amen.

God bless you have a great week