Drawing Near, and Dwelling
© 5/5/2020 C. O. Bishop
James 4:8-10; Psalm 91:1; Psalm 15 and others
We need to talk about the difference between our position in Christ, and our condition as we attempt to walk with Him. The two are not the same, and, while both are clearly defined in scripture, we tend to confuse the two, or decide that only one of them really matters. Both of those failings are traps we need to avoid.
Remember, as we read, that James is speaking to believers. These “brethren” to whom he addressed himself are all persons who have placed their trust in Jesus Christ; in His righteousness, His Blood, His finished work at the Cross, His resurrection and His coming again. They are already Christians! So, with that in mind, let’s read the next three verses, and ask some questions about their meaning.
Draw Near to God
8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.
How can one “draw near to God?” Obviously, this is a somewhat rhetorical question: He does not occupy just a single location in space or time, where we can physically go to meet with Him, though many people think of Him in that way: Frequently people feel that if they go to a specific place (a church-house, a temple, a special place outdoors, etc.) then they are “going where God is.” Many churches actually encourage such thinking, referring to their physical building as “the house of God.”) The Old Testament believers had an unusual, special time, during which God promised that He would actually take up residence in the Tabernacle (and, later, in Solomon’s Temple,) and that people literally could approach Him there. So, when Jesus spoke of the Temple as being “my Father’s House,” he was addressing a literal reality. That temple (rebuilt by Herod the Great) was destroyed in AD 70, however, and it had ceased to function as the “house of God” long before it was finally destroyed.
But even the Old Testament scriptures teach that God is Omnipresent…everywhere at once. Solomon (who built that great original temple) acknowledged that the entire creation could not contain God, so how could this building of stone do so? Both the New Testament and the Old Testament teach that God does not “dwell” in a house made by human hands. In fact, in the church epistles, we discover that the Church, proper—the people—are now the “habitation of God!” Together, the people of the Church at large, comprise the “Temple of God,” and He personally indwells every member of the Body of Christ.
Remember, James is only speaking to believers! So, I cannot get more close to God, physically: He already surrounds me entirely, inside and out. Since that is the case, and we are not being exhorted to get physically closer to “wherever God is”, what really is the intent of this passage? What is James encouraging you to do? Let’s compare some other passages:
Hebrews 4:16 exhorts us to “…come boldly unto the throne of Grace…”
Hebrews 10:19-22 says,
“19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; 21 And having an high priest over the house of God; 22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.”
Neither of these two exhortations could have been literally followed, even though the temple in Jerusalem still existed at the time they were written. No one but the High Priestcould enter the holy place under any circumstances, and he only once a year.
Draw near, by Faith, as a matter of Practice
But all the believers were being encouraged to “enter in”, and to “draw near” by faith. And that is how we do it, too. We enter into the relationship by faith, initially; and every day (indeed every moment,) we can choose to maintain that “holy place” relationship by faith. Hebrews 11:6 states that it is impossible to please God without faith. The rest of Hebrews 11 is called the “faith-chapter” for good reason: it underscores the necessity and vital importance of faith in our walk with Jesus.
Colossians 2:6 says, “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him.” How did you receive the Lord? Was it by works? By reciting a creed? Going to church? Praying a prayer? You may have done all these things, and I have no doubt that they were done in all sincerity; but please remember that is possible to be sincerely wrong. Romans 3:25 makes it clear that faith alone, and specifically faith in the shed blood of Jesus, the Savior, is what makes us eligible to receive the Grace of God, offered through the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
So…when I ask someone how they became a believer, that is what I am hoping to hear. If they tell me “I went forward at a tent meeting…” or something, I am worried, because it sounds as though their faith is in something they did…not the finished work of Christ at the Cross.
This is why Paul said, in 1st Corinthians 2:2,”For I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” He was preaching the Cross, because he knew that, otherwise, his audience would place their faith in something else—anything else. We don’t like the Cross! It was the equivalent of a gallows, or an electric chair, only worse: a truly “cruel and unusual punishment.” We would rather think that we can do something good, which will put us in good standing before God. But God made the rules: We are saved by Grace through Faith alone (Ephesians 2:8, 9) and that is how we are to walk with Him as well
Walking by Faith denies self—it excludes pride and self-will. It confesses that “I can do nothing.” Jesus said in John 15:3, “Apart from Me ye can do nothing.” If anyone else says that, it is a statement of supreme arrogance, and it is utterly offensive to the hearers. But when Jesus said it, it was the simple truth. There is nothing we can accomplish of eternal value, without Him being the motivator and source of authority and power. This is what Jesus called “abiding.” It is just a fact. On our own, we produce nothing of eternal value. In Christ, walking by faith, everything we do, regardless of how mundane, has eternal worth, because we are in obedience, doing His will! Abide in Christ, abide in the Tabernacle…dwell in His Holy place!
Dwelling with God
Psalm 91:1 “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” The Psalmist suggests that it is possible to “dwell in the secret place of the Most High”, not just visit there once in a while. Further, it says that the one who does so, deliberately, by choice and by faith, will “abide under the Shadow of the Almighty.” Surely that is worth the struggle, to maintain that sort of close relationship with the Creator, Savior and Judge of all the Earth.
Psalm 15 reads as follows:
1Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? 2 He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. 3 He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour. 4 In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the Lord. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not. 5 He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.
So, not only is it possible to “abide in the tabernacle,” and “dwell in His holy hill,” (at that time, the temple mount) but He goes on to say what kind of behavior goes along with the privilege. This is not a blanket promise to all believers: this is very definitely a “conditional promise.” We have read many of God’s unconditional promises, all of which are true of every believer. But this one, and many others like it, are dependent upon how we respond to God, and the resulting ways that we respond to the people around us. Notice, please, that every single one of the “conditions” listed in Psalm 15 are describing how we are to deal with other humans, with the possible exception of “speaking the truth in his heart.” That one may have to do with being honest before the Lord, since only He can see the heart; but it would still affect our interpersonal dealings.
In James 4:8, we are exhorted to “cleanse” our hands, as sinners, and “purify” our hearts, from being double-minded. So my behavior and my heart-motives are both in question, as I attempt to draw near to God. I cannot “draw near” to God, if I am mistreating other people in any way, or even just submitting myself to my Old Sin Nature, in pride, or lust, or covetousness, etc. Psalm 66:18 says that “if I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” God won’t even listen to my prayers, if I am sinning…even just in my heart. (Jesus confirms this, when he “upgraded the Law” by saying that if I am angry without cause against a brother, then I am in danger of judgment, just as if I were a murderer; and that if I am secretly desiring sexual sin, I am just as wrong as if I were literally committing adultery…he said that I am already doing so in my heart! There’s that heart-motive thing again!)
In Ephesians 4:31, 32, it says that I am to lay aside all bitterness, and wrath and anger (all of which are inward attitudes) and clamor and evil speaking (it is starting to come out my mouth, here), along with all malice (the underlying heart-issue.)
Morally, and in terms of His character, God has never “moved” nor changed His “position.” He defines perfection. We embraced His promise by faith, and received eternal life through our Savior. We are also invited to embrace His righteousness by faith, and to see our thoughts, values and behaviors change. As they change, and as we learn to walk with God, we will find that He also continually reaches out to us, to steady us in our walk, and to encourage us to “climb higher”, grow stronger, etc. As we “draw near to Him” on a character plane, He draws near to us, not by changing His position, but by reaching out to us, and helping us along toward Himself.
Proverbs 2 (and, I strongly recommend that you read this, slowly, meditating on the meaning) describes the relational efforts involved with “drawing near to God.” It seems to involve much time in God’s Word, much time in Prayer, and a good deal of soul-searching, for lack of a better word. It is not an easy process. It takes effort!
This part of the Christian life is entirely conditional. None of the walk of faith is guaranteed to us, except the result of obedience, which is eternal reward. Although the promises of God regarding salvation itself are only conditional upon faith, and the truths regarding the believer’s new position are dependent only upon that position “in Christ”, it is entirely possible to live one’s whole life as a believer, and never learn to enter in and enjoy a close walk with God. In fact, tragically, it is quite common.
All of God’s blessing and relational joy is available to all believers at all times, but none of it is guaranteed, without the deliberate choice, on a moment-by-moment basis, to walk with God. The problem is that it involves a constant battle: our old nature, the Flesh, is not at all in agreement, and the World constantly works to distract and dissuade us, while Satan finds ways to trip us up. (See James 3:15, where these three sources are named.)
How should we respond to knowing that we are NOT walking with God?
James makes it clear that it is far beyond “sobering” to discover that all your investments, so to speak, have been wasted: Knowing that all your life is being wasted, and that your hope of eternal reward is vanishing, should bring total remorse and repentance! Remember that “repentance” means a change of mind. We are to drop our old pattern of thinking, realize what it has cost us, and adopt a new outlook, causing a radical change in our behavior as well.
9 Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
Repentance (Greek, “metanoia”…meaninga “change of mind, resulting in change of behavior”) has to result in humility, sufficient to cause us to let go of our old priorities, and begin to seize upon the priorities of God. And He says that if we choose to humble ourselves before Him and change our priorities; then He will reach out to lift us up, and honor us in His way, instead of whatever manner we had been attempting to satisfy our own desires for fulfillment. That may seem a hard choice to make, but it is a good one.
We might take this as meaning to “lift us up” in terms of help, in hard times, and, indeed, it could include that. But, consider Stephen, who had already been walking a humble, Spirit-filled life, and was faithfully serving the poor as described in Acts chapter six; but, as he was being falsely accused (chapter seven) the scripture says he was filled with the Holy Spirit, and his face was literally shining, so that he resembled some heavenly, angelic creature: Then Jesus met Him at the Father’s side, by standing, thus “exalting him in due time” (1st Peter 5:6). But his enemies were still allowed to stone him. He was exalted in that he was martyred. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (Psalm 116:15) He was not “helped” as we would seek help: being rescued from pain or death, shame, or some financial misfortune.
There are no promises of health or wealth, or physical safety and comfort for Church-age believers. Quite the contrary: Philippians 1:29 plainly states that “unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” This is not a comfortable thought, perhaps; but please bear in mind that we have already been joined with Him in His death, His resurrection, and His ascension: He has assured us of our position with Him for eternity. We are also to expect a certain measure of His suffering as a part of our position in Christ.
To me, the rich promises of the blessings of simply walking with God far outweigh the certainty that there will be rough times. When Psalm 15 was written, the battles were quite real and physical. The blessings of God were in focus in that Psam, so fully that the stresses of daily life were completely off the table…not even being considered. The Psalmist wanted to walk with God, not just be saved. He wanted to dwell in God’s Holy Hill, in the Holy Place with God, not just visit there, once in a while.
I think it is fitting that believers today, indwelt by the Holy Spirit should desire that closeness even more, and seek His face even more earnestly.
Give this some thought, and re-examine the scriptures we have read. Ask yourself where your focus really is, and how it might look different if you were walking by faith, and dwelling in the Holy place with Jesus.
This is a matter of continuous re-examination and continual attention. It isn’t something we can “do once” and be done with it. It is a practical outworking of our real life in Christ.
Blessings upon you as you seek His face.