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God has created us to worship him. And that’s why all regenerate believers have a growing desire to grow closer to the Lord. And therefore we want to approach God to worship him. But, there is some confusion even among well-meaning Christians about how we should approach God.
Some say that since God is a God of grace, we can approach Him “just as we are.” They reason that we can be as casual in our worship and come as we want because God is interested only in our hearts. Others, who emphasise the holiness of God, take a much more serious approach, fearing God’s judgement if they fail to match his requirements. They think they can come to God with confidence if they have their daily devotions, reach church on time, pay their tithes and offerings regularly, contribute to missions work and listen to sermons attentively.
Even though they are well-intentioned, both these approaches distinctly fall short of understanding who God is and how we can approach him. As we think about this issue, it is helpful to start by thinking about how it is possible for us creatures to come before the creator God, who is both gracious and holy.
On the Basis of Jesus’s Perfect Sacrifice
First of all, we must understand that ever since the Fall (Rom. 5:12), mankind cannot approach God on his own accord; because we all have fallen short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23). Our sin means we are not worthy to relate with God, and we are not worthy to approach God even from a distance. But because of his grace, God made the ultimate provision for sinful people to come near him. This is something we see developing through the pages of Scripture.
In the Old Testament, God accepted sacrifices from people as they approached him. We read in Genesis 4, that Abel was accepted because of his sacrifice. And later, after God gave Israel the law, priests served as mediators between God and man and therefore offered sacrifices on behalf of the people so that they became acceptable in God’s sight (Lev. 1-5, 16). Sacrifices were also offered during the dedication of the Temple made by Solomon to make it worthy of the representative presence of the Holy God (2 Chr. 7: 1-7). It was in the context of the acceptable sacrifices that the Holy God could have fellowship with people. The people of Israel drew near to God through “pleasing and acceptable sacrifices,” but the animal sacrifices pointed to something better which was to come.
Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice who perfectly fulfilled God’s righteous requirement for sacrifice which we find in the Old Testament. The Holy God’s wrath could only be satisfied by the sacrifice of the unblemished Lamb of God who shed His precious blood on the cross (1 Pet. 1:17-18). He obtained eternal salvation for us once and for all, and perfected all those who are being sanctified (Heb. 10:11-14). God displayed his love for us and provided a way for us to approach him through trusting in the sacrificial death of Christ, his burial and his resurrection (Rom. 3:24, 5:8-9, 1 Cor. 15:3-4). Therefore, Jesus Christ is the one and only mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5-6).
As we think of approaching God on the basis of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice, we should not forget that God is both gracious and holy. Even though we are not worthy to be in God’s presence, Christ’s death on the cross means we have access to God. And so, when we come to God, we can come to him with confidence because he is seated on a throne of grace (Heb. 4:16). We can approach him with confidence because Jesus is the perfect sacrifice as well as the perfect high priest (Heb. 10:19-22). Instead of earning God’s favour by our performance, we can delight in God’s favour because of the finished work of Christ. And in this sense, we can indeed approach God “just as we are.” But that’s not the whole picture.
This confidence does not mean we approach God casually and carelessly. Though God is love (1 Jn. 4:8), He does not stop being holy and just. Christ’s sacrifice has given us a right standing before God, but that does not give us a license to be irresponsible. Instead, we come to God by being reminded of the slavery from which we have been redeemed, and by presenting our bodies as instruments for righteousness (Rom. 6:12-13). We are called to approach God with reverence and awe because He is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:28-29). We are to come with holy fear and a repentant heart, knowing that without Christ we are unworthy to be in God’s presence.
As we approach God we must be careful not to fall in the danger of legalism (we approach God on the basis of performance), or the other extreme of antinomianism (our obedience to God’s law does not matter). Both of these approaches show that we have not understood Christ’s sacrifice and God’s holiness. Instead, our approach towards God should reflect gratitude, humility, love, and a holy fear towards God. Whether it is attending a church service, prayer meeting, worship time, Bible Study, personal devotions etc.—or in fact in every area of all our lives—we should evaluate the attitude with which we approach God. Because of God’s great mercy, let our lives continue to be acceptable and pleasing to the Lord and may we strive to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to our holy God (Rom.12:1-2).
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