What does it mean for Christians to draw near unto God?

by Mike Ratliff

7 You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you:
8 ‘This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far away from Me.
9 ‘But in vain do they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” Matthew 15:7-9 (NASB)

What does it mean biblically to draw near unto God? Obviously, the Jews our Lord confronted as Matthew recorded in the passage above were not doing so. However the writer of Hebrews says to those who are truly born again:

19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:19-22 (NASB)

Here is Hebrews 10:22 from the NA28 Greek text, “προσερχώμεθα μετὰ ἀληθινῆς καρδίας ἐν πληροφορίᾳ πίστεως ῥεραντισμένοι τὰς καρδίας ἀπὸ συνειδήσεως πονηρᾶς καὶ λελουσμένοι τὸ σῶμα ὕδατι καθαρῷ·”

The words “let us draw near” translates the verb προσερχώμεθα, which is the Present tense, Subjunctive mood, Middle voice, 1st person, plural of προσέρχομαι (proserchomai), “to approach, accede to.” This verb structure refers to continuous or repeated action, regardless of when the action took place. The subjunctive mood suggests that the action is subject to some condition and the present subjunctive can be used to give exhortation, which is exactly what the writer of Hebrews is doing here. 

Why do Christians have this desire to draw near to God? The regenerate heart has a sincere desire for truth. We are to draw near, προσέρχομαι, to God with a ἀληθινῆς καρδίας, a true heart. The word ἀληθινῆς speaks of that which is absolute, incontrovertible, irrefutable, incontestable, unarguable, and unchanging…that is, the truth. This is God’s absolute truth with no concept of “all things are relative” here. The word καρδίας is the heart of a person, which in this text is referring to the reason and the faculty of intelligence, not just the emotional nature. Therefore, the command is for us to draw near unto God with a heart that is truly set to obey Him, to worship Him, to line up its will with His.

On the other hand, how often do we encounter those who say they want to be near God or want to get close to God, but when confronted with the cost and the absolutes of His Word, they rebel? In other words, they say they want to be near God, but not really. They are like those Jews our Lord confronted in Matthew 15:7-9. It is like I have been sharing about my own spiritual wake-up call back in 2004 that took most of that year.  When those in my church and others saw the change in me, they wanted it, but when they saw the cost, which was mostly a forsaking of all of the idols in their lives and devoting themselves to prayer, worship and Bible study most of the time, which is the path God put me on, not one wanted to do that.

In Hebrews 10:22 above, the words “full assurance” translates πληροφορίᾳ (plērophoria), “full assurance, entire confidence.” This is describing the total confidence genuine believers have in God’s promises. This is part of drawing near unto Him. This is full trust in His sovereignty. The opposite is true as well. If we doubt Him, questioning Him, the farther away from Him we drift. Therefore, it as we submit entirely to His sovereignty then we are actually drawing near unto Him. What a great place to be! Of course, the next word describing this πληροφορίᾳ is the noun πίστεως, which is the Genitive, Singular of πίστις (pistis), “faith or belief.” Our full assurance or entire confidence rests in this supernatural faith that is made alive in Christ when God saves us.

Drawing near unto God means having a desire for holiness, which we see in the next phrase in v22: ῥεραντισμένοι τὰς καρδίας ἀπὸ συνειδήσεως πονηρᾶς, directly translated as, ”having been sprinkled the hearts from a conscience of evil.” This is distinctly Old Testament, referring to the sprinkling of blood of the sacrifice for the cleansing of sin. However, not only are we saved by this blood, but we are constantly brought back to it for daily cleansing. In 1 John 1:9 we read, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We are forever coming back to the Cross, for it is there that our sin was dealt with and our conscience was cleared. Hence, as I stated above, to draw near unto God and live there requires a daily walk with Him and walking in repentance is a huge part of that. How else can we do that unless we are being constantly brought back to the blood of Christ for daily cleansing? Therefore, no one can say they are walking close to God and are drawing near unto Him if they are walking in sin, that is, according to the ways of the world.

Lastly, drawing near to God means having a desire for His Word. What? How can we get that from, “λελουσμένοι τὸ σῶμα ὕδατι καθαρῷ·”? Directly translated, this says, “having been washing the body with pure water.” While it would be easy to view this as a reference to water baptism, it isn’t because that isn’t a washing away of sin, but a symbol of identification, a public testimony of what has occurred in the heart. This phrase means that God’s Word is the commodity that is going to keep us clean by our constant “cleansing” or “bathing” in it. We see the very same thing in Ephesians 5:25-26, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word…” Drawing near to God means that we are constantly involved with His Word, constantly “immersed” in it.

When I was asked what I had done back then for such a radical change in me, I tried to point people to these very things, but my brethren, I knew that this was something God had drawn me to do. It was not something I just figured out to do and then did it. No, I just stopped pursuing the things of the flesh, spent more time in prayer and worship and as much time as possible in the Word. Eight months later, I was at a spiritual place that I am still trying to explain and here it is going on 15 years later. However, there is a common denominator throughout it all. What I have experienced in and through this is what Hebrews 10:22 describes. That is what I did and look what God has done! Oh, that God’s people would drop their religious pretenses and simply Draw Near unto Him!

Soli Deo Gloria!

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