Growing Closer to God


By Stephanie Ismer

Growing Closer to God, The Series


In the last two posts, I discussed how dependence on God and defense of the defenseless can bring us nearer to His heart. Consider this passage from the book of 2 Timothy.
Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. 2 Timothy 2:20-21
One thing we all want (I think I can safely say) is to be useful, to have purpose. God is saying here that usefulness to Him is predicated on being "cleansed from what is dishonorable." What does this mean? The word "honorable" is placed alongside justice, purity, loveliness, things are commendable and excellent and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). This verse from the book of James is also relevant:
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. James 4:8-10
Why does God ask us to mourn and weep? Is that what honor means? Does being cleansed and being near to God come at the expense of any happiness or fun, ever? The people James is speaking to in the passage above are mourning and weeping over their own sin. Notice the end of the story: once they're humbled, God will exalt them. The wise mourn because they've seen the reality of their own sin. And they want to see reality, even if it's hard to take. Fools just laugh on, and never realize the danger (Ecclesiastes 7:4). But God does not wish us to stay in the house of mourning forever. And cleansing oneself of what is evil does not result in perpetual sadness and boredom — in fact, it's the opposite.

Have you ever noticed that something funny is only really funny once? The surprise you feel when something makes you laugh is wonderful, but it gets old very quickly when repeated. It's like a flash of light that dazzles you and then leaves you in the dark. Sin is kind of like that, which is, I believe, why God focuses on laughter as a metaphor for foolishness. It is futile to pursue sin, because its pleasures are so fleeting. Most people addicted to sin can probably relate to this. They might say something like "It used to be enjoyable but now I just do it because...I just do." That sounds like sadness and boredom to me.

Honor, purity, being useful, having purpose...these things require discipline at first, and that is never much fun. But they increase the light. Instead of a flash that leaves darkness in its wake, pursuing goodness is like a candlelight that grows to a blazing fire, which eventually becomes the pure light of morning and a day by the sea. The benefits of wisdom and goodness continually increase. After all, we know that God is a God of pleasures:
You make known to me the path of life;
    in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 16:11
In his presence there is fullness of joy. At his right hand — eternal pleasures. Closeness to God is synonymous with happiness. And closeness to God is linked with holiness, with cleansing oneself from what is dishonorable. It may seem counter-intuitive to those of us living in a culture that says happiness comes from doing what you want, whenever you want, with whomever you want. But that sort of freedom is not really freedom at all. True freedom is in Christ. Our security comes from His love, and our ability to pursue happiness (also called sanctification) comes from His presence in our lives (Hebrews 10:10, 14).

Depend, defend, and cleanse. These three things are on my mind as the New Year approaches, and I hope these words will encourage you. I know that my strength of heart, my ability to trust God, and my desire to be merciful and honorable will all fail me, which is why I give myself (and you) one last encouragement: we know that God gives us anything we ask for, according to His will. I've shown in these last three posts that dependence, defense of the defenseless, and cleansing from what is dishonorable are all things that are squarely in the middle of God's will. In this case, we can ask and receive with confidence, for Jesus said, "If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it" (John 14:14).

Happy 2016!

Image Credit: razia; "ritual washing in judaism"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Sin-Evil

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Published 1-18-16