“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ “(Matthew 7:21-23 NKJV)
Have you, at one time or another, experienced a great distance between you and God, felt that your prayers were just bouncing off the ceiling and falling to the ground unanswered, or entertained the thought that Jesus doesn’t love you or care about you? Have you had a deep yearning and longing for the Lord, needing His grace, love and mercy, but wondered what was preventing you from experiencing a close, personal and intimate relationship with Him? We have experienced this many times, and we are sharing this message to encourage you not to give up on the Lord. He doesn’t give up on us; it is us who give up on Him! He promises and encouragement to still remain: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10 NIV).
The sad news is that if we don’t get right with Him and continue walking away from Him, sooner or later our time will run out and we will miss the blessing of eternal life. Worse, as we read from the story of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:25), it is also easy for us to deceive ourselves, think we are approved and perfect before God because we are “walking in great faith, power, miracles, and wonders”, only to be very disappointed in the end, as the opening Bible verse above warns us. A few years ago, we thought we were walking right with God since we were casually reading the Bible, giving tithes and offerings, and praying, but the Holy Spirit convicted us that were still unfaithful to Him! Upon honestly and genuinely examining our hearts, our eyes were opened and we simply could not deny the Lord’s wise judgment on us! We had been enjoying spending time reading and watching other things more than spending time in the Word of God, and were also lazy to pray consistently. Additionally, we had not been enthusiastic about sharing the gospel and had missed numerous opportunities to share the Good News as the Lord Jesus Christ expects of His children (Acts 1:8). The Bible warns us that “wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it” (Matthew 7:13 NKJV) and “narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:14 NKJV). The Lord Jesus also reminded us that even though many are called, only a few will be chosen (Matthew 22:14).
This message is by no means exhaustive, since we have addressed some of the issues in our previous articles (Humble Heart and Resolving Conflict series, and Worthless Religion) and we will continue to share as the Holy Spirit leads us. We hope and pray that this message will encourage you to truly identify and deal with the things that are hindering you from a closer relationship with the Lord.
Do Not Be Deceived
The Bible highlights several things that hinder our relationship with God, and why our petitions to God are often not answered when we fast and pray.
- Idolatry: Most Christians are aware of God’s command not to worship others gods and idols, and not to make any graven images (Exodus 20:3-6; 1 John 5:21). Today, however, Satan has led many Christians to practice other forms of idolatry, such as obsession with, or fixation on, pastors, self-declared prophets, celebrities, politicians, sports, etc. Instead of following Christ and focusing on Him alone, many are spending countless hours watching TV, wasting time on the Internet, or following (and seeking to be followed by) other people in social media platforms. All these forms of modern day idolatry hinder our relationship with God, because He is a most holy and jealous God (Exodus 20:5; 34:14; Deuteronomy 6:15). You, therefore, have to choose whether to faithfully serve God and enjoy His sure promise of eternal life or disobey Him and suffer the eternal consequences (Joshua 24:15; Matthew 25:41; John 14:1-4).
- Fasting that doesn’t please God:
- Acting wickedly and doing whatever we please, including exploiting others (Isaiah 58:3).
- Fasting for wrong things that promote strife, arguments, division, and wickedness (Isaiah 58:4).
- Fasting to be seen and acknowledged by men (Matthew 6:16).
- Observing the law and keeping the commandments physically, but not surrendering your whole life to God by loving Him with “all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5; Luke 10:27; Romans 8:1-9): The story of the rich young ruler is a sober reminder that we can religiously observe the law (Matthew 19:16-25), yet have our lives not right with God and focused on the wrong priorities (Matthew 16:26).
- Acting self-righteous and justifying oneself while despising others: Thinking highly of yourself before God and man as being spiritually superior to others because of your religious rituals, obedience to the commandments, or certain spiritual gifts that you possess is deceiving yourself. Likewise, looking down upon fellow believers whom you perceive or judge as wicked or less righteous than yourself is dangerous, because you will be judged likewise (Matthew 7:1-3). The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector very well illustrates the dangers of this kind of self-elevating attitude (Luke 18:9-14). Today, there are also people in the Church who are boasting and promoting certain spiritual gifts as true indicators of truly being born again or “anointed”, for example: prophecies, dreams and visions, speaking in tongues, ability to preach or heal, some other unbiblical “gifts”, etc. In the process, they attempt to control and manipulate and control their fellow believers (whom they perceive to be “spiritually inferior”) that their words, dreams, or visions are from the Lord so should be obeyed without question. Brothers and sisters in Christ, do not be like a naïve fish that swallows the whole bait – hook, line, and sinker included! Please don’t give anyone a free pass! (Matthew 24:4; 1 John 3:7; 1 Corinthians 3:18). Like the Bereans, please “examine the Scriptures every day to see if what [you hear orread being preached] said is true.” (Acts 17:11). The Bible tells us “not [to] believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1 NKJV). In the past, we have experienced rejection and insults from some pastors whose teachings we first enthusiastically embraced blindly, but later we began to question as we examined them under the Scriptural microscope (Isaiah 8:20; Matthew 7:16). Some people promote strange, extrabiblical, or unbiblical teachings, citing that they “hear from the Lord” or the Lord appeared to them; please heed the warnings given by the Lord Jesus Christ and the apostles! (Matthew 7:15; 24:26; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 Timothy 4:1-2). The truth is that all truly born-again Christians who have received the Lord Jesus into their hearts and humbly submitted themselves to the Holy Spirit’s leading and guidance do hear from the Lord when they faithfully “ask, seek, and knock” (Matthew 7:7-11) and diligently study His Written Word! (2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12).
- Empty words without action: The Lord Jesus warned us that while we should observe and do what some religious teachers tell us, we should not follow their bad example (Matthew 23:2-4). Likewise, we should be genuine in our walk with the Lord, ensuring that our words match our actions, i.e. our faith is accompanied with good works to glorify God (James 2:26), otherwise we will be deceiving ourselves.
- Pride, self-importance, self-elevation and seeking worldly recognition: As believers in Christ, we should all strive to be humble before Him and our fellow men, without fighting for titles and recognition as the world does; the Lord Himself will elevate us as He wills (Matthew 23:5-12). In today’s interconnected world, it’s very easy to feel sorry for yourself when you see former schoolmates’ worldly achievements as listed in their social media profiles. I (Abes) have to confess that a few times I have fallen into this temptation, only to catch myself and remind myself to start counting the many, priceless blessings the Lord has graciously granted me. Likewise, it is easy to gloat with pride and self-importance if you have climbed further up the corporate ladder or social class pyramid. The Lord loves a humble, and contrite heart, as the Lord Jesus exemplified and encourages to have (Psalm 51:17; Philippians 2:5-8); this invites blessings from God (Isaiah 66:2).
- Erecting barriers and roadblocks for salvation: The Lord Jesus warned us not to erect religious roadblocks and other stumbling blocks on fellow believers. Be careful not to let your deeply held religious dogmas or convictions, controlling attitude, or self-righteous inclinations block other people from the Kingdom of God “…for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (Matthew 23:13 NKJV). A few times we have fallen into the trap of engaging with other fellow believers in passionately discussing divisive subjects such as the Sabbath, for example. Needless to say, these arguments often don’t edify or bring peace, and a few times we’ve actually been deeply hurt since some people resort to personal attacks and false accusations as a strategy to drive their points home! In case you have somehow successfully managed to keep off seriously debating with fellow Christians on controversial subjects, keep that up! Paul’s admonition to Timothy to “avoid foolish and ignorant disputes/arguments/controversies, knowing that they generate strife/fights/quarrels” (2 Timothy 2:23) was on point!
- Misleading others and spiritually deceiving oneself: The Bible warns us not to be showing off like the Pharisees who “pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men” (Matthew 6:6 NKJV). Additionally, we should not exploit others or use prayer as a tool to deceive ourselves and others (Matthew 23:14). Many well-meaning Christians have been unwittingly and innocently deceived and financially fleeced by preachers (especially televangelists and “prosperity preachers”) who appear to be pious and praying powerfully, making demands from God, “commanding”, “declaring,” and “decreeing” this and that with “authority”. Fellow believer in Christ, let us humble ourselves before the Lord when we pray, and resist the false teachings that mock God (Matthew 6:6-13; Galatians 6:7).
- Falsely evangelizing and propagating false religion: This is one area that Christians should be very careful. As we shared in our message on “Worthless Religion”, we have encountered several Christians who don’t promote Christ, but only want to win new converts to their ministries for potential financial gain or perhaps some other intentions (Matthew 23:15). Once we also fell into the trap of promoting certain ministries and teachers, and at the end of it all we were disappointed and heart broken. We have learnt that instead of promoting a specific church or ministry, we should be leading people to Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to work the rest.
- Using evasive tactics and arguments to compromise the truth: In the Bible, we read how the Lord Jesus Christ rebuked the Pharisees for disobeying God’s laws by creatively engineering new legal arguments, such as using the “Corban” (gift committed to God) argument so they don’t support their parents (Mark 7:10-12), or distinguishing between swearing by the temple and swearing by the gold of the temple (Matthew 23:16-22). Likewise, today we have many Christians who argue against God’s commands in order to justify their disobedience practices or intentions regarding marriage and divorce (Malachi 2:16; Matthew 19:1-10), sexual morals (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Thessalonians 4:3), etc. Truth be told, it is foolish to disobey the Lord’s instructions, for in the day of judgment, He is the only “advocate with the Father–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” who can effectively represent us, and successfully win an acquittal for us against the Satan’s accusations (1 John 2:1; Revelation 12:10). The Bible also warns us, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life” (Galatians 6:7-8 NKJV).
- Religiously tithing or giving, but without love for God and fellow man: The Lord Jesus called out the scribes and Pharisees for emphasizing the observance of the minutest details of the law, yet they did not love fellow man. Instead, they neglected the “weightier matters” of the law – justice, mercy, and faith (Matthew 23:23-24). This is a sober warning for us believers not to be deceived into believing that tithing or giving to the church alone will pay our way to heaven; unfortunately, the lie that “sowing a seed” (code for sending money) is the magical solution to multiple problems, both physical and spiritual, is a lie that is perpetuated by some churches and prosperity preachers.
- Hypocrisy and pretense – focus on outward appearance instead of having clean heart: The Lord Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for putting so more focus and emphasis on outward appearance and behavior as a key to righteousness, while their character was ungodly and their hearts unclean; they were full of hypocrisy and wickedness and grossly disobeying God’s commands (Matthew 23:25-28). This is consistent with what the Lord God also said in the Old Testament, that while people look at the outward appearance, the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). The Lord admonishes us to let our light shine (Matthew 5:16) and bear good fruit (Matthew 12:33-37; John 15:5). Therefore, contrary to the world’s focus on materialism, fashion, physical beauty, etc., as Christians we should guard against the pressure to conform to the world’s ways where we are judging people and desiring to be judged favorably based on outward appearance (1 Peter 3:3-5; 1 Timothy 2:9-10; James 2:2-4). It’s not worth it to sacrifice your soul for material things or to please wicked men (Matthew 16:26). Instead, we should “store up for [ourselves] treasures in heaven, where moths, rust and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19-20 NJKV).
- Self-righteousness and spiritual pride: In our Christian journey, we have encountered some believers who seemed to have all the answers and were supremely confident that their walk with God was definitely heaven-bound, because they were keeping all the Commandments. The Bible tells us that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). The Apostle John further warned that “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10 NKJV). The Lord Jesus warned the scribes and Pharisees against this kind of self-righteous, spiritually self-elevating attitude, citing their duplicity for imitating the actions of their murderous ancestors (Matthew 23:29-31).
- Permissiveness: Allowing or condoning immoral behavior, or other practices that are contrary to the Word of God does not draw us closer to God. Engaging in worldly parties and entertainment that glorify the flesh and promote the kingdom of darkness (akin to consuming things sacrificed to idols), tolerating lies, coveting, committing sexual immorality only invites God’s wrath and judgment (Mark 7:20-23; Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5; Revelation 2:14, 20).
There other many other things that hinder experiencing intimacy with God, but they all boil down largely to the sin that results when we give in to the flesh. The Apostle Paul clarified it this way: “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want” (Galatians 5:16-17 NIV). As Paul further reiterated, this war between the flesh and the Spirit has eternal consequences: to mind the things of the flesh brings death, but to be spiritually minded brings life and peace (Romans 8:6).
We encourage you to make every effort to start building an intimate relationship with the Lord by seeking Him daily in prayer, delighting in approaching Him (Isaiah 58:2) and studying and obeying His Word (the Bible) daily (2 Timothy 2:15). By seeking rest in the Lord and dwelling in His presence – not only physical rest, but most importantly, rejoicing in Him, finding in Him rest and peace for your spirit and soul on a continual and consistent basis (Matthew 11:28-30; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) further builds and cements an intimate relationship with Him. Be on the look-out for false refuges, such as watching TV, bad news, movies, social media, and other worldly entertainment. These are “devours, drains, or suckers” that will leave you spiritually dry or empty and set you back in your relationship with God!
As you grow to love Him, please share the good news with others (Matthew 28:19-20) and spread His love to others by supporting the physical and spiritual needs of the hungry, the sick, the naked, and the poor (Isaiah 58:7; Matthew 25:31-46). If you would like to jump-start your relationship with the Lord, you may sincerely pray this Prayer of Salvation. For any questions or comments about this article please contact us.
Grace and abundant peace be upon,
Abes and Janet.