Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 02/28/1999
. . . "Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him."
We have said much in these studies about God's eternal purpose (3:11), which is to glorify his Son through the building his Church so that his "manifold wisdom . . .might now be made known through the Church to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places (3:10). In all this he reveals his grace, about which Paul has been marveling in this great Parenthesis between 2:22 and 3:14. One of the many blessings that comes to us by that grace and which shows God's wisdom through the Church by making us trophies and examples of grace is the "boldness and confident access" we have to God the Father through faith in Jesus Christ.
This boldness of access to God is not something sinful human beings can take for granted. The glib style of piety practiced by too many American Evangelicals is not biblical. It bespeaks not boldness but presumption. Contrast Isaiah, who, when he saw the Lord in IS. 6:1-5 says, "Woe is me, for I am undone!" Contrast Moses at the Burning Bush or in the Cleft of the Rock; contrast Peter's "Depart from me!" Why don't we talk like that? We would like to say it is because Christ has given us bold access, but it may be from our own shallowness. We have never met God in his transcendent glory, but have been playing games with an image of Him we have created in our own minds. The point of this boldness is that Christ has overcome the reluctance those men felt; but first it has to be there to be overcome! To appreciate the privilege of this boldness, we first need to understand the problem of approaching God.
Why is it a problem? Because of who God is: the Creator and Maintainer of the Universe; the high King of Heaven. He speaks and the mountains shake. He is a Judge of burning holiness, a consuming Fire. The problem arises when we bring these facts into contact with who we are: dead in sin, our every thought evil continually, wholly corrupt. We are inexcusable ingrates and rebels, consumed with our own petty passions and desires, blown about by every wind of doctrine. We are sinners, a moral cancer eating away at the fiber of the universe He has made.
Therefore, if we are to approach Him at all, much less boldly, a firm basis will have to be laid down for it. An impressive invitation, a convincing basis indeed, would be required. What is it? It is the Gospel of Grace: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that on the basis of His work salvation can then be offered to us as a free gift to be received by faith (2:8-10). Ultimately it is God himself: who He is, what He has done as the outflow of that character which is justice and wisdom and grace. Without the blood of Christ we could not approach Him at all. But through faith in what He has done, we can approach with boldness.
The word translated "boldness" here is PARRESIA, which means frankness, openness, the ability to speak freely. The person who feels PARRESIA has nothing to hide, nothing to hide, nothing to be ashamed of, and therefore he has no need to stammer or beat around the bush or be silent. Because Christ's blood has covered our sins forever, we can come before God this way. In spite of God's majesty and our smallness, His holiness and our unworthiness, we can speak to Him with a confidence that comes from Christ.
The word translated "access" is PROSAGOGE. It means the freedom to enter. It can even be translated "introduction." It was used as the title of a functionary whose job was to present to the king those subjects who had been granted an audience with his majesty. Do we need someone to do this for us with God? We even need it with men at times. I remember my first meeting with Dr. John Warwick Montgomery. He was a popular apologist back in the 70's, a man whose books I had admired in college, and a brilliant lecturer in the seminary I had just entered. I was just a bit in awe of him at first. But my good friend Dave Gordon had gone to Trinity a year before I did and was Monty's grad. assistant. "Come on," he said, "I'll introduce you." "Dr. Montgomery, I'd like you to meet my friend Don Williams. He actually knows more about C. S. Lewis than I do!" And so Montgomery--who was not a man to suffer fools gladly, and who generally assumed that you were one until you had proved differently--started off with the idea that I might be worth talking to.
Well, imagine how bashful we must be when we come into the presence of God the Father, especially in the light not only of his majesty but of our sorry rebellion against him. But the Lord Jesus Christ puts his arm around us and takes us up to the Throne. "Father, I'd like you to meet my good friend, Don Williams. I died for him and I want him to be here with me." And what do you think the Father says to that? "Welcome! It is so good to see you. Any friend of my Son is a friend of mine."
What is this privilege of access we have been granted? It is in the first place a RIGHT. John 1:12 says that to those who believed in Christ, to them he gave the right to be the sons of God. With respect to God's sovereignty, we have no rights. But with respect to his Covenant, he has given us some in Christ anyway. When I taught summer school at Oxford University, I was given a temporary library card at the Bodleian Library, the main library at Oxford and one of the greatest collections in the world. The Bod is not open to the public: only members of the university are allowed to use it. At the door there are men dressed in black whose job is to frown balefully on any member of the poor unwashed masses who should be so bold as to attempt to profane the sacred precincts with his unworthy presence. But when you flash your card, they suddenly become very obsequious and bow and usher you in. You have certain rights as a member of the university. I had this right not because of who I was in myself, but because of my relationship with the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies of Keble College. And so with God. Because of your relationship with Christ you have a RIGHT to come in. No one can deny you.
In the second place, this access is a RELATIONSHIP. To refer to Jn. 1:12 again, Christ gives us the right to be children of God. So it is more than merely a legal right. The claim you have is personal. You are a son or a daughter! It is hard to picture Mark [our newest father] telling little Nathan to stand in line until he gets around to him. He is trying to teach him not to interrupt, but it is pretty obvious that only Debby has a higher claim on Mark's attention. Because Mark is finite, Nathan does have to learn the manners of not interrupting a conversation that has already begun. But God does not have that problem! Yes, the relationship we have with Christ gives us that kind of access to the Father.
Finally, this access is not only a right and a relationship, but it also involves a RESPONSIBILITY. In coming to God who is our Father, we must not forget that He is also the King. And in coming to God as our King, we must not forget that He is also our heavenly Father. Our responsibility then is to model this balance of Worship and Warmth, Fear and Familiarity, Awe and Intimacy, before the world. For they will see God in how we relate to Him.
Since then we have been granted such boldness and confident access, let our prayers be laden with worship and adoration worthy of a God who at such great cost has given us such a great privilege. Let Praise be the Prelude, Adoration the Introduction, and Devotion the Doorway to our prayers, even as the Lord's model prayer reminds us: "Hallowed be thy name." And let us practice the privilege of instant prayer, even as Nehemiah did (Neh. 2:4-5). Let God be included in every moment of our day, so that we can turn to Him immediately, even in the middle of a thought. John Anderson, a camp counselor I worked with many years ago, gave our campers some excellent advice: "When you finish your devotions in the morning, don't say Amen." Prayer, and the bold access that is its essence, has not ended then. The conversation with God continues as the backdrop to everything else; we just aren't speaking at every moment. If another conversation takes place, He is part of it. Thus, practicing the access Paul teaches here, we become more aware of, and more consciously acting on, the privilege in which we believe. And that is a pretty good definition of spiritual growth.
Since then we have such a great high priest who has given us such access, let us be bold to enter before the throne of grace, saying, "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen."
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams