Warning! Trying to grow closer to God is bad for you!

We all long for a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God.

As humans it is built-in to our very being to have relationship with God.

And yet, this desire can sometimes be the very thing that separates us from Him.

You see, this desire and growing in our relationship with God are both very good things. The problem is the process that we create in the middle, how we choose to fill in the gap of going from A to Z.

Creating bad theology

How we fill in this gap comes from a complex equation of what we are told about God and ourselves, and, possibly more importantly, the way we talk about God.

There are lots of examples of our language in the Christian church, despite good intentions, doing damage to people’s walks with God.

Today, however, I want to go after just one, and it’s one of the most damaging ones – the idea of “growing closer to God”.

Man is that a stupid thing to say! But we all say it, even as I write this I must confess that I still say this phrase occasionally. Is so deeply ingrained in the way we talk as Christians.

You are IN Him

Let’s think about it for a second. We as Christians have become one with the Godhead. We are in the Father and the Father is in us. We are in Christ and Christ is in us. We are in the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is in us.

So, how are we planning on growing closer to God?

Let’s look at how Jesus described it in John 15. He said that he was the vine and we were the branches, and that we were to merely abide in him.

Think about that. Imagine for me a tree, it’s a big solid tree with a huge trunk and lots of branches.

Now answer me this… which branch is closer to the trunk?

Stupid question, right? They are all IN the trunk. There is no closer or further away. They are all safely rooted in the trunk.

Now let me ask you another question. Which ones have been there the longest?

That one is obvious too, right? The big, thick branches. Obviously.

What’s my point?

My point is this…

We don’t grow closer to God. We grow IN God.

We are as close as we will ever get, and it is by enjoying that union and resting in that union with Him that we will grow and be nurtured into a big, thick, solid branch that will bear much fruit.

We must change our language

This language of feeling far from God and needing to grow closer to Him is extremely damaging! It’s creating a false theology for many people of how their relationship with God should work.

It places their union with God upon their performance rather than on Jesus’ work on the cross.

Let’s start focusing on the fact that we are one with God and from that let’s all grow IN Him. And let’s see this stupid concept of trying to grow closer to God end.

Isn’t this just semantics?

I get accused of this all the time. I know it’s just a language thing, and I know that many mature, wise Christians use it to describe a deep meaningful process of growing IN the Father, just like I’m talking about here. However, my point remains – while some Christians can interpret it correctly, very few can. There are more Christian walks harmed by this language than the ones who benefit from it!

Imagine a baby believer, or even a non-believer hearing a conversation about “growing closer to God” in what way does that paint a picture of the central message of the Gospel… our union with Christ? The answer is simple – in no way at all! It’s damaging and just because some people can interpret our bad choice of words, doesn’t mean we should keep using them.

As I said, I’m guilty as charged for using this language too but lets work together to try reform our language. Let’s be a part of the solution to this problem and help see the body walking in all it can, especially those who are very new branches and are not able to translate our terrible “Christianese” language.

So let me finish by asking you a question. What are some of the phrases we use in Christianity that cause confusion for less mature believers and what do you think we should be saying as an alternative?

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  1. Worst one I hear from kids… “Jesus died for our sins”… to which I ask “whose sins?” And they answer “all our sins”. They have been taught Jesus died for their sins as a group. I try to impress them to realize Jesus died for “my sins”. Until that hits home, it’s pointless asking them to share that news with their friends. In small groups I lead them by saying “I know Jesus died for my sins, but I am not sure about anyone else’s”. Then we go to scripture and let them decide as individuals if they know that to be true in their own lives. I see adults with the same confusion… and struggling with their own understanding of their salvation for the same reason. Don’t even get me started on ” Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe”. That one gets so misunderstood its painful to approach.

    • Haha – those are good ones. Absolutely, personification of the message is so huge! We often in our language distance ourselves from the message. The second one is terrible too… we are paying back God the loan shark. He paid it all and turned around to let us know what the new payment agreement is.

  2. I have trouble with scriptures like “draw near to me and I’ll draw near to you ”

    Or “If you pray and do not doubt you will receive otherwise you’re double minded and won’t receive anything from God..”

    I find these scriptures amongst others to be almost impossible to avoid and therefore defeating..and contradictory to God’s merciful and gracious personality .

    Anyone have some decent interpretations that could turn my thinking around??


    • Hey Nancy – absolutely – I almost wrote a whole section on James 4:8 but decided to keep the article brief and too the point. (there are no end to scriptures we can find that contradict other scriptures :) )

      For me when we look at the context of James 4:8, “draw near to God and He will draw near to you” we find James writing to people who are purposely disobeying God, having gone back to the law, focusing on their own desires and efforts and basically rejecting God.

      There are times when we need to “draw near to God” but not in the sense that He has gone anywhere but rather that we ourselves have become blind to “Christ in us”. We choose to be blind to our union with Him and need to come back to that reality. In “drawing close to God” we find that “He draws close to us”. We find that the distance was not one in reality but in our minds. As it says in Colossians “you became enemies with God in your mind”.

      God cannot leave or forsake us. He can’t draw any closer to us, but we can have varying experiences of that truth depending on our beliefs.

      Hope that helps.

    • If you pray to God doubting that He can do it, what is the point of praying at all? The bible says to Trust in The Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Basically, even if a situation arises that you are convinced that nothing can be done, you put your trust in Jesus.
      Joshua had the faith to ask God to make the sun stand still. He knew God’s promise to him and in order to fulfill that promise, the sun needed to stand still.
      I may not be making any sense, but the point is God created the world and us. If you don’t trust in God, then you are doubting. We have to know that God has the power to do everything. As long as you dwell on that, you will not doubt His ability to answer your prayers.

  3. This is a great article! I think language Is huge! I’ve also started changing lyrics to songs that use this language. It’s amazing how many songs use these bad ideas of distance from God!

    I could use some advice – I know a few hot off the press baby Christian’s. they are excited and I want to gift them with a resource that will help them in their young walk. Do you have any suggestions of resources that are simple and don’t use distance mentality language? One girl is 13 and the other is 42.

    • Hi Kristen,

      Joseph Prince’s Destined to Reign is a favorite of mine as it’s so simple and yet so powerful. And lots of Andrew Wommacks books are great too!

      “The Gospel in 10 words” by Paul Ellis is great too – http://escapetoreality.org/about-2/pauls-book/

      A lot of books are geared round older believers coming out of the older mindset though hard to find good stuff aimed at baby believers – maybe I should write something!

      Anyway – Send me an email at phildrysdale.com/contact and I’d like to send you a free copy of my daily devotional ebook to share with them :) Hopefully it should help, it’s pretty easy to read and too the point and I agree with everything in it! haha

  4. The whole litany of the Bible is… you know, perfect, powerful, inspired… All true, but there are so many problems that arise from the language. First, the problem of interpretation. Yes the Bible is perfect in the original languages. But our English translations are demonstrably imperfect. For example: faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. Word here is rhema, not logos, and that understanding changes the whole meaning of the verse.

    One of the other problems with this kind of language is it inadvertently (I hope!) encourages young believers to relate to the written word as if it was the Living Word. Yes, the Bible is all that we say it is, but it does not save us, is not our King, our Brother, our Friend. It is not our Way, it is the light that shows us the Way.

    • Absolutely Mark – huge portions of the church get themselves in trouble by elevating the Bible to incorrect heights. It’s perfect, powerful and inspired like you said but it’s not God, nor does it replace Him as much of the church seem to try! I try to go out of my way to refuse to refer to it as “the word” as it only causes confusion. They are scriptures, but they are not “the Word”, the Logos (Jesus) can speak through them in a rhema word but the Bible is neither. It is merely His recorded word through which He can speak to us. Thanks for sharing!

  5. That the bible is the word of God. The way it can and is misinterpreted to fuel both good and evil. I feel that the bible is a tool to awaken the truth in all of us. For some people their truth is ignorance and hatred. For some truth is love. God is love yet many lean on the bible to fuel their disdain and hatred for humanity and themselves.

    • So true Sandy, the Bible is read through our lense of “the Word” – Jesus who is the exact representation of the Father. If we see Jesus and the Father as He is, loving, gracious, merciful we will read the bible through that lens. If we see Him as judging, angry and wrathful then it’s no surprise we read the Bible with that lens!

  6. “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much…” Luke 16:10
    We have ALL looked at that scripture and been told, if God can trust us with the little things, then He will bless us with more.
    UGH what a HORRIBLE conclusion to that Scripture. It hit me just today with Lauren, my 8yr old daughter. Funny, we were talking about the dog chewing up his blankets. Lauren said he shouldn’t have any then if he isn’t taking care of the one he has. I said, no, I will still get him one. Lauren asked why and I said I will keep getting him another blanket to lay on bc he needs it.
    And then it hit me! God doesn’t bless us depending on how well WE take care of what we have, HE BLESSES us b/c we NEED. However if your not THANKFUL for what has been given, no matter how much more is given to you, it will never be enough! In other words, if what is given to you seems small and insignificant….it won’t matter how BIG it is, it won’t mean much to you b/c you didn’t appreciate what needs have already been met! And b/c of that..it will cause YOU to see God differently then who He really is!

    • Thanks for sharing that Amanda! My parents have a dog that chews his blankets to bits too! I can totally understand what Lauren says as so much of me wants “justice” and I love that the heart of the Father shines through you to extend mercy and grace to your dog haha :)

  7. Several phrases/lies that confused me growing up before I woke up to grace:

    “God is in control.” (tough one, but gets our focus away from essentially blaming God for every bad thing. We say this forgetting the one who steals, kills, and destroys, and forgetting the authority we have as sons through Christ.)

    “God wants to use you.” (I’m not a robot waiting for life to possess me having no will. I’m a son of God.)

    “No one is perfect, we’re all sinners.” (should be: no one is perfect in behavior, but because we are perfect in Christ we allow grace to work from the inside out. )

    “God is calling you to _____” (This one irritated me most actually. It never settled with me when someone said it. The only things we’re called to are written down for us – be love, be Christ, preach Christ, forgive others, etc. He called us to love. And I hear people say, “I think God is calling me to go to this country,” or “God is calling me to go back home,” or when the storm hits when maintaining a vision from God, losing focus and thinking, “Maybe God is calling me to something else.” But we as sons have freedom of choice, and wherever we go, He goes, heaven goes, and hell leaves. However, there are visions/prophecies to help one another get going, encourage them that God has some fun things in store for His children, and keep us motivated to doing the things we desire most in our hearts, because after all those desires are linked with Christ. But I don’t think we need to say “God is calling me to this.”

    Thanks for this post Phil. There’s a lot of them out there.

    • Wow – That’s a big list Philip! Awesome stuff man! You could make a sermon series for weeks on that alone! Totally agree that so many of those phrases are routinely used to cause huge misunderstandings in the body. I love your rewording of “No one is perfect, we are all sinners”! Great stuff! Thanks for sharing!

  8. You know how people sing and cry at ‘Cast me not away from your Presence O Lord, take not the Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the Joy of my Salvation and renew your Spirit within me’. I almost weep at even seeing that in Psalm 5111-12. That’s just a sorry Song. Well, if people will understand that David, the writer of that Psalm was an OLD-TESTAMENT prophet. As Andrew Wommack says the difference between the Old testament and New testament is not a blank page between Malachi and Matthew. Jesus is the difference. And you know what Phil? In the new testament Jesus said ‘All that the Father gives to me will come to me and the one who comes to me I WILL NEVER CAST OUT John 6:37.
    Jesus said I will pray the father and He will give you another Comforter that He may abide with You FOREVER. John 14:16
    HE will NEVER LEAVE us nor FORSAKE US, Hebrews 13:5
    We didn’t loose the Joy of our Salvation. Never. How can we? Some folks think they lost it probably because they can’t feel it. That’s been Carnal. But we have JOY in our spirit, its always there.
    WE are blessed with all Spiritual blessings in heavenly places IN CHRIST
    Our life as believers is IN CHRIST.

    • Thanks so much for that Gbenga! Those are some seriously encouraging scriptures! I agree… it’s very sad to see those old testament phrases read out of context and applied to the believers life so incorrectly! Thanks for sharing!

  9. One of the ones I despise the most is, “the devil comes to kill, steal and destroy.” The scripture does not say that it says, “the THIEF comes to . . . ” If the scripture is read in context it talks about that false teachers and false ideas are what can kill, steal and destroy you. In other words not knowing that Christ has completed it all and that as “HE is so are YOU in THIS WORLD” (1 John 4:17).
    If it is read the other way, that the devil (little d) is the thief, than you are given him power that Jesus took away when He (Jesus) triumphed over him (the devil) openly (Colossians 2:15)(like what the Romas did over their enemies, they did a triumph over them (it was a parade that showed EVERYONE that their enemy is completely and utterly destroyed)). Don’t give satan (little s) power that he does not have. Remember, “As a man think in his heart, so is he.”
    By the way, just want to make it clear that satan (little s) has ZERO POWER; ZERO, ZILCH, NADA: he is a ZERO with the rim knocked off. (Love me some Andrew Wommack sayings, hahahaha).

    • That’s awesome Omar – there is definitely an over glorifying of the devil’s power in the church today. Col 2:15 is one of my favourites to remind me that he is most definitely not a powerful entity! I AM! :)

  10. I have young kids (4 & 5) and I was raised in the church. So many things I grew up with are not necessarily wrong to teach them, but they also aren’t biblical. I understand why we have dumbed down salvation for the kids, but was wondering if you knew a more biblical way of talking to them about the ol’ “asking Jesus into their heart”. Any thoughts?

    • Hi Stacey, sorry for taking so long to get back to you. Your comment got lost in a sea of other comments on my blog. That is such a great question I think it’s a really important one to be asking ourselves.

      Our relationship with Christ is entirely based on our acceptance of his acceptance of us. So for me I don’t bother with big long “sinners prayers” and don’t bother with very confusing language. Rather, I focus on doing the only thing necessary. Saying thank you. Accepting what Jesus system for us and enjoy get thereof.

      So what I would recommend is just explaining how Jesus loves your children, really values them, sees them as his own children, accepts them for who they are – even with all their mistakes – and that he longs to have a whole lot of fun with them, to do life with them and be their best friend. All they have to do to enjoy that is say “yes please!”

      I think we overcomplicate the whole thing especially for children -ultimately God has forgiven them and embraced them as His children and requires nothing from them except their acceptance of that free gift of grace readily available for them. So let’s just help them accept his grace.

      Hope that helps and makes sense :)

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