Once upon a time there reigned a powerful, brave, and noble king. As an intrepid warrior he had freed the subjects of his realm from the tyrannical rule of an invading monarch. Reigning now with integrity and compassion, the good king secured peace for his subjects and with tireless self-sacrifice provided everything necessary for their prosperity. The domain flourished under his faithful rule. Needless to say, his subjects highly esteemed their king.
One day several village children naively decided to journey to the king’s palace in order to pay him a visit. With childish enthusiasm they began to plan their grand expedition. When the discussion turned to how they should present themselves to their liege, they realized they knew nothing of the protocol for approaching a king at court. Everyone had a different idea, and they began to argue among themselves as to whose approach was the right one.
An older girl from the village happened upon the chaotic scene. She scolded each of the children for claiming his or her opinion was the truth. They needed to respect one another’s viewpoint, she explained. “Each of you is free to form your own opinions on how to approach the king, but you simply cannot insist that everyone else must accept your approach as the only way. If you approach the king with respect and sincerity,” she assured the children, “he will gladly welcome each of you on your terms.”
Heeding the girl’s sage advice, the children embarked on their journey. They were all content to hold their subjective opinions and were pleased to extend to each of the other children in the group the freedom to devise his or her unique approach to the king. Ironically, the children never thought to investigate what the king himself thought about the matter.
The prevailing religious philosophy of our day is reflected in the conclusion of this gaggle of village children. Instructive voices insist that we are free to form our own opinions about how to approach God. As long as we don’t break the cardinal rule of telling someone else they must believe as we do, all will end well. God is sufficiently accommodating to welcome all who approach Him on whatever terms they sincerely believe will please Him. All religions and all approaches end at the same happy terminus: a welcoming God Who is pleased to receive us as we are, however we choose to appear before Him. The presupposition on which such thinking hinges, of course, is that the King of heaven has no ultimate concern for how we conceive of Him, let alone how we approach Him.
Against this orientation, anyone willing to get an honest read on the Bible’s storyline will discover that the God of the Bible insists on being approached on His terms, not on ours. A perusal of the following texts clearly establishes this point: Genesis 4:1-7, 11:1-9; Exodus 3:1-6; 19:1-20:26, 24:1-40:38; Isaiah 55:6-7; John 6:28-51, 14:6; Romans 1:16-3:26.
To insist that someone’s sincerely held religious beliefs are invalid is indeed audacious if the only criterion for making such a judgment is the persuasion that one’s personal opinion is innately superior to that of others. However, orthodox Christianity hinges on the conviction that God is objectively known through written texts. The authority of these biblical texts is widely debated, to be sure, but there is no question that they present the sovereign King of heaven as having a decided opinion about how His subjects must approach Him. To dismiss the exclusive nature of these texts or disregard the meticulous instruction they provide is to reject their ultimate authority over the affairs of mankind.
As the village children journeyed on their merry way to the king’s palace, one little boy broke ranks. The further they walked the more fervently he insisted that he knew exactly how the king must be approached and that all the other children must agree with him if they hoped to be received by their liege. The other children grew increasingly frustrated with what they perceived to be the boy’s arrogant disrespect. They ridiculed him. Ridicule turned to mockery. Finally, the children grew so tired of the boy’s intolerance of divergent opinions, they beat him mercilessly in order to silence him.
At long last the children crested the final hill and came into full view of the king’s palace. As they did, their hearts sunk and their faces fell. A cold fear overtook them as the utter magnificence of the palace overwhelmed their inept senses. All confidence they had to approach the king on their own terms evaporated on the spot. They now knew, instantly and intuitively, that what the king expected of them was all that mattered—but they had no idea what that was. Deeply embarrassed, and with heads hung low, they slowly turned to journey back to their village.
To their astonishment, the little boy they had pummeled along the way broke free from the group and approached the guards at the magnificent entrance gate to the palace with intrepid confidence. As the other children stood wide-eyed in a tight huddle, he motioned for his trembling peers to join him. His face was bruised and his lower lip bloodied from the abuse he had suffered at their hands along the way. Yet his confident smile somehow reassured them.
“Come on, follow me,” he cried. “You see, there is something I was instructed not to tell you until I stood at this gate. I am a close friend of the king’s son! I assure you, we cannot approach the king on my authority—not on my terms, and not on yours. But the prince promised that when he meets us here at the gate, he will take us in to meet his father. The son is our only way in.”
The Bible reveals that we must approach God on His terms because we are sinners, and He is not. On a human level, there is nothing inherently evil in tattered, unkempt village children approaching a king at court or in the king receiving them just as they are. But when sinners approach God, we approach the sovereign of the universe Who dwells in unapproachable, pristine holiness. To receive us as we are, on our own terms, would violate God’s justice and moral purity. God must insist that sinners approach Him on His terms lest we be consumed by the blazing glory of His white-hot holiness. To receive us on our own terms would ultimately violate the nature of God’s love, which is not content to leave us all in the misery and filth of our sin.
Said simply, we must know the Son. Faith in the punishment Jesus bore as our substitute on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24-25) and faith in His resurrection from the dead (1 Cor. 15:1-7, 13-23) are essential qualifications for sinners who propose to stand in the presence of God and live to tell about it. We must approach the Father in the company of the Son, trusting in His merits alone to fit us for such fellowship (Rom. 3:21-24).
So for this King, not accepting us as we are, not permitting us to approach Him on our own terms is ultimately not a demonstration of His disfavor, but of His grace. This King demonstrates His love to us by presenting the gift of His Son and by liberating from the tyranny of sin all who turn from their sin in repentance to put their trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior (Rom. 5:8-9, 14-18).
Yes, this King has a decided opinion about how we approach Him. The terms of that approach are both just and full of grace (Rom. 3:26). They are also our only entrance into God’s kingdom, where unspeakable joy and unending glory await weary pilgrims who humbly approach the throne of the Father (John 14:6, Acts 4:12).