The past few days I’ve had computer troubles. For several mornings in a row, my laptop has refused to connect to our internet. Our modem and router are located on the main level of our home, and my desk is in a downstairs bedroom. It was extremely frustrating. I would select our internet from the list, enter the password and receive the message “Unable to connect.” After I exhausted my little knowledge of how to fix it, I would take my computer upstairs and sit right in front of the modem. I would delete all the “memorized” connections and start fresh with ours. Eventually, it would finally connect (usually long past the time I needed it). You can imagine my frustration thinking it was fixed when I opened my laptop the next morning and it wouldn’t connect again.
It finally dawned on me that I needed a closer connection. This morning, after one failed try, I retrieved the internet extender we used at our last house and plugged it in, right next to my desk. After it booted up, my computer had no trouble connecting. The proximity solved the problem. (And saved my sanity!)
As I read 2 Corinthians 6-7 this morning, I was reminded of the importance of proximity. Paul is passionate and determined that the Corinthian believers understand, apply, and live out what he is teaching.
2 Corinthians 6:1 – And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain.
Vain is translated from the Greek kenos, meaning empty, of no purpose, void of truth. It is used to describe one who is “destitute of spiritual wealth, of one who boasts of his faith as a transcendent possession yet is without the fruits of faith.” It is also used in scripture to describe one’s labor or acts, which result in nothing; they are vain, fruitless, and without effect.
Over and over, I entered the correct information in my computer network’s password, but my laptop received it in vain. It had no effect because I was too far away from the source. The mechanics were there, but the connection was lost. That’s what Paul is talking about when he says there is a possibility of receiving the grace of God in vain. We experience salvation, we sincerely believe and put our faith in Jesus, but we live so far away from Him that grace has no effect.
This is why Paul was so passionate about dealing with sin in the church. It’s why he was willing to risk relationships to confront his beloved brothers and sisters, in hopes that the sorrow he caused would lead to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:8-11). It’s why he could challenge them to look at the promises God made to indwell them, as temples of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 6:16) and having that promise, to cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Corinthians 7:1).
Paul is not talking about legalistic perfection. He’s talking about proximity. He’s reminding us that God lives in us, and the Holy Spirit wants to complete, or perfect, the practical outworking of God’s holiness and purity and perfection in our lives. In order for that to happen, we have to stay close. We have to make a conscious decision not to be bound together with unbelievers, to partner with unrighteousness, or to participate in idol worship – anything that takes priority or precedence over our relationship to God (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). We are to “come out and be separate” because we are light, not darkness.
That little internet extender is a good illustration of the Holy Spirit. God is in heaven; we are on earth. The Holy Spirit brings the presence of God closer; indeed, into our very beings. God does dwell with men just as He promised. But we have a choice as to whether or not we receive this gift of grace in vain. We can deny, disobey, grieve, and ignore the Holy Spirit. We can willfully sin, even though it makes us miserable as the Holy Spirit will convict us. We can harden our hearts until we can barely hear His voice.
Positionally, we are as close to God as we need to be if we have sincerely put our faith in Jesus, repented of our sins, and received the gift of salvation. We have all the “mechanics” needed for a vibrant, growing, soul-satisfying relationship with God. But our proximity – our willingness to let the Holy Spirit do His work in us – will determine how effective that salvation is. Continuing in sin, or even just apathy or laziness in our spiritual walk and commitment to God’s Word and prayer will keep us “trying to connect” in vain.
How’s your connection this morning? Are you frustrated, empty, and tired of trying the same things over and over without effect? It’s an easy solution. Ask God to search your heart for anything that displeases Him or that is keeping you from walking closely, in the power of the Holy Spirit. His presence is exactly what you need.
(Read James 4:4-10 for the “cliff’s notes” version in slightly more direct terms.)