Draw Near to God
James 4:8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. (4:8a)
James first addressed the fact that one must not be a friend of the world if he is going to draw near to God. The Hebrew Old Testament spoke of God’s people, the Israelites, ‘coming near to Jehovah.’ (Ex. 19:22; Jer. 30:21; Ez. 44:13) In the New Testament, we have the Father sending humanity his only-begotten Son. (John 3:16) The apostle John tells us, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only-begotten one from the Father, full of grace and truth.” As we learn from the example, Christ set while on earth, it is by prayer, repentance, obedience and exclusive devotion to God that Christians can draw near to God. “Now the Spirit of God came upon Azariah, the son of Oded, and he went out before Asa and said to him, ‘hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: Jehovah is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.’” (2 Chron. 15:1-2) As we ‘get to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he sent’ (John 17:3), we will learn more fully of his love, power, wisdom, and justice, which will guide us in the way that we should go, as he draws near us as well.
Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (4:8b)
The book of James accuses his readers of being guilty of wars at 4:1 and murder at 2:11. Obviously, as was mentioned earlier, James was not talking about literal wars and murder. Rather, he was speaking of ones that were guilty of murderous hatred for others, infighting, slander, and the like. This is why he told them to cleanse their hands. This would have sounded familiar to those familiar with Isaiah, which reads,
Isaiah 1:15-16 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
15 When you spread out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
Yes, even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen.
Your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
James’ readers were sinners in more ways than inherited sin or just occasionally committing a sin, they were living in sin and needed to repent, i.e., turnaround from their bad ways. Hands in a figurative sense had many different meanings, but James is using them to symbolize deeds, as almost all work, especially in Bible times, was carried out with the hands. The sinful actions that these ones were carrying out spiritually polluted their hands. Many times, within Scripture, the heart is used figuratively for “the center of the self, of its feeling and willing, has purity as one of its chief virtues (cf. Matt 5:8; 1 Tim 1:5).” (Richardson 1997, 187) Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matt. 15:19) Our heart “is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9), which brings forth sinful thinking, leading to sinful works if cultivated. Therefore, we must cleanse the inner person, which will result in good works, which also is facilitated by the power of the Holy Spirit.
James is the only writer to use the expression double-minded, which refers to their impurity of heart and their failure to trust in God. The Greek is literally speaking of two-souled ones, meaning they are trusting in both God and something else: self, world, money, and the like. We likely recall that James said the one who asks God for wisdom and doubts was a double-minded man. In other words, he is an indecisive man, namely, wavering in mind. This one fails to ask God because he is not certain God will or can answer him. Another aspect of this is, one who may ask, but does not have faith either, so he depends on his own wisdom; and then, blames God when things do not go as he had hoped. James said of this man; he is “unstable in all his ways.” James’ readers were wavering between being a friend to God and being friends with the world, that is, figuratively, adultery.
We need to be every vigilant in our relationship with God. Our inherited sin and human weaknesses, coupled with Satan’s world catering to our fallen flesh, will contribute to our drifting away (Heb. 2:1), drawing away (3:12-13), falling away (6:6), becoming sluggish (6:12), grow weary or fainthearted (12:3), or turning away (12:25). One can move away from the Christian faith for many different reasons, and it can be sudden, or so slow that we do not even realize it is taking place. (See Rom. 7:18-19) Therefore, we must employ constant, unending watchfulness.
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