“Draw Near With a Pure Heart”— Notes on James 4:8
The recipients of James’ letter are repeatedly addressed as “my brethren.” In James 4:8, however, they are addressed as “you sinners” and “you double-minded,” and are explicitly commanded to “draw near to God,” “cleanse their hands” and to “purify their hearts.”
Why would James describe his “brethren” with words that would not be fitting of fellow believers? To answer the question, we must look back to what James has communicated beforehand.
First, in James 1:5-8, he who lacks wisdom is told to “ask God who gives generously to all.” In this context, James describes the doubter who will not receive anything from the Lord because he is ““double-minded, unstable in all his ways.”
Next, in James 1:26-27, he who thinks he is “religious” is addressed, for “if... he does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”
Finally, in James 2:14-26, a hypothetical is given to drive home a point that James makes explicit— that is, “Show me your faith apart from works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!”
In keeping with James’ line of thought, it may be concluded that within the group of “the brethren,” there are those who merely profess faith in Christ but are not genuinely a part of God’s family. They associate with and are in the gathering of believers, but they remain “double-minded,” whose “religion is worthless,” as their belief is no different than the belief of “the demons who believe—and shudder!”
The command in James 4:8, then, makes perfect sense when addressed to “sinners” and the “double-minded.” They are commanded to “draw near to God,”— a command that comes with a promise, “and He will draw near to you.” To draw near is to approach or to come close. In the O.T., only the priests could come near; and, only by consecrating themselves (Exodus 22:19). Nadab and Abihu’s death makes clear that among those who come near to God, He “will be sanctified” (Leviticus 10). To come near to God required that one did so on God’s terms. To come near any other way equaled judgement.
In the N.T., we discover the reasons behind passages like Exodus 22 and Leviticus 10. To discover these reasons, take time to study Heb. 4:14-16, Heb. 10:19-22, and other similar passages that speak of Christ’s priesthood, of his death and resurrection, of his being “the only way” to God.
James, in calling for sinners to cleanse their hands and for the double-minded to purify their hearts, also calls believers to enjoy the privilege of being able to come near to God! Coming near speaks of the intimacy that a child of God has with his Father, “since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19). Recall Jesus’ earthly life, leaving us an example to follow in His steps. Recall also the exhortation of the writer of Hebrews: “since we have a great priest [Jesus] over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Heb.10:21-23).
How are you in your relationship to God? Are you the double-minded whose religion is worthless? Come to Jesus, the High Priest. He is the only way through whom you can draw near to God.
If Christ is your Lord and Savior, are you drawing near, growing in your relationship with Him as a genuine child of God? Are your steps separate from the world because you are now following Jesus? Ponder on 1 John 3:1-10.
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