Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Things were not going well for Jacob the Patriarch. A chain of disgraceful events, culminating in violation of his daughter and the revenge killing of the male population of an entire city by two of his sons, had dominated his life for the last several years. Then suddenly he received a call from the God of his fathers to go up to Bethel, make an altar, and worship there. And as Jacob surveyed his family, he realized that, if he was going to God in worship, some things had to change.
You may remember from our previous devotional in this series that in this section of the book of James we see a series of actions, and the results of those actions. By way of review, the first cause/effect pairing looked like this:
Action: Submit to God.
Result: The devil will flee when you resist.
And here, without further ado, is the second:
Action: Draw near to God.
Result: He will draw near to you.
This is an encouraging statement. God, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, is willing to draw near to little ‘ol insignificant me. But it does leave a big question unanswered: how exactly is one to draw near to God?
The answer is found in the next phrase: Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Simply put, the answer is to remove those aspects of our lives which distance us from God. Makes sense. But let’s look a little deeper into what James means here. I believe the key to understanding is found in the two anatomical references he uses here: hands and hearts.
Cleanse your hands, you sinners!
“Hands” are the parts of our bodies associated with doing things. Also significant is the word he uses to address his readers: sinners. So he’s telling people to cleanse their hands. And what are they doing with their hands? Well…sinning, of course.
So in the great tradition of Bob Newhart, James is looking at the bad things his readers are doing, and telling them to “stop it!” Do you want to draw near to God? Stop doing those bad things.
But in true James fashion, he doesn’t stop there. He understands that outward actions are indicative on an inward condition.
Purify your hearts, you double-minded!
By hearts, James means the seat of our inner life. This is why the “sinners” of the previous sentence have become the “double minded” of the current one. What is it that causes us to sin? Once again we are back to the culprit of the double mind, the divided priorities, the worldly values competing with our desire to be like Christ. So as we evaluate our actions, we must also evaluate our heart’s desires, from whence those actions spring.
So let’s edit the pairing we began with:
Action: Draw near to God (by modifying our outward behavior and inward motivations)
Result: He will draw near to you.
As Jacob surveyed his household, he realized that changes would have to be made before he went up to worship. In Genesis 35, we find his words to his family, and they echo those given by James (whose name, if you remember from the beginning of this series, was also Jacob) several millennia later:
And Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments.”
Notice the inward and outward focus of Jacob’s exhortation. As we begin another week of drawing near to God, may this be our focus as well.
Banner image: Jacob’s Journey and the Pillar of Bethel by Sébastien Bourdon
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