By Mike Willis
The exhortation in James 4:8 says, “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.” Each Christian should be dedicated to drawing nearer to God. The chorus of one of our songs says,
Draw me nearer, nearer blessed Lord,
To the cross where Thou hast died,
Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer blessed Lord,
To thy precious bleeding side.
James 4:4-10 tells us how to draw nearer to our God. Let us observe what we must do to draw nigh to God.
1. Divorce ourselves from the world. James wrote, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (4:4). James stated what Jesus before him had said, namely that one cannot possibly serve two masters at the same time (Matt. 6:24; cf. 1 Jn. 2:15-17; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1). A person never can draw nigh to God so long as he is in love with the world.
James calls those Christians who love the world “adulterers.” The word “adultery” makes a spiritual application of the literal meaning of the word. Adultery is committed when a married person is unfaithful to his mate, becoming involved with another. The Christian is married to Christ; he is the bride of Christ (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:22-33). When he forsakes Jesus in order to dally with the world, he is guilty of spiritual adultery.
James continues, “Or do you suppose it is in vain that the scripture says, ‘He yearns jealously over the spirit which he has made to dwell in us’?” (4:5, RSV) The Lord God is a jealous God who will not tolerate his bride flirting with the world. He is like a jealous husband who takes offense when his bride is with another man. God earnestly desires fellowship with the spirit of man which he created.
2. Be humble. James stated that the second thing necessary to draw nigh to God is humility. “Wherefore he said, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble” (4:6; cf. Prov. 3:34). The word tiresist” is translated from antitasso which means “to set oneself in battle array.” God sets himself in battle array against the proud. Even as General Schwarzkopf set the American forces in battle array against the military forces of Saddam Hussein, so also does God set himself against the proud. “Who can stand before God?” (Psa. 130:3)
Man’s arrogance and pride drive him away from his God. Man never can be nigh unto God when he is conceited and arrogant. Regardless of how much pretended piety the proud portray, they are not close to God.
3. Submit to God. The third thing one must do to draw near to God is submit to him. The word “submit” comes from hupotasso, a cognate verb to antitasso (resist), which means to “put oneself under.” The Iraqi soldiers who surrendered voluntarily submitted themselves to the American troops. Similarly, those who draw near to God must submit themselves to God.
One cannot draw near to God without submitting to: (a) The plan of salvation. Again, we remind ourselves, that regardless of how much pretended piety may be portrayed, those who have never obeyed the gospel plan of salvation have never submitted to God. (b) The Law of God. A person must also submit himself to the Law of God. The man who lives in disobedience to God’s law, as revealed in the pages of the New Testament, cannot be near to God, regardless of how much piety he may show. Our denominational and liberal brethren leave an appearance of being near to God all the while disobeying his law. James tells us that no one can be near to God without submitting to God. (c) His providence. In order to draw near to God, one also must accept the providence of God, even as Paul accepted his thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7-10).
4. Resist the Devil. In order to draw nigh to God, a Christian must resist the Devil’s temptations. James said, “Resist the devil, and lie will flee from you” (4:7). There is a Devil who attempts to destroy man’s soul. He goes about as a roaring lion to see whom he can devour (1 Pet. 5:8). The Christian is to resist (antitasso), set himself in battle array, against the Devil.
Nevertheless, God has so equipped the saint that he has enough resources to overcome the Devil’s temptations (see Eph. 6:10-18). Even as Jesus resisted the Devil through the proper use of the sword of the Spirit, so also can we.
5. Cleanse your hands andpurify your hearts. James continued to tell us how to draw near to God saying, “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” (4:8). Being familiar with the Levitical priests who washed their hands in the brazen laver before they entered the holy place of the Temple to draw near to God, James uses these figures to instruct us of our need to purify ourselves in order to draw nigh to God.
The cleansing of the hands is a figurative way of emphasizing the purity of life necessary to draw nigh to God. Sin must be put away.
The purifying of the heart occurs in obedience to the truth (1 Pet. 1:22). In order to keep one’s heart pure, he certainly must think on those things which are pure, holy, lovely, virtuous, praiseworthy, etc. (Phil. 4:8). One cannot have purity of heart so long as he fills his heart with moral filth.
One cannot draw near to God while being double minded (4:8). A double minded man vacillates between service to God and sin; he tries to maintain friendship with both the world and God at the same time.
5. Be afflicted, mourn and weep. In order to draw nigh to God, one must be afflicted and mournful. James said, “Be afflicted, mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness” (4:9).
James is not commending that morose, gloomy, somber disposition which is always dejected and depressed. Some Christians appear to believe so. They go through life looking like they have been eating rhubarb, lemons, and bitter herbs. If they are happy, their face does not show it. Christians certainly should not think that this disposition is a mark of holiness and piety.
The kind of mourning which is commanded is that about which Jesus spoke in the beatitudes. He said, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” The mourning was not over the death of a loved one, some financial disaster, or other temporal disappointment. Rather, the mourning was over sin. James is teaching that one cannot draw nigh to God without a godly sorrow for sin (2 Cor. 7:10). That disposition toward sin which laughs at sin must be broken. In its place must be genuine mourning over sin, such as David portrayed in Psalm 51.
In helping men to draw near to God, the gospel preacher must create this godly sorrow for sin. How can this be done? The preaching must expose sin as a violation of God’s word, show its consequences, and portray its eternal punishment. This can never be done with a “health and wealth gospel,” a PMA approach to preaching. Sin must be named so that those guilty can identify themselves and be brought to repentance. This should be done with kindness and love, like one beggar showing another beggar where there is food, but it must be done before conversion can occur.
Any preaching which methodically removes the kind of preaching which brings men to mourn over their sins has the impact of keeping the sinner separated from God. Although this preaching may portray itself as preaching which brings one close to God by making the individual feel good about himself, warm and happy, James tells us that the spirit of mourning over one’s sins is a necessary prelude to being near to God.
6. Exalted through humility. James said, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up” (4:10). Previously James has exhorted that Christians be humble (4:6). The new statement of this verse is that honor comes after humility. The Proverbs teach that “before honor is humility” (15:33; 18:12). Similarly Jesus was exalted to the right hand of God after he had given his life a ransom for many. Exaltation will come in the same manner for us. We can be exalted only after we have served others (Matt. 20:26-28).
In order to draw near to God, one must do the things which James taught. Do you wish to be near to God? Or, will you content yourself in that pretended piety which pleases proud men?
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 12, pp. 354, 374
June 20, 1991