How do we draw close to God?

James 4:8-9

Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded people. Be wretched and mourn and weep, let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy into gloom.


  1. The Greek grammar in verse 8 implies that this has to do with a personal relationship.
  1. cleanse your hands, you sinners,” speaks not of our hands, but of what we do with our hands, what we touch, what we participate in. It speaks of consecrating ourselves to God and God alone:


II Corinthians 6:17

. . . touch no unclean thing, then I will receive you,


This verse speaks more to acceptance by God than it does about drawing closer to Him, but the principle still applies. We need to “touch no unclean thing” in effort to draw closer to Him.

As it has to do with acceptance, God is speaking here and He tells us plainly and clearly that He will not receive us, we will not be accepted or welcomed, if we continue to participate in unclean things.


  1. The anarthrous construction in the verse implies that we are to purify ourselves through “obedience to the truth” and loving on others…


I Peter 1:22

You have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth, in sincere love out of a pure heart; I exhort you to love one another earnestly,


According to Peter, we purify (cleanse) our souls by walking in obedience to the truth. This does not speak of the imputed sanctification/holiness of Christ to our accounts, it speaks directly to the point that God demands holiness from us and that He has arranged things in such a way that we purify and sanctify ourselves by walking in obedience to Him…


Hebrews 12:14

Strive for . . . holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.


Those who claim that we do not have to walk in obedience to God in order to get saved, may well be correct in that assessment, but to carry that mantra over into maintaining one’s eternal life is to commit spiritual suicide. Unless a person is walking in obedience to God, he is not striving for holiness…and if he is not striving to live a life of holiness, then his claim-to-fame of being saved once in the past will not take him into heaven.

The holiness that Apollos speaks of here is, again, not the imputed holiness/sanctification of Christ to our account, it is the ‘rubber-meets-the-road’ daily application of living out the Word of God. In other words, this holiness is our part, not God’s part.


  1. purify your hearts, you double-minded people,” our hearts are not pure when we are double-minded – that is, stop ‘riding the fence’…stop placing one foot in Christ and the other foot in the world (from our perspective). Stop running and fussing over things of the world, and start focusing on the higher, spiritual, godly things.


Being double minded means that we have an affinity for (relationship with…sympathy for…interest in…attraction to…a ‘causal connection’ with) both God and something in the world, causing one to mind (think about, take action toward) both spiritual and worldly spheres – divided in mind and attention. In other words, one is trying to be a friend of God and a friend of the world – and doing such makes them an enemy of God…


James 4:4

You adulterers! Don’t you understand that friendship with the world is animosity towards God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.


If a person is double minded, it is because they are clinging to something or things that are of the world…a worldly attitude, or the world itself. They might well love God, but they demonstrate that they love the world more than they love Him, and Jesus said that if we do not love Him above and beyond all else then we are not worthy [1] of Him (Mat. 10:37).

The things of God and the Spirit, and the things of the world, are diametrically opposed to one another; so, in effect, when one ‘has a foot’ on both sides of the fence, he is in fact an enemy of God playing the part of the hypocrite. We cannot move closer to God because one leg is over the fence, and God cannot bless a person who is whoring themselves out to the things of the world.

We are to separate ourselves from the world, not make friends with it, not partake of it, or any of its wicked themes, not allow it to influence our lives because that influence leads downward into spiritual darkness and shadow (Rom. 1:18-32).


  1. we are to separate ourselves from the world and all of its corrupting influences – particularly people – as that is what the context of II Cor. 6:17 is addressing…


II Corinthians 6:14-17

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore, go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you,


Paul doesn’t just address not touching the unclean thing here, he addresses the larger picture of separating from sinful people because if we do not, eventually their wickedness will rub off onto us, corrupt our thinking, and cause us to fall or walk away from God. The person who walks in obedience to God really doesn’t have much in common with the person who is in the midst of rebelling against God. Hence, the person of Light has nothing in common with the person of darkness…the believer has nothing substantial in common with the unbeliever – they are actually enemies of one another in spirit, and animosity is generated between them due to that friction.


  1. Touching “the unclean thing” is figurative for participating in the sinful, corruptive, things of the world. If you are choosing to look at it, then you are participating in it. If you are doing it, then you are participating in it. You cannot participate in Christ and participate in the world – it is either one or the other in reality…


I Corinthians 10:21

You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.


Those who think they can participate in worldly things and still keep one foot in Christ, are sadly mistaken, and unless they repent and turn to God whole heartedly, they will end up in eternal flames, regardless of what they believe…regardless of whether they were at one time saved or not. The doctrine of ‘once saved, always saved’ is a false doctrine, not taught in the Bible anywhere.

What am I touching that is sin?

What am I watching/listening to that is sin?

What am I thinking about/imagining that is sin?

What am I saying/doing that is sin?


What am I not doing or saying that is sin?


  1. what is God saying here? He is saying that if a person wants to draw close to God – indeed, even be accepted by God (eisdechomai = to receive into favor or communion, fellowship, relationship) – one must separate himself from the world, the things and corrupting issues of the world, and the corrupting influences of those who are not saved or not walking with God. In short, this verse speaks much more about being accepted as a child of God, than it does about drawing closer to Him. But it still applies to the latter…


  1. Returning to an earlier passage –


I Peter 1:22

You have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth, in sincere love out of a pure heart; I exhort you to love one another earnestly,


Here Peter echoes Jesus’ words in prayer to the Father…


John 17:17

Sanctify them in the Truth; Your Word is Truth.


In other words, it is not enough to be a hearer only of the Word of Truth, for hearing only does not purify our souls. We must put the truth of the Word into action in obedience in order for the purifying work to be processed.

Obedience is a two-sided coin: righteousness (obeying God in doing what is right in His eyes) and holiness (obeying God by not doing what He tells you not to do). It is ‘doing good’ and it is ‘not doing what is wickedness.’ It is very important that we understand that this is our part, this is not the imputed righteousness and holiness of Christ to our account – and, indeed, the Scriptures bear witness to the fact that if we are not striving for personal righteousness and holiness, then that which is imputed to us from God will cease.


  1. obedience to the truth” is another way of saying “obedience to the Faith” (Rom. 1:5; 16:26), where the word pistis is used as a metonym for the articles and doctrines of the Christian system of faith. In other words, we purify our souls by walking in obedience to what the doctrines of Christianity tells us to do – as well as not doing what they tell us not to do.


We do this, according to the next section of the verse, “in sincere love out of a pure heart.” A pure heart (katharos) means a heart that is not only clean and free of worldly contaminates, but also implies that it is pure because we do not have one foot in the world, becoming polluted through friendship and association with the world.

When it comes to where the “rubber meets the road,” we move closer to God through consecration to Him and purifying ourselves through obedience to God and His Word.

Someone might ask the question, “Why would you want to move closer to God?” The answer to that question, I suppose, might be different for each person. For me, I have been close to the Lord in the past and then allowed the devil to work on me and mess that relationship up…and I want it back! I can’t put into words eloquently enough how it feels to be sitting in God’s presence when you are close enough to actually feel Him in your room, or when you are walking and talking with Him and you can feel His presence with you. I crave personal experiences with the Lord like what I used to have, and I recognize that I had them with Him because I had moved close to Him.

I have had experiences with God that others only dream about, and while I am not pushing personal experience to the point of being unbalanced, I do believe that God wants us to get to know Him here, today, where we are. We can only come to know God on a personal level by experiencing Him in intimate, personal ways – when He would choose to interact with us. That’s what it’s all about today, God doesn’t want to wait until we get to heaven to interact with us, He wants to do that today – especially because many of those interactions result in either our personal spiritual growth, or someone’s salvation.



     [1] axios (axioV), meaning an estimation of value or worth; used as it is in Mat. 10:37, “worthy of Me,” means that one is not worthy to be a friend of God, or to be cherished by Him or anyone.


About newcovenantunderstanding

Dr. Dave A. Schoch, Th.D., New Testament Studies email:
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