Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. James 4:8 (ESV)
It is not uncommon that I need to remind my twin boys to wash their hands when they use the restroom. Neither is it uncommon for them to question my directive. My response is to tell them, “Yes, you need to wash your hands.” I will also remind them that they need to use soap.
They will reluctantly follow through with my request, but it is not without complaint. And they will almost assuredly try to get away without washing their hands the next time.
Why do they question washing their hands? It is because they don’t recognize the need. There is no dirt on their hands, and they don’t see the germs that are present. They fail to grasp the importance of hygiene for preventing illness. Therefore, washing their hands seems irrelevant to them. They think that Dad is just being dad by demanding them to do something they don’t want to do.
In the verse above, James speaks of washing our hands and purifying our hearts. We might wonder, like my boys, why we need to do this. We think to ourselves that we don’t have any real dirt in our lives. We may have some germs, but our hands are not that dirty – at least not dirty like “other” people. We will just draw near to God by singing a song or reading our Bible. We will enter his good graces by putting a nice offering in the offering plate or by volunteering at the soup kitchen.
We think to ourselves that we never killed anyone, never been unfaithful to our spouse, or never stole money from anyone. We are clean for the most part in spite of our “small” indiscretions. Sure, we may wrestle with a bit of gluttony or a bit of pride. We might struggle with deceit or fits of rage. We may overindulge in alcohol or gambling. We might be fixated on reading dirty novels or searching porn on the internet.
The thing is that we don’t think of our faults as disqualifying us from God’s presence. We think of God as being permissive as we are. We will just draw near through our religious performance. But our God is a holy God. He does not tolerate sin. We fail to grasp the enormity of the moral depravity and our great need to clean our hands and purify our hearts. We cannot draw near to God with the dirt and the germs we have in our lives.
Drawing near to God starts with confession. It is to humble ourselves so that he might lift us up. Drawing near to God is not about what we can do for God. Drawing near to him about seeking his help, what he can do for us. It is admitting our need and our sin. It is recognizing we are not clean and that we need to wash be washed.
This washing is not with soap and water. This heavenly washing is to be washed with the blood of Jesus and the waters of your baptism. God is the one who makes you clean! We draw near through the forgiveness and grace he gives to us!
It’s just like soap and water. If confession is the water, God’s forgiveness is the soap. It is not our confession alone that makes us clean, but God’s forgiveness when we confess our sin (see 1 John 1:8-9).
- What does it mean to draw near to God?
- How do you wash your hands and purify your heart?
- Where do you need God’s cleansing in your life?