“Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up” (James 4:8-10).
The Word of God promises that if the believer draws nigh to God, God will draw nigh to him. A believer, a home, or a congregation can have revival. It is promised and guaranteed by God Himself. It is not accomplished by scheduling a revival meeting; it’s by doing what this passage commands.
This is the path of Christian holy living in a nutshell.
There is a sense in which everything in the Bible is necessary for a holy life that pleases God. All Scripture is able to make the man of God perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works (2 Timothy 3:16-17). And we deal with many things in Holiness: Pitfalls, Struggles, and Victory.
But this amazing passage in James provides a concise overview.
Draw nigh to God
The essence of holy Christian living is an intimate relationship with the triune God through the Son Jesus Christ by God’s Spirit.
Amazingly, God wants our devotion. He wants our attention, our passionate friendship. He wants our first love, and He is ever attentive to this. God was so pained at Israel’s apostasy that He called upon heaven and earth to consider the matter. “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me” (Isaiah 1:2). Christ took note that the church at Ephesus had left its first love (Rev. 2:5).
To draw nigh to God is to focus my attention on my relationship with Him, to nurture it, as I would in nurturing a relationship with a friend or wife or husband.
To draw nigh to God is to sing with the hymnodist,
Nothing between my soul and the Savior,
Naught of this world’s delusive dream;
I have renounced all sinful pleasure;
Jesus is mine, there’s nothing between.
Nothing between my soul and the Savior,
So that His blessed face may be seen;
Nothing preventing the least of His favor,
Keep the way clear! Let nothing between.
Nothing between, like worldly pleasure;
Habits of life, though harmless they seem,
Must not my heart from Him e’er sever;
He is my all, there’s nothing between.
Nothing between, like pride or station;
Self or friends shall not intervene;
Though it may cost me much tribulation,
I am resolved; there’s nothing between.
Nothing between, e’en many hard trials,
Though the whole world against me convene;
Watching with prayer and much self-denial,
I’ll triumph at last, with nothing between.
Cleanse the hands
One draws nigh to God by cleansing the hands. This is essential, for God is holy. “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth” (1 John 1:5-6).
Note in James 4 that God’s Word is not soft in regard to sin; it does not speak in gentle terms about turning from sin. James says, “Cleanse your hands, ye sinners.” This is the type of plain reproof that brings conviction and repentance and change. It is the type of preaching that God’s people need, yet so few preachers and teachers today are willing to give such reproof. Soft preaching produces soft Christian living. The softness of evangelical preaching has produced an evangelicalism that is meaningless in terms of sound belief and practice and true holiness. The same is happening among “fundamentalists.” An element of reproof and rebuke is absolutely essential to godliness (2 Timothy 4:2).
Cleansing the hands requires searching one’s life for those things that displease the Lord: anything that is worldly (1 John 2:16), anything that is an unfruitful work of darkness (Eph. 5:11). I must give God first place. I must ask Him to show me anything in my life that displeases or grieves Him or that has come between me and Him, whether it be a form of entertainment, education, job, an idolatrous love for someone or something, even something legitimate, an unwholesome friendship, neglect of God’s Word, neglect of church, or anything else.
There is no shortcut to revival that does not deal seriously with removing evil things from my life and heart. I must get serious about this matter. I must stop making excuses for my sin.
Purify the heart
One draws nigh to God by purifying the heart. The work of one’s hands is the product of one’s heart.
The heart is purified by removing evil imaginations. “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Whatever is polluting the heart and mind must be rejected and put away, whether it is music, television, movies, video, social media, Internet browsing, video games, literature, unwholesome conversations with friends, or anything else.
The Psalmist showed the way in this:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).
The heart is purified by the Word of God. A spiritual revival is always driven by the power of the Word of God operated by the Spirit of God. If you want to have a revival, immerse yourself in the Word of God. Become a real Bible student.
Establish a serious daily Bible study/prayer time and jealously guard this from interference by other things.
Learn how to study the Bible by taking a course like The Effectual Bible Student, available from Way of Life Literature. It can be purchased on DVD or downloaded for free from www.wayoflife.org. You must learn the principles of Bible interpretation and get the tools that you need to study effectively.
Memorize Scripture and meditate on it throughout the day.
Read books that will help you better understand the Bible and Christian living. We have made many dozens of serious books available for free downloading and reading. We have published a 20-volume Bible School curriculum called the Advanced Bible Studies Series and made it readily available at a low price. There is no tuition! We have published dozens of other serious Bible study materials, including the Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible & Christianity, Things Hard to Be Understood: A Handbook of Biblical Difficulties, the One Year Discipleship Course, Bible Times & Ancient Kingdoms, An Unshakeable Faith: A Course on Christian Apologetics, and Keeping the Kids.
Relatively few people take advantage of such resources, but you don’t have to follow the crowd. You can follow the example of those who are serious students. Charles Spurgeon read many entire sets of commentaries, and some he read multiple times. There are people who have read the entire Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible & Christianity, and many who have gone through the Advanced Bible Studies Series on their own and thus obtained the equivalent of a Bible College education.
Carve out time for these things. Studying God’s Word effectively and applying it to one’s life takes time, and if you aren’t willing to put God first in your daily affairs, you will never make much progress spiritually. Examine your daily schedule and find more time for the Lord and His Word. Most people waste a lot of time on things that have no eternal value. Spend that time, rather, on the things of God.
During one of my Bible conferences, an elderly saint approached me and said, “I have not been much of a student of God’s Word and I have not read many good books; I’ve been lazy about these things, but starting now this is going to change by God’s grace.”
Put away double mindedness
One draws nigh to God by not being double minded.
James describes the double minded person in chapter 1. He is not steadfast in faith (Jam. 1:6-8). He believes God one day and doesn’t believe the next. When a trial or difficulty comes, he doubts God.
The double minded person will not receive anything from the Lord (Jam. 1:7). Observe that the Bible does not glorify doubt as some do. For example, emerging church pastor Rob Bell says that God gives men “the invitation to follow Jesus with all our doubts and questions right there with us” (Velvet Elvis, p. 28). He says, “We sponsored a Doubt Night at our church awhile back. People were encouraged to write down whatever questions or doubts they had about God and Jesus and the Bible and faith and church” (Velvet Elvis, p. 29). But the Bible says that faith is necessary to please God (Heb. 11:6). Jesus reproved those who doubted (Mat. 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8) and praised those who had faith (Mat. 8:10; 15:28). He taught that faith is one of the weightier matters of the law (Mat. 23:23) and exhorted the people to have faith in God (Mk. 11:22). Zacharias was judged for doubting (Luke 1:20). Christian men are instructed to praise God without doubting (1 Tim. 2:8). To doubt is sin (Rom. 14:23). The Bible teaches us that we must come to terms with doubt; it must be dealt with; it must be resolved. The Psalmist doubted in Psalm 73 (verses 1-16), but his doubt was resolved in the same Psalm and he judged himself, comparing himself to a foolish beast for doubting God (verses 17-22).
Victory over double mindedness comes by the Word of God, because this is the source of faith. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).
Be afflicted and mourn
One draws nigh to God by being afflicted (Jam. 4:9). The context refers to repentance from sin and worldliness (Jam. 4:4, 8). James is not condemning holy laughter; he is condemning worldly laughter.
Revival comes when the child of God puts an end to his empty, worldly lifestyle and gets serious about walking with God in the paths of holiness and truth. Hard choices must be made. Worldly vanities and sinful things must be rejected.
I must beseech God to search me and try me and show me those things that displease Him so that I can repent of them.
This is contrary to the contemporary philosophy which says that the Christian life should be a continual rock & roll party. James sees no liberty for worldly mindedness. He calls it spiritual adultery (Jam. 4:4), which is a grave sin against God.
God’s purpose in our affliction is to bring us to true repentance of sin and then to lift us up in the joy of walking in holiness.
“When a person, be he a sinner or a saint, comes under Holy Ghost conviction, jests die on his lips. Some people can sit through the most solemn and searching of messages and crack a joke on the way out. The Spirit of God has not touched their souls. ... The only reason we do not weep is that we are so insensitive to the horror of our sin, so ignorant of its consequences, and so careless about the holiness of God” (John Phillips).
Humble yourselves before God
One draws nigh to God by humbling oneself before God.
The way of the world is the way of pride (1 John 2:16-17). The way of Christ is the way of humility.
If I am humble, I am not self-righteous. With Paul, I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing (Rom. 7:18). I seek the true righteousness which is in Christ.
If I am humble, I do not trust in my own understanding, but rather I seek God’s mind in every way and decision (Prov. 3:5-6). I seek godly counsel (Prov. 20:18).
If I am humble, I cease to glory in my own accomplishments (Phil. 3:7-8). I think of a lawyer who graduated with top honors from Harvard Law School and West Point, but since surrendering to Christ, his glory is in God’s grace and truth rather than in his own credentials. Instead of joining a prestigious church attended by the pillars of the community, he has sought out a church that is faithful to God’s Word, though despised by those who are worldly minded, serving the Lord there as a song leader and bringing children to services on a bus.
This is the path of continual spiritual revival and renewal. God guarantees it! He is ever waiting for His people to draw nigh to Him, so He can draw nigh to them.
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