The imagery of ‘draw near to God’ includes carefulness leading to intimacy. There is something wonderful about this exhortation because we are being instructed to go into the presence of God. Engaging in conversation with God is possible. We can draw near to him to praise him, to pray to him, to walk with him, and to learn from him.
Having said that, we also know that interaction with God depends on where we are spiritually at a given moment. Some can draw near to God during a time of prolonged devotion and while they will be aware of their sins their situation is not the same as those who been living in a wrong manner. What do the latter have to engage in before they can draw near to God?
James give the answer to this question in verses 8-10 as he calls for radical repentance. But before he mentions what such repentance involves, he gives the encouragement of having God draw near to them once they repent. What is involved in God drawing near? Obviously, there will be fellowship and peace, accompanied by strong assurance of his favour and an awareness of spiritual safety. The prospect of such contact is given by James as a reason why his readers should repent of their sins.
Repentance involves dealing with outer and inner aspects of life. The outer is seen in the requirement to cleanse one’s hands and the inner is seen in the command to purify hearts. In the context, the hands could refer to how they grasped the things of the world and the heart could refer to how they longed for and loved the things of the world. The reason why they had done so is explained in James’ description of them as ‘double-minded’, which is a way of saying that they were trying to live for God and for the world at the same time.
In addition, James depicts repentance as a very emotional experience – he tells them to be wretched (or grieve), mournful and weeping. Whatever else those terms mean, they indicate a very strong sense of sorrow at having turned away from the Lord. Moreover, the laughter and joy that they received from their wrong activities had to disappear. Given that laughter and joy are visible expressions, James implies that godly sorrow will be obvious. Of course, such repentance will not be a show designed to impress others. Instead it will the expression of those who have sinned against the God who had been so gracious to them.
James reminds his readers that God will meet with his people when they are marked by such repentance. He will meet with them to comfort them, to lead them into the paths of his grace, and to restore them to his company.