Cleanse your hands…and purify your hearts, ye double minded.

James 4:8

Christians habitually weep and pray over beautiful truth, only to draw back from that same truth when it comes to the difficult job of putting it into practice!

Actually, the average church simply does not dare to check its practices against biblical precepts. It tolerates things that are diametrically opposed to the will of God, and if the matter is pointed out to its leaders, they will defend its unscriptural practices with a casuistry equal to the verbal dodgings of the Roman moralists.

Can it be that there is no vital connection between the emotional and the volitional departments of life? Since Christ makes His appeal directly to the will, are we justified in wondering whether or not these divided souls have ever made a true commitment to the Lord? Or whether they have been inwardly renewed?

It does appear that too many Christians want to enjoy the thrill of feeling right but are not willing to endure the inconvenience of being right! Jesus Himself left a warning: “Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead” (Revelation 3:1).

Lord, help me to do more than pay lip service to the teaching of Your Word. I invite Your Holy Spirit to point out any shortcomings I may be developing.[1]


Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. (4:8a)

The third command is to draw near in intimate fellowship and communion with the living, eternal, almighty God. Salvation involves submitting to God as Lord and Savior, but also brings the desire for a true relationship with Him. Seeking salvation is seeking God (cf. Ps. 42:1; Matt. 7:7–11).

One of the primary functions of Old Testament priests was to “come near to the Lord [and] consecrate themselves” (Ex. 19:22; cf. Lev. 10:3; Ezek. 43:9; 44:13). Our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, who brings us to God, prayed to His Father, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3), and later affirmed and defined those who believe in Him, praying that they “may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (v. 21). Above all else, the apostle Paul sought to “know Him [Christ] and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Phil. 3:10).

“Drawing near to God” was in the Old Testament a general expression for the one who sincerely approached God in penitence and humility. Through Isaiah, the Lord said of those who came near Him hypocritically and superficially, “This people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote” (Isa. 29:13). But the psalmist declared, “As for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works” (Ps. 73:28).

David assures us that “the Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth” (Ps. 145:18). He counseled his own son Solomon, “Know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him” (1 Chron. 28:9; cf. 2 Chron. 15:1–2; Zech. 1:3). Through Jeremiah, the Lord promised, “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13).

Because they are prompted by God’s own Spirit and accepted by the Lord Jesus (John 6:44, 65), those who seek to know, worship, and commune with God will be satisfied. As noted above, that was the Father’s will long before it was theirs (Rom. 8:29: Eph. 1:4–5). When they come to him like the prodigal son—in humility, penitence, and brokenness over their sin—the heavenly Father says to them, in effect, what that earthly father said to his son: “Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found” (Luke 15:22–24).

Jesus told the Samaritan woman from Sychar, “An hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23–24; cf. Phil. 3:3). The writer of Hebrews admonishes believers, “Let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. … Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 4:16; 10:22).

In his message to the pagan philosophers on Mars Hill, Paul said,

While I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.” Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist. (Acts 17:23–28)

The redeemed heart longs for communion with God (Pss. 27:8; 63:1–2; 84:2; 143:6; Matt. 22:37).


Cleanse your hands, you sinners; (4:8b)

The fourth command in this invitation to salvation is Cleanse your hands, you sinners. The origin of this idea was in the Jewish ceremonial prescription for priests before they came before the Lord to offer sacrifices in the tabernacle or temple. God commanded Moses,

You shall also make a laver of bronze, with its base of bronze, for washing; and you shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it. Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet from it; when they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water, that they may not die; or when they approach the altar to minister, by offering up in smoke a fire sacrifice to the Lord. So they shall wash their hands and their feet, that they may not die; and it shall be a perpetual statute for them, for Aaron and his descendants throughout their generations. (Ex. 30:18–21; cf. Lev. 16:4)

The same figure was used by Isaiah to represent unrepented sin in those who presumed to worship God. Through that prophet the Lord warned His people: “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil” (Isa. 1:15–16; cf. 59:2). David rejoiced thankfully that “the Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me” (Ps. 18:20).

Paul also used the condition of the hands to represent the external behavior of the life, saying, “I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension” (1 Tim. 2:8). “Holy hands” represent a spiritually and morally pure life, apart from which God cannot be approached. It is sin that separates depraved man from the holy God. Therefore, “No one who abides in Him sins,” John declares; “[and] no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him” (1 John 3:6). But although we can resist sin, temptation, and the devil, it is not in any person’s power—even the power of a believer—to cleanse himself spiritually. That is why our gracious Lord promises that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The command to cleanse your hands is therefore a command to submit (see James 4:7a) to God’s divine catharsis.

The fact that this command is specifically addressed to sinners is further evidence that James is speaking to unbelievers, calling them to repentance and a saving relationship with God. Throughout the New Testament, hamartōlos (sinners) is used only of unbelievers (see the texts listed below). Interpreters who insist that this overall passage (4:7–10) is addressed to believers must therefore hold that the use of the plural of hamartōlos in verse 8 is the only exception. But to make such a claim, especially for such a significant and commonly used word, is not justifiable without compelling evidence in the context. Such compelling evidence simply does not exist here.

From their ancient Scriptures, the Jews to whom James was writing would have understood that sinners referred to unbelievers. The perverted, ungodly “men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the Lord” (Gen. 13:13). The book of Psalms begins with these words: “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!” (1:1). Verse 5 of that psalm makes even clearer that “sinners” refers to the unsaved: “The wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.” David spoke of teaching transgressors the ways of God in order that “sinners will be converted to You” (Ps. 51:13). Isaiah declares that “transgressors and sinners will be crushed together, and those who forsake the Lord shall come to an end” (Isa. 1:28) and that “the day of the Lord is coming, cruel, with fury and burning anger, to make the land a desolation; and He will exterminate its sinners from it” (Isa. 13:9; cf. Amos 9:10).

Also in New Testament times, as clearly reflected in the gospels, hamartōlos was used of those who were hardened in sin, unrepentant, and blatantly immoral. Jesus admonished His hearers: “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13). On another occasion He said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32; cf. Matt. 9:13; Mark 2:17). Before she was saved, Luke calls Mary of Bethany “a sinner” (Luke 7:37; cf. John 12:3). As he stood contritely in the temple, “the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ ” (Luke 18:13). Paul reminds believers that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8) and that, “As through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous” (5:19). In his first letter to Timothy, the apostle ranks sinners with the “lawless and rebellious, … the ungodly and … the unholy and profane” (1 Tim. 1:9). A few verses later he even more explicitly identifies sinners with the unsaved, saying, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (v. 15).

It therefore seems beyond doubt that, like the Old Testament and the rest of the New, James intended sinners to mean unbelievers, the unsaved.


and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (4:8c)

In this Hebraic parallelism, purify your hearts corresponds to “cleanse your hands” and you double-minded corresponds to “you sinners,” the second phrases adding a more specific dimension. Like David, James associates the outward sins of the hands with the inner sins of the heart. “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?” David asks. “And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully” (Ps. 24:3–4; cf. 51:10). The unbeliever not only is to turn from outward sin but, even more important, from the inner sin of the heart from which all outward sin springs. “Out of the heart,” Jesus said, “come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders” (Matt. 15:19).

“Wash your heart from evil, O Jerusalem,” Jeremiah proclaimed, “that you may be saved. How long will your wicked thoughts lodge within you?” (Jer. 4:14). “Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed,” Ezekiel implores his fellow Israelites, “and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!” (Ezek. 18:31). When that happens, the Lord promises,

Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. (36:25–27)

The eighteenth-century evangelist George Whitefield said, “Every man by his own natural will hates God. But when he is turned to the Lord by evangelical repentance, then his will is changed; then his conscience, now hardened and benumbed, shall be quickened and weakened; then his hard heart shall be melted, and his unruly affections shall be crucified. Thus, by that repentance, the whole soul will be changed, he will have new inclinations, new desires, and new habits.”

Dipsuchos (double-minded) literally means “double-souled,” and is used only by James in the New Testament (see also 1:8). This is the person who lacks integrity, who claims one thing and lives another. This is the hypocrite in the assembly of believers who is commonly confronted in James. Here is further proof that James is speaking of and to unbelievers. The Lord Himself made clear that “no one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24) and that “he who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters” (12:30). A double-minded person therefore could not possibly be a Christian.

Isaiah was calling on the double-minded sinner to purify his heart when he implored: “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isa. 55:6–7). [2]

4:8 Next we should draw near to God. We do this by prayer. We must come before Him in desperate, believing prayer, telling Him all that is on our heart. As we thus approach Him, we find that He will draw near to us. We thought He would be far from us because of our carnality and worldliness, but when we draw near to Him, He forgives us and restores us. The fourth step is: Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Hands speak of our actions and hearts represent our motives and desires. We cleanse our hands and purify our hearts through confession and forsaking sins, both outward and inward. As sinners we need to confess evil acts; as double-minded people we need to confess our mixed motives.[3]

8 By contrast, James exhorts his hearers to “come near to God,” an action that has its own result: “and he will come near to you.” The concept of drawing near to God occurs in relation to approaching God in priestly service (e.g., Ex 19:22; 40:4–6; Lev 10:3), and new covenant believers can draw near because they have a better hope through Christ’s sacrifice (Heb 7:19). To draw near to God means to approach him in prayer, to turn toward him and not away from him. The result will be that God himself will respond by approaching the one who approaches him. In other words, a healthy relationship will be reestablished. As was the case in the old covenant system of worship, part of the process of drawing near to God involves cleansing, which James states in parallel fashion: “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” The images here, of course, are figurative and represent repentance from sin. The author has already mentioned the “double-minded” person in 1:8, and, as in that context, the double-minded people James has in mind are those with a divided commitment and questionable loyalties and therefore those who are unstable spiritually. These are “sinners” because they have not been committed resolutely to the ways of the Lord. Thus repentance is needed.[4]

[1] Tozer, A. W. (2015). Mornings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (pp. 205–211). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2237). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Guthrie, G. H. (2006). James. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 256). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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