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Dirty Hands & Defiled Heart

James 4:8 (ESV) … “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

James is calling us to draw near to God by cleaning up both our behavior (‘hands’) and our inner lives (‘hearts’).

Dirty hands and defiled hearts! That’s the position that many, many Christians are occupying these days. Their hands are dirty in that they are doing worldly things, things that are out of keeping with God’s ownership of their lives. They go to places to which they ought not to go. They say things they ought not to say. They do things they ought not to do. All of these things and more constitute outer behavior, and all are comprehended and embodied by James’s use of the word ‘hands’.

But James was not content to call for a change only in the behavior of his readers. The hands reflect what is in the heart. A. W. Pink observed that the hands and tongues are the shops, and the heart is the warehouse. To call people to cleanse their hands without also calling for them to purify their hearts is pointless.

Why did James think it necessary for his readers to purify their hearts? He said they were ‘double-minded’, which means they were ‘double-souled’. They were not loving God with the whole of their hearts. Their hearts were torn between God and the world.

What does the Bible signify when it uses the word ‘heart’? It refers to the totality of the person, that is, to the mind, the will and the affections.

To purify the heart, then, means cleansing the mind, and to cleanse the mind is to rid it of unbiblical thinking. It is to keep out of the mind all those things that are out of keeping with the truth of God as it is revealed in Holy Scripture.

To cleanse the will is to stop making choices that are based on worldly values and to start making our choices and decisions on the basis of the Word of God.

To cleanse the affections is to stop setting our affections—our love—on the temporary, fleeting, frivolous things of this world and to begin setting them on things above (Col. 3:2).

Minds that are informed by the truth of God, choices that are made according to the will of God and affections that are set on the things of God—all will issue into behavior that is pleasing to God.[1]

[1] Ellsworth, R. (2009). Opening up James (pp. 133–134). Leominster: Day One Publications.

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