“Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.” -James‬ ‭4‬:‭8‬ ‭KJV‬‬

A large part of Bible Study is understanding the language of the writers. While God is the author, his words are transcribed by humans, in their time, for all times to come.

This means that it wouldn’t make sense for God to have inspired the writers to use 21st century slang that they didn’t understand. He gave them words for their era, that their audiences would read, hear, and immediately understand. For those of us after, it means that sometimes we need to take another look at what the audiences heard when the scriptures were written.

A perfect example is this phrase “draw nigh.” We don’t use the word “nigh” in our everyday conversations, so it’s important that we understand what they meant by it. We could read other translations and deduce that another way to say it means “draw near.”

However, while that paints a better picture, it only proposes more questions. How do you get near to God who is an invisible spirit?

That’s what we’ll actually answer in the next few moments, but first, let’s see what James, the brother of Jesus Christ meant when he said this. To understand, we’ll look at the Greek, as that’s the language his letter was written in.

“Draw nigh” is the Greek word engizō, which means to “make near” as in approaching. The first thing I’d like to point out about this word is that it is a verb. Therefore the recommendation from James was actionable.

Now this action may look different from person to person, but it’s important to note that there is an expectation to do something.

A closer relationship with God is our responsibility

The first thing I’d like to note is the recipient of this command is us, the reader. James is clearly telling his audience that they must first approach God.

There have been times in my life when I have felt distant from God and placed the responsibility on Him. My prayers have often questioned his presence. “Doesn’t he know how bad things are? Doesn’t he see what they did?” See, all of the action is on him to fix things.

James is commanding all readers, including us to take the first step. Whatever the quality of your relationship with God is the result of your decisions. Specifically, you apprehension.

What happens when we view an image on our phone and something too small catches our attention? We zoom in. The closer we zoom in, the clearer we see.

Too many humans suffer because they won’t get closer to God. Why? Because getting closer to God not only allows us to see Him cleaner, but it also allows Him to see us. Truthfully, most of us don’t want to be seen. We just want God to be a repair man and fix our problems.

Choosing to get close to God is also choosing to see ourselves. Look back at the scripture:

“Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.“

He will move closer to us. Wait a second. This is a good time to stop for reflection.

Reflection: Do you want to get closer to God, or do you want God to get closer to your things?

The difference is that if our prayers are centered around God coming to us, then we miss the beauty that he has given us access to come to Him. We actually have the right to approach the King of Kings.

God wants us to approach him confidently.

What confidence would you live with if your dad was a world renowned celebrity? You would consciously live knowing that you can always ask your dad for his influence.

How much more confidence is God trying to give you? This is why it’s important that we don’t approach him like slaves, but rather sons and daughters. Servants can’t approach the King, but sons and daughters can.

This imagery is echoed in Hebrews 4:16:

“This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” -Hebrews‬ ‭4‬:‭15‬-‭16‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Yes, God desires that we approach him with humility and reverence. Simultaneously, he doesn’t want us to approach him with timidity for God has not given us a spirit of intimidation. It’s out of his character. [2 Timothy 1:7]

Remove barriers. This is how we get closer to God.

The second thing I’d like to highlight is that engizō is a derivative. That means that it comes from another word and like a child, has a greater meaning.

Engizō Comes from the Greek adverb engys, which means to squeeze or throttle. Many words in the Bible have imagery associated with them. Engys is no different. It paints a picture of hands squeezing in a chilling manner. I know this sounds negative, but in context of scripture, James is trying to communicate emotion.

Let’s revisit the scripture one more time.

“Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.“

Using the Greek definition definitions of the words to substitute, we can see clearly what James was saying to his audience — Approach God as if you’re trying to squeeze next to Him. For me, this paints a picture of hugging you’re best friend who you haven’t seen in a while.

My daughter actually demonstrates this scripture daily. It’s wild, but I trip over her almost every day lol. Why? Because she has a tendency to get so close to me that she begins to walk in step with me until the point that I don’t even realize she’s right under me. She gets so close to me that I literally lose her and can’t see her anymore. I find that she does it the most when we go into new environments. Her desire for safety places her literally underneath me. She fully understands what it means to draw near to her father.

This brings me to my last point: remove barriers. In order to embrace someone and be next to them, you literally have to decrease space by removing anything that’s in the way. No one would want a hug from a long time friend from across the room. No one could give a hug with a handful of groceries. Relationship infers access and proximity. The fact that James suggests we can be close to God, infers that he wants us to and has given us access to.

Of course, we should state the obvious: God is a spirit, therefore getting close to him has little to do with what we do with our physical bodies and more about what we do with our spirit. Drawing close to God is often reduced to a form of external worship — lifting out hands, crying, clapping, dancing — but those actions don’t automatically express proximity to God.

“And so the Lord says, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” -‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭29‬:‭13‬ ‭NLT‬‬

In the book of Isaiah, God expresses that sometimes the relationship we claim is not the one we have. So how do we know we’re getting closer to a God we cannot see? The answer is in the previous verse: purify our hearts and remove sin from our lives.

If you don’t feel as close to God, it’s likely due to ignored sin in your life. Before you assume that I’m referring to a grade A list of sins, consider the following verse:

“You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.” -Romans 14:16

In short, whatever action we’re doing in our life without faith is sin. Sin creates the space that prevents us from embracing God. You might not be committing crimes, but how is your trust of God in your finances? Do you worry about facing tomorrow? Do you have an overwhelming feeling of death? Life lived in fear is sin because it’s not lived by faith.

In conclusion, let’s consider the remaining portion of James 4:8.

“Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.” -James‬ ‭4‬:‭8‬ ‭KJV‬‬

James concludes this verse with an appeal for sinners (those living without faith) to cleanse their hands. Likewise, he calls on the double minded or those with conflicting beliefs to purify their hearts by picking a side.

Getting closer to God can seem like an impossible feat, but I’ve found that to be true when I’m trying to use rituals such as more prayer, more fasting, more reading to “get God’s attention.” I’ve later learned that often, God is just asking for my trust in Him, and that truth brings me closer to Him as I see him as Father and me as son.

Reflection: What sin is preventing you from getting closer to God?

If you have questions, comments, or prayer requests, email marcus@marcusbattle.com.