Cleanse your hands . . . and purify your hearts” (James 4:8).
Clean hands and a pure heart will always characterize the humble.
Hands represent our behavior, the pattern of our outward actions. Scripture uses that symbol when it encourages people to abandon their sinful behavior: “So 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 full of bloodshed” (Isa. 1:15).
Today’s verse uses “hands” in reference to the Jewish ceremonial requirements. The priests were required to wash their hands before they entered the presence of God in the tabernacle and temple (Ex. 30:19-21). Therefore, a call to have clean hands was not just a strange figure of speech for James’s audience. As Jews, they would know that a person needed to go through a cleansing process and have a clean life if he wanted to be close to the Lord.
This cleansing process, however, includes more than correcting the outward behavior and lifestyle represented by the hands. The inward dimension of the heart must also be involved, which is why James 4:8 says, “Purify your hearts.” The heart is what’s inside a person—his thoughts, motives, and desires—the essence of his being. The apostle James is telling anyone who would be genuinely humble and want to be right with God that he must deal with his real self, the heart that is so corrupted and deceived by sin. The humble sinner will hear and obey words such as Ezekiel’s: “Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!” (Ezek. 18:31).
Clean hands and a pure heart are essential traits for anyone who would be counted among the humble. If you have not submitted yourself to God, you won’t have these traits, and you need to heed James’s commands. If you are one of the humble, you will want to maintain a close relationship with the Lord. For you, therefore, it is crucial to remember what the apostle John promises in 1 John 1:9—“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Suggestions for Prayer
Pray that all your thoughts and actions today would be pure and pleasing to the Lord.
For Further Study
Read Isaiah 55.
• What does it say about the transformed heart and life?
• Commit verses 6-7 to memory.
From Strength for Today by John MacArthur Copyright © 1997.