Come close to God and He will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and grieve and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.
There are several instructions in this passage, but they follow a singular theme. James implores us to come to a right understanding of our sin. Coming close to God is not about physical proximity but about spiritual and emotional proximity. We are to approach him as laid out in the prior verses, which is in humility, and we must take the proactive step of relinquishing our sin and reaffirming our faithfulness to God. The stain of sin on our hands, hearts and minds can be removed if we desire so and turn to him.
If we understand the condition of sin, we will not foolishly laugh at it and remain in it. No, we will mourn over that sin. We will take no joy in evil. This, however, is neither guilt nor condemnation. It is conviction that calls for repentance. And when we repent, humbly before the presence of God, He raises us up. Did Jesus not say that those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted? [Matt. 23:12] God is searching for the lowly and humble to establish in high places, but He cannot do so when we are unfaithful to him by clinging to sinful ways.
In this passage, I see a Father who simply desires that his children understand the serious nature of sin and how it harms their relationship with him. He desires to be close to us, work through us, work with us and set us in high places. He is crying out for us to “get it” so that He can carry out the wonderful plans He has for us. If we want to make our Father happy, let us reaffirm our commitment to him by giving up the sin that remains in our lives and humbly entering his presence in true repentance. Father, remind us of the seriousness of sin, and teach us to desire above all else to remain faithful and obedient to You.