“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn, and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” – James 4:7-10

James is addressing his readers who are drifting away from God. He challenges them and us to pursue intimacy with God by practicing 10 imperatives or faith habits:

  1. SUBMIT.
    The idea of the Greek word here is to “arrange oneself under the authority of another.” The word was a military term denoting the “chain of command.” We are to arrange our will under the will of God.
  2. RESIST.
    Rather than resisting God’s will, we are called to resist the devil. Peter expounds in 1 Peter 5:8,9 — “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” Run from sin and run to God.
    Have you drifted away from God? He calls you to return. Notice the order: you draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Draw near to God through His Word, prayer, loving Him, and keeping His commands.
    This is a command to make one’s conduct pure. To be holy and faithful to God. Old Testament priests were to wash their hands and feet before entering the Tabernacle or Temple. It is a symbolic reminder to us to ask God for forgiveness from the sin and stain of the world.
    Similar to washing our hands, here the focus is on the purity of inner thoughts and motives. Asking God to help us be pure inwardly is James’ idea here.
  6. GRIEVE.
    This is the first of 4 imperatives in verse 9 that call us to repentance. Repentance means to turn 180 degrees from a life of sin to a life of obedience to God. The idea of grieving over sin is the idea of taking sin seriously and realizing its disastrous effects on our lives and relationships.
  7. MOURN.
    James then tells them to mourn—this verb refers to passionate grief that cannot be hidden. We are to lament and repent of sin. Jesus communicated this same idea when he said in Matt 5:4–“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
  8. WAIL.
    Wailing is similar to mourning but is a more “outward” grief. It’s the idea of realizing the seriousness of our sin and greatly desiring to change.
  9. CHANGE.
    James’ audience had been pursuing earthly pleasure, but now they are to change their ‘laughter to mourning’ and their ‘joy to gloom.’ It was their burning desire for pleasure that led James to issue this powerful call for all-out repentance.
  10. HUMBLE.
    We humble ourselves by repenting of our sin. We humble ourselves by realizing that God alone deserves to be exalted and honored. Pride and arrogance destroy the work of God in our life. God blesses those who are humble. As it says in 1 Peter 5:6 — “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”