In James 4:1–5 James writes about the roots of our quarrels and conflicts. While the symptoms include wanting what others have and, even when we ask and don’t just take, we generally ask with wrong motives. James seems to connect this with friendship with a world system that focuses a person on himself rather than on God. Often, we are trying to get in our own ways and for our own purposes what only God can provide for us. Ultimately, these are symptoms of selfish pride. James warns his readers that when we pursue these courses of action we walk like enemies of God. Then, just a few verses later, James urges his readers to “draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8, NKJV).
After explaining the wrong path, James contrasts that path with the right one: “God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6, ESV). Because of that principle, James exhorts his readers to submit to God and thereby resist the devil (James 4:7). James even adds that submitting to God (and resisting the devil) will cause the devil to flee. By focusing less on a person’s own self and on fulfilling the desires of one’s flesh, by turning away from friendship with a God-opposing world system (or culture), and by resisting the devil, the Christian can overcome his three greatest opponents—these are the same three opponents Paul mentions in Ephesians 2:1–3. But avoiding the three negatives is perhaps simpler if one sets his mind to follow the positive encouragement offered by James—“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8).
If we are moving toward God, He moves closer to us. While His Spirit already lives within those who believe in Him, it is evident that we can walk according to the world, the devil, and the flesh. But if, on the other hand, we are being filled (or controlled) by His Spirit (as in Ephesians 5:17–19), then He bears fruit in us (Galatians 5:22–23). Paul puts it this way: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16, ESV). As we focus less on ourselves and more on Him, we can be more submissive to Him. This seems to be the idea behind what it means to “draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8). As we align our priorities, our desires, thoughts, and behaviors with what He prescribes, we find that we are walking with Him. Jesus talked about this in John 15, when He told His disciples they should “abide” in Him (John 15:4).
While God has provided us many details about how to walk with Him, James puts things succinctly when he encourages his readers to “draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8). It is easy to get lost in the theological details sometimes, as there are many and they are all important and useful (as 2 Timothy 3:16–17 reminds us). It is also good for us to see the simplicity of what God is asking us to do. He is asking for simple, quiet fellowship with Him. Recall that Jesus once reminded His hearers that His yoke was easy and His burden was light (Matthew 11:30). God isn’t trying to complicate things for us, and He hasn’t made walking with Him burdensome. He reminds us that we need to draw near to Him and He will draw near to us.