Text: James 5:19-20

Why are we so surprised when we learn about Christians who wander from the faith? Why are we perplexed when people who have had a powerful impact on our personal lives choose to live in sin and rebellion? And yet we are! I have been part of far too many discussions where we lament the sinful choices that Christians sometimes make.

However, there is something that should be even more shocking than the discovery that some of our fellow believers have drifted from the faith. It is the sad reality that those of us in the Church have done little or nothing to call our brothers and sisters to repentance. And yet that is exactly what our text for the week is asking us to do.  

I am well aware that the argument against the exhortation in James 5:19-20 will raise questions about personal privacy. Someone might say, “We can’t really do anything.  It’s his/her choice!  And if I try to say anything, my friend will simply tell me to mind my own business!”  Yes, those are the realities, but the truth of this passage is very clear: WHEN A CHRISTIAN WANDERS FROM THE TRUTH, WE MUST TURN THE WANDERER BACK!  

The principle just cited prompts some questions, wouldn’t you agree?  So let’s tackle three of them. First, who are these “wanderers” and what led to their spiritual demise in the first place? James identifies them as “any among you” in verse 18. He is talking about people who at least made a profession of faith, and participated in the fellowship of a local church. And then for a variety of reasons, they abandoned Christian principles for the ways of the world. But what would make a Christian “stray” from the truth of God’s Word in the first place? Lots of things! In the context of the Book of James, trials can become so overwhelming that a person might ponder whether God is loving and merciful after allIn addition, a person can be led astray by false teaching—the kind of teaching that promises peace and comfort in a world ofimmense suffering.

Consider a second question. If we value personal privacy, why should we think we have any right to try to persuade a sinning believer to repent? The text provides us with a couple of answers. For starters, we are to engage in this type of appeal for repentance because God commands it! The verb form in verse 20 is a present imperative, implying that we are to continually engage in the activity of restoring a “defecting” believer! This is the will of God for the Church! It is what God asks every Christian to doJames also says that when we turn a sinner back to the truth, we will save his life (soul) from death. I understand this to be a rescuing from earthly tragedy and harm. Toturn them back is to rescue them from what we might call a “premature death.” But there is more. There is a subtle implication that other Christians who watch this process ofrestoration might be saved from personal tragedies in their own lives. In that case the “turning back” has a double benefit—one for the sinning Christian and another for those who see the process of restoration unfold.

That leads to one final question. What would this process of “turning the wanderer back” look like? Surely we would be appealing to someone with whom we have a relationship. It is foolish to try to ask someone to repent when we have never had a close bond with that individualin the first place. At the same time, we would be extending“forgiveness” in the name of the Lord Jesus. Verse 20 says that the action of “turning back” is associated with“covering over a multitude of sins.”  To cover over was a biblical image for extending forgiveness to someone who repented.  And since James 5 also calls believers to continual praying, we can rightly assume that “turning someone back” to righteousness would involve a lot of prayer—prayer for those who make the appeal and prayer for those who are asked to repent.  

Do you know of any professing believer who is drifting from the faith, or has already engaged in open rebellion?  Don’t settle for expressing your surprise or disdain!  You are being called to ministry—the ministry of bringing “wanderers” back to the truth!  Pray that God will giveevery Christian the grace to persistently love people, so that they might once again live in the truth.  

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