The Last Word
“My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).
In his concluding short paragraph, James presents a tragic problem and a blessed solution.
The problem is a Christian straying from the truth. He may stray into some sort of doctrinal error, or he may venture off into sin. (The former inevitably leads to the latter.) Not only is it possible for a Christian to do so, it is disastrous. James refers to this man as a “sinner” who is headed for death. Spiritual death is clearly in view because repentance does not preclude physical death.
The New Testament constantly warns us about this problem. It is vital to be vigilant: careful about what we are being taught, aware of what influences are affecting our lives, and alert to early signs that we are slipping or drifting. It is just as essential that we constantly reinforce what is right, through regular Bible study, consistent worship, and helpful associations. Our eternal destiny is at stake!
The solution James envisions is someone turning back the wanderer. That someone might be an elder or a preacher, but it could be anyone who is spiritual (Galatians 6:1), any brother or sister who has a connection with the one who has strayed.
We must not, in the words of A. T. Robertson, kick straying brethren out of the way or go after them with a hammer and tongs and beat them back into the way or give them up in disgust. We must appeal to them in love and out of concern for their souls.
Our appeals may or may not be successful. Some folks resent any effort to approach them about their wrongs. It is not uncommon for straying sheep to block contact from the shepherds and other concerned brethren. A few years ago, I heard a preacher make this plea: “If I ever wander off, please love me enough to insist on coming to me and trying to restore me, even if you have to stick your foot in my door to do it.” Amen!
Hopefully, the straying brother will respond better. He will turn or convert (KJV), the same word Jesus used of Peter’s return after denying the Lord (Luke 22:32). Repentance saves a soul from death and covers a multitude of sins—not sweeping them under a rug but out the door by means of divine forgiveness (Romans 4:7-8).