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Restoring the Wanderer (James 5:19-20)

James 5:19–20 - 19 My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, 20 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. What does today’s passage say? In today's passage, James addresses what should happen if someone among the brethren strays from the truth of the gospel that brings salvation (v. 19). This could refer to a person who previously identified as a Christian but never sincerely surrendered their life to the lordship of Christ. Perhaps they fell into false teaching or returned to a lifestyle of habitual sin indicating no genuine conversion had occurred. James says that followers of Christ should make every effort to pursue this individual and point them back toward repentant faith in Jesus (v. 19). If through Spirit-empowered witness someone helps turn this deceived heart to sincere belief in Christ, saving their soul from eternal separation from God, they can know two amazing truths: this restoration will bring about the forgiveness of that person's many sins before God (v. 20a), and they will have rescued a precious soul from eternal death (v. 20b). The passage calls all believers to urgent action in throwing lifelines to the deceived before it is too late. How can I apply James 5:19-20 to my life? As Christians, we share a holy calling to reach the lost in our midst - those who have never truly surrendered to Christ or have wandered far from His flock. Though eternally significant, this duty often gets overlooked amidst the busyness of life. Yet James closes his letter with a final appeal for what should be among our top priorities: pursuing and restoring wayward souls deceived by falsehood or rebellion. Why such urgency toward those who reject truth? Because they risk damnation unless someone compassionately intervenes! We must never forget that a spiritual rescue mission walks right beside us each day. God desires to use us as vessels for turning hearts back to Himself. What an unspeakable privilege if He transforms a life through our witness! May this realization spur us to seize divine opportunities to throw lifelines of grace. Here are some basic principles from this passage that we should apply to our lives:

  1. Pursue Those Who Have Departed from Belief, Pointing Them Toward Christ (v. 19) As James draws his letter to a close, he gives an urgent appeal for pursuing those who have wandered from the truth of the gospel, never having genuinely put their faith in it, in order that they may be brought back to the truth. Reclaiming these lost sheep should be a top priority. We must make every effort to turn them back toward faith in Christ, allowing ourselves to be used by God as instruments of revival. When someone abandons sound doctrine and begins to follow deceitful teachings or returns to sinful living, all hope is not lost. They have merely stumbled off the path which leads to righteousness. Thus, it is imperative for us as believers to go after them while their hearts are still receptive. We must point them toward repentance and anchor them in the grace of God. This rescue mission holds eternal significance, for a soul left to wander in deception risks spiritual death. As sheep of Christ's flock, we bear responsibility for those who become entangled in falsehood or entrapped by sin. Pursuing the wandering ones reflects God's relentless pursuit of lost sinners. So we must call them into the protective fold through compassionate correction. Time is of the essence, for hearts can become hard and ears deafened the longer they resist truth. We must fan the smoldering ember before it is snuffed out entirely (Galatians 6:1; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Jude 22-23).

Food for Thought: Do I make efforts to restore those I see embracing bad doctrine or rebelling against God? What specific actions can I take to compassionately intervene?

  1. Recognize That Helping Someone Find True Faith Brings Forgiveness of Sin (v. 20a): As James explains, when we by God's grace are able to turn someone back from the error of their ways to genuine saving faith, their souls are rescued from death. Moreover, this restoration results in the forgiveness of their many sins. When someone persists in sin or deception without repentance, they remain under condemnation, storing up wrath against themselves. But when the light of the gospel shines into their hearts and they turn to Christ in sincere belief, receiving Him as Lord, their guilt is washed away. What amazing grace - that leading another to salvation covers over a vast multitude of their sins! God in His mercy does not hold a laundry list of their past wrongs against them. The blood of Jesus blots out those stains. We should therefore highly value any opportunity to instrumentally bring a prodigal soul into the family of God. To know our words or actions helped spark transformative faith is profoundly humbling. All praise belongs to the Spirit, yet we rejoice that God allowed us to play a small part in resolving another's spiritual crisis. We helped introduce them to the One who bore their sins once for all on Calvary's cross (1 John 1:7; Colossians 1:13-14; 2 Corinthians 5:17).

Food for Thought: Do I appreciate enough that God uses me to affect someone's eternity? How can this heighten my passion for the lost?

  1. Highly Esteem Any Chance to Rescue Another from Damnation (v. 20b): James concludes this passage with an incredible statement - that turning a sinner from the deception of sin back to God actually rescues their soul from eternal death. When we help spark saving faith in someone previously headed for destruction, we participate in the mighty work of salvation from damnation itself. As believers walking in the truth, we should be shaken to the core by the urgency of snatching precious souls from the grip of Satan. Around us shuffle myriads oblivious that their sins have them on a collision course with a Christless eternity. They desperately need someone to intervene with the good news before it is too late. Thus, we must highly esteem any chance to rescue another from this fate worse than death. Even if our efforts require sacrifice or awkward conversations, is any price too high to pay if it delivers another from the wrath to come? We must plead, reason, and persuade as long as there is breath in their lungs. The harvest is plenty. Let us not grow weary, then, in throwing out lifelines of truth. The angels rejoice over one sinner brought to repentance - should we make less of such an eternally significant moment? (Jude 1:22-23; 2 Timothy 4:2; Luke 15:10).

Food for Thought: Do I treat opportunities to witness as matters of life or death? What can increase my urgency to reach the lost? As we finish up with James, let us rededicate ourselves to the eternally significant work of reaching the lost. We must plead, persuade, and point them toward the One name under heaven by which all can be saved. What compassionate urgency grips our hearts when we realize so many shuffle toward Christless deaths! May the Spirit inspire creative and courageous methods to intervene with truth before it is too late. The fields are ripe for harvest - let us be found faithful sowers of the seed through word and deed. Should even one repentant sinner join the heavenly chorus because we cared enough to act, all effort shall be worthwhile. Prayer Dear Heavenly Father, I pray that You would burden my heart with the urgency of spiritually rescuing the deceived and rebellious in my circles of influence. Compel me to pursue those wandering from truth before their hearts turn obstinate. I pray that you would give my witness boldness whether through gentle correction or persuasive reasoning. I pray that I would see every God-ordained opportunity to turn another from darkness to light as an eternally significant moment. Forgive me for tendencies to remain silent due to fear or apathy toward the lost. Set the souls of those gripped by deception and walking toward destruction unless someone intervenes firmly on my heart. I pray these things in the most precious name of Jesus, Amen. With His Blessings, Pastor Corby

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