Peninsula Community Church
James – Rescuing the Wanderer
James 5:19-20 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
We have finally come to the end of our study of the Book of James. As we close this study, I trust that you will continue to read through the Book of James, study the principles of Christian living proposed here, and make application of these principles into your life. It is my belief and I believe that it is God’s purpose, as well, that we apply the truths of this book so that our lives are transformed and forever changed.
As we look at this passage before us, we are once again presented with a vital and pointed message. In classic James form, he does not give much fanfare or introduction for the point he is making in the passage. He just puts it out there. Notice what James says. If anyone wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, that person will be saved and a multitude of sins will be covered. It is noteworthy that James does not issue this as a command to be obeyed as much as it is a reward achieved for the kingdom of God, the health of the Body of Christ, and the individual.
In many ways it is an appropriate end to this text, as James has presented an effective argument on how we are to live this Christian life and how we are to live this life with one another. He recognizes that wandering from God’s truth and His ways is a threat to every believer. We get our eyes off of the prize and the goal of what we have been called to be and to do. We look to other things to satisfy our soul and we desire things that have no eternal value. The writer of Ecclesiastes had it right when he stated “Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after the wind.” Rather than an appetite for God we develop an appetite for junk food and the things that do not satisfy. Junk food is just that junk. It provides little nutrition but usually has a high fat, sugar, and salt content. Spiritually, we too can have a junk food diet with little benefit for the body.
Because we are all subject to having wandering hearts and wandering spirits, let me give you a couple of reasons that cause people to err from the ways of God and thus find themselves in need of being rescued. First, we need a genuine Christian conversion experience. This may come in many shapes and in various ways but we will all have one. It could be a response to an evangelistic message. It could be a crossroads in your life where you had to choose Christ or another way. The only way to experience Christ in His fullness is to have had a conversion experience. Without this experience we will always be tempted to go off course and to follow other gods and other ways of living life. Let me be clear that I am not advocating for many ways to get heaven, I am simply saying that God uses different means and paths to get us to accept Him. The first key to effective Christian living is to have a personal relationship with Christ.
Second, we need to avoid habitual sin patterns and lifestyles that leave us open to distraction and deception. We know we are in this place when we attempt to justify our wrong by accusing others or pointing out another’s faults when we are guilty of the same sin or even greater sin. We also can find ourselves in this place when we try to minimize our sin. We say things like “don’t worry everybody is doing it.” “I am not effecting anyone else.” When we fall into habitual sin we are easily drawn away from the source of strength and nourishment that we need. The reason for this is that we begin to trust ourselves, our ways, and we try to effect outcomes that are contrary to God’s will, His ways, and His will.
Third, we need to guard our friendships not just in the world but in the church as well. While we certainly need to guard our hearts with friends who do not follow after Christ, we must also guard our hearts against those in the church who can be negative, critical, constant complainers, and those who like to stir up strife and trouble. There is a tendency for them to cause others to veer from the path that God has intended. The reason for this is that they effect those who are not as mature and begin to feel conflicted about their walk with Christ and their faith as a whole.
Fourth, this is not a new topic but the fact is we must be grounded in the word. We must read the word, make application of the word into our hearts, and then allow the word to bring transformational change to our lives. The application of the word provides the channel through which the Holy Spirit can work.
Fifth, we must guard our hearts against offense and bitterness. When we are hurt we can begin to find offense with others. When we are hurt we can become discouraged and disheartened. Much sin and falling away occurs when we become offended and bitter. I am impacted by what people say but I can never let that become an offense or lead to bitterness of heart or soul. I am destined to wander from God when that happens because I can easily impose my view of others upon God.
While we have talked about being a wanderer let’s talk about the other side of the coin and that is that the one who brings the wanderer back from being led astray is a champion for Christ. They help to save that one from destruction and from potential future issues. One thing that is clear here is that two things occur. First the one being brought back is saved from spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental destruction. They are re-redeemed in essence. James praises this action as it is healthy for the wanderer, the one doing the rescuing, and for the body of Christ at large.
Secondly, by being brought back a multitude of sin has been covered. By this we mean that rather than the person being free to continue to sin, they are free to live in righteousness again. The verb to “cover’ is a Greek word that refers to the charity of covering the sins of others before men. Not only are the sins covered before men but they are covered before God as well because of God’s forgiveness and love. In Proverbs 10:12 notice that Hatred stirs up strife but love covers all offenses. Another passage that speaks to this is Psalm 85:1. Lord, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin. Selah You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger. Psalm 32:1 states Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven; whose sin is covered. It is a blessing to see another’s sin covered and others rescued. One final thought in this regard. No one else my know what you have done but God will and He will bless and honor you.
As we close this message let me make a couple of final comments. First, in this passage notice that the pastor is not commanded to do this but it is the Christian community as a whole. Too often we relegate such matters to the pastor or to the elders but in reality this is a communal task. Second, this is not an easy task as people who have strayed away are often conflicted and emotionally charged. They can feel hurt and disconnected. Third, we must be sure that we understand that just because a person decided to attend another church does not make them a sinner or in danger of sin. God sometimes moves people to new situations to change and heal them.
Do you know someone that has strayed from the truth. What can you do? You can pray for them as the Holy Spirit can do more in moments than we ever could by ourselves. You can be there for them to encourage them to return to the faith. Too often we treat people who have strayed as if they were lepers. You can welcome them when they return. You can celebrate their successes. If you don’t know someone, would you pray and consider asking God to place someone in your heart?