Converting Saints and Sinners
TEXT: James 5:19-20
TOPIC: Converting Saints and Sinners
Pastor Bobby Earls, First Baptist Church, Center Point, Alabama
April 29, 2007
Please take your bible and open to the book of James. One of the most practical books in the Bible. This brother of our Lord who saw the Lord Jesus live out His life before him has given to us in the pages of this book a message about daily, down-to-earth, practical Christian living. Some have called James’ book “religion in shoe leather.” Or you might say that James talks about where the rubber hits the road. James' emphasis is that it doesn't matter what you say you believe if what you believe does not translate into consistent, daily behavior. While Paul writes on the believing side of faith, James writes on the behaving side of faith. He has said in this book: "Behave yourself."
19Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.
James 5:19-20, NKJV
A man this practical, getting ready to conclude his book, what do you think James would be talking about? What subject would James leave on our minds and our hearts as he concludes this letter to us? I think it is most interesting to notice that when James concludes this practical, down-to-earth book he is talking about the matter of winning other people -- the soul needs of individuals. Physical needs are very important. In this 5th chapter James has already talked about the healing of the body. He has said there is a ministry that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ can have in the healing of the body. Now, in conclusion, he places the emphasis on the healing of the soul.
Sometimes we have a tendency to get things out of balance. If we aren't very careful we'll put more emphasis on the physical than the spiritual. Yet, the Bible says that the things that are real and the things that are lasting are spiritual things. The Bible says the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are unseen are eternal. If we aren't very careful we will become so interested in meeting the needs of the physical that we will neglect to meet the needs of the spiritual. So, James is talking about meeting the needs of the soul - the ministry of reaching out to those who need the Lord.
You will notice in James 5:19-20 that twice he uses the word, convert. It is the word for conversion. All of us are familiar with that word. When you study this word, it basically means to turn around.
If someone is converted that means they are turned around - turned back. I found that really conversion is used in two different ways.
Sometimes the Bible talks about conversion in the salvation of a lost soul. When Simon Peter in Acts 3:19 was preaching he said, "Repent, therefore, and be converted that your sins may be blotted out." He is talking to lost people. When the apostle Paul was returning to Jerusalem after his first missionary journey, in the Acts 15 the Bible says that along the way he was declaring the conversion of the Gentiles. He was telling people about folks who were getting saved - about Gentiles who were turning from their sins to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Sometimes the word is used to describe the salvation experience of a lost soul. In other places this same word is used to describe the coming back of a Christian who has wandered from the Lord. The night before our Lord was crucified, Simon Peter had loudly boasted that he would be true to the Lord even unto death. In Luke 22 the Lord said to him, "Simon, Simon, satan has desire you that he may sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not. And when thou are converted strengthen the brethren-" He is not talking here about Simon Peter getting saved. Simon was already saved. But he is simply saying, "Simon, you are going to wander away from me tonight, but I have prayed for you that your faith fail not and that you will be converted - turn around and come back." I don't think I will do any violence if I look at these verses in both of these ways.
I believe that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is involved in a two-fold rescue ministry. I believe God has given us a ministry of restoration for those who are believers who have wandered away and need to come back to the Lord and a ministry of reconciliation for those who are out on the mountains of sin who need to come to Jesus Christ for soul salvation. Let's talk about it in those two ways.
First of all, let's talk about - Restoring Believers -- that is those who know the Lord, those who have been saved and yet wandered away from God and not living for the Lord on a daily basis. That's probably the primary emphasis of this passage. I believe that because in James 5:19 he says: "Brethren, if any of YOU (talking to believers) do err from the truth." So you see a possibility that a person who knows Christ as personal Savior can wander away from the Lord. The word that is translated here - err - is the word that means to wander away. We get our word, planet from that word. It is the picture of a getting off course - going in the wrong direction.
The Lord Jesus used that word when he told the parable about the sheep that had gone astray. Jesus talked about the fact that a man had a hundred sheep and then he said one of them went astray. Same word. It is the tendency of sheep to wander away - to stray. The picture is not of a sudden departure, but rather a gradual departure. That's the way sheep are. They have a tendency not to just suddenly get away, but gradually get away. They move off the path just a little, nibble some grass. Then they wander a little further and nibble some more grass over here. Then something looks attractive over there and they wander over there. Little by little, gradually they wander away from the fold and they look up and they have gone astray.
The bible teaches that it is possible for a Christian to have that same experience. We don't mean to do it. We don't mean to get away from the lord, but we are human, we are frail. The Bible says God remembers our frame, that we are dust. How very easy it is for us to get away from Jesus. It is not the intention of a Christian to wander away from the Lord, but if you don't watch out you will find you have gone away from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Sometimes people wander away just because of neglect. That's why in Hebrews 10:25 the Bible says "not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together as the manner of some is." That verse is teaching that we ought to be faithful to the services of God's house. That's why we put a lot of emphasis on you being present. You can come to all the services and still wander away from the Lord, but it makes it easier to stay close to the Lord if you are in His house.
One of the first ways people wander away from the Lord is when they begin to neglect God's house. Another way God's people wander away - Jesus told the parable about the different kinds of soil - the soil that was choked with thorns and became unfruitful. Jesus interpreted the thorns by saying that's those believers who allow the cares of this life to choke things out. They allow just the daily activities of life, the routine of life, getting caught up in the business of making a living -- if you aren't very, very careful you will allow those things to just pull you away from the Lord.
That's why it's really important to have a daily Bible reading time. IF you will begin your day reading some of God's word, praying and talking to the Lord, you will find it will go a long way toward keeping you close to Jesus during that day.
Believers can wander away in two different ways. In verse 19 he says "If any of you do wander from the truth." We can wander away in belief. We can wander away from the teachings of Scripture. God deals with us on the basis of truth. The devil deals with us on the basis of error. The Bible talks about the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. God has revealed himself to us in the truth of God's Word. There is a danger that sometimes Christians will wander away from the Lord in what they believe about scripture.
I have seen in my years of the ministry many people who have started off sound and scriptural in their teaching and then get off base in later years and pull a whole flock of followers after them.
Then, of course, you can wander in behavior. That's what he means in verse 20. "Convert the sinner from the error of his way..." In verse 19 he errs from the truth -- that's belief. Now the error of his way -- that's behavior. They always go together. What you believe will ultimately determine how you behave.
All around us have known those believers who have wandered from the truth. They have wandered from the right path. It's a sad thing. Churches experience that. We have over 1,300 members in our church. Where will they be today?
Maybe some are sick. Some on vacation. I have a feeling that the FBI couldn't locate some of our members. Are they all saved? I wish I could say to you that every member of First Baptist Church is saved, but I'm not sure that's true. There may be some who have their name on the roll of this church and their name is not in the lamb's book of life. Don't ever assume that just because your name is on a church roll that your name is written down in heaven. You have to be born again to get to heaven, not just join a church.
There are others who have been saved, they belong to churches and they have wandered far away from God. They are indifferent to the things of the Lord. They are even hostile to the things of the Lord. They manifest even an animosity to the things of the Lord Jesus Christ.
It's sad to see Christians who have wandered away from the Lord. Jesus came to those truths that got down to where people live. The Bible says people began to walk away from him and he looked at his disciples and said: "Will you also go away?" The apostle Paul had that experience. In 2 Timothy 4:10 Paul said: "Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world."
Think we have any Christians who have forsaken the Lord, having loved this present world?
Some of you sweet Sunday School teachers, some of you sweet ladies who are living for the Lord, some of you wonderful choir members - I'm so thankful that you are living for the Lord Jesus Christ, but there's the possibility if you are not very careful that like one of God's sheep you will wander away. Don't let it happen to you. As I look over this congregation I have a feeling that there may be some of God's sheep just in that condition today. Is there some of you who would say, "Preacher, I know Jesus and I love Him, but I've wandered far away from God." The possibility is there.
Not only is the possibility there, but the responsibility. "If any wander from the truth and one of you convert him." This is the ministry of restoration.
God has given us the responsibility not only to lead lost souls to Jesus Christ, but a ministry of restoration to restore some of God's sheep that have gone astray. In Galatians 6:1 the Bible says: "Brethren, if any of you be overtaken in a fault, ye who are spiritual restore such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself lest thy also be tempted." That's one of the ministries of our Sunday School classes. Our Care Group Leaders have among their responsibilities the responsibility of the inactive on their rolls. What a ministry that can be.
Too often Christians are very unforgiving and are very stern with other Christians. Sometimes when a Christian wanders away from the Lord, some Christians just want to kick them down a little further. Sometimes they want to get a scourge and whip them. The way Jesus Christ dealt with Simon Peter - "Simon, I prayed for thee that your faith fail not and when you are converted strengthen the brethren." Do you see how loving He was with that old wandering Simon Peter?
Have you every though what could happen if we could really get interested in some of those who are on our rolls at the church who haven't come in a long, long time? First of all our attendance would mushroom. If we just got involved and reached a lot of those inactive on our church rolls our attendance would skyrocket.
But the attendance is not the point. Look at what he says will happen if you will restore a church member (believer) who has wandered away: "You will save a soul from death." In the case of a believer he is not talking about the death of a soul, but the death of usefulness, of influence.
There are some unused treasure out there. Some Christians out there who could be used as mighty influences for God. You can save a soul from death. Not death to the soul, but death to their influence, death to their usefulness.
Some of you used to be an inactive Christian. Now you are actively serving the Lord. We have saved you from the death of influence "and shall hide a multitude of sins." If you will catch some believers in time and get them back to the Lord you may spare them and their family a whole lot of sin that's just down the road. This passage can be looked at from the viewpoint of restoring believers.
Then, let's look at it as rescuing sinners. Notice the misery in these verses. Do you see the sinner wandering? "If any of you do err from the truth..." The word is really our word, for “planet.” They gave this word to describe the planets in contrast to distinction of stars because they didn't understand the movement of the stars so they described the planets as those bodies in heaven which seem to be just wandering aimlessly and purposelessly.
The wandering. Do you see the sinners sin? "a multitude of sins." Think about the chain reaction of sin. Remember the potato chip commercial "bet you can't eat just one." I've proven that one true many a night.
That's true about sin. Bet you can sin just once. Sin comes in clusters. You do this and then it's easier to do that. Then you do that and you have to do something else to cover up that.
Ever tell your mother a fib when you were little? You can get into the worst trouble in the world telling your mother one little fib. Then you have to tell another one to cover that one up. Then you have to tell some more to cover those up. A multitude of sins.
I heard a preacher say years ago - "sin will take you further than you want to go. Sin will keep you longer than you want to stay. Sin will cost you more than you want to pay."
There's also a ministry in these verses. "If any of you do convert..."
That's what our church is all about. That's what Jesus is all about. Jesus said I am come to save that which is lost. Jesus didn't come down here on a little picnic. Jesus didn't come down here on just a little pleasure trip. Jesus didn't come down here to just walk through life and show people what a good life he could live. Jesus Christ came here to die on a cross and he came to seek and to save those who are lost. Everywhere Jesus went he was reaching out getting lost sheep saved.
18Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19
If we aren't very, very careful we can forget that's what we are here for. That's what it's all about. Let's just imagine that in the average church that in the 8:15 worship service the offering plates were passed and for some strange reason not an envelope is put in the offering plate. Then everybody goes to Sunday School and nothing is given in Sunday School. Then in the 11:00 service and nothing, not one dollar, is put in the offering plate. Not an offering envelope, not a dollar bill, not a thin dime is put in the offering plate for an entire Sunday. It wouldn't be Monday night or Monday morning, but the average church the Finance Committee would have an emergency called meeting Sunday night.
In churches all over this country they go Sunday after Sunday, service after service, invitation after invitation and nobody ever comes to Jesus Christ. Nobody is ever saved. Nobody ever gets baptized. And people go their way as if everything is just fine. We've lost our sense of what we are all about. There is a ministry here and it is the ministry of rescuing sinners.
When you rescue a lost soul, you save a soul from death. In Jude it talks about some saved with fear, pulling them out of the fire. Dear lost friend, if you do not know Jesus Christ as your Savior, you are walking a spider web over hell that could snap and at any moment you could fall into hell forever.
It's wonderful what God does with our sins. The Bible says He remembers them no more. The Bible says he puts them behind His back. He removes them as far as the East is from the West. Have you considered how far the East is from the West? The bible says that he casts them into the depths of the sea. That's what God will do with the sins of a lost person.
That's why you and I have to stay on the trail of the sheep that have gone astray. That's why you and I have to stay in the soulwinning business. That's why you and I have to be interested in rescuing sinners.
There was a old man named Uncle John Vasser. He used to be frequently mentioned in literature. He was not a famous man but he made himself well known because he was such a magnificent soulwinner. I've read a lot of stories about him, but one that really struck me was that sometimes he would just go door to door telling people about Jesus. He came to this home and this lovely lady came to the door and Uncle John Vasser said, "Mam, I'm just knocking on doors and I just wondered if you knew the Lord as your Savior?" She said, "I'm the president of my ladies group at my church." He said, "That's wonderful, but do you know Jesus? Are you saved? Are you going to heaven when you die?" She said, "My husband is a deacon in the church." He said, "That's just wonderful, but have you been saved? Are you born again? Do you know Jesus as your Savior? " Finally in exasperation she just said, "I'm sorry, I'm busy." And she just closed the door. It troubled her all afternoon. Her husband came home that night and she said I want to tell you about this man who knocked on our door today. He asked me if I was saved and I told him I was the head of the ladies group. That didn't do any good. He pressed it a little further and I told him you were a deacon in the church. That didn't do any good. He asked me if I had been born again. The man became indignant. "You tell the old man to just mind his own business." She said, "That's the problem. If you had heard him talk you would have thought he was minding his own business.
That's our business. You sell merchandise in a store. That's just to pay your bills. If you are saved your business is to rescue sinners. You run a business and are the head of the company - that's to pay your bills. Your business is to restore believers and rescue sinners. Let's get somebody on our heart. Somebody in a restaurant where you go; somebody in a store where you shop. Instead of just saying Lord save the sinners, let's concentrate our fire. Let's get our heart and our mind on some individual sinner. Let's love them. When you get god's love and your love converging on a sinner, something is going to happen. Do you know the Lord Jesus as your Savior?