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Faithlife

Guiding Lights

James  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  45:10
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Introduction:
Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations 377 Hymn Writer Loses Joy of Salvation

Robert Robinson, author of the hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” lost the happy communion with the Savior he had once enjoyed, and in his declining years he wandered into the by-ways of sin. As a result, he became deeply troubled in spirit. Hoping to relieve his mind, he decided to travel.

In the course of his journeys, he became acquainted with a young woman on spiritual matters, and so she asked him what he thought of a hymn she had just been reading. To his astonishment he found it to be none other than his own composition. He tried to evade her question, but she continued to press him for a response.

Suddenly he began to weep. With tears streaming down his cheeks, he said, “I am the man who wrote that hymn many years ago. I’d give anything to experience again the joy I knew then.” Although greatly surprised, she reassured him that the “streams of mercy” mentioned in his song still flowed. Mr. Robinson was deeply touched. Turning his “wandering heart” to the Lord, he was restored to full fellowship.

Ever since the late 18th century, Robert stood as a poster child within Christendom to the story of a backslidden believer. The Apostle James has something to say about this at the very end of his epistle:
1920
James 5:19–20 ESV
19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 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.
In this abrupt conclusion, James returns to the themes of sin and forgiveness. In so doing he reveals his pastoral heart for the church abroad. Today’s passage is related to the previous verses from last week in that forgiveness follows confession. James’s opponents in the church have arrogated to themselves the right to teach, and to teach a doctrine clearly not with the Jesus’ teachings, a tradition James knows.
David P. Nystrom
The passage is short—in fact, a single sentence. But it should not be missed that in this one sentence James marshals no less than three significant theological ideas:
(1) Christians have the opportunity and the responsibility to care for one another through the task of loving doctrinal and moral correction. The theme here is not evangelism, but the care and maintenance of the Christian community.
(2) The penalty for sin is death; James will not equivocate on this.
(3) In this process, the agent of reconciliation “covers” a multitude of sins.
All of us in Christ are called to make disciples and in the process, we are not to lose the ones we disciple, so James starts with:

I. The faithfulness of a discipler (v. 19)

James 5:19 LEB
My brothers, if anyone among you should wander away from the truth and someone turns him back,
R. Ellsworth
R. Ellsworth
‘Brethren’ is one of the most prized words in the Christian vocabulary. It reminds us of great privileges. Christians have been freed from servitude to Satan and placed into the family of God. Therefore, they have God as their Father, and they are brothers and sisters in Christ.
But even though they enjoy great spiritual privileges, Christian people are capable of wandering or straying. They can and do backslide.
Backsliders do not lose their salvation. How thankful we should be for that! Backsliding means wandering from the truth (v. 19).
What is it to wander from the truth? It means loosening our grip on the Word of God to the point that we do not hold as firmly as we once did to its teachings. And that always leads to the loosening of the Bible’s grip on how we live.
“IF” This is a THIRD Class CONDITIONAL statement. What does that mean? It means true contingency, here it is contingent on two actions: (1) one believer strays and (2) another believer is willing to help. So it is know as “the true ‘IF’”
“Anyone among you” The context is somewhat unclear about the spiritual state of the wanderer. Is it a person who is a believer wandering away, or is it a person in their group who has not yet fully believed and is wandering away? Notice how James calls just his readers “My brothers” but he doesn’t call the person wondering a brother--he just uses the word “anyone.” While you could disagree if the wanderer is already saved, all theologians agree that those who move away from the faith are in serious trouble and need to repent. The point of this verse is clear: we are to bring the wanderer back—not debate whether or not the person would be lost if we didn’t. So, in keeping the main thing, the main thing—it doesn’t matter from our perspective whether the wandering person within our camp is genuinely saved for us to go attempt to restore that person to a right fellowship. Believers need restoration and unbelievers need even more restoration! However, in considering the whole book, the ‘anyone’ most likely refers to a believer who has fallen away from the faith by becoming involved with idolatry or heresy. This then suggests that no one here is immune from wandering. The ‘anyone’ could be any one of us.
I was somewhat surprised to recently have a conversation with a Northland graduate that attended here, at Grace—his home away from home--for years that now has wandered so far away, you wouldn’t believe he ever stepped foot in here. It is sad, but now he wont talk to me because he became angry as I attempted to show him the error of his current ways.
“if” This is a THIRD CLASS CONDITIONAL contingent on two actions: (1) one believer strays and (2) another believer is willing to help. So “the true ‘IF’”
To “wander” means a serious departure from the faith—otherwise known as “apostasy.” Truth, as used here, does not refer to peripheral doctrinal concerns such as bluegrass hymns, but to the central truth of the Christian faith—namely, that Jesus is the Son of God, the Lord and Savior who died for our sins and rose again from the dead. Choices and actions that lead us toward denying the lordship of the living Christ carry us away from the truth—this is the wandering we are addressing this morning.
James’s description of the backslider should make all of us heed the words of
Proverbs 23:23
Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding.
Believers have a responsibility to fellow-believers who stray. I love how James words this as an assumption that another believer will indeed go restore that wanderer! This is the faithfulness that is expected from each one of us! We are to be making disciples which includes chasing down wanderers. What is the nature of that responsibility? James says it is to turn them back.
There are obviously several reasons that those people are no longer here. Some have left this earth and gone to be with the Lord. Others have moved out of town. Some are not here this morning because they are sick or on vacation. Some have left for various reasons and are now active in another good Bible-teaching church here in town. But there are some who have just kind of drifted away from the church totally. I want you to think for a moment particularly about those people. Who does God bring to your mind? Take a moment and write down the names of those who God brings to your mind. I’m going to ask you to pray about this some more this week and see who else God brings to your mind. When you are done writing the names, put it aside and we’ll return to it at the end.
Believers have a responsibility to fellow-believers who stray. What is the nature of that responsibility? James says it is to turn them back. It is to turn the sinner ‘from the error of his way’
When someone wanders away, the church or Christian community ought to try to bring him back again, but not for judgment.
The church accepts him/her back for repentance and restoration. When a believer is aware of another believer’s wandering, that knowledge carries with it responsibility for action. All these images portray a community where people care deeply for each other, and wanderers are not allowed to slip through the cracks unnoticed.
Many of us must admit that we have not thought much about this or maybe it is that we don’t want to think much about it as if ignorance could possibly excuse us. When we see a Christian straying, we have a tendency to dismiss ourselves from responsibility by saying, ‘It’s none of my business,’ Or we think that our responsibility begins and ends with praying for the backslidden. but that is wrong! James would certainly have us to pray for them. But that’s not all, he wants us also to confront them lovingly with their straying and tenderly call them back to the Lord. So, are you willing to try to bring back someone who has wandered, or do we simply wash our hands of it while the person goes off into darkness, all the while blaming it on the pastor?
The word “brings (ESV) or “turns” (LEB) (Greek: ἐπιστρέφω epi-strephō) is translated ‘convert’ in KJV and some other versions. This terminology has caused some to believe that this passage deals with winning the lost instead of reclaiming the backslidden. But the Lord Jesus himself used the word ‘convert’ in the KJV in reference to a backslidden saint. Jesus said to Simon Peter:’ (, KJV).
) is translated ‘convert’ in KJV and some other versions. This terminology has caused some to believe that this passage deals with winning the lost instead of reclaiming the backslidden. But the Lord Jesus himself used the word ‘convert’ in reference to a backslidden saint. Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘… when thou are converted, strengthen thy brethren’ (, KJV).
Luke 22:32 KJV 1900
But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.
Simon Peter was about to enter his most popular period of backsliding. He was about to deny the Lord Jesus three times in the span of a few hours. But he would be ‘converted’ from his backsliding. He would be turned from it.
Gordon Keddie says the term ‘conversion’ can apply to ‘any significant turning-point in our spiritual lives …’1 He also writes, ‘The Christian life may be punctuated by a number of such episodes of wandering away from truth and “conversion” again back to Christ’s “straight and narrow way”.’
We can say, therefore, that backslidden Christians need a conversion. They need to be turned back to the Lord. And James urges their fellow-Christians to get in their way, head them off and turn them back.
As it turns out, the Christian needs the Gospel, too! it is not just for the unbelievers!
We know that the Lord Jesus predicted the denials of Simon Peter. But what we may overlook is with each denial, Peter literally wandered farther from the Lord until he was very far. But the Christ, Jesus did not leave Simon Peter in his backslidden condition. He pursued him and restored him ().
Our Lord Jesus is our supreme example even in this area. So let us not stand idly by when we see a straying brother or sister!
If backsliding is turning from the truth, to reclaim the backslider is to turn him or her back towards the truth. James then tells about the harvest of a faithful discipler:

II. The fruits of a discipler (5:20)

james
James did not stop at the call to the work of reclaiming the wanderer. He also provides true incentive for doing so. The fruits are at least two-fold:
James 5:20 LEB
he should know that the one who turns a sinner back from the error of his way will save that person’s soul from death, and will cover over a great number of sins.
saving a soul & forgiveness. Wow! this should sound a bit familiar! like with our discussion last week with saving the sick in verse 15 & forgiveness in verse 16!
But what does James mean here by this saving from death? is salvation going on? Does wandering from the truth result in physical or spiritual death?
He may have been thinking about the Lord ending the life of the backslider as a punishment for his or her sin. We do not like to hear it, but there is such a thing as sin that leads to death! The error of the wandering sinner is so serious as to lead to death. Is that right? death? do we see this in other passages in scripture? Sure! what about the warning from the apostle Paul against taking communion in an unworthy manner?:
1 Corinthians 11:30 ESV
That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
When we go about the business of reclaiming a backslider, we do not always know what we are achieving. We may be saving that person from an early grave!
And also the apostle John
1 John 5:16 ESV
If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.
The error of the wandering sinner is so serious as to lead to death—if he or she is not brought back. But, the Christian who reclaims a backslider accomplishes great things like salvation.
And keep in mind the backslider,Peter, his words in 1 Peter:
Psalm 32:1 ESV
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
1 Peter 4:8 ESV
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
Wow! this is familiar too! the best commentary of scripture is scripture itself!
The Christian will turn a sinner ‘from the error of his way’
He may have been thinking about the Lord ending the life of the backslider as a punishment for his or her sin. We do not like to hear it, but there is such a thing as sin that leads to death ()!
1 John 5:16–17 ESV
If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.
Or James might have had something else in mind. He might have been suggesting that a backslidden condition is like a spiritual deadness in the heart. In this case, the one who reclaims a backslider is rescuing him or her from that deadness.
Whatever James had in mind, it is apparent that backsliding is a very serious thing indeed. It is also apparent that anyone who helps the backslider is doing a wonderful thing.
The Christian will ‘cover a multitude of sins’
James 5:20 ESV
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.
Oh great! here we go again! what does this mean!?!
cover a multitude of sins” This refers to the forgiving of the wanderer’s sins! Possibly this is related to ; ; or where love refuses to see faults in others.
Psalm 32:1 ESV
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Psalm 85:2 ESV
You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin. Selah
Proverbs 10:12 ESV
Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.
1 Corinthians 13:7 ESV
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Christians love wounded Christians. The spiritual battle has casualties, but also victory prevails.
Dr. Robert James Utley
Bible-believing believers believe in God’s miraculous presence, care, provision, and healing! The mystery is when, where, how, and who is to be involved and why physical healing often does not occur. Our biblical world-view asserts God’s love, power, and sovereignty even amidst suffering, sickness, persecution, and death. Faith lives even when the body dies. Let us keep on praying, believing, confessing, anointing, encouraging, and loving each other.
Gordon Keddie suggests that the word ‘cover’ takes us back to the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat of the Old Testament.
The ark was a chest where the Law of Moses was placed. Above the lid was cherubim statues, which represented YHWH Himself. And there was a very key part to the ark. The mercy seat! The mercy seat was a flat gold plate that sat between the box and the cherubim. When the high priest of Israel made atonement for the sins of the people, he would take the blood of a sacrifice and sprinkle it on the mercy seat. And the blood of the mercy seat covered the broken law! It signified God could not see the sin because of the blood!
But there was another part of the ark. Thank God it was there! The mercy seat! The mercy seat was a flat gold plate that sat between the box and the cherubim. When the high priest of Israel made atonement for the sins of the people, he would take the blood of a sacrifice and sprinkle it on the mercy seat. And the blood of the mercy seat covered the broken law! It was as if God could not see the sin because of the blood!
All of this was designed, of course, to picture the redeeming work of the Lord Jesus. The blood that he shed on the cross covers the sins of all those who believe in him.
But that same blood also covers the sins of Christians who backslide. Keddie says, ‘… it is this rich theology of covering which is associated with the winning of others to Christ, for the obvious reason that it is the same blood-bought salvation which alike saves the pagan and the backslidden Christian.’
At this point let us discuss the application of this context to today. It appears from v. 15 that James expected physical restoration. Does that imply that all of the early Jewish believers were healed? If so, how did they die? Verses 19–20 may have been more like the theological assurance that even those who died had their sins forgiven and possessed eternal life.
1.Am I becoming more and more patient in the testings of life?
Dr. Robert James Utley
2.Do I play with temptation or resist it from the start?
3.Do I find joy in obeying the Word of God, or do I merely study it and learn it?
Bible-believing believers believe in God’s miraculous presence, care, provision, and healing! The mystery is when, where, how, and who is to be involved and why physical healing often does not occur. Our biblical world-view asserts God’s love, power, and sovereignty even amidst suffering, sickness, persecution, and death. Faith lives even when the body dies. Let us keep on praying, believing, confessing, anointing, encouraging, and loving each other.
4.Are there any prejudices that shackle me?
5.Am I able to control my tongue?
6.Am I a peacemaker rather than a troublemaker? Do people come to me for spiritual wisdom?
7.Am I a friend of God or a friend of the world?
So when the wanderer repents and returns to YHWH, YHWH will forgive, cover over, and forget that person’s sins.
8.Do I make plans without considering the will of God?
9.Am I selfish when it comes to money? Am I unfaithful in the paying of my bills?
10.Do I naturally depend on prayer when I find myself in some kind of trouble?
11.Am I the kind of person others seek for prayer support?
12.What is my attitude toward the wandering brother? Do I criticize and gossip, or do I seek to restore him in love?
Having posed these questions, Wiersbe winds up his commentary with this exhortation: ‘Don’t just grow old—grow up!’5
May God himself help us to do so!
1. Read .
Proverbs 14:14 ESV
The backslider in heart will be filled with the fruit of his ways, and a good man will be filled with the fruit of his ways.
Proverbs 14:14 ESV
The backslider in heart will be filled with the fruit of his ways, and a good man will be filled with the fruit of his ways.
At this point let us discuss the application of this context to today. It appears from v. 15 that James expected physical restoration. Does that imply that all of the early Jewish believers were healed? If so, how did they die? we answered that last week but I’ll summarize it by saying vv.19–20 may been more like the theological assurance that even those who died had their sins forgiven and possessed eternal life.
Hosea 14:1–4 ESV
1 Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. 2 Take with you words and return to the Lord; say to him, “Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips. 3 Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy.” 4 I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.
Hosea 14:1–4 ESV
Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take with you words and return to the Lord; say to him, “Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips. Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy.” I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.
2.
Dr. Robert James Utley
TO THINK ABOUT AND DISCUSS
1. What can you do to tighten your grip on the Word of God?
Bible-believing believers believe in God’s miraculous presence, care, provision, and healing! The mystery is when, where, how, and who is to be involved and why physical healing often does not occur. Our biblical world-view asserts God’s love, power, and sovereignty even amidst suffering, sickness, persecution, and death. Faith lives even when the body dies. Let us keep on praying, believing, confessing, anointing, encouraging, and loving each other.
2. Do you know a believer who has backslidden?

So What?

Take a look around you and answer this question: Who is not here today that should be? Think about that for a minute. Some of you have been attending here at Grace for several years and as you think back, you think of a lot of people who were once part of this body who are no longer here. And even if you’ve only been here just a short time, you can probably still come up with some people who you no longer see here.
There are obviously several reasons that those people are no longer here. Some have left this earth and gone to be with the Lord. Others have moved out of town. Some are not here this morning because they are sick or on vacation. Some have left for various reasons and are now active in another good Bible-teaching church here in town. But there are some who have just kind of drifted away from the church totally. I want you to think for a moment particularly about those people. Do you know a believer who has backslidden? Who does God bring to your mind? Take a moment and write down the names of those who God brings to your mind. I’m going to ask you to pray about this some more this week and see who else God brings to your mind. When you are done writing the names, ask yourself: “What can I do to help this person get back to where he or she needs to be?”
Conclusion:
We end our journey though James, then, on the highest of all notes—the glorious work of Jesus. But we must not leave James without thinking again about some of the key points which we have read and meditated on. Warren Wiersbe summarizes those points by urging each Christian to ask him- or herself a series of probing questions:
1. Am I becoming more and more patient in the testings of life?
2. Do I play with temptation or resist it from the start?
3. Do I find joy in obeying the Word of God, or do I merely study it and learn it?
4. Are there any prejudices that shackle me?
5. Am I able to control my tongue?
6. Am I a peacemaker rather than a troublemaker? Do people come to me for spiritual wisdom?
7. Am I a friend of God or a friend of the world?
8. Do I make plans without considering the will of God?
9. Am I selfish when it comes to money? Am I unfaithful in the paying of my bills?
10. Do I naturally depend on prayer when I find myself in some kind of trouble?
11. Am I the kind of person others seek for prayer support?
12. What is my attitude toward the wandering brother? Do I criticize and gossip, or do I seek to restore him in love?
Having posed these questions, Wiersbe winds up his commentary with this exhortation: ‘Don’t just grow old—grow up!’
May God himself help us to do so!
What began with a challenge to endure hardship with joy now closes with an appeal to watch out for each other. Believers are to pursue their faith, together. It is God who saves and keeps, but he allows us to be involved in one another’s Christian life.
It is an unforgettable sight to witness the Christian welcome of someone who has strayed and returned, watching God’s forgiveness work through the body of Christ as believers accept the person who is repenting. From the view of eternity, it must really be like a cover being pulled over many sins.
The letter of James is Christianity with its sleeves rolled up. It is the working person’s practical guide to living the Christian faith. It spells out what it means to follow Jesus day by day. James emphasizes faith in action. Theories are for theologians, but James is interested in life! Right living is the evidence and result of faith. The church must serve with compassion, speak lovingly and truthfully, live in obedience to God’s commands, and love one another. The body of believers ought to be an example of heaven’s principles applied on earth, drawing people to Christ through love for God and one another. If we truly believe God’s word, we will live it day by day. God’s word is not merely something we read or think about, but something we do.
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