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.
This is the end of James’ letter. Unlike Paul, he finishes his letter with a “final thought” instead of a nice farewell. I believe that sometimes this is one of the best ways to make a point. It is why I try to end my entries with a question, so we have something to take away and ponder at the end of reading.
When I first read this passage, I literally thought of one person grabbing another by the shoulders and turning him around and trying to guide him in a different direction. Certainly, this is the literal sense. In the spiritual sense, however, we must fully look at the implications of what James is talking about here. Remember firstly, that this letter talks about the outward representation of our faith and following of Christ as our Lord and example. Helping others is one of those examples. I’d like to point out that James left this for last. Why is that? It is because we cannot help others until we help ourselves.
We are all at various stages in our walk with God and our relationship with Him through Christ. Sometimes we have what I like to call “revival moments” where we are on fire spiritually and we feel closer to God than we have ever been. We want to sell everything, give to the poor, spend every day in church, and walk around with a smile all the time. Eventually, however, this fades away and we might fall back into old habits, or we feel weak and worn down. While I’m not saying these things are bad, we all go through them and many times it leads to very healthy fruit of the Spirit, we must be mindful of where we are at. We cannot expect to fully help someone in their own spiritual famine when we are experiencing one of our own. Remember Christ’s analogy of taking the log out of our own eye before trying to remove the splinter from someone else’s? This is evident here. James spent the whole letter talking to ways to test and know that our spirit is in alignment with God’s will. It is once we begin to achieve these things that we are able to truly reach out and help others. Notice I didn’t say “fully in alignment” because I don’t believe that will ever happen on this earth or in this lifetime, for anybody. The point is we are at least walking in step with God and we are staying by His side.
Next we look at the action, turning a sinner from the error of his way. I believe this is one of those verses that an evangelist or hardcore Baptist would use to “charge” fellow believers to get out there and start converting…seemingly forgetting the previous verse. It is evident that James is at first talking about fellow believers, straying from the truth. In order to stray from the truth, you have to first be in the truth, don’t we? So then, he first addresses believers who begin to stray. It is our duty, as family, to hold firm and help those who are struggling to keep their stride. This isn’t about condemning one another or judging them for their actions, rather it’s about stepping up next to them in love and helping them through their struggles. We saw what this looks like in yesterday’s passage.
Now we also see that James is addressing nonbelievers as well. Notice, however, that he doesn’t necessarily make a distinction between one who strays and one who has never been. Both are in bad shape and should be equally treated with love. In doing so, we can save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. Now, as we’ve learned already, “we” cannot save anybody, only God can. However, we can confront them in love, with the Truth, in order to plant or replant the seed. In doing so, we can help them from eternal death and the burden of the sin they will commit if they continue the path they are going.
It may be frustrating when we tell someone and they do not immediately “get it” or “repent”. In our “instant gratification” society, we want it to be like the day of Pentecost all over again. We must accept that it doesn’t quite work that way and we must be patient. Our job is to love and inform, not save and convert.
Where are you in your walk today, are you in step? Is there someone in your life that is straying that you can offer a hand to?