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James #22 - chapter 5, verses 19-20
The Book of James
Saving a Soul from Death
James 5:19-20
 
We return tonight to the book of James for our last look at this wonderful epistle. Let's look at
 
Chapter 5, verses 19 and 20
 
What we have here is an appropriate close to the letter because these two verses express the objective of James' entire letter. What he’s written is intended to convert the sinner from the error of his way, to save his soul from death and to cover his sin in forgiveness.
 
In that sense, the epistle is very evangelistic.  And its evangelistic emphasis is primarily directed at a person who is within the assembly of the church, who outwardly names the name of Christ but inwardly is lost.  This would be the person who has what Paul identifies as “a form of godliness”, but there is no reality or substance to it. 
 
And what James has written is intended to help this group of Jewish converts authenticate their faith.  If they are Christians, then there should be some evidence of that in their lives.  James wants to be sure that no one is deceived about their salvation.
 
Perhaps what he writes is prompted by listening to His Brother as He said in the Sermon on the Mount, "Many will say unto Me in that day, Lord, Lord, and I will then profess unto them, Depart from Me, I never knew you."
What a tragedy it is that in the Day of Judgment  there will be people who have identified as Christians, even preached the Gospel and done wonderful things in His name who will die and go to hell without Christ. 
 
And what James writes here is actually an echo and an amplification of the Savior’s call to genuine salvation.  That's his message.  His content is placed in form of a series of tests by which you can evaluate your faith.
 
There is your response to trials in chapter 1, your response to temptation, your response to the Word of God. How do you respond to the standard of holiness? How do you respond to all kinds of people? How do you respond to righteous works, righteous deeds? What kind of speech comes out of your mouth, chapter 3?
 
What kind of wisdom is characteristic of your life? Again chapter 3. What is your response to the world? Do you love the world? Are you a friend of the world? What is your attitude toward self? Are you proud or humble? What is your attitude toward God's will?
 
He comes in to chapter 5, what is your attitude toward riches? And what is your attitude in chapter 5 verse 12 toward speaking the truth as opposed to lying, making vows you never intend to keep? All of these are tests by which you measure your faith to see whether it's real or not.  And intermingled within the content is this invitation to salvation.
 
 
 
And now as he closes at the end of chapter 5, he has one more salvation appeal. But this time he's not calling to the unsaved and extending an invitation to salvation as he’s done in other places. This time, he's calling out to Christians to pursue the unsaved. This is a call to the believers to do evangelism in the church.
 
His assumption is that there are people in the church who aren’t saved. They have dead faith that produces nothing. They fail the test. And throughout the book, he’s called them to come to the faith. 
 
And now, here at the end, he says to those who are saved, “Pursue those others." If you look at some of them and you see that they fail the test, then pursue them in the name of Christ.
 
And just by way of introduction, notice how he begins.  He says, "Brethren".  He’s used that salutation before.  Sometimes he uses it to speak to his brothers in the flesh as Jews and other times to address those who name the name of Christ.
 
Here he seems to be specifically focusing on those who are genuinely saved as he encourages them to go out and seek to turn the hearts of those who aren’t. 
 
That means what we experience today is not much different from what they were experiencing.  The church ahs always had some who professed to be saved, but give no evidence of salvation. Do you know any people like that in the church? Do you know people who used to come here to church with you, they don't come anymore? They've turned their back.
 Do you know people who used to talk about honoring Christ and are now living in overt sin? Do you know people who used to say that they belonged to the Lord who now deny the faith and have joined a cult, or another religious system, or totally deny the faith?
 
Those are the people who have failed the test. Now not all of them have failed it to the extreme where it's so very apparent that their faith is questionable, but this is the issue here. It's these kinds of people that James is concerned about.
 
And James is calling upon the saved to do evangelism and to do it within the membership of the church.  So how can we identify these people help them?
 
Let me give you several things to consider.  Let’s start with
 
  1. The Evidence
 
verse 19
 
"My brethren, if anyone among you strays from the truth and someone turns him back"
 
Let's stop at that first phrase.
 
Now the way that sentence is arranged indicates possibility. In the Greek it means it's likely to happen. The phrase "to stray" means to reject or wander away.  It’s used in Scripture many times to refer to physical wandering and many times to refer to spiritual drifting.
And frequently it is used to refer to the condition of the unsaved. The unsaved are said to wander, or stray.
 
He’s talking about people who claim to be saved, but they just kind of wander away from the truth. They now reject the will of God. They act contrary to the Word of God. They willfully rebel against the truth.
 
They’re like those in Hebrews 6 who having once been enlightened and tasted the heavenly gift turn their back and fall away and reject Christ. They're like those in chapter 10 verse 29 who trample under their feet the blood of the covenant, counting it an unholy thing. These are those who stray away.
 
Listen:  That is not characteristic of a true Christian. A true Christian is never going to reject the truth of the gospel.  A true Christian is not going to deny Jesus Christ. A true Christian is not going to say that Jesus is not God. A true Christian is not going to speak against the saving gospel.
 
They may fall in to sin, they may fall be disobedient, but they are not going to wander away from the saving truth. So the first evidence that somebody who once was around and claimed Christ is not genuine is if they deny the truth.
 
There's a second thing. In verse 20, James talks about someone being turned back from
 
  • The error of his way
 
Now what does that mean? There is a building or a compounding that is occurring here.
The word “error” comes from the same root word as “wander”.  The word “wander” is the verb form and the word “error” is the noun from the same root. So what we have here is not just a belief system that is affected, but they’ve acted upon it. 
 
They’ve believed wrong and now they are living wrong.  And the key to this concept is the phrase "his way." "His way" simply means his own life style, his own pattern of living, his own path, his own kind of life.  That's the idea. So if you’re looking for someone to witness to, the first thing you look for is an errant theology and the second thing you look for is an errant life style. Those are the evidences.
 
And if you see a person like that you know they have gone away. They have wandered.  In fact, I would suggest that errant living is the clearest evidence of non-saving dead faith.
 
If you see someone who has denied the substance of the gospel message or is living a life style that is a rejection of the principles of the Word of God, then there is an extremely high probability they are lost. 
 
And it’s frightening to consider just how many people there are in that category.  There are multiplied thousands and even millions just in Baptist churches alone who can be described in that way. They claim to believe but they wander away and choose to live a life style in defiance to what the Lord has said.
 
 
 
 
 
So James says, take a look around and if you see someone who drifts away from the gospel message and denies it, or someone who drifts into a lifestyle that is contrary and in rejection to the principles of God's Word, that's evidence that that person may well have an dead faith and they need to be converted.
 
Now just one other thing I want you to see.  Did you notice in verse 20 that James calls this person “a sinner”? Did you notice that? That is extremely important because Scripturally speaking, the term “sinner" is only used of those who haven’t been saved.
 
Did you realize you are not a sinner?  According to Scripture you aren’t!  Sinners are those who aren’t believers.  God doesn’t see you as a sinner.  Any sin in your life is forever covered by the blood of Jesus.  You can’t be punished for it.  You aren’t condemned by it.  You are a blood-bought child of God who is in perfect relationship with your Father, justified in His sight by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.   
 
A sinner, on the other hand, is an unregenerate, hardened unbeliever, who openly and defiantly disregards the law of God and ignores the standards of morality. It describes an openly bad person whose evil character is apparent to everybody, whose wickedness is common knowledge.
 
In Genesis 13:13, the homosexual men of Sodom were called sinners. In Psalm 1, "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked nor stand in the path of sinners." Verse 5, "Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous."
It is a characterization word describing the character of a person who lives in sin. In Psalm 25 again, to show you some Old Testament usages, verse 8, "Good and upright is the Lord, therefore He instructs sinners in His way." He gives the gospel to sinners, those who are bound in sin. In Proverbs it's used several times, I'm thinking of chapter 11 and verse 31, the writer says, "If the righteous will be rewarded in the earth, how much more the wicked and the sinner?"
 
And when you come to the New Testament, you will find the word is always used with reference to those who are outside the Kingdom of God. Matthew 9 verse 13, "I desired compassion and not sacrifice, for I did not come to call the righteous, said Jesus, but...what?...sinners."
 
In Luke chapter 7 and verse 37 we find its usage again consistent. "Behold, there was a woman in the city who was a sinner, she was a sinner." That means she was an evil woman of ill repute, the vilest of human kind from a moral perspective. Luke chapter 15 and verse 7, "I tell you in the same way there will be joy in heaven over one sinner who repents."
 
And I could go on with Scripture after Scripture...in to John 9 verses 16 and 24, Romans 5:8, and that wonderful verse says, "God commended His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us." Galatians 2:17, 1 Timothy 1:9 and 15 Paul says, "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners." And that's how it is.
 
 
“Sinners” is always used to refer to those who are outside the kingdom, who are lost. It is a characterization word.
 
So I believe it's clear that James has in mind here sinners, those who’ve never been saved. Having once identified with Christ, once identified with the church, they have now strayed from the truth and chosen a life style of wickedness.
 
John says in 1 John 2:19, "They went out from us but they were not really of us for if they had been of us they would have remained with us, but they went out in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us."
 
Names come flooding into my memory even as I speak of people that it has become apparent they never knew Christ and they deceived themselves and they deceived me and they deceived the church and now they’re gone. They've chosen to reject the truth and live a life style inconsistent with everything Jesus Christ desires. They're lost. You know some of them as I do.
 
So the first thing we must understand to help them is the evidence. Secondly,
 
  1. The Threat
 
Verse 20b
 
We're talking about a human soul here. That’s who and what a man really is.  It’s far more than just a physical body.  When God breathed into men the breath of life man became a living soul. That's the whole person.
That's the real person that dwells in the mortal body. And James says. “That’s what you’re dealing with here.”  The soul!  Does that help you to understand the threat? 
 
The soul is being threatened by death.  And the death James has in mind is eternal separation from God.  It’s the death that never ends.  The soul without Christ will just keep dying for all eternity!  This is the second death the John speaks of in the Revelation where death and hell are cast into the Lake of Fire which burns with fire and brimstone. 
 
According to Revelation 21, it is the eternal destiny of “the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars”.
 
That is the threat under which all lost people are living.  Sinners live in a deep and serious situation.  And James is saying to those who are saved, “These people need your help.  They are under the threat of death and they face death loaded down with a multitude of sins.
 
James very likely drew that phrase from Psalm 5:10 where Scripture says, "Hold them guilty, O God, by their own devices let them fall, in the multitude of their transgressions thrust them out.”
 
Sin just keeps accumulating and building and compounding and growing and intensifying. If it only takes one sin to send a person to hell, can you imagine the reality of punishment that awaits those who stand before God with a multitude of sins? 
 
That's the sinner described here.  And compounding the guilt is they know the truth.  They’ve gone through all the motions.  They’ve been through the baptistery.  And now, they thumb their nose at God in rebellion and stubbornness.  As Paul said to the Romans, “Because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath." You're just piling it up.
 
See the threat? These people who were once a part of the church are now strutting their way to hell, thinking they’re too good to go there. 
 
Thirdly, notice
 
  1.  The Instrument
 
So who should God use to warn them?  Should it be the preacher or some pastor? Maybe somebody trained at the seminary?  Read the verses again:
 
Verse 19-20
 
You know who is the instrument or the tool or the resource God wants to use? It’s anybody who’s been saved and is spiritually aware of what is going on around them. 
 
We all have the task. According to 2 Corinthians chapter 5, verse 18, “All these things are from God who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” Did you hear that? Let me read it again. “God who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”
 
Listen, the "us" who has the ministry of reconciliation is the "us" whom God reconciled. So if you were reconciled by God, then you have the ministry of reconciliation. That ministry belongs to all of us.  And we must tell the world that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, all of us.
 
So maybe rather than just kind of wandering around and hoping God will cross our path with someone we can evangelize, or rather than traveling halfway around the world on a mission trip, the starting place is to just sit down and think of those you know who used to be a part of the church and used to name the name of Christ and you don't see them anymore and you ought to go after those people.
 
By the way, there is a greater punishment awaiting these than that which awaits those in Africa who’ve never heard the Gospel.  Did you realize that? 
 
According to Hebrews 10:29, there is a greater punishment awaiting those who knowingly trod underfoot the blood of Christ than for those who‘ve never heard. Here is where our evangelism ought to start. It ought to start with the people who profess to know Christ but they're gone. What a job, what a task, what a challenge.
 
Jesus said He came to seek and to save the lost. Is that your desire? To be His ambassador? His emissary? His agent? What a tremendous challenge.  We are the instrument He has chosen to use to reach the lost.
 
Finally, think about
 
  1.  The Goal
 
Verse 19
 
Mark the phrase “turns him back”.  It is the idea of repentance and conversion. He’s talking about turning to God in salvation.  That’s our goal.  And so  important is it that James mentions it again in verse 20.  Then he goes on to talk about how a soul will be saved.  That’s the goal and it’s all summed up in the word “cover”.   
 
What does that mean? It means to be forgiven.  We find a helpful insight in Proverbs 10:12.
 
“Hatred stirs up strife but love covers all transgressions.” 
 
It's talking about forgiveness. So what is the goal? We want to convert people, turning them from sin in order that they may be saved and being saved their sins will be forgiven. 
 
Soul winning doesn’t always have to happen out yonder somewhere.  There is a great need for it to occur right here in the church.  And it is that ministry to which we who are saved are called.   
 
David Brainerd was one of the most celebrated missionaries the world has ever known. Laboring among the poor darkened Indians in Delaware, the banks of that river he once said, "I care not where I live or what hardships I go through so that I can but gain souls to Christ. While I am asleep I dream of those things. As soon as I awake the first thing I think of is this great work.
All my desire is the conversion of sinners and all my hope is in God."
 
At the close of a meeting a critic approached D.L. Moody, the great evangelist. He said, "Mr. Moody--As I listened to you tonight in your address I noticed and counted 18 mistakes in your English."
 
Looking at his critic Mr. Moody said, "Young man, I'm using to the glory of God all the grammar that I know, are you doing the same?" Fair question.
 
We have a tremendous responsibility to people who may make the claim but as we look at the evidence we don't see the reality. May God us the privilege of saving a soul from death.
 
Let's pray
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