#159 “Restoring Christians Who Have Fallen Away (James 5:19-20)

In James 5:19-20, we look at the need for mature Christians to help restore people back to Jesus.

  1. 19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders (planao, to be led astray by one’s behavior; error deceit; a serious departure) from the truth (aletheia, conviction) and someone brings him back (to change belief; to turn back), 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save (sōzō, to rescue from danger; to deliver) his soul from death (thanatos) and will cover a multitude of sins. In the preceding verses (5:16-18), James mentions elders bringing healing and restoration to a fellow believer and uses Elijah as an example of bringing back a nation to God. Therefore, in these two final verses (5:19-20), James masterfully lays out three theological truths for the church to preserve and carry on: (1) moral living and correction, (2) the destruction of sin, and (3) forgiveness and restoration is possible. In this short passage, James is not arguing over whether a Christian can lose his/her salvation. His main point is restoring Christians from sin and living a life of obedience to God. If anyone among you wanders—James uses proverbial language to encourage Christians to restore fellow believers who have strayed from the faith. Paul dealt with this very thing in Gal. 3:1-3, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Brings back a sinner from his wandering—By all accounts, the “wandering” Christian has committed a pattern of serious sin. NIV Application Commentary, “The wanderer may understand that the path chosen is a deviant path; or if the wanderer has pursued the path accidentally or unconsciously, those teaching and practicing this error are certainly conscious of it as different from the truth that they know. This term conjures up a rich array of Old Testament references, most having to do with transgression of the law, and more particularly with idolatry (see, e.g., Prov. 14:8; Isa. 9:15 – 16; Jer. 23:17; Ezek. 33:19).” Will save his soul from death—James doesn’t mention the “types of sin,” but there are sins that can lead to physical death (i.e., drugs, alcohol, sex, crime, etc.). Early in his letter, James mentioned the deadliness of sin if left unchecked in a person’s life: “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (1:14-15). Cover a multitude of sin—Depicts God’s forgiveness through a blood offering that atones (covers) sin. Ps. 32:1, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”
    1. Proverbs 10:12, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.”
    2. 1 Peter 4:8, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”