Are you sinking in the ocean of your sin, and you need Jesus to reach down and pick you up?
This morning we’ll be wrapping up our study of the book of James. We will be in James, Chapter 5. I invite you to turn there: James, Chapter 5, verses 19 through 20 – the last two verses of this very practical, very applicable book, and we’ve been looking at how our faith can impact the world that we live in. So, James Chapter 5, verses 19 through 20.
This past summer, I got the greatest dad of the year award – very sarcastically saying that. We are pool people. When we go to the beach, we spend the majority of our time at the swimming pool, but I got the fam to go down to the beach one day, and I got boogie boards, which is great. I used to love boogie boards. You know what the boogie board is. You get on it. You ride the wave in, and I said TJ has had swimming lessons, introductory swimming lessons, like two weeks before the beach. He’s ready for the boogie board. He knows how to swim and possibly hold his breath. He’s good.
So, we’re out there, and he rides the waves like 2 times. They’re so good, really small waves, but he rides, and he’s having fun. And then, I see a big one coming. Now like any good dad, I got to get him on it, right? Cause he’s going to take it all the way to the shore. And he rides really good. He got about halfway to the shore, and then the wave crashed on top of him, and all I saw was the board fly out of the water with no TJ flying up out of the water!
And so, like a good father, I waddle my way out there, take my hand, pick him up to make sure he didn’t suck in all the ocean water, although he got most of it. He forgot to hold his breath when he went underwater, but I saved him. Now, you know I could have just ignored him, right? I could have just stood there like he will figure it out. That would have got me put in jail pretty quickly, I think. I could have just started walking away from him like in disappointment that he knew how to hold his breath and didn’t, and I could have let him figure it out.
And so there’s a lot of things I could have done, but being the loving father that I am, I rescued him. And he never went back to the ocean. In fact, he got up, coughed a lot, and proceeded to leave me behind as he walked to his mother!
And as I thought about it this week, I thought about another story of another guy who had a similar situation. This guy’s name was Peter. You’ve heard of Peter. He was a disciple. Jesus had fed 5000 and the disciples were out on a boat, and here comes Jesus walking on water. How awesome would that have been? You know Jesus comes walking on water, and there’s a conversation, and He says, hey, come on! Peter decides to take a step of faith, right? He decides to step out of the boat. Peter steps out on the water, and he starts walking on water.
I’ve tried it. I sink every time. OK, I don’t have the faith of Peter. Peter is walking on the water while his eyes are fixated on Jesus. While he is completely focused on following Jesus, he is able to walk on the water, but then the winds blow and a storm comes up. He gets focused on something else. He turns his eyes away from Jesus. He wanders away from that straight path from the boat to Jesus, and he begins to sink, doesn’t he?
Peter cries out, and here’s what Jesus does. You got to love Jesus. He reaches down, picks Peter up. They have a conversation about faith. They have a conversation about why he sank, but Jesus didn’t turn his back and let Peter sink to teach him a lesson. Jesus didn’t shame Peter by saying I have told you this 1000 times. Why are you still making a mistake? He rescued him.
That is kind of where we’re getting at when we are digging into the last verse of James. Jesus rescued Peter. Jesus would continue to teach the disciples. In fact, Jesus is going to be resurrected. Here’s the last thing he tells the disciples. And remember, last words are lasting. Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.” Jesus says, look, I want you to go make disciples. I want you to go find people who don’t know Me. Tell them about Me, and when they decide to follow Me, I want you to teach them continuously. Teach them to obey everything. Just like I have taught you, Peter, when you messed up. I taught you when you were veering off the path. I taught you guys. I was teaching you.
Now I’m going away. You have to be the teachers. You have to be the ones making disciples. You have to be the ones instructing and listen, I’m going to give you the Holy Spirit that will empower you to do that, but there’s a clear instruction to the early foundation of the church that we are to be teaching people to observe everything that I have commanded you.
And that brings us to James. James is teaching a scattered congregation. These are members of his church who have left Jerusalem, and I know, we think sometimes that James is writing to one scattered group of people.
But these are multiple house churches scattered all over the place. Some people went north, some people went south, east, west – they’re scattered.
It really is. I’ve said it a few times before. It really is the Facebook live of the day. OK, James is their pastor, making sure he can preach and teach the congregation – teaching them to obey so that they in turn can have an impact on the world, teaching others to obey, and so that’s where we get, and that’s really his focus, in the closing verses of Chapter 5.
Last week we talked about how prayer is powerfully effective and really all we got to last week was how you pray when you’re suffering. Pray when you’re cheerful. When you’re sick, call the elders of the church, and we talked about how elders and pastors are to pray and care for the sheep.
What follows next in verse 16, 17 and 18 is that we are to pray for each other. James says, look, confess your sins to each other, not because confessing to one another saves you – that is how we hold each other accountable.
If I asked you to raise your hand on how many people struggle with sin, everybody is going to raise your hand and you’re a Christian. Just because we decided to follow Jesus doesn’t mean we don’t struggle with sin. We struggle with making mistakes, and so James goes, you got to pray for each other. You got to pray that you’ll be able to overcome and let the spirit of God work in you to overcome those sins.
And then he gets to these last verses where he says Christians, this is the main idea we’re going to talk about,
Christians are responsible to help restore straying sinners to the truth.
Here’s what James says in these last two verses. Read it with me.
James 5:19-20 – 19 My brothers and sisters, if any among you strays from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let that person know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.
Let’s pray. Father as we examine these two verses this morning, may You reveal to us who we are. May You reveal to us our need, and may You show us our Savior, Who will forgive us of our sins. We ask these things in Your name, Amen.
As we approach these two verses, I want to do so by answering four questions. There’re four questions that come up in your mind when you read the text, or maybe more than four, but we’re going to look at four.
The first one is this:
1 -Who are the Wanderers?
Who is it that is wandering away? The answer is fairly clear in the text. He says my brothers and sisters, if any among you strays from the truth. He’s talking about Christians. He’s not talking about lost people. We would expect a lost person to be wandering away from the truth, right? We would expect a lost person to be roaming around not knowing what path to be on, but James is clearly here talking about brothers and sisters in the church. Using that word, if any among you, these are Christians. These are Christians who have wandered or veered off the path, so to speak. These are people who should know better.
You could think of it like this. Remember the parable that Jesus teaches? 100 sheep, they’re out in the field. One of those sheep wander away. That sheep was a part of the flock, and he’s just decided, well, I’m going to go do my own thing. I’m just going to go wander away. Now, what does Jesus say. The shepherd goes after that one sheep, right? So, we’ll get to that in a second.
But the wanderer, here, the person wandering away, is a Christian. It is a member of the church that he is talking to, and James is kind of giving a warning that hey, if these Christians continue to wander away, there’s a danger of judgment. There is a danger that their life will be negatively affected, and so that’s who’s wandering away. The second question is:
2 – What are they wandering away from?
They’re wandering away from truth. That is what he says. They’re wandering away from the Gospel. They’re wandering away from the teachings of the Bible. Two things that we can say. They’re wandering doctrinally, and they’re wandering in their actions. And I’ll just say this. When you begin to wander doctrinally, and you begin to develop a wrong doctrine, you will have wrong actions. When you begin to question God’s Word, or when you begin to distort God’s Word in certain ways, your actions will be quickly distorted after that.
And he says, we don’t want you to wander away from the truth. We don’t want you to wander away from the gospel. Don’t wander away from the Bible. Listen, Paul writes, it puts it this way, we’re talking about the Bible, all scripture, everything that we have. Now, when Paul was writing, it was the Old Testament, but we have from Genesis to Revelation. All of it is inspired by God. It is truth.
There may be things in this Book you don’t like to read. There may be things that are confusing to you. There may be things that you’re like, oh, I wish it didn’t say that. But it’s true in a world and a culture where we live in, where everybody’s got my truth. You know, my truth is my truth, your truth is your truth. There’re a million different truths in the culture we live in. This is the truth. There’s nothing inaccurate, nothing unholy or unrighteous, there’s no mistake in this book.
Just because we don’t like it doesn’t make it false. It is 100% truth and Paul says about the scripture. It’s inspired by God and it’s profitable for teaching. It’s profitable for rebuking. It is profitable for correction. It is profitable for training in righteousness. So that then, here’s why. So that the man of God may be completely equipped for every good work. If we want to avoid wandering or roaming away, then we have to stay committed to this book. But I mean, this manifests itself this way. Like how did God really mean I couldn’t do that? I really, really, really like that. Did God really tell me not to do that? I don’t think so. I think I can do that. Yeah, yeah we moved the goalpost, right? We move the gray line and then we move our actions closer to the gray line. James has mentioned some of these actions to us.
He said, don’t be a double minded man. He says, don’t have outbursts of uncontrolled anger. He says get rid of your filthy wickedness from your heart. He talks about social prejudice and racism in this book. He talks about the misuse of the tongue. He talks about fights and quarrels within the church. He talks about stirring up trouble within the church. He talks about the sin of pride. He talks about gossip, and that’s just in the book of James.
The rest of the Bible talks about, you know, we can wander into dishonesty. We can become people who are dishonest for personal gain. The Bible says don’t lie. With many people, many spouses, you’re flirting with that fine line between lust and adultery. There are many people in this world who are flirting with that. Christians, who I know, have wandered away into an adulterous relationship, we wander away from the truth by addictions to pornography. We wander away by being addicted to drugs or to alcohol or being an alcoholic and giving in to too much strong drink.
We could talk about 100 different things, but this wandering away from the truth is when we just say, you know what? I don’t care what God says anymore. I’m going to willfully, and this is you need to understand this, is not an unconscious, we all make mistakes.
This word wandering is a conscious, willful, active decision to wander away. You knowingly do what you’re not supposed to do. You willfully continue to live a sinful lifestyle. Now I know what you’re thinking. These are Christians. How can they do that if they’ve been saved? Well, I think everybody in this room, including your pastor, knows there have been times in my Christian life I have willfully disobeyed God. I’m blessed to have some good men in my life, some older pastors who will call me on it, by the way. They’re not afraid to say, hey, stop it. And I try to receive that graciously, and that leads to the third question:
3 -What is the response of the church?
That’s the bad news, wandering from the truth, but what is the responsibility and the response of the church? Again, look at the text. The second half of verse 19 says someone turns him back, and that someone is a person. OK, it’s an individual person. Someone turns him back. I love this. Someone turns him back. Someone does not turn his back on that person. How many times have we looked at someone’s lifestyle and said, you know what? I’m turning my back. Did Jesus turn his back on Peter when Peter was sinking into the water? Did Jesus turn his back on Peter, a follower for three years, when Peter said, I don’t know who that guy is 3 times. Did Jesus turn his back? We don’t turn our backs on our brothers and our sisters when they wander away from the truth.
We don’t make excuses for them, either. And that’s important. We don’t look at them and make excuses for their behavior. We don’t look at them and say, it’s none of my business. By the way, sometimes it is none of our business, but when we see a Christian straying actively, willfully wandering away from the truth, we are responsible.
We are our brother’s keeper. We are responsible to go to that person privately and lovingly and gently say, listen, I’m watching you cross this line that the Bible has clearly set, and I want to lovingly pray for you. I want to lovingly and gently help you overcome. I want to correct you and get you back on the right path. And I know what you’re thinking. Some of you are thinking well, who am I to call out somebody’s sin? That’s what I thought when I read this. Who am I to look at the spec in somebody else’s eye when I’ve got a log or a 2 by 4 sticking out of my own eye? That’s a valid question. I can tell you this: when we are holding each other accountable, and when we are committed to going to somebody and saying look, what you’re doing is sinful and let me help you. Let me walk with you. When we are committed to doing that, it makes that plank in our own eye very much aware to us.
We’re aware of our own sins. We’re aware that we’re not perfect people. And I just want to be clear we’re not talking about being judgmental. We’re talking about corrective accountability, and we’re all accountable to each other. We’re responsible to help restore each other, and some people get really uncomfortable with the way this says to let that person know, whoever turns a sinner from error of his way, will save his soul. It really makes it sound like we are saving somebody, doesn’t it? That’s what it seems when you read it that way. It’s like, oh, I’m the person that’s saving somebody from wandering away.
Well, yes and no. You ever seen the lumberjack? Big, burly guy with big beard. I’m jealous of the beard. A lumberjack can chop down a tree with an axe, right?
They use chainsaws now, but for the point of the illustration, it’s an axe. Well, who chops down the tree, the lumberjack, or the axe? Both, right? Yes, the lumberjack uses the axe to chop down the tree. God uses the church, uses Christians, to lead people back to the path. When Jesus was here, he was doing it. When Jesus left, He sent the Holy Spirit to empower us so that we could be the ones leading wanderers back home, leading them back into the fold.
We are the ones who are to go see, who are to leave the 99 and go after the one sheep cause by the way, God cares about every sheep. Don’t miss that – the reason we are to go after the wanderers -because love God loves them, and God desires for them to be a part of the church, to be on the right path.
And so, we don’t make excuses. We don’t turn our backs. We go to them, and we talk to them. We hold them accountable for what they are doing. Now just put it to you like this. Jesus talks about this in Matthew 18. Here’s what Jesus says. If any of your brother sins against you, go tell him his fault. And he says, between you and him alone. The first thing was so important for the church, such as being a part of a Sunday school class and being a part of a disciple group or having an accountability partner. Having someone in your life who is willing to say stop it and having, you know for me, having someone in my life who’s willing to look at me and say stop it. I want you to notice it. It’s done privately. Jesus says, look when someone straying away, someone’s at fault, someone sins, you do it between you and him. You do it privately. And then it says, but if he won’t listen, take one or two others. So, if he won’t listen to you, take, you know members of your Sunday school class and go talk to and pray with them. So, with the testimony of two or three witnesses, every fact may be established.
And then verse 17: if he doesn’t pay attention, tell the church. If he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you. Basically means, hey, when you get to that point, you discipline them and remove them from the church.
Now, I want you to hear something very important. All of this is done gently and lovingly. All of this is done to get a wanderer back on the path, and it’s done slowly. I believe that the model that Jesus outlines is something that should take years and years to go through. The private, individual conversations should be over and over and over again.
When you take two or three, it should be over and over and over. The last resort is to make things like this public. A question that I think comes in your mind when you read James is, in the verses we’re looking at, does this mean a Christian can lose their salvation? It really comes across that way, doesn’t it? That’s not what James is saying at all, because we know the Bible is clear. Once we’re saved, we’re saved.
When we get to a point that Jesus is talking about or where we get to the point in James where the person refuses to come back into the fold, they’re probably not Christian to begin with. Because a Christian, someone who deeply desires to follow Jesus, when confronted with their sin, will be convicted of their sin and will return back to the fold. Those who reject the correction, those who get judged, you know defiant, and say I’m not doing anything wrong. They may not be Christian if they’re not convicted of their sin.
Then, they’re not following the Lord. You see when you get to this point in church discipline where you’re removing them from the church because of love, the truth is they were probably never, in their heart, a part of the church. They probably had never made a decision in their heart to follow Jesus. We’re not removing a brother or sister. We’re removing somebody who was never a part of us to begin with. Does that make sense?
And so, when James is talking about a person who has wandered away from a truth, the Christian who has wandered away from the truth, and that when our brothers and sisters come to them and turns them back, turns them around. It will save their soul from death, and it covers a multitude of sin, and that’s the result. That’s the last question.
4 – What’s the result?
The result of the Christian is repentance, not rejection. It is his soul is being saved. I don’t think this is like salvation that we think of. We’re justified. This is salvation that we’re being sanctified. We’ve been corrected of a bad behavior. We’ve been corrected of a sin, and now we’re coming back, back to the church. Committed to living and staying on the right path.
And then I love this – a multitude of sins is covered. Here’s what he means. It’s how he closes it, right? Covers a multitude. The Gospel of Jesus covers a multitude of sins. If you’re looking at these two verses, what have they strayed from? The truth.
I wish I could write this out by drawing arrows in my Bible. They’ve strayed from the truth. The person brings them back to the truth: the gospel covers a multitude of sins. The gospel has the power to save people from death. The Gospel of Jesus Christ can change and transform even the most stubborn person who is wandering away from the path of truth. That is why Jesus died.
That is why He gave His life, because at some point in time, everybody in this world was wondering. Roaming around. And the only way for us to be on the path of truth is Jesus. And so, here’s really the question I want to ask you today.
One, are you committed to holding a brother and sister accountable? Again, lovingly, gently, not judgmental, not hateful, not taking your Bible, slapping him in the face back and forth, but just sitting down, having a cup of coffee and saying look, I’m seeing you do this, and I know I’ve got problems, but I’m seeing you do this, and the Bible says you shouldn’t do it. How can I help you? How can I pray for you? How can we get you away from the wrong path and back to the right path? That’s the first question.
Second question, is this. Are you a wandering person? Or is the life you’re living today, the life you’ve been living over the last six months or year, has been a life of wandering away from what you know to be true. What I’ve done today and through this text, and what James is doing, is correcting that behavior.
About 5-6, maybe seven years ago, I was leading a small group at Caswell. There are students in there. There was a time when it was mainly students from other churches. I could tell there was one kid, who had no desire to be in that room. He was completely checked out. He didn’t want to be at camp, and I see that. That’s my guy, you know. I am there to minister to my church, but also as a small group leader, I’m going to minister to this student. That’s the guy I’m going to minister to cause I want him to leave camp not being checked out for Jesus, but all in for Jesus.
And so, we talk. And Tuesday of that week he shares with me about his salvation experience, how he gave his life to the Lord. But then he says, but I think it was all fake. He goes, I haven’t heard from God. I haven’t seen God. I don’t even know if this I don’t even know why I’m here. He had made a profession of faith. He had been baptized. Wednesday, I talk to this guy’s youth leader. The youth leader was very adamant that he was a Christian because the youth leader led him to Christ, and he was going through some challenges at school and challenges in his home. Parents were just divorced, and he was questioning God, and he was making poor decisions, wandering away from the truth of the gospel. Thursday and Friday, I poured love into that kid. Every time I saw him around campus, we talked, we prayed. He opened up to me in ways I’ve never had kids open up before, especially not for my church. Friday night, invitation comes. I’m up in the balcony and he was dressed in a certain way – you could pick this kid out of anywhere, and I see him sprinting to the stage. So, I walked down there, prayed with him. He got up. We hugged. He says, I’m turning it around.
A week of ministering to him. Leading him, praying for him, gently correcting him, and his youth leader was doing the same thing. And Friday night he runs, he didn’t walk, he runs down to that stage, gets on his knees. He says I’m turning it around. I’ve never seen the kid since. But, it is my hope and it has been my prayer for him, that he’s still on the right path.
Are you in his shoes, needing to run to the arms of Jesus? Are you sinking in the ocean of your sin, and you need Him to reach down and pick you up? I promise, His hand’s there. I promise He’s reaching down. Sometimes, you got to grab hold of it. You got to let him pull you up. If you’re that way this morning, this altar is open for you to pray.
Pray with me; pray with the deacons. You can just come and pray. You pray where you’re at and say, God, I’ve been wondering. I’ve been straying. I’m turning it around today. Today’s the day for you to stop wandering and come back to the fold. Let’s pray together.
Father, we love You. We thank you for the book of James, this letter that was written thousands of years ago to a group of Christians who were struggling in so many different ways. A group of Christians who desperately needed to impact the world that they lived in. How we thank You that You inspired them to give these words of inspiration, these words of correction. Help us to embrace them. Help us to follow them. Help us to be a church that impacts the world for You by our faith. Help us today to stop wandering away from the truth of God’s Word. Help us through Your spirit to be committed to studying the Bible, following the words, doing what it says to do and what it says not to do. And we need Your strength. We need that promise that says You are with us to the ends of the earth. We ask all this in Jesus’ Name, Amen.