2020-2-02 Bring Back the Erring One

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          February 2, 2020

“Bring Back the Erring One”
James 5:19-20

On April 28, 2019, we started our punctuated sermon series through James, entitled The Wise Life.  Today we come to the twenty-fifth, and last, installment in this series.  Much of James’s Spirit-led letter—as we have seen, sometimes too closely for comfort—has reproved the erring one and warned against declension from the narrow way.  How appropriate it is, then, that the letter should end with an encouragement to bring back the erring one.  Let us give ear one more time to today’s portion of James’s letter to the Church at large.


James, led by the Spirit, writes, “If anyone among y’all may wander from the truth….”[1]  The ones wandering from the truth, in today’s text, are deceived (Greek planao [planaw]) from the truth.  These deceived ones fall into two applicable classes.  One such deceived one may be the unbeliever who sits in church—or perhaps even on the church roll, despite his verbal profession to believe.  We should not be surprised at such a state, for Jesus tells us that the wheat and the tares will grow together until the harvest at the end of the age (cf. Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43).  Therefore, the visible Church will have both the regenerate and unregenerate within it.  Hence, this text applies to the unbelieving one, but more like James has the wandering believer in view.  That is, the Lord through James speaks here to the true believer who needs amendment—and who needs help, encouragement, etc., toward that amendment.

We may wander, or be deceived, in two chief ways.  First, we may find ourselves deceived in thought.  We may not know enough of the ways of God to act consistent with them, and, thus, we sin from ignorance.  We also may err concerning right Christian thought and doctrine, and, thus, we require correction.  A professing Christian may err concerning the essentials, or vitals, of the Christian faith.  This is known as heresy—and, if persisted in, reveals that the heretic never was in the sheepfold of the Good Shepherd.  As we see, we must not trifle with deception in thought and, consequently, in doctrine.

Second, we may find ourselves deceived in practice.  This involves our sins of commission and of omission.  Sins of commission are transgressions; the Lord tells us not to do something, and we do it anyway.  Sins of omission are those righteous things we are commanded to do in Scripture, either explicitly or by reasonable inference, and we fail to do them.  Both of these forms of mal-practice, of sin, require amendment.

Happily, amendment avails, particularly today if someone bring the erring one back—that is, if someone turn him back to God (Greek epistrepho [epistrefw]).  This Greek word carries the sense of returning to a former place or of changing—or causing to change—one’s belief, with consequent change to one’s manner of life.[2]  This sounds much like a classic description of repentance, which includes acknowledging God is right on a matter, acknowledging I am wrong on the matter, and turning, in the Spirit’s power, from the wrong to the right.[3]  All of this aligns with Jesus’ first message, according to Mark’s Gospel, “Repent and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15).  To be used in God’s process of bringing a soul to His merciful repentance brings great blessing, as we now see.

Let the one bringing back the erring one know, first, that he rescues him from death.  Make no mistake here: God is the ultimate Rescuer in Jesus Christ, yet it pleases Him to use us, at times, as His instrumental means of rescuing others.  When the erring one returns from danger to safety, he is rescued from death: both potential physical death due to exposure to mortal dangers in this life and potential spiritual death—separation from God and His blessed state forever into that indescribably hot, dark, lonely domain reserved for the devil and his host.  These dangers arise due to the presence, power, and penalty of sin—yet these are averted by saving faith in Christ and walk conformed to His moral law as a chief evidence that salvation has come.

Let the one bringing back the erring one know, second, that he covers over a multitude of sins.  Again, God does this ultimately by the blood of Christ, but He uses us instrumentally at initial and ongoing repentance of others.  From this initial and ongoing repentance flow a happy result.  Such as penitent one has this promise form the Lord, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  The Lord also promises such a one, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).  Indeed, blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered (Psalm 32:1)

How then shall we bring back the erring one?  Before we list more practical steps, we need here to note that we aim to bring back the erring one with profound reliance upon the Holy Spirit.  We will need His wisdom for content and delivery of our help, and we will need Him to work in the erring one—for only He can do the work of amendment within the soul of the erring.  We also must expect, alas, that this process will not turn out well every time.  Our help, and we, may be rejected.  Furthermore, our ministry, in God’s good providence, may harden the other in his sin.  Such is not our concern; it is God’s.  He simply calls us to fidelity, and He calls us to leave the providential result with Him.

Yet we can comply with today’s text when we seek to bring back the erring one, and we may rest assured that, despite the occasional sad result listed above, God will bless His Word and bring many to repentance through His empowered rescuers.  Let us go to the rescue mission, then, with gentleness, as urged by Paul in such cases in Galatians 6:1.  Let us also go with a view to ourselves, lest we also be tempted (again, Galatians 6:1).  Jesus would have us remove the metaphorical log from our eyes before we seek to remove the metaphorical speck from our brother’s eyes (Matthew 7:2-5).  Yet this does not preclude us being of use to our brother to bring him back.  Only let us be freed, by the Lord’s powerful grace, of such logs in our eyes.

Let us go also to the rescue mission with a view toward the one we would help.  May the Lord fill our hearts, not with condemnation of him, but with compassion for him—and may this compassion inform our rescuing help.  Finally, let us go to the mission with a view toward the glory of God.  May He indeed be glorified in our desire to make much of Him, to have His disciples make much of Him, to have other become His disciples making much of Him, and in our ministries to aid the erring one.  Indeed, may the Lord, by His Spirit, help us regarding this text, regarding all matters raised in this letter, and regarding all things generally, to live wise in Christ.


[1] The translation here is mine from the Greek text.  For that Greek text, see Kurt Aland, et al., eds.  Novum Testamentum Graece, 26th edition (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1979) [N. B.: I use the 12th printing (1991) of the 26th edition.]

[2] For a fuller discussion, see the relevant citation in Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, eds., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989).


[3] I am indebted for this description to Rev. Dr. Charles Stanley, longtime senior pastor of the First Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, via his In Touch radio broadcast.