Yesterday we looked at three (or four, depending on how you count them) scenarios in which James gives specific instructions. If you’re suffering, pray. If you’re happy, sing. If you’re sick, call the elders. The elders will help you determine if there’s any particular sin that’s the root of the issue, and together you’ll pray together and seek his deliverance.
Now we come to the last scenario, actually the last verses of James: Dealing with a wanderer.
Now, here’s a question we need to address: Is the person who wanders from the truth a non-Christian, or a Christian who’s sliding into falsehood?
Apparently this person was at least a professing believer, since James says he’s “one of you” and he’s wandering “from the truth.” This isn’t someone who’s a seeker and or a lost person you’re trying to introduce to Jesus. No he—in some sense—has the truth already. He’s stepping away from it.
I think there are quite a few representatives of the first possible group, someone who’s a “professor” but not a “possessor.” They might’ve walked the aisle, said the right things to a pastor, been baptized, and attended church for a while, but they never really gave their heart to the Lord. John in his epistle said that there were those who’d officially abandoned the faith, and here’s his assessment of the situation: “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” Seems pretty clear to me. As I've talked about before at length, I don't think a truly saved person can somehow lose his salvation.
Now, can a Christian get confused in their doctrine? Can they get involved in some pretty heinous sins if they’re not careful? Can they commit some serious disobedience? I think so. But what I think James and John are both talking about is a permanent wholesale abandonment of Christ, his word, and his church. I think that both of them are also clear that if an alleged believer is involved in an egregiously sinful lifestyle with no repentance, that’s a really bad sign that he’s not saved (re: John, see here. Re: James, I’m referring to the famous 2:14-26). A truly saved person is not someone who doesn’t sin, but someone who 1) picks himself up and 2) takes the steps necessary to make progress in avoiding it. Inside him lives the Holy Spirit, who’s going to be making his life absolutely miserable until he repents.
So what are we supposed to do when we see a fellow (alleged) believer falling away from following Christ? We need to do our best to “bring that person back.” Carefully approach that person and explain that what they’re doing is wrong. If they’re truly saved, they’ll listen to you and repent. If not, then they need to understand that true saving faith will produce works. If their “faith” doesn’t produce anything, they need to be called to salvation.
Now, based on the rest of Scripture, we need to remember that we’re not their Judge or Accuser. All of us have sinned and fallen short of his perfect standards, so there’s no room for being condescending or judgmental or “holier than thou.” We’re a forgiven sinner telling another sinner where to find forgiveness.
And if you do that, you’re Jesus’s hands. You’re his representative. You’re a signpost showing someone where to find refuge. They’re heading towards spiritual death, and you’re God’s way of reaching out to them before it’s too late. Of course, strictly speaking it’s not you covering “a multitude of sins.” Only the blood of Christ can do that. But you can be his instrument to bring that someone to the only One who can cover those sins. You too once had a “multitude of sins,” and you’re telling them where their multitude can be covered as well.
Is there someone, a wandering soul that he wants you to reach out to? Someone who needs to hear the truth spoken in love? Why don’t you ask him if he has someone in mind for you?
Lord Jesus, when I do see someone falling out of formation, please wrench out of my heart and mouth any hint of judging or condescension. You’re the only Judge, and I need to offer them the same things I got from you: Amazing grace and astounding mercy.
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