James 5:19-20; Galatians 6:1-5
In his bible study guide on the Book of Galatians, Chuck Swindoll makes these penetrating remarks,
“Restoring sinning Christians to a healthy walk with God can be a sticky issue. On the one hand, many Christians don’t feel it’s their place to confront anyone about sin. After all, it’s a full-time job just to keep ourselves in line, much less tell others how to live. On the other hand, some people think they have been appointed by God to tell everyone how to live. They delight in playing the role of the Jesus Police, spying on the body of Christ and itching to interrogate the first saint they see slipping up.”
As James brings his letter to a close, he encourages the mature Christians to help “backsliders” return to God. Part of our ministry is helping our brothers and sisters-in-Christ break free from the grip of sin. Embracing our responsibility and thereby acting upon it is a sign of our love for one another. The legalists of the church would condemn an erring brother or sister, while a libertine would say that it makes no difference because they are forgiven, but those who follow the leading of the Holy Spirit seek to restore such a person.
It seems as though the last sentence, a single sentence which is printed as two verses in our modern Bibles, pops right up out of the blue. It seems to be more of a post script to James’ letter than something that was intentional. It may look that way, but I can assure you, it is exactly where it is supposed to be.
“Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20 NKJV).
How are we to respond to believers who wander from the truth and stumble into a sinful lifestyle?
First, be gentle. “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1a NJKV).
Second, be humble. “Consider yourselves lest you also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1b NKJV). We should never be so proud and haughty to believe that we would never do such a thing. As soon as we do, that is when the temptation begins.
Third, be helpful. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 2 NKJV). None of us was meant to bear our burdens alone. Life loads us down with unwanted baggage and we need someone to listen to us, talk to us, encourage us, and even confront us.
Fourth, be real. “For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load” (Galatians 6:3-5 NKJV). Everyone has to bear their own work given to them by the Lord, before whom we will have to give an account of how we used the opportunities and talents He has given us. We help bear each other’s life’s hardships.
James began his letter with a challenge to endure hardship with joy and now he closes with an appeal to watch out for one another. It is a joyful experience to witness a brother or sister who has strayed from the truth and have returned, and to watch God’s forgiveness work through the church. In a situation of which both James and Paul describe, you can choose to act as a legalist, a libertine, or be just like Jesus. The one that is the godliest is the Jesus way.
Have you backslid from the truth? Do you need to be restored? Do you need to be reconciled unto Christ?
Keith Stewart is pastor of Morriston Baptist Church.