. . . if anyone among you wanders from the truth . . .
We’ve seen James to be an eminently practical book. The question is, do we take seriously what James has taught us? Do we buy into the idea that faith can be authentic or counterfeit? Do we believe that we can deceive ourselves with mere presumption of saving faith, being professors but not possessors? Do we believe that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ works itself out in allegiance to Him and alignment with His will, as it resists the schemes and snares of the evil one? Do we acknowledge that the gospel of the kingdom is truth and that apart from that truth there is neither life nor hope?
If we do embrace what James has taught us, then we will not be surprised by James’s closing words: “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). In a sense, James is authenticating all that he has said before. Apart from Christ, there is no salvation. Apart from faith in Christ, a person is not saved. A profession of faith apart from works that validate that profession is nothing but presumption. Truth matters. To wander from the truth is to stray from the word of God and the Christ it reveals.
In describing someone wandering from the truth, James brings to the fore the full force of his letter. To forsake truth is to reject Jesus Christ as the way, the truth, and the life. Without Christ there is no hope of salvation. It is with this realization in mind that we feel the urgency to pursue those who have turned from the truth in order to bring them back. In so doing we will rescue them from eternal death and the penalty of their sins that they will surely face apart from Christ.
James makes it clear that pursuit of the wanderer is not only the job of the elders in their obligation to the flock. It is the responsibility of the entire family of God. James issues his charge to the “brethren” (James 5:19). We all have the role of speaking the truth in love, rebuking one another, confessing our sins to one another, and exhorting one another.
How might we pursue those straying from the truth? We can use the ordinary means of contact: calls, notes, visits. We can reach out to them in pleading love. We can listen with compassion and kindness. We can bring the Scripture to bear with gentleness and respect, with patience and instruction. While we cannot force those who have strayed from the truth to return or make them repent, we can plant the word, which is able to save the soul (James 1:21), that by God’s grace it might take root and bear fruit in repentance, faith, and new obedience.
The starting point of our pursuit, however, is prayer. James has just highlighted for us the power of prayer in seeking the God who is able to do more than all we ask or could even conceive. Elijah, a man like us, prayed, and God moved remarkably. He prayed specifically (for drought and for rain). He prayed fervently, importunately, insistently.
As we pursue the wanderer for God, we must pursue God for the wanderer. Only He can grant power to the implanted word. Only He can give ears to hear that they may come to Christ and not see death but have life everlasting.
Doing the Word
1. Why does James close on a note of truth?
2. What wanderer from the truth will you pursue?
Excerpted from A Living Faith: a Devotional Journey through James (Stanley D. Gale, Reformation Heritage Books, 2023, pages 95-96)