James, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, set forth some wonderful truths for Christian living in his epistle. Today, we will conclude our study of his great book by considering the last two verses in James 5.
5:19,20 states - "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." Who is James talking to here? Christians. Who is he talking about? Any Christian who wanders from the truth; that is, any Christian who strays from the principles and commands of God's word (John 17:17). A follower of Christ who wanders from the truth is one who has strayed from the Scriptures in either his actions or beliefs. We wander from the truth when we commit sin and don't take care of the problem appropriately with the Lord. We wander from the truth when we believe false doctrine, whatever it may be.
What does God want us to do for a brother or sister in Christ who is wandering? He wants us to do our best to turn them back in the right direction--back to the truth! We need to try to help our wandering brethren while they are still wandering and before they completely fall away! For example, if you were in a crowded mall with a young child who liked to wander off, what would you do? You'd keep a close eye on him, perhaps even hold his hand to insure that he wouldn't wander off when you turned your back for a minute. If you see the child start to wander off, are you going to wait until you can't see him anymore or are you going to call him back to you right away? Obviously, if you love the child you'll try to bring him back before he is out of your sight. It should be the same way with our brethren! If they start wandering, we should endeavor to bring them back immediately. The longer they harden themselves in sin, the more difficult it will be to restore them to the way of righteousness.
How can one turn an erring brother from his way? Galatians 6:1 helps us to answer this question. We must try to restore the erring in a spirit of gentleness and meekness, not harshness or bitterness. We need to go to them tenderly, showing them we love them and that we care about their soul. We need to address their departure from the way of truth and exhort them to come back to the Lord (cf. Matt. 18:15-18).
According to James 5:20, there are two things that happen when a Christian helps another Christian turn from the error of his ways. First, a soul is saved from death. Whose soul is saved? The one who was in sin. If the erring turns from his sin, then he will be saved. If he doesn't repent, then the implication is that he will be lost. Surely this verse is plain regarding the fact that brethren can fall from God's grace and be in danger of eternal death if they wander from the truth and do not repent. II Peter 2:20-22 also teaches this truth when it says that it would have been better for a person to never become a Christian than to become one and then fall back into the ways of the world! Hell will be less miserable for the one who never became a Christian than for the one who became a Christian and then fell away (cf. Luke 12:47,48).
Additionally, if a Christian is turned from the error of his ways, a second thing happens. Not only is his soul saved from death, but a multitude of sins are covered; that is, the sins that he has committed while wandering from the truth are forgiven when he turns from them and comes back to the strait and narrow path of righteousness.