GERALD COWAN’S PERSONAL PERIODICALS
Number 637 • May 2, 2021
SEEKING AND SAVING THE LOST – Number Four
RECLAIMING BACKSLIDERS (James 5:19-20)
A wayward or “backsliding” Christian may be more “lost” than he or she was before initial conversion to the truth of God and salvation of the soul (read carefully Hebrews 6:1-6, Galatians 5:4 and 6:1, 1 Corinthians 1:12, and 2 Peter 2:20-22, and other similar warnings). The remedy and restoration of the backslider requires cooperation of both the seeker and the sought with God and His truth, His gospel in Christ. How can one seek and save the wayward Christian, and what must the wanderer do to be allowed back into God’s acceptance and approval?
A CHRISTIAN WHO SINS MUST SEEK FORGIVENESS
Religious groups with a background in Calvinism generally contend that one who is saved by the power of God and the sovereign choice of God cannot fall away and be lost from God, so that though one may err from the truth he will not lose his salvation. This view contradicts the plain teaching of scripture.
James is addressing Christians, and in James 5:19-20 he warns them, “If any one of you…(Christians) errs from the truth.” The “impossibility of apostasy” doctrine requires either that a Christian cannot sin or that the errors of a Christian are not called sin, not counted against him as sin. An inference is drawn from 1 John 3:9 that one who is born of God (a Christian) cannot sin – it is impossible for him to do anything that can be called sin. But John is not saying that – that would contradict what he himself says: If we say that we (Christians) do not sin, we are lying, not telling the truth (1 John 1:5-10) . The meaning is, a Christian cannot continue sinning and still claim to be faithful to God (compare also Romans 5:29 –6:2). The tense of the Greek verbs, continuous action participles, in all related verses in 1 John prove the point. If it were true that the saved person is not able to sin, he would have to lose all freedom of will and choice. He could not choose or do anything wrong.
If the doctrine of impossibility of apostasy is true but the Christian is actually able to do wrong things, it must mean the wrong acts and attitudes of the Christian are not considered sinful. If others do those things, they sin. But if a Christian does them it is not sin. Everything the unsaved person, the non-Christian, does is sin but nothing the saved person, the Christian, does is sin. It is would have to be assumed that the nature of the person determines whether or not a thing is sinful. But scripturally, the act itself is sinful. The person who commits the act becomes sinful by doing the sinful thing (1John 3:4, 7). James equates the brother who errs from the truth with the sinner who is to be converted from his error. It is the erring brother who is the sinner in this context. The word translated err is also translated go astray (1 Peter 2:25, 2 Peter 2:15) and be deceived (1 Corinthians 6:9, 2 Timothy 3:13). Compare NASB, ESV, strays from, wanders from. Any departure from the truth is an error. Judged against the truth such an error must be called sin. Any violation of the way of truth and commandments of God is an error, and is also sin. One who is deceived will make errors and go astray. Being deceived is not sin, but the straying of the deceived one is sin.
The truth, from which one departs or strays, can be defined in both factual and practical terms. The truth is a body of factual information – that would apply to any doctrine or topic. The emphasis of James is upon spiritual truth. Jesus’ words in John 8:32 must also be applied here. Truth is objective. It is not opinion, conjecture, or belief. Truth is true whether or not anyone believes it. Believing a thing does not make it true. We do not determine truth by what we believe or are willing to believe. Not even universal belief will make a thing true if it is not true, nor will universal unbelief make a truth untrue. It is objectively true or not true, and nothing can change it or make it otherwise. Knowing the truth makes one free from ignorance. But it is doing and abiding in the truth of the Lord as his faithful disciple that makes one from sin and guilt, free from many of the consequences of Sin. The one who abides in the truth is free to worship and serve the Lord in ways the sinner is not. He is free to continue as a disciple in fellowship with the Lord. The truth is also a way of life compatible with it (2 Peter 2:2, 15 “the way of truth,” John 14:6 “the truth.” With regard to the way of truth, there is only one way, “the way” (John 14:6. The one way (one truth and one life) is as important as any of the other ONE’s of scripture ( Ephesians 4:4-6, 1 John 3:19).
Other important statements about truth. Truth is something to love (2 Thessalonians 2:10). Truth is something to do (John 3:21, 1 John 1:6). Truth is something to obey (Galatians 5:7). Truth is to be spoken in love (Ephesians 4:14-15). Truth is to be manifested in one’s way of life (1 John 3:18-19. 2 Corinthians 4:2). James speaks of the word of truth which is the instrument of the new birth and the salvation of the soul (James 1:18, 21). He also cautions his readers not to lie against the truth (James 3:14). To err from the truth may mean either to be mistaken about matters of doctrine (to depart from the faith (1 Timothy 4:1), or to fail to live according the commandments and principles of the gospel (2 Peter 2:2 the way of truth). To be away from the truth is to be away from God.
CONVERT THE WAYWARD CHRISTIAN TO THE TRUTH
Actually, conversion is accomplished by the sinner’s cooperation with God. Read Romans 12:2, Acts 3:19, Philippians 2:12-13). One person cannot actually or by himself convert another. The expression used by James (5:20) is from EPISTREPHŌ, turn, turn back, bring back. See ESV, NASB, NKJV. How then can one person be effective in another person’s conversion? (1 Corinthians 3:5, 2 Corinthians 5:11 and 19-20). One plants, another waters, God gives the increase. We persuade men; we beseech others in behalf of Christ, to be reconciled to God. We will discuss in a later part of our project the proper way to present and apply the gospel, the words of God and His Christ, in order to effect conversion and salvation.
RESULTS OF CONVERTING BACKSLIDERS (James 5:19-20)
Save a soul from death. Not from physical death, separation of body and spirit (that death at some time is appointed for all (Hebrews. 9:27). Spiritual death, separation of the soul and spirit of the person from God, is the consequence of choices made by the person (Ephesians 2:1-2, 12).
The person (brother or sister) is the sinner, dead, separated from God by his sin. To convert him is to bring him out of that spiritual death into spiritual life .
Cover, hide, remove, cause to be forgiven a multitude of sins. Which sins or whose sins are forgiven and covered? Not the sins of the teacher. Sins are forgiven initially by baptism, based upon faith and repentance (Acts 2:36-38, Acts 22:16). Sins are not forgiven or removed by martyrdom, by almsgiving or other good works, by forgiving others, by love, or by converting others to God. Saving oneself by personal works cannot be supported by scripture (Titus 3:4-5).
The sins to be covered or removed are those of the sinner being converted (Psalm 32:1, Psalm 103:12, Isaiah 38:17 and 43:25, Micah 7:18, etc). God does not forgive your sins because someone else asks Him to do so, or the sins of. others because you ask Him. Personal belief and faith, personal repentance, and personal request are required. God will not and we cannot forgive – nor should we ignore the guilt – of others for something they will not confess and repent. James suggests that we confess our sins to each other and pray for each other in order that each of us may be healed of our sins (5:16-18). The only way to have your own sins forgiven in this transaction is to confess and pray, and ask others to pray with you and for you as you pray for yourself.
CONCLUDING OBSERVATIONS ABOUT THIS PASSAGE.
We are not to hate the sinner. We are to love him. AGAPĒ love includes concern for the well being of a person, spiritually as well as in physical and social matters. One who recognizes defects or deficiencies and does not try to correct them does not really love the person who has them (1 Peter 4:8).
We are not to ignore the sinner. We are to seek him, initiate contact (Matthew 18:15). The first inclination may be to stay uninvolved, to claim that the sinner is “none of my business.” But if he is a brother in Christ he is every Christian’s business. One should be aware and on watch for symptoms of sin that may be nipped before they flourish.
We are not to condemn the sinner. We are to admonish him, try to restore him (Galatians 6:1-2). 2 Thessalonians 3:6 and 14 says have no fellowship. Contact is not fellowship. We are not to leave the sinner to himself until he finds his own way back to God, at which point we may or might restore fellowship with him (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14).
We are not to reject the sinner. We are to entreat him – beseeching him to yield to the will of God to receive the blessings and salvation of God (2 Corinthians 5:20–6:1).
We are not to destroy the sinner. We are to convert him, repair him, restore him. Our desire must be to save him (James 5:19-20, 1 Peter 4:8).
We are all sinners, even Christians are sinners who wander away from the Lord in many things, whether purposely or ignorantly and carelessly. Every one of us is less than perfect. We should be glad when someone cares enough to bring us back to the Lord. When someone, speaking in love, instructs us and admonishes us to get right with the Lord, we should rejoice. We should also cooperate and respond properly. To be continued.