By Dusty Owens
Where the brother of Galatians 6:1 is being “overtaken in any trespass,” there is a brother that wanders from the truth to whom we have the the responsibility to recover if possible. “My brethren, if any among you err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he who converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins” (Jas. 5:19,20).
This beautiful passage in James speaks of benevolence, pardon and salvation. “No duty laid upon Christians is more in keeping with the mind of their Lord, or more expressive of Christian love, than the duty of reclaiming the backslider; and it is very certain that such a work cannot be accomplished except by prayer and personal effort” (R.V.G. Tasker, Tyndale Comm. of James, p. 142).
From this passage we can observe that (1) it is possible to err from something called “the truth”; (2) the one here who errs from the truth is a “brother”; (3) this brother who is erring from the truth is a sinner; (4) this brother who is considered by God to be a sinner is in “death”; (5) a responsibility rests upon the “brethren” to convert the sinning brother; and (6) a brother who is dead in sin is saved from death when he is converted.
Erring From The Truth
The word “err” in verse 19 is the first aorist passive subjunctive of planao, meaning “to go astray, to wander.” This form of the verb indicates that the brother at some point in time was “seduced” into committing some kind of sin. It does not have to be a continuous practice for the brother to “err from the truth.”
The Word of God is truth (Jn. 17:17); we must love truth .(2 Thess. 2:10-12); we must obey truth (Gal. 5:7); when we do it has the power to liberate us (Jn. 8:32); obedience to the truth results in the purification of our souls (1 Pet. 1:22); we are begotten of truth (Jas. 1:18); we must not lie against the truth (1 Jn. 1:6; 3:14); and we must speak the truth with love (Eph. 4:15).
A Brother Erring From The Truth
There is no doubt that the one who “errs from the truth” is a brother in the Lord. James addresses them as “brethren,” and then warns that “any among you” may “err from the truth.”
A Brother Erring From The Truth Is A Sinner
Those that teach that “a true Christian cannot sin” have themselves departed from the truth! “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us”; furthermore, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8,10).
It is evident that this brother is in some kind of “death.” Certainly not in physical death but in spiritual death, which is a separation of one’s spirit from the fellowship of God. It is caused by sin (Isa. 59:1,2; Eph. 2: 1). This brother has in some way erred from the truth; he is judged a sinner; therefore, he is “dead” spiritually. That means he will be lost in hell unless he repents and confesses his sin (Acts 8:17-24; 1 Jn. 1:9). If we do not see this brother as lost in sin, we will not put forth the effort to convert him!
The “Brethren’s” Responsibility
God in His wisdom has planned for His people to look out for each other, “watching thereunto in all perseverance and supplication for all the saints” (Eph. 6:18b). He wants us to assemble regularly to “encourage, exhort, and provoke unto love and good works” (Heb. 10:24,25). God expects us to be in “tune” with one another (1 Cor. 12:26) so if one begins to slide away, we will know immediately to “convert” him. The word “convert” means to “turn back.” If we do not turn him back, he winds up on the reef of sin, making “shipwreck” of his faith (1 Tim. 1:19).
A Brother Converted Is A Brother Saved
There are many in the religious world who do not believe that a Christian can sin so as to be lost. The Bible teaches otherwise. Jesus taught that if a branch (disciple) in Him will not produce fruit, “he taketh it away” (Jn. 15:2); Paul had to bring his own body into subjection, “lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected” (1 Cor. 9:27); the Jewish Christians were warned: “Ye are severed from Christ, ye who would be justified by the law; ye are fallen away from grace” (Gal. 5:4); they were further warned, “Take heed, brethren, lest haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12). There are so many more Scriptures like these that we could mention. The point is that my brother who errs from the truth is a sinner, lost and doomed to hell, unless he is rescued. When we go to one such as this, in a spirit of love and humility, and convert him, we “cover a multitude of sins.” These most assuredly are his sins which are pardoned, that are under consideration. Still I wonder how many of my sins are “covered” when I go to another to convert him (1 Tim. 4:16).
“It has been said that those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves; and certainly those who bring the lives of others to God cannot keep God out of their own. The highest honor God can give is bestowed upon him who leads another to God; for the man who does that does nothing less than share in the work of Jesus Christ, the Savior of men” (William Barclay, Letters of James, p. 132). Amen.
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 16, p. 492
August 15, 1985