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A Call to Action [7-16-23]

July 16, 2023

James 5:19-20

“A Call to Action”

Here are the final verses of James:

My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings them back, let that person know that whoever brings back a sinner from their wandering saves their soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

  • James 5:19-20

First, and foremost, these final two verses have nothing to do with converting unbelievers. They present the final call to action in a letter flowing with calls to action.

Here’s how we saw it play out.

James presents all kinds of signs of a transformed heart. These are reasonable and practical ways by which you can evaluate your faith.

How do you respond to trials and tribulation? What are you like when things go wrong? How do you handle pressure, loss, disappointment?

Since we know sin is all around us, how do you respond to temptation? Whatever your weakness is, how do you resist the urge to give in to evil? How do you deal with the wickedness of our culture? Do you compromise or stand firm?

How are you honoring the holiness of God’s name?

How do you treat people who don’t like you? How do you respond when people are rude to you? What kind of speech comes out of your mouth?

What kind of wisdom is reflected in your life? Are you proud or humble?

What is your attitude toward God’s will?

Are you a whiner or are you gritty? Are you a feel-sorry-for-yourself-er or do you persevere in all things?

Now, remember, these questions are being asked within the context of in most situations most of the time. Or in all situations some of the time. Or some of the situations all the time. Rarely all situations all the time. We’re only human, after all.

What kind of speech comes out of your mouth? How do you talk to people? Are you quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger?

What is you worldview? Are you a friend of the world? Do you conform to the world or do you keep the wicked ways of our culture at arm’s length?

What is your attitude toward self? Are you proud or humble?

What is your attitude toward money? What about riches? Did you know that Pat Sajak earns more than $15 million annually from licensing fees for using his image on all kinds of Wheel of Fortune products worldwide? Does that bother you? Do you think that’s good, bad, or value neutral?

In the course of this series, we’ve explored all aspects of those questions. They form a series of tests by which you can evaluate where your faith is at. Here’s something to write down:


Evangelism is at the heart of James. Throughout his letter, James gives a clarion call for all sinners to come to Christ and be saved. James is an invitation to salvation. And then he spells out what it means to have your life transformed by the knowledge that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your salvation. He says, knowing that Christ died on the cross so your sins could be forgiven will produce this fruit in your life. As James put it, “Resist the devil and he’ll flee; draw near to God.”

After writing through that process…of coming to Christ and living in Christ…James does not conclude with a final evangelistic call for un-believers to come to Christ.

As we’ve seen throughout the letter, James calls on those who name the name of Christ to be sure they are genuine. But not in verses 19-20. The point of these final two verses is something completely different. Here, James calls believers to do evangelism in the church. Here’s why:


For one reason or another, their faith is not true. It has slipped and they are falling away from Jesus.

We have already seen how James says people of strong faith need to pray for the weak and weary Christians. There are times when believers need to be held up and supported and encouraged. That’s not what is happening in these final two verses. James now turns to dealing with those who are

revealing themselves to be unbelievers in the Body of Christ.

Reading these two verses led me to think back over my 40 years of ministry. In years past, I’ve seen people become part of the church for reasons other than a desire to become devoted followers of Jesus Christ. That is something which reveals itself over time. One of the most common reasons falls under what researchers call Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. The five major points of this belief system are:

  • A God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.

  • God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.

  • The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.

  • God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.

  • Good people go to heaven when they die.

You add to that programs and activities for children and families, and there is more than enough to draw people to the church.

But then, as James acknowledges, something happens. People wander. For

whatever reason, they have drifted away from Jesus. There is the fair-

minded assumption that at some point, there was an affinity for Christ. But now, not so much. So James says those with a genuine heart of faith ought to care about those who are less than genuine. As a result, here’s something else you might want to write down:


And let me add, I’ve seen nary a sign of this in Covenant Church since we’ve moved up here to 5290 Milwaukee Road. Perhaps it has something to do with the lingering Baptist effect. But for whatever quirky theory I conjure up, the reality is I’ve seen less of this kind of weak and feeble Christianity than at any time in my ministry. God has richly blessed Covenant Church with people of strong and enduring faith. He is good all the time.

In verse 19, James says there are those who have wandered from the truth. Interesting word used there. Planethe, from which the word “planet” is taken. As we should have learned in school, planets move around the sun at different rates. The earth moves around the sun. Therefore, a combination of these movements means we see planets in the night sky at

different times each year. They wander. They are not fixed in the night sky.

In the same way, James says, people have wandered from the faith. As Jesus taught in Matthew 13:1-9:

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty,

some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”

James had ears to hear what his older brother taught. And now, James trusts this same message to our hearing.

People wandering away from the One, True Gospel require a response from us, as the Body of Christ.

Here’s what Paul says in Titus 3:3:

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.

There’s that word again, planethe, translated in Titus as “being deceived,” which means the same thing as in James 19 – “to wander away.” It means to drift off into unsaved territory.

In verse 19, James is talking about people who claimed to be believers for a while, but are now wandering away from the truth. They are rejecting the will of God. They are trading the truth of His Word for a counterfeit worldview. We know that happens. We have seen it happen in people’s lives.

Years ago, I knew a family whose son did just that. He went away to college, and within a semester, had converted to Islam. He was brought up in the church. It broke his parent’s hearts. They feared for his salvation.

In a church I once served, a young woman who grew up in the church went from that small town to college. She then got her degree and a job in the big city. She met a man who was Jewish. They got married. She converted to Judaism. Which means she rejected Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Her mother was beside herself with sadness.

Countering such wandering is this lovely truth:

“Cross and crown, death and resurrection, humiliation and exaltation lie on the same line. As Jesus Himself put it after His resurrection: It was necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and so enter His glory {Luke 24:26}.”

  • Herman Bavinck

That is the truth to which we cling.

What are we to do when someone willfully rebels against the truth? There

is a cost to rejecting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. James mentions it in

verse 20:

Whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death.

What does that mean? What kind of death is James writing about? We’ll answer those questions next week. I’m fairly confident next week we will wrap up what has been, for me, at least, a wonderful six months in The Letter of James.

Let’s pray {A Prayer by Charles Spurgeon}:

If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.

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