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Finishing with a Flourish [7-23-24]

July 23, 2023

“Finishing with a Flourish”

James 5:19-20

First, let’s get the pleasantries out of the way. What is a sinner? How does the Bible help us understand that word, sinner, used by James in verse twenty?

Generally speaking, a sinner is a person who commits sin. Jesus establishes this basic truth in the parable of The Pharisee and the Tax Collector:

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

  • Luke 18:13

The Greek word translated there as sinner literally means someone who “misses the mark.” It’s a term used in archery. We fail to be where God wants us to be, to do what God commands us to do, to reflect the goodness of God in our lives. We miss the mark.

Our Biblical worldview helps us understand that we are all sinners in need of salvation. We are not sinners because of the sinful things we do. We do sinful things because of our sinful nature. We are born to a life of sin. Another way to put it is we have a fallen nature. It’s part and parcel of our broken human condition. As Paul once so beautifully put it in Romans 7:

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me…..Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Elsewhere, the Bible echoes this truth. We have a sinful nature. We all sin

and fall short of the glory of God. The bad things people do are symptoms

of our sin nature.

Functionally and relationally, our sin separates us from God. So when, in verse twenty James talks about sinners, he is talking about those who remain separated from God through sin. Sinner describes the broken state of one’s relationship with God. A little bit later, we’ll get into where that broken relationship leads. For now, sinner describes a person who lives in sin.

Make no mistake. We all sin. But we serve a God who loves sinners and sent His son to die for them. I love how one pastor puts it:

“Because God is Holy, He requires propitiation for His wrath against us for our sin against Him.”

“Because God is love, He propitiated His wrath against us in Jesus Christ who took our sin and nailed it to the cross.”

  • Burk Parsons

While we will continue to sin – thus the daily need for repentance – we are no longer sinners. Interesting distinction. When we repent and turn to Christ…when we accept the truth of the cross…our sins are forgiven and we are given eternal life. “For God so loved the world…” as Jesus put it in John 3:16-17. While we continue to live in a sinful, fallen world, we are no longer sinners.

Let’s now look one final time at James 5:19-20:

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.

As James uses the word, a sinner cannot be a Christian. Here’s something you might want to write down:


So James is talking about people who are not Christ-followers. They are not believers. While most of them have never been a part of the church, there are some who were part of the church but were not believers. These

are the folks 1 John 2:18-19 talks about:

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

These are folks who reject the truth of the gospel. They are lost in their sin. Jesus Christ is not their Lord and Savior. That is the problem James addresses here in these closing two verses. People are lost. And we all know some of them. Some are friends and family. We all know people living far away from Jesus. Like the prodigal son, they are in a metaphorical far off land.

That’s the reality. There are people who willfully chose not to follow Jesus.

Second, there’s the threat. The death James talks about is the final destination on the path which sinners have set their minds to take. That is the threat faced by all who are not called and convinced followers of Jesus.

So what does it mean? What is the threat of eternal death? What does it mean to have one’s soul saved from death?

There are all kinds of interesting conversations around what happens when a lost person dies. Hell? Obliteration? We remember what Jesus said to the one person who was crucified with him. Jesus said, “This very day you will be with me in paradise.” By that statement, we can safely assume that the other thief, the unbeliever, will be in a place the opposite of paradise. What does that mean? When all is said and done, I think the best way is to think about hell as separation from God.

With that in mind, what does it mean to save a soul from death?

To grasp what “soul” means, we simply need to go back to creation, in Genesis 1. When God created humankind, he breathed in the first man the breath of life, and he became a living soul. Simply put, the soul indicates the whole person. We’re not talking about some disembodied spirit. We’re talking about the whole person that God created to both dwell here on earth and then be in God’s presence eternally.

For the unbeliever, the threat is eternal death. Whatever it looks like, it means eternal separation from the love and glory and majesty of God.

  • Ezekiel 18:20: “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.”

  • Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

  • Revelation 8:20: “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” {What is the first death? Physical death in this life. The second death is eternal death, which, however you care to slice it, is eternal separation from the love and glory and majesty of God.}

Did you know that Jesus taught more about hell than he did about heaven?

I’m figuring that’s why James thought it important to end his letter

exhorting us to share the gospel with unbelievers.

When you think about it, that’s the most important thing God calls us to do. All of us. We don’t do it to the exclusion of the other ways we minister to our community. We can chew gum and walk at the same time. It’s always both/and, never either/or. We can help meet people’s needs and share the truth that’s going to save them from eternal separation from God.

Jesus said he came to seek and to save the lost. So James is calling us to be the ones through whom Jesus does that. What a privilege to tell others about Jesus. Luke 15 gave us three memorable parables from Jesus about lostness. There’s the woman who lost a coin and then found it, so she threw a party to celebrate. There’s the shepherd who left 99 of his flock behind in order to search for the lost one. And then there was the father who celebrated into the night because his spiritually lost son returned home.

Lost coin…lost sheep…lost son…all share the theme of rejoicing when

something lost is found. God rejoices in the salvation of His creation. James ends on the note of our greatest calling and highest joy…to let ourselves be used by God to bring lost people to Christ.

Earlier in his letter, James appealed to believers to help bring weak and/or wandering people back to the One, True Faith. In closing, the appeal is to help convert lost sinners to Christ. What a great and glorious challenge that is. As Charles Spurgeon once so forcefully stated {and as we prayed last week}:

“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.”

Let’s Pray:


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