JAMES 5:19-20

OCTOBER 14, 2012




Imagine you and another family member are at a wedding rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner is going to be at Old Chicago.  You have come in two cars because you both came from work and after the rehearsal you say, "I'll follow you to Old Chicago," which you start to do, but you soon realize they are heading to the wrong Old Chicago.  They are taking a left at 370 instead of a right, and you instantly know that they are headed to the Old Chicago at Shadow Lake and the rehearsal dinner is at the Old Chicago in the Old Market  What do you do when you see them heading off in the wrong direction?  Do you pull alongside, roll down the window, and tell them they are going to the wrong Old Chicago?  Do you call them on the cell phone and tell them the error of their ways? Or would you say, "Forget it, let them go to the wrong Old Chicago.  I'm going to the correct one."

            Or imagine a golfing buddy.  You play golf together every Saturday morning, not Sunday because that would be a major sin, and the two of you have been playing golf in the same foursome for years, but all of a sudden, he takes a liking to another foursome, and does not have as much time to play in your foursome.  In fact, he starts making excuses for why he cannot play, but you know he's still playing golf, just not as much with your foursome.  What do you do?  Do you tell him you miss him?  Do you ask him to rejoin your foursome?  Or do you simply let him go and stop calling him?  After all, he seems to have made his decision.  Actions speak louder than words and he obviously has time for the other group, but not yours.  What do you do?

            Or what happens when a family member or friend stops attending church?  Do you mention it to him or her or do you let it slide?  Or what happens if they decide to become a Jehovah's Witness or embrace Judaism or become a Buddhist?   Do you let it go - after all, you believe everyone worships the same God - or do you take the person aside and attempt to win him or her back to Christ?

            Well, as we draw this sermon series to a close, James has some definite ideas about going after folk who have wandered away, and as we study his thoughts, I want us to note three things.

            First, I want us to note the truth is real.

            As a child, how many of you grew up with the tooth fairy?  How many of you heard about Santa Claus?  How about the Easter Bunny and the Great Pumpkin?  How many of you were taught you should always wear clean underwear in case you were in an accident?

            There are certain things we grow up believing in America.  Most of those things are harmless.  Some, however, are not.  For example, how about this statement:  "It doesn't matter what you believe as long as you are sincere?"  Do you know anyone who professes that?  I can see why someone would say that because it sounds so tolerant, so broadminded.  It's just "Different strokes for different folks.  You believe this.  I believe that.  That's fine.  We are both cool."

            Of course, when we take it to its logical conclusion, such a belief is absurd.  For example, I drive a white Volvo S60, and imagine Trudy and I are headed, in separate vehicles once again, this time to someone's house in Bellevue.  We live way out in Millard, just a little east of Lincoln.  She doesn't know the exact address so I say, "Follow me," and she does, but as we go we get caught up in traffic and she loses sight of me for a moment.  Then, she sees me, again, at least she thinks she sees me ahead, but it's not my white Volvo S60, it's another white Volvo S60 and she keeps following that Volvo S60 and she ends up at the wrong house.  She thought she was following the right car, but she wasn't and she ended up at the wrong destination.

            Here's the point.   We can be sincere, but sincerely wrong.  It takes more than sincerity to make it in life.  It takes truth.  If we read the gospels very carefully, we will hear Jesus say, "I tell you the truth," over eighty times.  Twenty times in the Scriptures Jesus says, "You've heard it said, but I say to you."  In other words, he was replacing a bogus truth with the real truth.

            There is one fundamental question everyone needs to ask themselves.  It is, "What is going to be the authority for my life?  What's going to be my North Star?  What's going to be the guidebook I rely upon?"  This is not very politically correct, but I will say it anyway: unless the compass is Jesus Christ, we are heading in the wrong direction.  Jesus not only said, "I tell you the truth," but he also said of himself, "I am the truth."  Anyone else we follow pales in comparison.  The truth is real.  It is a person.  His name is Jesus.

            Second, the truth is not only real, but also the stakes are high.  Verse 20,


            You should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinners soul from death.


            The stakes are high.  The stakes are life and death.  Now, there are two kinds of death.  One we all experience - physical death.  Some day we will all be pushing up daisies.  The other kind of death we do not have to experience - spiritual death, also known as eternal separation from God. 

            I have some helpful elves who have a handout for you.  I draw your attention to "The Bridge Illustration"[1].  The first box illustrates the message of the first three chapters of the Book of Genesis.  Humankind has rebelled against God both actively and passively and our sinfulness has separated us from God.  So we have this great chasm between God and us.  We sometimes allude to that separation.  We say things like, "I pray, but I don't know if I'm getting through to God," or "God always puts me on hold," or "God does not seem to care."

            The second box illustrates our attempts to bridge that chasm.  We start to do all sorts of things to get back to God.  We try to be a helpful neighbor.  We go to church.  We give to charities.  If we have a little too much to drink on a Saturday night we put a little extra in the offering plate on Sunday morning.  We are doing all these good things, but it's still not enough.  See the arrows?  These signify our attempts to please God, but we fall short.  Jesus said, "Be perfect as God is perfect," and think of it in baseball terms.  In baseball terms that would mean never making an out and never making an error.  Even the best baseball players in the world fall short of that just as everyone, even the best people in the world fall short of God's standard - perfection.  That's Romans 6:23 - "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

            That leads us to the third box.  God loves us.  God loves us so much God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  God provided a bridge over which we can find forgiveness and restore our relationship with our Creator.  God built it by coming to the earth as one of us, and dying on the cross to pay the penalty we owe.  Listen to how a member of James' congregation in Jerusalem put it.  Turn with me to I Peter 3:18.  It's two pages back from our passage in James.  Follow along as I read,


            For Christ also suffered for sins once and for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.  He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.


            And that is the central message of the New Testament.  And that's what James wants us to understand.  It's not enough to know about it or agree with it.  Look with me at illustration four.  We have to act on it.  God wants us to move to the other side.  We do this by admitting our rebellion, admitting our need for forgiveness and accepting what God has done for us in Christ. 

            The stakes are incredibly high.  If hell is real, and Jesus talked about as if it were, I do not want to spend eternity in asbestos underwear.  In fact, I don't want anyone to spend eternity in asbestos underwear.  Well, I take that back.  Maybe there are three or four people I would like to see in asbestos underwear, but mostly I don't anyone to spend eternity separated from God, and that leads us to the third thing James says.  James not only says the truth is real and the stakes are high, but he also says the directive is clear.

            Let me relate one final thing about James that might adversely affect your perception of him:  James is more a Methodist or a Baptist than a Presbyterian.  By that I mean, James is not real big on the eternal security of the saints.  Calvin believed once saved, always saved.  James did not.  He believed a person could slip away and fall from grace.  Historically, Presbyterians have not believed that.  We believe once in the fold, always in the fold.  We believe we may drift away from God, but never so far that our salvation is in doubt.  So James would not likely join us here at Anderson Grove.  He would more likely join the Baptists up the block. 

            And, of course, we could debate this theological question until the cows come home, which theologians have done for centuries, but one common area upon which we can all agree is this: an erring or drifting brother or sister in Christ is in serious trouble, and when we see someone drifting from the truth the directive is clear.  Specifically, we are to do three things.

            First, we take the initiative.  We don't passively watch them drift away.  Let me suggest some extra credit reading.  This week read through the fifteenth chapter of Luke.  In the fifteenth chapter Jesus tells three parables, back to back to back.  In fact, it's the only time Jesus ever told three parables in a row.  Generally, he would tell a story, see the people didn't get it, and he would pause and explain it before proceeding to another parable.  In Luke 15 Jesus does not do this.  Instead in the fifteenth chapter he tells three stories in rapid fire, and they are all about lost things - lost sheep, lost coin and lost son.  The bottom line of these stories is lost people matter to God.  A sheep got lost and the shepherd went out looking for it.  A coin was missing, so the woman hunted through the house until she located it.  In the last story, the prodigal son, the father exercised restraint because he respected his son's freedom and wanted him to learn some hard lessons, but the father kept his eyes on the horizon, waiting for the day his son would come back home.  When we value someone or something and it ends up lost, we naturally want to search for it.  In fact, in summarizing his mission Jesus said, "I have come to seek and to save the lost."  Our job is the same.

            What does it mean to take the initiative?  Simply, we bring up the subject.  We take the person to lunch or invite them over for dinner and ask what is going on in their lives.  We ask about their drifting away.  We say things like, "I haven't seen you in church recently and I miss you.  What's going on in your life?"  Or we say, "Tell me, what is God saying to you these days?"  Whatever the situation, we take the initiative in bringing someone back into the fold.

            Second, we pray.  In the verses we looked at last week, James repeatedly instructed us to pray when we are in need.  Prayer unites us with the Spirit in the task of drawing someone back to Christ.

            Third, we approach the wandering person with gentleness.  James doesn't say this but the Apostle Paul does.  In Galatians 6:1 we read,


            My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression - that is if anyone has wandered from the truth - you who have received the Spirit should restore the person with a spirit of gentleness.


            In other words, we are to be like the shoe salesman who never said, "Lady, your foot is too big for this shoe."  Instead he said, "I'm sorry, ma'am but this shoe is just a little too small for your foot."  Same facts - small shoe, big foot - but different words, gentle words.  Those words did not shrink her foot, but it did save her face.

            The directive is clear:  take the initiative, pray like crazy, and be gentle and that's it for James.  That's it for this sermon series.  I hope you have enjoyed getting to know this great saint of the church.  I know I have.

[1] Bill Hybels & Mark Mittleberg, Becoming a Contagious Christian, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 157-159.