Text: James 5:19, 20
Proposition: Soul savers are people with the heart of Christ that are willing to walk in the steps of Christ, with the message of Christ towards those who struggle.
Introduction: What image comes to your mind when someone mentions the word ‘stray’. Perhaps it’s a ‘stray dog or stray cat’, a creature that has no home. Perhaps a stray calf, a creature that does belong to someone but is simply lost, is what comes to mind. Perhaps a stray sheep, a well known biblical metaphor, is what you think of. A sheep is apt to go any place where there is an opening. It strays off into the distant hills and does not know the way back home. It does not know that it is lost. Intently grazing and moving for the next bite as it grazed, it simply lost its awareness of the flock, shepherd and surroundings. Sheep do not intend to become lost, are not aware generally that they are lost and do not know how to find their way back to the safety of the fold. In the fullest sense of the word, they stray.
Today we are going to look at the term ‘stray’ as it relates to us, for people too can stray in many ways… from each other, from a family, from a group or fellowship but ultimately, and always, from the truth. When James wrote his letter in about 40 AD, the early church faced many struggles. So James spoke to them about a faith evidenced in works, about being careful how they speak, about caring for the poor, overcoming the temptations to pleasure, acknowledging the sovereignty of God as the One who judges us, using good stewardship and moving in faith to pray for one another and lastly by looking out for those who stray from the truth. Let’s look at this last aspect of going after those who stray from the truth. Read with me James 5:19, 20.
Let’s ask a couple of questions that the text does not seem to address; How do people stray from the truth; How can we bring them back.
I. How do people who know Christ Stray From the Truth.
Clearly, the audience that James is addressing these concerns to is the church for he calls them his brethren. On the surface it doesn’t look like James has much to guide us in how people stray from the truth except that it involves three things:
1. There is error in his way – the way is just how you go about doing things, how you make decisions, how you control your thoughts, how you choose your actions. You and I had a way of doing things, but when we became Christians the way we did things changed. In Matthew 7:14 Jesus said, “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leads unto life and few there are that find it.” He pointed to Himself and said, “I am the way, the truth and the life…” . I guess you could say that whatever the way is, it has everything to do with finding life. When a person strays they have made an error in the way they are trying to find life. So recognize that a person who strays is really just looking for life in the wrong places. They have made an error in regarding the way to life.
2. There is death is his soul – to save a persons soul from death does not refer not to salvation, for these are already Christian people. It is not spiritual death James refers to, it is the death of their soul. Well what does that mean? The soul is described as the center of the feelings, desires, affections and aversions, the soul encompasses our emotions, intelligence and will. When a person strays from the truth of who Jesus Christ is, of what He has accomplished in their redemption, of who they are in Him, holy, righteous, forgiven, set apart for eternal purposes… when you loose sight of these truths which are meant to direct your emotions, inform your intellect, counsel your will you begin to experience a separation from hope, from faith and even from love. A soul that is being choked to death is like a fish that has been flipped out of the water. It has air all about it but it can’t breathe because it requires the water to breathe. Our water is Christ, in Him we live and move and have our being.
3. There is a minimizing of sin – there is a counseling adage that goes, “insight does not equal change, repentance equals change.” What that means is that having insight into the fact that you are doing something wrong is not enough to make you want to change your action or thoughts. It is when you see your wrong actions as sin and see the impact sin has on the heart of God that repentance then occurs and change of action follows. So when you say you are bitter or lustful or fearful, or resentful, the insight in seeing that is not going to affect change. When we stray from the truth of the cross of Christ and holiness of God and the eternalness of our soul, spirit and body, we will minimize sin, repentance is lost to psychological insights and amoral social values and we will bury ourselves in a multitude of sins.
These are some thoughts about How we stray from the truth, now how can we bring back those who do stray from the truth?
II. How do people who know Christ live as Christ in Turning Others.
Let’s note two things…
1. it is absolutely possible to turn someone back
2. we are to be motivated to do so by the incredible gain that is achieved… that’s what James is saying. The question that consumes us is ‘How do we reach them?’ What if you were visiting a friend and their one year old toddles past you heading towards the basement door, which is open. You see them approach the threshold of stairs, wobbling a little and seemingly oblivious to the steep stairs. What do you do? Do you reason that a good tumble down the stairs will teach them to be more careful, do you reason that it’s really their choice and you shouldn’t upset them by taking their hand? The truth is you know what to do and you spring to action. I think that every time a Christian strays from the truth and wobbles toward sin Jesus looks at them like we look at that toddler. The thing is, the body that He uses to spring into action is you and me, the body of Christ. What does that look like:
1. Be careful that the very thing which caused their fall does not cause your apathy, that thing is pride. Your humility regarding your own sin is the starting point for helping others with theirs.
2. Be careful that there is not an attitude of resignation, a belief that things are hopeless to change. This belief basically puts the will of a person above the sovereignty of God and has more faith in man’s obstinacy than in God’s faithfulness.
3. Be careful that your sufficiency is in the cross of the risen Christ. It does not lay in your convincing words nor in your pleading tones, in lays in the presence of the Holy Spirit who guides you in what you say, who lays out the truth of the gospel and opens their eyes to see it.
4. Be careful that the life you offer them is not the life of the world nor of easy believism. People have strayed because they were looking for life, there is no other life than in Christ. That’s the truth, all I can do is invite them to that truth.
5. Be careful that you do not minimize the importance of prayer, seek the Lord’s perseverance, His counsel, His perspective. If at all possible speak with the Lord with the one who has strayed. Speak candidly to Him with them, don’t preach and don’t tell God something He already knows. Just be real.
6. Be careful to trust God. Andrew Murray once said, “God is ready to assume full responsibility for the life wholly yielded to Him.” Trust Him.
These are the actions of soul savers, people with the heart of Christ that are willing to walk in the steps of Christ, with the message of Christ, towards those who struggle. Until Christ comes again, there will be struggle for us all, each of us at point may need the help of a Christ directed soul saver. It’s who the church is meant to be.