This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on April 28th, 2013. To listen to the audio, just click on this link – James 5D.
As we finish up the book of James, we will look at two verses which call us to confront a brother or sister in error. We want to understand how it is that believers can wander and how we are called to seek to restore them.
We All Have Potential to Wander from the Truth.
The Spiritual Life is a Process of Growth: Parable of the Sower – a lot of people receive the Gospel with Joy – but it is not a “one and done” kind of process. Rather, receiving the Gospel is entrance into a way of life that can either grow or be choked out.
How Do we Wander from the truth? 19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth… Our desires which can blind us, draw us into sin – away from fellowship – harden our hearts in the pursuit of them, because they become all consuming.
Our Lusts – “Over-Desires” Things that become too important and too big in our lives.
Example: Safety and having life under control – that is a very good thing. We want to protect the people we love – we want life to be stable for them, for us. But when safety and stability become over desires – we become fearful. We act fearfully. We try to control too much of life. We live in dread of what might happen.
Another example is food and drink. These are very good things – we need them. God has given us these things to enjoy. However, when we Over-Desire these things they become gluttony and addiction – and we pursue them increasingly and become slaves to them.
We Wrestle With Over-Desires: Right now, we are wrestling with over-desires, or lusts – all of us. As Titus says -we are learning to say “no” to ungodliness. As John says – we are not to love the world or the things of the world – I would say – we are not to Over-Desire the world or the things of the world – what our flesh wants – what our pride wants.
And so, as James says, “… each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires. 15 Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.”
Gardens and Weeds: Remember we talked about our souls as a garden. And sanctification – not as a ladder that you climb so that you get past things – certain temptations – but as a place where you cultivate some things and weed up others. A place where beauty is created at some cost – and where we learn to say no at some cost.
And when we give place to an over-desire, it develops – little by little (Jay’s image of sheep wandering away), into a greater desire – it grows. And that desire begins to take over the garden and to push other things out. And so, the ground – to use the garden metaphor – becomes packed with the weeds of over desire and hardened against what is good.
Wandering Begins with Desire and Moves to Unbelief: This is where wandering away begins – and as we wander further from true desire – what we believe begins to change. So the one who begins by following his lust, wanders increasingly away from a belief in the importance of purity, of the judgment of God, of love for his wife – and over time, what he believes begins to change.
We All Have Potential to Turn a Person Back from Error.
Confrontation: “… and someone should bring that person back…” This is not something that any of us relish – but there is no way to turn someone back from error without confrontation. I say this from experience. Having said that, we must be careful about confrontation – not rushing in to fix people. How are we to do this?
~ Understand: We have to understand what is happening with someone – and we have just seen. People are taken captive, blinded by over-desire. But we also need to show understanding – to exercise understanding. Telling someone to “Get over it”, showing impatience and a judgmental attitude is arrogant and foolish.
Understand that people – we – are engaged in a spiritual battle with our desires and our enemy. We are not computers to be given a command. We are living souls. Our desires are part of the makeup of our souls. We have an enemy who the Scriptures tell us is both an accuser and a liar. Our enemy is actively speaking to us – against us – as we wrestle with our desires. He is saying things like, “You could never turn from this and leave this – you’ll just come back to it”, or “You can manage this on your own and figure it out”, or “You can never tell anyone about this – they will judge you”. We have all believed all of these lies at some point. And telling someone just to get over it or cut it out, is only going to sound like condemnation.
~ Examine Yourself: Next, Jesus commands that if we are going to confront someone, we must examine ourselves (Matt.7:3-5). The question here is not whether we have failed in the same way as the one we are confronting, but how we have failed in the same way.
For example, perhaps you feel called to confront someone who you believe has begun to drink too much and you are concerned that they are moving towards addiction. Perhaps you don’t even drink alcohol. But what is the sin of alcohol addiction about? Seeking comfort and escape from what is painful. So the question I ask myself is, in what ways do I try to escape what is painful? Do I over eat? Do I become sullen and angry and lash out at people? Do I look at pornography? Do I try to pretend that everything is ok with my life and live in a fantasy world.
If I am to seriously examine myself before I go to confront another person, I must recognize the way or ways that I am struggling with the same sinful tendencies – I must recognize my own need for grace. And in my recognition of my own spiritual need, I must approach my brother in humility.
~ Pray: So how do we approach those who need our confrontation? We begin with prayer. We ask God to show us (1) What restoration would look like – what the person we are confronting needs to turn from – to believe – to love and to reject. (2) What the Scriptures say – where the Scriptures speak to the sin and need of the one we are confronting, as specifically as possible – because we believe that the Scriptures are God’s living and powerful word. We should never try to confront someone until we have spent significant time in prayer.
~ Confront: Confrontation should be done face to face – at a time and in a setting where you have the person’s attention and can speak to them seriously and alone. Confrontation should be firm but gentle – not a hit and run accusation, but a pleading for restoration and turning from what is destructive and a lie.
Remember The Hope of Turning a Brother from Error.
The Salvation of a Soul is What’s at Stake: “20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death…” What is at stake is the possibility of wandering away from the faith – from Jesus Christ our Lord and Master – into a life in which we lay aside his teachings, and the Gospel. This is what Jesus warns us about in the parable of the sower. Our faith is a growing and living thing – and it can be choked out – it can be withered and die.
When we attempt to turn a sinner from the error of their way, we are seeking to preserve, not just an outward morality, but a spiritual life, a life that belongs to Jesus. We are seeking to turn someone back to the worship of God in truth and grace, to the hope of the resurrection and eternal life, to submission to Christ’s teaching and way of life, to trust in God as a Father who provides, to confession of sin, forgiveness of others and to a life of repentance and deliverance.
If a brother or sister turns from error and sin, by the grace of God, you will have had a hand in turning them to Christ – the salvation of their soul.
God Will Cover a Multitude of Sins: “… and cover over a multitude of sins.” This is the Gospel promise of this passage… that those who turn back to Jesus for grace, forgiveness and restoration – who turn back to the life of faith and seek repentance – will be forgiven. The multitude of their sins in wandering and straying will be forgiven.
More than this – those who pursue repentance and the life of faith in Jesus as their freedom – their desire… those for whom repentance and faith means freedom and life – for whom putting aside over-desires means freedom – even though they may fail and fall many times in their attempts to turn from sin – the multitude of their sins, will be covered and atoned for by the grace of Jesus Christ. God is gracious to us in the process of repentance. God is patient with us.