MS Week #43: The Truth of the Gospel

Brad Libolt speaking on James 5:19-20. In these last verses of the book Brad talks about how, as believers, we can wander from the truth both in doctrine and in behavior and emphasizes that it is our responsibility to bring one another back to the truth of the gospel. He also spoke about our part in the saving work God is doing in people’s lives.

19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

  • James begins with “My brothers.” This indicates that he is speaking to believers. He is speaking to fellow Christians, people who are in the church. Because James is speaking to Christians, to people in the church, he is speaking to us today. Let’s see what he is saying.
  • He says if anyone among you, so that means anyone in the church, if anyone among you wanders from the truth. Ok let’s stop there. If anyone among you, any of you Christians, fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, if any of you wander from the truth. What does it mean to wander from the truth? We are talking about the truth of the gospel, so what does it mean to wander from the truth of the gospel?
  • Wandering from the truth can happen in two ways: Doctrinally and behaviorally. We can wander from the truth in doctrine or in behavior. If someone is wandering in their doctrine, it means they aren’t believing what is true about the gospel. UFC has a statement of faith, and in that statement of faith are Christian doctrines that our church holds to. These doctrines are what we believe to be true about the Christian faith. So for example, we believe that salvation is by faith alone through grace alone, not by works. That is our doctrine of salvation. We believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, and has authority over our lives. It is without error and is the primary way we can know about God. That is our doctrine on the inerrancy of Scripture. Another one is our doctrine on marriage. We believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, is a gift from God, and is a lifelong commitment no matter what. I used these three examples, because they are probably the most common doctrines we see people wander from today.
  • Then there is wandering from the truth in behavior. We can wander from the truth when we sin. When we have unrepentant, continual sin, we start to wander. Maybe it’s lying, or gossiping or slandering others. Whatever it is, when we live in unrepentant sin we wander from the truth.
  • And what’s interesting about both of these is they are often connected. If we wander in behavior long enough eventually our doctrine will begin to fall as well. And if we wander in doctrine for a while, our behavior will change too, and we can more easily fall into sin. When we are sinning and know it, we either don’t want to change because it would be uncomfortable, or think we can’t change because it is too difficult. And if these thoughts linger long enough, and we know what the Bible says about our sin, then eventually we have to change in our minds what the Bible is. If we really like lying, but the Bible says not to lie, then either I’m wrong or the Bible is wrong. I don’t want to be wrong, so it must be the Bible, and then I stop believing in the inerrancy and authority of Scripture and I begin to wander in doctrine as well. See how that works? Or, the other way around, if you wander in doctrine and stop believing in the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, and think it is just some book on the human experience of religion rather than the very words of God, then what it has in it doesn’t necessarily apply to me, so it must be ok to gossip and slander.
  • So, it is important to see that there are different ways we can wander: in doctrine and in behavior. But, it is also important to see that they are both very connected as well. Often times, one leads to another.
  • Let’s keep working through the passage. So we have a brother, someone in the church, wandering from the truth in either what they believe or how they behave, and then James says if anyone is doing that, and someone brings him back. Let’s stop there.
  • Where are we bringing this person back to? They have wandered from the truth, so we must be bringing them back to the truth. And what is the truth again? It’s the gospel.
  • So when people wander, they wander from the truth of the gospel. Because in the gospel, we know what is true. We know what doctrine to believe because the gospel tells us that God has spoken to us through his word, and what is in his word is true. The gospel also speaks to our behavior, and tells us that we are free from sin, no longer enslaved to the desires of the flesh. It tells us that because we are saved and justified by faith, we now live holy lives putting off sin and putting on the things of God.
  • The gospel is what people wander from, and so the gospel is what we need to bring them back to. We need to bring them back to the fact that Jesus Christ lived as a man, sinless and perfect. He lived the life you and I couldn’t, and died the death we deserve. He was crucified on the cross, bearing our sin and shame and guilt, suffering the punishment that we deserve for our sin. He took that upon himself, in our place. Then he rose again from the grave, conquering sin and death and providing for us a way back to our creator a way to spend eternity in perfect relationship with the God who loves us so much. And now, because of that truth we live in expectation of the day to come when Jesus returns and takes us home. While we wait we strive to live holy lives, knowing that we will fail because we are not perfect but God’s grace is there every time, our salvation and eternity is secure in Christ Jesus. That is the truth that we need to be brought back to when we wander: the truth of the gospel.
  • And what is so cool about this, is that this is an every day thing. This is what Christian community looks like. We are constantly wandering, we are constantly sinning and doubting. Maybe it’s not something huge like we stop believing the Bible is true or we have a huge sin issue, but maybe it is. We all have doubts about our faith and about God and about the Bible. We all have struggles, whether or not they seem big or small it’s all sin. We wander from the truth of the gospel all the time. We stop believing that God loves us. We continue to lie to our parents. ]We gossip about our friends behind their back. We are always wandering in ways like this. That is why it is so important to have Christian community, brothers and sisters in Christ around us to bring us back to the truth. Bring us back to the gospel. Bring us back to the truth of what Jesus Christ did for us. That’s how we live in Christian community, we continually bring and are continually brought back to the gospel, back to the truth.
  • Let’s keep moving through the verse. It says “let him know” referring to the someone who is bringing them back, “that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” So there are two things I want us to see in this last section of the verse.
  • First is what’s at stake. Bringing back a wanderer isn’t done just so they can have a better day, or so you feel better about yourself, or because the Bible says to, we do it because if we don’t, people are heading towards their death. Not just physical death, but death of the soul, eternal separation from their creator, forever apart from God. We have to see the severity of this. This is so important, because people’s lives are at stake.  Not just their physical lives, but more importantly their spiritual lives. 
  • Yesterday I watched the new movie “Dunkirk” with my brother. It is a great movie about  WWII. The Germans had pushed the British and French armies to the beaches of Dunkirk, where they were surrounded on all sides and waiting rescue from the sea.There are about 400,000 men on the beach waiting to get saved. They can get on one ship at a time, which wont take very many, and the ship doesn’t last long before German bombers come and destroy it once it’s at sea. So there’s 400,000 men on the beach, getting picked off by bombers, German troops are closing in closer and closer, and they are desperate for salvation. The things people do to get saved, to get off the beach and head back to Britain show their desperation.
  • And yet even more than that, more than the desperation of 400,000 men to be rescued from the hands of the enemy and taken home, people are desperate for a different kind of salvation. A kind of salvation that can’t be provided by ships or boats or planes, but a kind of salvation that can only be provided by Jesus. People are desperate for their souls to be saved from death. We have the salvation they long for in the gospel, so we need to give it to them.
  • We have to see what is at stake in this Christian life we live. We have to see people’s souls. Saving 400,000 lives off the beaches of Dunkirk in WWII is amazing. How much more amazing would it have been if that was 400,000 souls saved from their sin and depravity? Let’s not neglect what is at stake here.
  • Also, real quick side point, how does bringing a wanderer back cover a multitude of sins? If it is just one sin that they are struggling with, or one doubt or one wrong belief that we bring them back from, how does that cover a multitude of sins? It does because of what we are bringing them back to. We are bringing them back to the gospel, which covers a multitude of sins. The gospel is the only thing that can cover all of our sin, and there’s a lot of it, so again, just a reminder that we are bringing people back to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is the only thing that can save their souls.
  • Ok so the second thing I want us to see in the last part of this verse. Who is doing the saving of the souls from death? Who is covering a multitude of sins? Our initial answer is probably “God,” but look closely. The person who brings a sinner back from their wandering, that person will save their soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. It is the person who brings them back that is doing the saving and covering. But we also know God can only do that, right? Does an ax cut down a tree? Yeah, it does. We can say that an axe cuts down a tree. We can also say that a lumberjack cuts down a tree, right? So we are like the ax, and God is the lumberjack. We are the tool God is using to do it, but it is by his power that the tree is being cut down.
  • What I want us to see here is how amazing it is that God uses you and me to do his incredible saving work. We get to take part in the amazing work that God is doing on this earth. We get to be apart of the salvation of souls from spiritual death. We get to be apart of the covering of multitudes of sins in people’s lives. We get to be used by God in incredible ways that we don’t deserve. And that should drive us to worship our amazing God. The fact that God has chosen us out of our sin, sent his son do die a horrible death on the cross in our place, continue to show us grace and mercy and forgiveness in our sin, and then, on top of all of that, he wants to use us to do that to others. He wants us to take part in the saving work he is doing in people’s lives.

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