Rescue the Christian Who is Losing Their Way
“My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19)
You see them at the Christian bookstore, in Sunday school, sitting next to you in the pew; you don’t realize it, but they are people hooked on masturbation, pornography, or illicit sex. They have strayed “from the truth,” and unless someone helps them get back on course, Scripture is clear that they will be destroyed.
A Slow Drift
What does the Bible tell us about this wayward soul? The writer of Hebrews likened him to a boat that has lost its moorings and is drifting down the river. (2:1) The Psalmist said he has wandered away from the commandments. (119:21) Jesus placed him among those who, “have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away.” (Luke 8:13) Peter said, “having eyes full of adultery and that never cease from sin… forsaking the right way they have gone astray.” (2 Peter 2:14-15) They maintain “a form of religion” but have veered off course in their hearts.
Not only has this poor soul strayed from the Lord, but, in the process, he also has accumulated to his charge “a multitude of sins.” Search the depths of his heart and you will discover the evil desires he has been unwilling to relinquish. Peek into his inner being and you will find an unseen “world of iniquity.” Observe what he does when nobody is watching, and you will see a sordid and seedy life that will shock you.
Each and every day, since he turned away from the Living God, he has added to his guilt. Every month of every year the “Mount of Transgression” has grown larger. He has long since forgotten most of his sins— but Heaven has not. Every deed has been recorded with terrifying precision. He has consistently grieved, resisted and provoked the Holy Spirit.
Leading to Death
The Bible tells us that the ultimate penalty for this “multitude of sins” is the death of his soul. But what exactly does this mean? Charles Finney described one aspect of it:
“When my last child died, the struggle was long; O, it was fearfully protracted and agonizing; twenty-four hours in the agonies of dissolving nature! It made me wish I could not see it! But suppose it had continued till this time. I should long since have died myself under the anguish and nervous exhaustion of witnessing such a scene. Who would not cry out, ‘My God, cut it short, cut it short in mercy!’
“The figure of our text supposes an eternal dying. Suppose a poor man cannot die! He lingers in the death agony a month, a year, five years, ten years till all his friends are broken down, and fall into their graves under the insupportable horror of the scene: but still the poor man cannot die! He outlives one generation then another and another; one hundred years he is dying in mortal agony, and yet he comes no nearer to the end! What would you think of such a scene? It would still be a feeble illustration of the awful ‘second death!’”
Again, this refers to just one of many descriptive phrases concerning eternal separation from God. For example, who can truly comprehend Jesus’ meaning when He said that some would be sent into “outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth?” (Matthew 8:12) Or, what were the eternal implications of His warning that a sinner would be handed “over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed?” (Matthew 18:34) What about those who would hear the terrifying words, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels?” (Matthew 25:41) As if that’s not enough, consider the frightening conclusion inferred by each of these biblical phrases:
- “for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever;” (Jude 1:13)
- “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever;” (Revelation 20:10)
- “the wrath of God abides on him;” (John 3:36)
- “eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord.” (2 Thessalonians 1:9)
All of this and more must have been in James’ heart when he implored his readers to restore wayward souls. With the same passion, his brother, Jude, also urged his readers to save them, “snatching them out of the fire.” (Jude 1:22)
The grim realities expressed by these scriptural portraits should be sufficient to compel any sincere Christian to do everything within his power to redeem an errant soul from such a fate. And yet, let us not forget the positive aspects of such a deliverance. Not only is the sinner saved from hell, but he is saved into heaven!
Just imagine what awaits a restored sinner as he enters this enchanting paradise. One of his first experiences is to see his life played out before him on a “heavenly screen.” He sees the reality of the hell in which he lived and the eternal damnation from which he was rescued. Perhaps for the first time, he realizes the horrible and certain destruction from which he has been saved.
As he watches all that occurred in and around his life, the “movie” reveals how he fell away from God and into sinful rebellion. At the same time that was happening, he observes the many different times that a loving saint was earnestly praying on his behalf—that person was you. The next scene shows the moment when his life was turned around. He is reminded that you were the one who urgently shared a concern for his soul. He sees how you encouraged him along the way, reproved him when he wandered, and, above all, prayed for him throughout the process. He had no idea how much of a part you played in his restoration.
For seven long years, he waits for you to land upon the “shores of eternal bliss.” Finally, he hears of your entrance into the Celestial City and rushes to be the first to greet you. Overwhelmed with love and gratitude, he runs to embrace you, covering your face with kisses. “Do you realize what you have saved me from?” he almost demands. Without even waiting for a reply, he grabs your face and kisses you again. (There is no social awkwardness in heaven to prevent such displays of affection.)
Embarrassed, feeling as though you did very little, you protest, “You give me too much credit. It was the Lord who saved you.”
“Yes, but you were the one person concerned enough to help me get back on track,” he counters. “Where would I be today if you had not cared about me?” Again, more kisses.
Joy in God’s Work
Eventually, having escaped his outpouring of love, you too are brought before the Lord. Now it is your turn to watch your life played out. What you did for this one lost soul is shown before a vast multitude of angelic beings and redeemed souls. “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10) That joy and gratitude is now directed toward you. To them, you are every bit as much of a hero as a man who rushes into a burning house to save a child or a man who dives into icy, churning waters to save someone from drowning.
Your selfless actions are now to be honored by no less than God Himself. (I Corinthians 4:5) The earthly homage paid to Mordecai is a mere foreshadowing of what awaits you: “For the man whom the king desires to honor, let them bring a royal robe which the king has worn, and the horse on which the king has ridden, and on whose head a royal crown has been placed; and let the robe and the horse be handed over to one of the king’s most noble princes and let them array the man whom the king desires to honor and lead him on horseback through the city square, and proclaim before him, ‘Thus it shall be done to the man whom the king desires to honor.’” (Esther 6:7-9)
Among the varied works in which a Christian may involve himself, winning souls and restoring backsliders surely must be considered among the noblest. May the words of James to us serve as a sobering reminder of the preciousness of souls. As we strive to keep ourselves in the love of God, let us never underestimate the importance of intercession and restoration.
Steve Gallagher is the Founder and President of Pure Life Ministries. He has dedicated his life to helping men find freedom from sexual sin and leading Christians into the abundant life in God that comes through deep repentance.
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