February 9, 2016
19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
There’s a line in one of the favorite hymns of the church that jars me every time I sing it. The line comes in the third and final verse of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it;
Seal it for Thy courts above.
I didn’t know this until recently, but there are parts of the church who will not sing the third verse as it was written. They have taken the liberty to change the lyrics, omitting the words “wandering” and “Prone to wander,” and replacing them with another idea entirely. I don’t want to mischaracterize their clearly convicted point of view, but they seem to hold to a position that there is a threshold of holiness which once crossed cannot abide or admit even the possibility of a “proneness” to wander away from God.
Not James. While he believes in the possibility of a pure and even rarified holiness, he will not release his respect for the seductive power of sin and the ever present propensity of the self deceiving ways of our race.
My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back,
So what does James mean by “wander from the truth?” I don’t think he means to decisively walk away from God. The context of the passage indicates he is talking about sin. While we are granted power over sin and gifted by the Spirit to put sin to death and live lives free from its hold, I’m not sure we are ever given immunity from its infectious reach.
Though we be in remission or even completely cured, the cancer of sin can always come back. We need not live in fear of its return, but rather in awe of the ever-present, every-day mercy of God to uphold, preserve and protect us from its reach. It harkens me back to our long and humbling obedience as the Daily Text Community to the ancient declaration of faith known as the Jesus Prayer. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” The mercy I most need as a sinner is not the comfortable assurance of repeat forgiveness for failure but the humility to constantly know my desperate need of Jesus to save me from presuming on his grace.
The last hard truth James offers us is this one. We don’t typically wander away from God with a willful decision. We wander away from God when we willingly lose ourselves in the shifting shadows and seductive shades of sin. While I think leaving the God I love is highly unlikely, I do know of my proneness to wander into sin. What I must realize is that the latter, unguarded by myself and unchecked by others, almost always leads to the former. It’s why James puts a premium on the necessity of watching over one another in love.
Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
It’s like my friend, Ricky, once aptly said to me, “If I was driving by your house and it was on fire, would you want me to tell you?”
Thank you, James, for the courage to sniff out the smoke from the still smoldering sin in our lives and to let us know. Thank you, brother of Jesus and brother of ours, for never protecting us from His truth so that we might never be shielded from His grace.
Thank you, James.
1. How about you? Are you in touch with your “proneness to wander away from God and into sin?” How do you deal with that? Where do you go with it?
2. Do you have a “James” kind of person in your life or in your past? Has anyone ever turned you from sin and the error of your ways? Have you ever served another person in this fashion? What do you remember about that? What did you learn? Have you given permission to others in your life to do this for you if needed? Will you?
3. In what particular ways do you want to say, “thank you,” to James?
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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.