Study 12 GOING AFTER THE BACKSLIDER
THE LETTER OF JAMES
by Francis Dixon
Scripture Portion: James 5:19-20
We should link together the two concluding verses of the Letter of James (verses 19-20) and Galatians 6:1-2. Why? Because both James and Paul were writing about the restoration of a backslider. Two ministries were committed to Peter by the Lord: first, he was to catch men (Luke 5:10); but second, he was to feed the flock (John 21:17). These two ministries are committed to every Christian – the work of soul-saving and the work of soul-shepherding. All of us who belong to the Lord are to seek lost sinners, but we are to be ready also to restore our brothers and sisters when they wander away from Him. Cain once asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:8-10). As Christians we are just that; we are responsible for our brothers and sisters in Christ. If they fail, fall or backslide we are to be concerned for them and go out after them, to bring them back to the Lord. See how this truth unfolds in James 5:19-20.
1. Those who truly love and belong to the Lord are in danger of backsliding.
It is the easiest possible thing for any of us to backslide. James indicates this when he says, “If one of you should wander from the truth…” This refers to doctrinal error. He also refers to moral conduct when he uses the expression “the error of his way”. When we backslide we stray from the truth, we fail to apply the truth to our lives, and we do not obey the truth; this leads to moral lapse and failure in conduct, and no-one is immune from this danger. We need not backslide, but there is always the danger. Why? Because we have three great enemies who desire our downfall:
- (1) The world without. In Galatians 1:4 the world is described as “the present evil age”; we are exhorted to “not love the world” (1 John 2:15); and James 4:4-5 has something to say about this. Demas became worldly – look up 2 Timothy 4:10.
- (2) The flesh within. The old Adamic nature is within all of us, and often this ‘old man’ wants expression. Is victory possible? Yes, it is, but we are in constant danger of falling and failing (1 Corinthians 9:26-27). Think of Samson in the lap of Delilah (Judges 16:4-20); and David with Bathsheba – look up 2 Samuel 11:1-5.
- (3) The Devil around. He comes as a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8); an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14); he accuses us (Revelation 12:10); he is out for our downfall (Luke 22:31-32); and think of Peter in this connection.
2. The Lord still loves His people when they fail, fall and backslide; they are still His, and He longs for their return to full fellowship.
He has promised never to let us go (John 10:28-29). Our sins grieve Him, but even these do not make Him cast us off (Hosea 14:1-4). We cannot be saved today and lost tomorrow. God does not love our sin and failure, but He still loves us, and that is why He led Paul and James to include these exhortations in their letters – Galatians 6:1-2; James 5:19-20.
3. When a believer backslides it is our responsibility to care for him and to seek his recovery.
This is the burden of James’ message. He is writing about the Christian being concerned for his brother. When a brother in Christ backslides we are not to abandon him, criticise him, talk about him, accuse him, condemn him, ostracise him – we are to go after him and seek to restore him, and in Galatians 6:1-2 we read of some of the qualifications required if we are to be successful in this.
4. The recovery of a backslider needs to be undertaken with love and humility, and by someone who is filled with the Holy Spirit.
Let us introduce Paul’s teaching in Galatians 6:1-2. See how the verses unfold:
- (1) We must be specially qualified to do this work. Paul says, “you who are spiritual…” compare Galatians 5:25 and Ephesians 5:18. An unsurrendered, worldly Christian engaging in this work will be clumsy and careless and will do more harm than good.
- (2) We must be determined. Notice the words “restore him”; or as James 5:19-20 puts it, “bring him back”. We are not to cold-shoulder the backslider. Our reaction should be, How can I help him?
- (3) We must be humble. Notice the word “gently”; it is no good going to the backslider in a holier-than-thou attitude. When Jesus restored Peter it was with a tender look (Luke 22:61); with a loving word (Mark 16:7); and with a gracious question (John 21:15).
- (4) We must remember 1 Corinthians 10:12. Notice the words “be careful that you don’t fall”. Our attitude must be, ‘Brother, I am so sorry this has happened…It could have happened to me!’ Before entering upon this ministry of recovery we should read Matthew 7:1-5 and 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.
- (5) We must really share our brother’s need. This is what Galatians 6:2 means.
5. When a backslider has been restored, the resultant blessing is enormous.
James tells us in verse 20 that when someone has gone away from the Lord and is brought back, two things happen:-
- (1) Very many sins are hidden. That is, when sin is repented of, confessed and forsaken, it is at once covered, blotted out, forgiven and forgotten (Proverbs 28:13). Compare Psalm 32:1; Isaiah 44:22; Isaiah 43:25.
- (2) The restored one is saved from death. The ‘death’ referred to cannot mean spiritual death, for the Christian cannot die spiritually (John 5:24; John 11:26). The reference is to physical death. This is very solemn; it is spoken of in 1 Corinthians 11:30-32 and 1 John 5:16-17 – “There is a sin that leads to death” – but no-one needs to commit such a sin, and all sin sincerely confessed and forsaken is forgiven (1 John 1:9).
Let us be concerned, not only to win the lost, but to love, win back and care for the people of God when they wander.