When Someone Goes Astray

Day 30 | Today’s passage: James 5:19-20 | Historical context of James

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.

The first time I met my friend, she told me that she had accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior when she was six. But when I encouraged her to come to church regularly, she shifted with embarrassment and told me she was struggling with an addiction, and wanted to straighten out her life before finding God again.

We kept in touch. Three years down the road, she still struggles with the addiction as well as a series of other bad life choices. Every time we talk, she tries to convince me she’s turning her life around. But each time, I see more of the pain (both physically and emotionally) that her choices are bringing her.

Do you know anyone who has, to quote James, “wandered from the truth”? Sometimes people walk away from a doctrinal belief in God and His gospel; other times, someone might believe all the right things, but no longer live by them.
My friend, for example, confesses Jesus as her Lord and Savior—but you would never know it from the way she lives.

As James emphasizes throughout his letter, God does not desire merely our superficial confession of Him. He wants us to live out the gospel in our lives.

But that’s not all. He also wants us to watch out for our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we see a fellow Christian wandering from the truth, whether in thought or in deed, James exhorts that “someone should bring that person back” (v. 19).

To encourage us in seeking wandering souls, James reminds us that “whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (v. 20).

For sins to be “covered over” means that God will forgive the sins (Romans 4:7). There is no sin too great for Christ’s sacrifice. When we restore a brother or sister, whatever their sin may be, God’s forgiveness is more than able to save them from spiritual death. What can be greater than a renewed life in Christ? And to think that God allows us to play a part in His amazing work of restoration!

But how do we turn a wanderer back to God?

We can love. We seek to love others just as Christ loves us, which is precisely why we seek to bring them back to Him (John 15:12). Sincerely loving our brothers and sisters prevents us from falling into the sin of judgmentalism or gossip. When we love, we will seek to maintain a meaningful relationship through which perhaps God would be pleased to work.

We can pray—regularly and passionately. Ultimately, it is not our clever arguments or sincere words that change a person’s mind. Rather, it is God’s Spirit moving in the deep recesses of the heart that brings a wanderer back, and by prayer we bring our petitions directly to God, who loves the person more completely than we ever can.

We can lovingly confront a person who has turned away from God. Our love forbids us from being an observer on the sidelines, watching passively, while someone forfeits their soul. In talking with someone whose actions are contrary to God, we “do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as [we] would a fellow believer” (2 Thessalonians 3:15), lovingly and prayerfully.

God desires that we live out the gospel in our daily life, and is grieved when any one of us turns away. As brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s commit to hold one another accountable because of the love we have for God and for each other. In everything we do, may we act out of love and wholly depend on God’s grace and leading, trusting that He will continue to work in the lives of all who belong to Him.

—Christine Emmert, USA

Questions for reflection

1. Do you know anyone who has turned away from God? What are some possible signs of a person wandering away from the truth?

2. What is one step you can take to restore the brother/sister who has gone astray?

3. What is one truth from God’s word that you can take to heart in this process of restoration?


Christine is a follower of Christ, and a lover of good books and food. Life is good, she insists, and each new breath is a reminder that whatever the circumstances, God is still good. Her husband and her are trying to build a family that seeks Christ and serves as light and salt among the nations. Ezra 7:10 is her favorite verse.

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