James 5:19-20 Devotional Commentary

The beacon for truth: Devotional Commentary for August 30-September 5

James 5:19-20 (NASB)

This is the Word of God. May the Spirit of Truth give us Wisdom and Insight to receive what has been conveyed through His Word by His Inspiration.

19My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back,
20let 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.

We have finally arrived at the end of James' epistle but not the end of his message. His closing words are both incisive and enduring. They will remain with us, always calling us to be intercessors and not accusers.

In our last meditation, James spoke to us on being truthful and reliable, as well as on the value of corporate prayer and confessing our sins to one another. James knows that mutual confession could be a tricky exercise unless it is delicately handled with a godly responsibility. Therein lies the incalculable value of his teachings throughout his epistle. The sum and substance of his teachings up to this point basically defines the attributes of Christian living and instructs us how to live as God's redeemed children. His teachings bring us to a responsible level of godly maturity where we can minister to one another through the corrective and restorative work of the Holy Spirit.

He says, when one of us wanders away from the truth and another helps the stray soul turn back, one will have done the works of righteousness that is pleasing to God. Turning a sinner from the error of his or her ways is the direct work of the Holy Spirit. But being the messenger of such corrective glad tidings is standing in the service of God. To be sure, whoever turns back a sinner from his or her errors helps deliver a stray soul from death or crushing discipline from God. This keeps the struggling soul from slipping farther into the miry pit of sin's swamp.

James' words are most encouraging and promising. As noted at the beginning of the epistle, this is written to struggling Christians who were also scattered and persecuted and yet had been initiated into the family of faith by the redeeming Grace of God our Father through the blood of Jesus Christ. Although leading one to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus is a matchless opportunity, James is apparently speaking here to stronger and more mature believers who lift the spirits of those who have fallen into error.

In these closing verses, James urges us to minister to one another through mutual prayer and by holding one another accountable to God's holy and living Word. Certainly, we should lovingly reprove one another in words and prayer, thereby keeping each other from going astray. In this way, James continues to remind us that faith is not only professed but also practiced in real-time, real-life, and real-fellowship. We must showcase our love and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in the way we live and relate to one another. James assures us that this is truly possible because God is faithful. His Grace is sufficient. He has instilled His Love in us. He lives in our hearts by His Spirit. God's Word is our wisdom and His Righteousness our excellence. That is the community of believers. That is the community of God.


James' epistle is more than a letter from an elder Christian to troubled believers. It is God's inspired Word of enduring truth given to God's children across the ages. Yet most of us struggle with its content because we mistake it for just a list of oughts, do's, and don'ts.

Indeed, James directly speaks to us regarding the type of life and character we ought to reflect as God's redeemed children. Most certainly, he warns us to beware of damaging indifference toward moral imperatives. But each one of the precepts serves as a spiritual mile marker of our pilgrimage, signifying the work of the Holy Spirit in conforming us to the image of our Savior.

The entire book of James helps us understand our journey as Christians in real and practical terms. Chapters and verses clearly delineate the corrupt traits of our sin-nature that must be cast off. At the same time, the text distinguishes the godly attributes of our newness in Christ which we must bear.

Accordingly, the redeemed should not be whiners and complainers. We should not be impatient, unwise, and double-minded. We should not flounder in discontentment. We should not surrender to temptation. We should not be loose-tongued, contentious, or combative. We should not be partial or prejudiced. We should not live or serve in dead faith. We should not be accusers or fault-finders. We should not be self-focused. Nor should we stagnate in spiritual infancy.

Instead, we are called to be joyful, patient, wise, stable, content, doers, impartial, faithful, obedient, peaceable, giving, intercessors, men and women of prayer, reliable, truthful and the like. We lean on God and surrender to His Will and Purpose.

The sum and substance of all of these precepts culminates in the magnificent ministry of mutual accountability James addresses in the final two verses of his epistle. James implicitly tells us that we are one another's keepers. Unlike Cain who spitefully disparaged his commitment to his brother, we are called to bear the light of the truth among one another.

James knows that we cannot effectively hold one another accountable unless we know the truth, better yet unless we practice the truth. So he breaks the news to us that, if we turn back a brother or a sister from the error of his or her ways, then we will have become instrumental in one's restoration. No one knows how to turn someone from error unless one is set free by the truth and experiences renewal through restoration. There is nothing more rewarding here on earth than being the voice and the light of truth leading a troubled heart to restoration and showing the way to those groping in the dark.

Rugged and forceful in style, James' exhortations wean us from the familiar corrupt ways of the flesh and set us on our way to a genuine and practical transformation. He assures us that our responsive obedience is an aspect of God's work of completion of what He began to do in us. Once again, faith is not only professed but also practiced in real-time, real-life, and real-fellowship. This is truly possible because God is faithful. His Grace is sufficient. He has instilled His Love in us. He lives in our hearts by His Spirit. God's Word is our wisdom and His righteousness our excellence. That is the community of believers. That is the community of God.

Here at Practical Christianity Foundation we believe that God has mercifully extended His Grace toward us and has given us His living and Holy Word to guide us in our journey in this world. We count it privilege to come alongside you and minister to you through prayer and the sharing of God's living and holy Word. Please contact us if you have any questions concerning your faith and journey as a Christian.

We encourage you to frequently visit our website where you can find weekly devotional readings and helpful blogs.

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James 5:19-20
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