DA Carson put it this way when he wrote, We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance. We drift toward disobedience and call it freedom. We drift toward superstitions and call them faith. We drift toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we've escaped legalism. We drift toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated. There is the undertow of our fallen nature.
You get up in the morning and the pull will be to drift away. Do you feel distant from God today? Are you lacking the motivation to pray and read the Bible? Maybe at one point your spiritual life seemed vibrant, but that seems to have faded. The inclination of every human heart is to drift from God.
If that hasn't happened to you, it could. And today, Stephen challenges you to search your heart to see whether there's anything standing between you and the Savior. As you'll learn today, confession to God is the key to connection with God. This is Wisdom for the Heart, and today Stephen Davey's Bible lesson is called, Drifting. James will end his letter, by the way, if you have your Bibles turned to chapter 5, the last two verses, with a warning related to this wandering, this drifting away from the truth, from the assembly, from the flock. He writes in the closing verses of his letter, this warning and encouragement to the scattered believers throughout the Roman Empire. At verse 19 of chapter 5, 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. Now, I've read a few commentaries and I've certainly heard a few sermons over my days that would use this text as a soul-winning text for evangelism. Now, there's certainly some truth to that kind of application, but the fact that you read the words sinner and save and death immediately leads you to assume that James cannot be talking about a believer, but that's exactly who James is talking about. This text is not about evangelism. This text is about reconciliation, about spiritual restoration.
It's about the prodigal who's wandered away, who is turned back to the path, turned back as it were toward home. See, James gets to the end of his letter and he realistically and correctly assumes that there will be some among them, among the brethren, among the believers, a believer among the believers who's going to wander away from the truth they've just learned from this letter. There are going to be times and maybe even seasons when someone among them is not going, as he's already commanded in chapter 4, just looking there a little bit, they're going to stray from submitting to God.
They're going to drift away. They're not going to resist the devil. They're not going to draw near to God. They're not going to cleanse their hands. They're not going to purify their hearts. They're not going to mourn over sin and weep.
They're not going to humble themselves in the presence of the Lord. That's just a few of his imperatives. He knows that there will be some, if not all, at some point in time who will experience a day, a moment, an hour, a month, maybe a year where they will not surrender to the Lord. So he ends this letter by delivering this warning. He'll describe the runaway, and then he will describe the rescuer. Now there are two primary characters in this scene that we'll study.
The prodigal and the pursuer, and then we'll notice the prize. Let's take a closer look at the prodigal, verse 19 again, a little slower. My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth, literally, my brethren, if anyone among you, anyone among you strays from the truth.
He's talking about a believer from among the brethren straying, drifting away from the truth. Listen, an unbeliever does not stray from the truth. They've never believed it. They've never stood on it.
They've never welcomed it. In fact, you go through the New Testament, and I did a little survey, an unbeliever is blinded by unbelief to the truth, 2 Corinthians 4.4. He is offended by the truth, 1 Peter 2.8. He suppresses the truth, Romans 1.18. He's never come to the truth because he'd rather believe a lie about God than the truth about God, Romans 1.25. And so he refuses to receive to himself the truth and make it his own, 2 Thessalonians 2, verse 10. It may sound odd to hear it this way, but it's true that a believer is the only person who can actually wander away from the truth.
A prodigal is a prodigal because he belongs to the family of whom he's left. In fact, James uses the aorist tense for this verb to wander or to stray away. That tense reveals this is someone who is not habitually living this life of straying. This is a reference to an occasional drifting away. In fact, I am convinced that a believer drifts every day and has to return every day and drifts and returns.
D.A. Carson put it this way when he wrote, We do not drift toward holiness. We do not automatically drift toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.
We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance. We drift toward disobedience and call it freedom. We drift toward superstitions and call them faith. We drift toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we've escaped legalism. We drift toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated. There is the undertow of our fallen nature. You get up in the morning and the pull will be to drift away from the truth.
I love the realism. We don't hear enough of it in the church of Robert Robinson who admitted the reality this morning. He put it in the lyrical form in that classic hymn in the late 1700s. Prone to wander, Lord, I what? Feel it. Prone to leave the God alone, walk away.
Here's my heart, O Taken, seal it, seal it for thy courts above. Prone to wander. That's the reality. James gets to the end of his letter and he says, You know what? You're going to be prone to wander away from this truth. You're going to be prone to drift, to disobey. Drifting is an ever-present danger in the life of a disciple. So he speaks with frank reality.
He's not the kind of letter that, you know, the author that writes a letter that sort of pats you on the head and says, you know, now I believe in you and I know that you're going to remember everything we discussed and you got it done. It took your pastor 30 sermons to get through it, but I know you got it all. And I know you're going to do it.
I know you won't have any problems. No. If you look back at the text, he says, my brethren, if, if, that is in the Greek construction, the probability of experience, if, and this is probably going to be your experience, if you drift, here's something that I want everyone else around you who knows the Lord to do. And now he turns our attention from the prodigal to the pursuer. Look next in verse 19. Here's the appearance of someone who turns him back.
Verse 20. He turns a sinner from the error of his way. The word for turn is a compound word which means literally to turn that person around.
In other words, they're heading in the wrong direction and the pursuer runs up, interacts and turns him around ahead once again in the right direction. Now the word turn may be translated in your Bibles convert. It is used for conversion of an unbeliever who turns to God for salvation. It's used that way in Acts chapter 14 verse 15, 1 Thessalonians chapter 1 verse 9. But the word can also be used for a believer who turns in repentance to once again follow after the Lord. And that's the context of what James has just said. Hey, there are going to be believers among believers who are going to drift away. Somebody needs to go and turn them around.
This is his idea. One commentator rightly interpreting and applying this text made the comment that we not only win the lost, we win the saved as we pursue those who are sliding backward. There's some misconceptions about this ministry.
I'll give you a couple of them. Some would say it's wrong to intrude into a sinning believer's life uninvited. You shouldn't do that uninvited.
The prodigal didn't ask me to give them my opinion. How often is a backsliding Christian going to invite you over to inform them they're heading in the wrong direction? No, the prodigal stops inviting you over because whenever you're around them, they sense the guilt of their waywardness. And you might even tell them, I want you to know I'm praying for you.
I'm concerned about you. I love you enough to tell you that I want you back in fellowship with Christ and the church. Anybody who throws themselves in the way of a backsliding Christian will most often arrive uninvited. There are going to be invitations. I'm running away from God.
Would you come over and tell me that? In fact, part of the challenge is catching up with them as they slide down the path. Another reason people hesitate to get involved is because they bought into the misconception that it's not very loving to confront someone about sin. Bad news is not very loving, right? So the believer and the average church in this country and culture now puts on the blinders. Whenever they're around that sinning believer, they assume the best thing they could do and the most loving thing they could do is never bring up their sin, never deal with the sin. Paul told the Thessalonian believers to warn the disobedient Christian as a brother.
Second Thessalonians 3.15. Disobedient Christian, warn him as a brother. It's actually unloving to allow your Christian friend to get off track without a warning, without any expression of concern, without you even telling them you're praying for them. I'm just going to not mention anything. There's one more misconception among believers, not only that it's wrong to intrude into the prodigal's life uninvited, or that it's unloving to confront their sin, but thirdly, the misconception that it's none of our business. Hey, it isn't our business. If it's anybody's business, it's you guys on the elder team or you pastors, you've been trained to do that.
You deal with it. Now, James, would you notice us saying the exact opposite thing? Notice again, my brethren, if any among you strays from the truth, call the pastor.
No. And one implication, antecedent, among you, one among you, the brethren, turns him back. You see, in the mind of the Spirit of God through James, the writer, this happens to be the business of other believers, and the person who says, well, you know, I've never seen that done. Well, they may not be so much reflecting on the integrity of the biblical command here.
They may be reflecting on the integrity of the church and other Christians. What would you think if your house was on fire this afternoon and you got home and called the firefighters, and they showed up with sirens blazing and in all their gear, and they came over to you where you were standing, and they said to you, hey, is this your house? And you said, yes. And they said, well, don't worry about it.
It'll burn itself out in a couple hours. What would you think? You'd say, do your job. What if you saw a policeman standing there watching a gang of boys beat up another boy? You know that immediately you would think to yourself, why isn't that policeman doing his job? You see, a Christian who sees his brother or sister drifting away from the truth and says it's none of my business does not understand their assignment. It is their job. It actually is our business.
And you know why? Because we of all people understand that the stakes are so high. Would you notice the prize involved as the pursuer chases down the prodigal? Look at the prize in verse 20. Let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way is going to accomplish two things. First, he will save the prodigal's soul from death. We'll call this a rescue back from spiritual calamity.
The pursuer is going to save the prodigal's soul from death. Now, what does James mean? James could mean physical death, death and early death, the result of what the New Testament warns us of as the result of the discipline, which is unheeded, and repentance, which is not pursued. If it's the loss of salvation, it doesn't make any sense to discipline anybody and certainly not warn them of an early death. They are facing spiritual calamity. John describes the possibility of physical death as discipline in 1 John 5, 16 and 17.
Paul described in the church in Corinth as having had among them those who now sleep, that is, those who died because of unrepentant sin, 1 Corinthians 11, verse 30. Watch yourselves, John the Apostle wrote in 2 John 1-8, that you do not lose your full reward. That is, you face the discipline of God and you stand before him, as it were, with an unfilled basket, so to speak, of reward. You forfeited by disobedience and unrepentance the fullest of rewards. It could mean physical death.
James could also be using the word for death as a metaphor, that is, for a death-like existence. In other words, even though the believer is saved, you cannot be unborn once you've been born again, but those who do not repent are facing the discipline of the word, the discipline perhaps of the woodshed, the discipline perhaps even of the wooden box that is the casket. In that process, though the believer is saved, he's languishing in guilt and purposelessness and bitterness.
Why? Because of drifting away. But then a brother or a sister says, you know, this is my job, this is my role, and he comes along and he confronts us, and we recognize by virtue of their involvement that God's grace is knocking at the door, that the sin which has become an obstacle to fellowship with Christ, which we gain and regain throughout the day, we confess it, and we're rescued from what might be a wasted death-like life. Have you ever talked to a prodigal and you've seen the hollowness of their eyes and you've sensed the shriveled-up state of their soul?
Have you ever taken on this job and you've gone to them and challenged them and you feel like you're having a tug-of-war with the devil, you've got one arm and the devil has the other, and you know that they're walking down a path that is death-like, unrewarding, their spiritual vitality because of unrepentant sin dominating. So this is a rescue back from spiritual calamity. Secondly, this is a reconciliation back to spiritual communion. Notice again, he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death. This will cover a multitude of sins. Peter would use the same expression a little later in his epistle, love covers a multitude of sins.
Don't get the idea, as many have, that this means we sweep sin under the rug and act like nothing ever happened and that's really loving. That isn't. The pursuer does not help the prodigal by catching up to him and then sitting down with him to work on a press release.
Let's say something bland to the public, Lord of the Assembly. There is a Greek word, by the way, they're fairly intelligent people, for hide. It's not the word used here. This isn't hiding sin. This isn't sweeping it under a rug.
This isn't explaining it away. This is exposing it and confessing it so it is covered, that is dealt with. The prodigal is coming clean.
That's how you know he's turning around. No more excuses. It's exposure and without explanation, confession. The audience of Jews, of course, to whom James is writing, would have immediately recognized the concept of covering sin. It was used throughout the Old Testament where to have sins covered was to have sins forgiven. There is that added nuance then that whatever God has forgiven is no longer seen, right? That works for the church as well. One commentator said the prodigal is not branded now permanently in the church as someone who once went astray, but as part of a company and welcomed back by people who have also been forgiven.
A multitude of sins is covered. What a prize for the pursuer to passionately run after. He, she, the agent of reconciliation, running after the prodigal on a rescue mission. A believing brother or sister is drifting away.
Yes, we win the lost. How about the drifting believer? How many churches have evangelism nights where they gather together and they're trained, and we do too, to go after those who don't know Christ? Can you imagine a group of people gathering together to pray for those that are drifting away? How am I going to strategize and pray to go after them?
This one hopes and prays that these will be reconciled to spiritual communion with Christ and his church. Perhaps I'm speaking today to a prodigal. Maybe you're the one on the run. Maybe it's been a few days, a few weeks, months, maybe even years, and you've drifted to the point where you're not sure if it isn't too late. Maybe you've drifted too far away. The sins have mounted up and you can no longer see the shore.
The view back is no longer visible. I want you to follow the sound of my voice. He will pardon you, the prophet Isaiah said. How many sins will he forgive?
A multitude. His grace is never diminished. He's never too weary. His patience is the patience of a father who waits. In that particular instance, the son returned only to discover to his surprise that forgiveness was not earned.
It was available and free. Turn around. Maybe that's the message to you. Turn around.
Turn around and come home. Listen to a verse written to Christians, not unbelievers, but to Christians. If you will confess your sins, he's faithful and just to forgive you your sins and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness. That has to do with the daily practical outworking of a confessing Christian. Confess your sins, plural, specific sins that come to mind. Confess your sins to your savior that block your communion, that dissipate your joy, that stifle your soul and your sins which you confess will be covered. In practical terms, they will be dealt with and done away with and thus no longer seen. Not because you stuffed them in a corner or in a closet or under the rug, but because you exposed them to your savior and said, these are in the way.
And he's ever ready to finish off this rescue and reconciliation process which we the believer have been challenged to join in. I read one author who wrote of an amazing event during World War II where in the spring of 1940 Hitler's armored tank division of Panzers were overrunning France. It's interesting to read how Churchill had said we've got to build tanks and he had been involved in the early conception of this machine and England and the Allies really didn't pay much attention, but Hitler had already gone far in advance of their efforts and he was just bowling over country after country. The Dutch had already surrendered as had the Belgians. More than 250,000 British soldiers and 100,000 Allied soldiers were stuck on the coast of France in the channeled port of Dunkirk. They faced imminent capture and more than likely death.
This article read Hitler's troops only a few miles away in the hills of France closed in on an easy kill. The Royal Navy had enough ships to only pick up 17,000 men. Only 17,000 of more than 300,000 could be rescued and taken to safety.
Parliament was summoned and told, quote, to brace for hard and heavy tidings, end quote. And then while these troops watched, knowing their hopes were fading away, suddenly a bizarre fleet of ships and boats appeared on the horizon of the English Channel. Fishing boats, tug boats, lifeboats, sailboats, yachts, an island ferry named Gracie Fields, and even the America's Cup challenger Endeavor, all manned by civilians, spontaneously without any direct orders, sped to the rescue.
This ragtag armada rescued all the remaining troops, over 300,000 of them, and returned them to the shores of England. It remains one of the most remarkable, spontaneous naval rescue operations in history. Can you imagine? You've got no hope. Here comes a tugboat, a lifeboat, a sailboat, somebody's yacht.
Why? Because these are fellow soldiers, and they're trapped, and they need help. Think of the church as God's ragtag armada, and aren't we? It's of all kinds, all shapes and sizes, personalities, backgrounds, races, ethnicities, histories, all of us flawed.
We race. We are pursuers of prodigals, and we're willing to suffer the difficulties and the awkwardnesses and the rejections and the hard feelings by pursuing prodigals who are drifting away. See, James knew that after writing this letter, we'd need those who would obey this final command to join in on this search and rescue operation, commissioned and appreciated first and foremost by God. Maybe as Stephen was talking today, the Lord brought someone into your mind who's drifting from God. Maybe you're drifting today, and you need to take a hard look at your own sin. I hope this lesson encouraged you toward that end today. This is Wisdom for the Heart, the Bible teaching ministry of Stephen Davey.
Stephen called today's lesson simply, Drifting. You'll find it on our website, wisdomonline.org. Thanks so much for joining us. Please join us next time for more Wisdom for the Heart. We'll see you next time.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-20 00:16:13 / 2023-11-20 00:25:52 / 10