James 5:19-20 – One Final Plea (pt. 2)

Today is a very important day here at COCT. Today we will be finishing our study in the book of James.  It was in June of ’05 that I first posted on the book of James (you can see that post here).  Since then I have finished teaching through the book, and now I have finished posting all of my notes on the book.  In the next couple of weeks I am planning on doing one post that will provide the links to every passage in the book of James.  I then hope to have a James tab or sidebar link so that everyone will be able to reference that material.

 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 sould from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

II. The importance of pursuing a sinner. (v. 20)

a. The one who turns back a sinner will save his soul.

In v. 20 James writes, “let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death…” This is why James labored so hard to wake these pretenders up. Their eternal state was at stake. James desired that these pretenders wake up and repent. We too should share this earnest desire. When we see people around us who are professing to be followers of Jesus but are not obeying what Jesus commands we must seek to turn them back to Jesus.

This is a very difficult task and we must be careful in how we seek to accomplish it. The tendency could be for us to walk around judging other people, and claiming that anyone who sins is not a true believer. This is not what James is talking about. In fact, James himself said that “we all stumble in many ways” (2:2). Each and every one of us has to daily do battle with our sinful tendencies. This is why we must be so careful how we go about seeking to turn the pretenders unto true repentance. In Matthew 7:1-5 Jesus gave his followers some guidance in this matter when he said:

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

We are to first examine our own lives to make sure that we are submitting to Jesus. After we have made this self examination we can then go, in love, to another person to help them submit to Jesus. When we do this we are allowing God to use us to save people from their sins. There can be no greater joy than to be used by God to accomplish his purpose of salvation in the life of another person. We must pursue this joy by pursuing those around us who are not following Jesus.

A further motivation for pursuing these individuals is that these are the kind of people that Jesus came to save. Every time this word translated as sinner (ἁμαρτωλὸν) is used in this way in the NT it is talking about people who are not Christian and that need to be saved by Jesus.

  • Matthew 9:13: “for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
  • Mark 2:17: And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
  • Luke 5:32: “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
  • Luke 15:2: Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
  • 1 Tim 1:15: It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.

Just as Jesus came to pursue sinners we must pursue sinner so that through Jesus their souls will be saved.

b. The one who turns back a sinner will cover a multitude of his sins.

In addition to their souls being saved James adds that it “will cover a multitude of sins.” This phrase is simply a parallel to the previous statement that “turning a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul.” James is further describing the justification that will occur when sinners turn to Jesus. For when a sinner turns to Jesus his sins will be covered by the blood of Jesus. In Psalm 32:1 we see a foreshadowing the covering of Christ,

How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered!

And in 2 Corinthians 5:21 we see exactly how this covering was accomplished,

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.


All throughout this book James has been calling for the people of the church to examine themselves to see if their faith is real. Have you done that? Here in this passage James has called for those who have examined themselves and are truly Christians to pursue those who are pretending. Are you doing that?

The Christian life is a serious matter. It is not just saying that you are a Christian, but instead it is a life-transforming experience that will result in actions. In other words the Christian faith is a faith that works. Our faith in Jesus must effect the way we live, otherwise are faith is Jesus is not real.