| For More
"Soul Salvation," Part 2
Saving the Soul of a Fellow Christian
by Bob Wilkin
Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and
someone turns him back, let him
know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will
save a soul from death and cover
a multitude of sins.
What did James mean in this passage when he spoke of saving
the soul of a
wandering brother? An analysis of these verses shows that
something other than eternal salvation
from hell is in view.
Anyone Among You
Eighteen times in his epistle James refers to his readers as
"brethren." The last
occurrence is in 5:19: "Brethren, if anyone among you
wanders . . ."
The wanderer in
question is identified as "one among you," that is, as
one among the brethren. Since
James always uses the term brethren to refer to believers,
the wanderer is a fellow Christian.
Wandering from the Truth
The reference to wandering from the truth concerns moral, not
doctrinal defection. This is
evident from the content of the entire epistle. James repeatedly
exhorts his readers to live godly
lives, on some occasions also rebuking them for practicing evil
2:1-13,14-26; 3:14; 4:1-2,11-12; 5:9).
Yet he nowhere evidences concerns
as to their orthodoxy.
While some have no room in their theology for failure in the
Christian life, James does.
Believers are indeed capable of living contrary from the truths
found in Scripture (compare also,
1 Cor 3:1-3; 11:30; Gal 5:13-26). The question is, what will
happen to such a wanderer? James
doesn't leave us in doubt.
Death of a Soul
James's words here are reminiscent to similar instructions by
Paul and Jude. They instructed
spiritual believers to attempt to bring carnal believers back to
the Lord (cf. Gal 6:1; Jude 23).
James emphasized the gravity of the matter by pointing out
that the believer who turns a sinning
saint back from the error of his way will save a soul from death.
James is saying that this is a
matter of life and death.
As a matter of fact, the Greek word psyche, here
translated soul, has
within its fields of meaning both life and person
(see The GES News, Dec 91,
p 2). For example,
the Lord Jesus said, "The Son of Man did not come to be
served, but to serve, and to give
His life [Gk psyche] a ransom for many" (Matt
20:28). Clearly Jesus Christ did not give up
His eternal soul.
We could translate the clause in question, "he will save
a life from
death" or "he will save a person from
Dr. Charles C. Ryrie writes,
"The reference is evidently to Christians, and the death is
physical death which sin may
cause (1 Cor. 11:30)" (The Ryrie Study Bible, p
1863n). Others who hold this view include
Warren Wiersbe, Be Mature, p. 173; Ronald Blue,
James, The Bible Knowledge Commentary,
NT Edition, p. 835; H. A. Ironside, Expository Notes on James
and Peter, p. 63; Lehman Strauss,
James, Your Brother, p. 226.
Of course, there are some who suggest that eternal salvation
hell is in view here. That suggestion, however, flies in the face
of clear Gospel teaching all
through the Bible. The sole condition of eternal salvation is
faith in Christ, not moral
The wanderer who is brought back to the truth avoids premature
death (cf. 1 Cor
11:30;1 John 5:16-17). He is also blessed to have his many sins
covered, that is, forgiven in a
fellowship sense (cf. 1 John 1:9).
Conclusion and Application
James's reference to "soul salvation" in James 5:19-20
refers to deliverance of erring
Christians from premature physical death.
We can not only be soul winners by leading
unbelievers to Christ. We can also be soul winners, so to speak,
if we lead fellow Christians
back to the Lord.
The very Grace of God by which we are saved eternally opens
the door for the
possibility that we might abuse the wonderful gift given to us.
If this happens the wandering
saint will be disciplined by the Lord, possibly even taken home
early by Him. That is why it is
vital that if any of us spots a fellow believer who is AWOL we
should endeavor to turn them
back to the Lord. A life is at stake.
Return to Grace in Focus Newsletter
Go to Main Menu