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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. (James 5:20)
When Jesus knew one of his most intimate disciples was going to stumble spiritually, to the point of betraying Jesus three times after boasting that he never would do such a thing, what did Jesus say? He said to Peter, “but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again [ἐπιστρέφω epistrephō, having returned], strengthen your brothers.” (Lu 22:32) In both texts, we are talking about the recovery of an erring person; with Jesus’ great love for Peter and our great love for our brothers, like Jesus, we can lovingly help someone back on the path.
The word “know” stresses the significance of our restoration ministry. When a military unit is in the heat of battle, their senses are heightened by the perilous situation they find themselves in and are mindful of where every team member is, as it could mean the difference between life and death. Christians find themselves in the heat of a severe battle with inherited sin, human weakness, being mentally bent toward evil, a deceitful heart, Satan and his demons, the world of mankind alienated from God, all working toward our demise. We need to be mindful of where every Christian team member is in his walk with God. Would it not be prudent to assist a brother when he simply trips over something rather than trying to help him up once he has fallen? When we err in specific ways, we are literally tripping toward death, and this spiritual death can lead to eternal death for him if someone does not turn him back. Our help can come in the form of loving guidance, prayer, the opportunity to give some helpful service; we assist the erring one in receiving the atonement of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice. If we commit a sin, we have Jesus’ ransom sacrifice (Matt 20:28; 1 John 2:1), which covers human weaknesses and Adamic sin (Rom. 5:12, 18). However, if we enter into the practice of sin or are living in sin, we no longer receive that ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ (1 John 3:8-10) unless we have returned again [ἐπιστρέφω epistrephō, having returned].
When we think of turning one back from their sin, it might be best to use the example of the Father in his dealing with the Israelites.
Isaiah 1:18 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
18 “Come now, let us reason together, says Jehovah:
“though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
First, it should be noted that the phrase “let us reason together,” does not suggest a give and take conversation, where both sides are going to argue their case, with both making concessions. We need not worry; the Father is the most generous and compassionate Judge. His forgiveness is unmatched. (Ps. 86:5) He has appointed his Son, Jesus Christ, to do the judging. Jesus tells us constantly in the Gospel of John about his relationship with the Father. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” (John 5:19) Jesus as the appointed judge can take the sins of Israel that “are like scarlet” and make them “as white as snow.” The sins of Israel were the worship of false gods, orgies under trees, sacrificing sons to the god of Molech, the murder of prophets and so much more. Yes, their sins were “red like crimson,” and Jesus as the appointed judge has the authority (Matt. 28:18), to make them “like wool.” No human can do this. No number of works can remove any sin, let alone this level of egregiousness. Only the Father, through his appointed Son, can wash away sin. The forgiveness of sins is based on God’s standards, not some reasoning back and forth. There must be genuine heartfelt repentance. On the phrase “to “reason together,” a Commentary on the Book of Isaiah says that it “implies the background of the court of appeal mentioned at Isa. 1:2. God appeals to Israel with the hope that they are still reasonable beings who can discuss matters without prejudice. The very nature of forgiveness is of grace alone.” (Apranawa 1990, p. 8)
The commentary goes on to make some very good observations, “The very nature of forgiveness is of grace alone. It is sola gratia, radical but also conditional—radical because it is complete and perfect, conditional because it requires an honest response from Israel. There are only two alternatives for Israel: either to be willing and obey, resulting in new life and in eating the good of the land—and this includes the promise of the renewal of the land (v. 7); or to refuse and rebel, resulting in total destruction by the sword of the Assyrians. This is indeed the essence of the gospel message (cf. John 3:16, 18). “Between life and death there is no compromise!” (Apranawa 1990, p. 8)
Thus, if God can forgive 1,500 years of Israelite history that was so sinful, he will cover the missteps of a brother that has stumbled in either belief or behavior. However, we must acknowledge that God’s patience does not go on forever, as Israel went on to reject the Son of God, so God rejected Israel as his chosen people. Thus, we would want to assist our brother in his return to the fold [ἐπιστρέφω epistrephō, having returned],” before it becomes an all-out rejection of the truth, i.e., a rejection of Jesus Christ. We help our brother by not making his missteps known to others. Yes, if the situation seems beyond our abilities, we might seek the help of another, but we would never tell other congregation members of his sins. (Pro. 10:12) When this erring one has returned, the words of King David will be realized. David wrote, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit, there is no deceit.” (Ps. 32:1-2) We know that God sees the living concern we have for our brothers, and it will not go unrewarded. – 2 Corinthians 5:10; See Colossians 3:23, 24; Luke 14:13, 14.