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Feb 05, 2017

When Covering Sin Is Critical

When Covering Sin Is Critical

Passage: James 5:19-20

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Search and Rescue

Category: Evangelism

Keywords: evangelism, lost, outreach, salvation, search & rescue, covering sin


These last two verses of James put into focus the importance of outreach and calling to spiritually disconnected people for those who have a living, active faith.


When Covering Sin is Critical

James 5:19-20

February 5, 2017


INTRO:  Story of losing our children in crowds: 

  • Joanna or Daniel in the HUGE mall supermarket in Madrid, La Vaguada.
  • David in 2000 at the Battle of Gettysburg

It’s a good thing CPS wasn’t hanging around us too much! J

But the reality is, you don’t have to “encourage” or “coach” loving parents to panic about their lost children.  It comes naturally!

Whether it’s a “search & rescue” mission at the mall for your little kid or a Coast Guard search and rescue mission for survivors of a sinking ship, search and rescue operations are emotional events.

  • When someone is reported missing in mountainous wilderness terrain like we have much of in the Pacific Northwest, whole teams of people are mobilized and a search is begun.
  • That search only ends when either the lost person is found (hopefully alive but sometimes dead) OR the search is called off because probability of finding them is slim to none.

If you are a Christ-follower, then you’re a member of THE most important search and rescue team ever.  The stakes are eternal.  The people are infinitely valuable.  The odds of success are, honestly, small.  But every lost human matters to God.  And every one of us who carry the spirit and heart of Christ know that intuitively even if we don’t act on it constantly. 

But there is SO often in my life a disconnect between my calling as part of God’s divine “search and rescue team” and what I actually do every week surrounded by people who need saving.  Too often I don’t respond to the call to go out into the storm and look for the lost. Too often too many of us don’t respond to this calling.

Can you imagine being lost in the woods, but no one came looking for you? When you finally stagger out to civilization, you ask, “Why didn’t anyone come looking for me?”

  • One member of the search and rescue team says, “It was really cold and stormy, and there was a good show on TV. So I just prayed for you to be okay.”
  • Another says, “I wanted to be sensitive to your feelings. I thought you might be embarrassed if we came looking.”
  • Another says, “I wasn’t sure you werereally lost. I thought you would think it was judgmental of me to believe that you actually were
  • Still another rescuer commented, “I thought it would be arrogant of me to say that I’m not lost. After all, you’re free to choose whatever path you want on this journey of life. I just figured no matter which direction you went, they would all lead you back to safety.”

Is that the kind of search and rescue team you would want on duty if you were lost in the mountains? 

The last 2 verses of this great book of James (5:19-20) talk about your calling and mine as search-and-rescue team members in THE most critical, most important rescue operation of all time—people eternally disconnected from God, without faith in Jesus Christ. Let’s read them.

19 My brothers [and sisters], if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

At first read, these verses are a bit confusing.  Is James talking about “church people” OR is he talking about spiritually disconnected people—lost people?  I think the answer is…YES!  Here’s why.

            Vs. 19 is clearly addressed to the church (“My brothers [and sisters]…) about people in the church (“…anyone among you….”).  Those people were, at one point, part of the church.  We talk about “going to church” today and assume that most people who do that are Christ-followers.  But going to church and being the church are really two different things. 


  • Going to the bank and having all your money in the bank are two different things.
  • As a life-long skier, there is a big difference between someone who “goes skiing” and someone who “IS a skier.” The person who “goes skiing” buys the ski outfit, the boots, skies and poles.  They go up to the mountain, may even buy a ticket (which has gotten outrageously expensive of late) and may even “take a run” down the hill… the bunny hill!  Then they call it a day, park their skies, and hang out in the lodge bar drinking beer and eating pretzels the rest of the day!  That’s not a skier in my book.  J  Being a skier means you tackle the slopes and push the limits.

Throughout this book, James has been all about calling people to “true religion” and “living faith.”  He’s been hammering away about faith that is dead and doesn’t really change anyone.  Why would James spend time talking about that if it wasn’t a problem in the church?

Fact is, there are still a lot of churches today where too many of the people in them really don’t understand the difference between “going to church” and having a heart-relationship with God through Jesus.  They may say “Yes, I believe” in their head, but that “belief” hasn’t really made the 18-inch journey to their heart.  They haven’t really experienced a radical conversion to the truth of God about their soul—

  • that they are a sinner whose sin has alienated them from the living God.
  • That apart from a faith-relationship with Jesus, they are lost forever.
  • That Jesus came and lived the only perfect human life, took our place in absorbing God’s judgment over our sin and now offers us his record, His righteousness, in place of our sin if we will simply surrender to Him by faith and let the Spirit of God give us new life in Jesus.

ILL:  My parents spent 50 years and most Sundays of their life in a Protestant church denomination where they never heard that “truth” that they needed to personally respond to Jesus by faith. They had to encounter people outside the church who would tell them the truth!

Some of you here may be in the same boat.  Just coming to a meeting called “church” every now and then doesn’t make you a disciple of Jesus.  A disciple, according to the Bible, is an all-in follower, a learner, a life apprentice/pupil/adherent of Jesus Christ.    

In James 1:22, James exhorted people in the church, “But prove yourselves to be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” In 2:14, James asks rhetorically, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?” He states (2:17), “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” (See also, 2:26.)

The true biblical doctrine of eternal security is that genuine salvation is primarily God changing the sinner’s heart, raising him from spiritual death to spiritual life. This new life that God imparts necessarily results in a new way of living. Rather than hating God, the newborn Christian will love God and desire to please Him. Rather than living for his own selfish pleasure, the believer will yield to Jesus as Lord and seek to live for His glory. This isn’t the doctrine of sinless perfection, but rather about the overall direction that necessarily results from a new heart and new life. We see this clearly in 1 John 3:7-9:

Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

When John says, “he cannot sin,” he does not mean that it is impossible for a believer to commit sin. He is not contradicting himself in 1 John 1:8, where he said, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

Believers do sin, sometimes in horrible ways. But the difference is, when a believer sins he is grieved and deeply troubled. He cannot go on living in sin and not at least feel the conviction of sin. He knows what he’s doing is displeasing his Lord.

So the believer who sins repents and turns back to the Lord. He strives daily against sin and he sets up safeguards to prevent falling into sin again. The overall direction of his life is to grow in holiness and to bear fruit for God.

So back to James teaching about wandering sinners. 

ILL:  Some of us have been getting intimately acquainted with the lighting and electrical system in our new building.  This past week, there was an entire bank of lights in the foyer area that wasn’t working.  We all thought it just wasn’t hooked up. 

Come to find out that it was hooked up but every one of the ballasts in those 4 lights was bad.  Consequently, not a single new LED bulb in those lights was giving off light.  They were in the right place in the ceiling, looking just like the other lights during the day when they were shut off…but not energized by the electricity even when the switch was on.

            It is the same with too many people sitting in churches today…just as it was in James’ day. 

So here is the 1st reality about spiritually disconnected people: People wander from the truth. 

19 My brothers [and sisters], if anyone among you wanders from the truth….

We’re not called to sit around arguing whether or not someone is still saved or ever was saved when they wander.  Whenever we know of someone spiritually disconnected from God, James says, “Recognize that they have wandered from the truth of the Gospel.” 

            Wandering usually happens a little at a time.  There are SO many churched people “wandering” from fellowship, from regular teaching and from passionate ministry today. 

How does wandering happen? 

I know how it happens when you’re out in the mountains.

  • Something catches your attention. (It’s usually huckleberry bushes for me. J)
  • You step away for just a little bit from the clearly marked trail and keep wandering on to the next bush.
  • One thing leads to another and pretty soon you don’t even remember where the trail is.

How does it happen spiritually, among self-declared Christians?

  • Something important comes up…or maybe you get sick… and you skip a few weeks, then a month, then several months.
  • You get offended or upset or critical that “the church” didn’t do something the way you thought it should be done.
  • You have trouble reconciling something in life with your concept of God. Instead of letting God grow that concept, you hang onto it fiercely and demand that God be what you want Him to be. 
  • Others?

But James says the “wandering” is from a set course, from “truth” (vs. 19).  This is the 2nd reality about spiritually disconnected people:  connecting with God requires acknowledging there is absolute, divine truth we must submit to. 

This is one of the tough realities about proclaiming the Gospel in a pluralistic, relativistic culture.  We’re not only living in the post-modern era; we’re living in the post-truth era.  Our culture has moved from believing truth exists to making truth whatever you want it to be to denying that any real, unchanging truth even exists or needs to be found. 

But the Bible asserts that there is absolute spiritual truth that saves the soul, and absolute error that damns. Truth is not something God arbitrarily decided was going to be truth.  Truth is whatever corresponds to God’s absolute, unchanging nature.

ILL:  For example…

  • That’s why murder is always wrong, because God is a god of life, not death; of creation, not destruction.
  • That’s why lust is never true love: lust seeks to possess someone for one’s own use or gratification whereas love seeks that which is best for the beloved even if it requires sacrificing self and one’s own desires.  Lust will never be love because God is not a God of lust but of love. 

We could go on and on with every biblical truth claim to show just how it is rooted in the nature of God himself.  Our world wants to try and deny that. 

In verse 20, James mentions turning this spiritually disconnected person from “the error of his way.” Straying from truth means one is now walking in error, whether that is theological error or moral error.   

The reality is that doctrinal error and sin/immorality are often intertwined. Sometimes a person embraces false doctrine because he has fallen into ongoing sin, and he needs to deny sound doctrine to justify his sin. At other times, the person embraces some serious doctrinal error, and before long his false doctrine opens the door for him/her to embrace sin. If you’re seeking to help restore a person who is espousing some doctrinal error, you probably want to probe for some underlying sin too.

That is also why God must be the prime mover in bringing light and truth to peoples’ minds and hearts.  Not only do we willfully deny absolute truth; we are captives of sin and blinded to truth without a work of God.

And that is also why what James calls us to do next is even possible: Christ-followers are THE people charged with search and rescue of spiritually disconnected people. 

I’m not saying that this charge is easy to discharge.  The charge to search out and seek to rescue what James calls “sinners” here is often about as pleasant as trying to help a wounded dog—you’re probably going to get bit no matter how gently you try to help. When you’re successful and someone responds to God’s invitation to be saved, it’s a moment of great joy both for us on earth and the angels in heaven.  It’s like the search and rescue “after-party” when everyone is celebrating the best outcome of what could have been the worst reality.

This is a calling we can help each other be better at… constantly.  That’s why I’ll be taking a couple of weeks here to actually help us flesh out what this “Search & Rescue” calling can look like every day of our lives for every one of us. 

Which brings us to another critical point about search & rescue for spiritually disconnected people: Search & Rescue of spiritually disconnected people is EVERYONE’S calling in Christ.

James addresses the church (“My brothers”) and is general when he says, “any one turns him back.” He does not say, “One of the elders or pastors turns him back.” This ministry is the responsibility of every Christian who is walking with the Lord. This means that, if YOU know of someone who is straying from the truth or who has never surrendered their life to God’s truth in the Gospel, you must go to him/her to help turn them to the Lord.

To ignore someone who is straying is like a member of the search and rescue team sitting at home watching TV while someone is lost in the woods. It’s not the loving thing to do!

APP:  So…are you in?  Can God count on you to be an active member of His “Search & Rescue Team”???

            As soon as I ask that question, what comes to your mind?  [Doubts, questions, feelings of inadequacy, etc.]  So, here’s what I want you to do.  On the tear off section of the bulletin today…or on a separate slip of paper…write down what you feel is THE most important or powerful thing keeping you from being a great “Search & Rescue” team member in God’s kingdom in life?  Think about it for a few moments, then write it down.  We’re going to pass the offering again, but this time I’m going to ask you to offer this “reason” to God.  And start searching for His answer to it.  I’ll be reading them as well and incorporating them into the next couple of week’s messages. 

2nd, God REQUIRES that we initiate the search.

Someone must “bring him back.”  Searching is required because professing believers who fall into sin seldom stay with the flock. And spiritually disconnected people are, by definition, disconnected from God and his people.  We must go after them.

If you know of someone who made a profession of faith, but who has dropped out of the church, you, I, all of us who know them, need to go looking for him/her to find out what’s wrong.

Rescue is required because it is seldom that such straying persons find their way back on their own, without someone to guide them. The enemy confuses their sense of direction and truth. Or, they are ashamed at what they’ve done.  Or they are upset that no one really noticed. 

As their pastor, I usually try to find out why they aren’t with us anymore.  You can probably guess why a call from me isn’t nearly as effective as one or two calls from one of you, right? 

  • It’s “my job,” right?
  • There are just some things people won’t tell a pasto
  • There is a longing in all of us to be part of a vital, truly connected “community.” That’s what the Body of Christ is always to be…even when we don’t always agree or see eye-to-yet.

APP:  Think back over the last few weeks or months.  Who haven’t you seen for a while?  Who comes to mind when you think of someone who has “wandered” from holding onto the truth of the Gospel…or from the truth of needing fellowship with God’s family?  Is God asking you to get in touch with them? 

One of the hardest truths to not stray from in our day is precisely what James says in the last verse of this book:

“If…someone brings him [the sinner] back, 20 let him [the rescuer] know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” 

            The confusion and contradiction that reigns in our pluralistic society when it comes to spiritual truth-claims is amazing.  Most people will be deeply offended if you tell them that there is only one way to God and that is through Jesus Christ.  Westerners are funny that way.  They like to believe that if a person is sincere in following whatever personal belief they like about God…or gods…then surely they will somehow achieve the desired state of eternal bliss (whatever they believe it to be) when they die…or at some point in eternity. 

            That belief is really one HUGE cop-out.  It isn’t intellectually honest because most religions reject that all other religions lead to the same desired end/heaven as their religion.  In fact, that very “end” differs significantly religion to religion.  To say that all statements about ultimate spiritual reality and truth are equally valid even though they are logically contradictory, impossible and contrary to each other is simply ABSURD.   At best it is intellectual laziness and at worst, deceptive and massively destructive on an eternal scale.  It certainly isn’t loving as those who hold to it claim. 

            To believe that we’ll all end up in the same place in the end is also to believe that God is a coercive god who, in the end, will completely steamroller human freedom.  What about people who hate God to the end of life?  What would make them in eternity want to love even more of God than they rejected in this life? 

            And if it is cruel, hateful and immoral of God to send anyone into eternal separation from Him, then surely that must apply to even those who hate the very notion of God and loved the most horrendous of evils in this life (such as murder, torture, mutilation, abuse of all kinds, genocide, etc.).    

            God simply says that without any sinner turning from their sin to God and receiving the forgiveness found only in Jesus Christ, their soul will “die.”  Willful, continual and rebellious rejection of God’s truth and call to repentance of sin will result, for any human being, in eternal separation from God. 

As God’s children, we must heed James’ call here.  Sadly, for a believer to deliberately depart from this truth of eternal death will debilitate and eventually kill any passionate desire that is needed to share Christ with others.  It will condemn every person God wants to use you or me to call to Christ to a disastrous lost-ness like no other. Just look at those denominations and those churches that have lost the belief that there is actual spiritual death apart from Christ.  They may survive for a generation around some charismatic leader.  But having lost the true Gospel, they will die a sure death of irrelevance.  And they will kill any driving passion to reach lost sinners and call them to repentance and faith in Jesus. 

We don’t call people back from the brink of hell because it “works” to scare them; we call them back because it is true… and to live differently is to live a lie from the father of lies, Satan.    

The word the Bible gives us for the Gospel is, in the Greek, euanggelionIt’s the same word from which we get the English word “evangel”, “evangelism” and “evangelist.”  It means someone who brings good news. 

            The very term to “evangelize” has been painted with a very negative brush in our culture today.  But true believers understand that apart from a life-altering relationship with Jesus, every person is eternally lost.  And the love of Christ will compel every follower of the truth to have compassion on all who are lost by actively searching for and rescuing spiritually disconnected people. 

            So let’s end this morning simply thinking about 1 thing:  your evangelistic temperature…our evangelistic temperature as a church.

            Can we agree that a person or a church that has a high “evangelistic temperature” will be more passionate and effective about rescuing spiritually disconnected people than one that is cool or cold evangelistically? 

            Can we further agree that God wants each of His true children and true churches to be stoking the evangelistic fires of their spiritual life so that more and more people are finding Jesus? 

            If we are going to keep a fire burning, we’ve got to keep adding fuel.  And if we are going to increase the evangelistic temperature of our lives so that we really do “save souls from death” and “hide multitudes of sins” under the blood of Christ, then HOW are we going to do that? 

            Let’s state it this way.  Every true follower of Jesus has an “evangelistic temperature.”  We’re either ice cold, cool, lukewarm, warm, hot or on-fire!  So let’s think of it on a scale from 1-10, 1 being ice cold and 10 being on fire.

            When our personal evangelistic temp is at 1, our hearts have cooled off.  We are no longer praying for lost people.  We’ve become too busy with church or personal interests to make space for people needing Jesus.  We walk right past them and opportunities to expose others to the life and claims of Jesus and don’t even feel much regret about it.  We rarely tell others about our experiences with Jesus or about Jesus himself.  And we feel little to no urgency about rescuing others. We’re cold. 

            But when we’re at a 10, we are praying constantly for spiritually disconnected people.  We are planning our schedules around making time to connect with those far from God.  We’re talking about Jesus and what he is doing in our lives and others all the time, in a variety of ways and places.  We’re usually inviting people to church.  We’re thinking of new ways to share Jesus with people who need God.

            ILL:  Dick Shanks—THE most white-hot man evangelistically I know…at 92 or 93 years of age.  [BTW, it was a sizeable financial gift from him that got us moving on getting a building 2 years ago.]  (Talk about his Good News Shops here and in Africa; Gospel tracts & Grandma’s cookies.)

            Our evangelistic temperature isn’t determined by our spiritual gifts or temperament.  It’s determined by the fuel we feed our souls and the attention we give to it. 

APP:   So, take a piece of paper and make a scale from 1-10.  Now, where along that line is your evangelistic temperature?  Ice cold (1)? Cold (2-3)? Cool (4)? Lukewarm (5)?  Warm(6-7)? Hot (8-9)? On-fire (10)? 

            Let’s call this “The 1-Degree Challenge”:  being committed to raising our evangelistic temperature one degree.  What if every one of us was doing something to raise our own temperature just one degree?  What if we as a church were doing something every month to try and push our evangelistic temperature up just one degree?  What kind of church would we be after 12 months?  24? 48? 100? 

            Now let me give you 3 simple things to DO to raise your evangelistic temperature, no matter what you are today.  If every one of us were to do something more in each of these 3 areas, it would move the needle at least one degree for each of us.  

  1. PRAYER: talking to God about people before, during and after talking to people about God.
  • WHO are you praying will come to know Jesus?
  • WHEN are you praying for them?
  • WHAT are you using to prompt/remind you to pray? Post-It-Note on the bathroom mirror or dashboard of the car?  Prayer list you use daily? 

Stop right now and write down at least 5 names of people whom you know who need Jesus.

  1. PROXIMITY: Getting near to people who are far from God.
  • HOW OFTEN/WHEN are you in contact with spiritually disconnected people?
  • WHERE?
  • If you aren’t around them much, what can you do to change your schedule, routine, social life, hobbies, etc. so you are?
  • It may simply mean being more strategic about something you are already doing. EX:  like choosing to sit next to someone on the bus instead of alone…or at a table in the office lunchroom with someone else rather than alone… or giving a ride shopping to someone who doesn’t have a car.
  1. PROCLAMATION: bringing Jesus into our conversations.
  • Talking about what God is teaching you as if it were like any other important part of our life.
  • Sharing how you have seen God work in your life or someone else in God’s family.
  • Asking people questions about what they think of spiritual truths you are wrestling with.
  • Discussing spiritual things as frequently and casually as you talk about fashions or sports or friends or school or work or politics.


  • Invitation to receive Jesus Christ.
  • Commit to do just one thing differently in each of those three realms of prayer, proximity and proclamation.


  1. Have you ever found yourself wandering from the truth? What caused or contributed to you doing that? What helped restore you to a vibrant faith walk with Jesus?
  2. Who does God bring to mind when you think of someone who may have wandered from the faith? What do you think God would have you do?
  3. Read 1st John 1:9, 10 and 3:7-9. How do we reconcile these two statements about sin? How might this passage help us know how to talk with each other about ongoing sin in someone?   
  4. What doubts, obstacles and fears come to mind as potential barriers to you calling spiritually disconnected people either back to Christ or to Christ through the Gospel? What might God want you to do to overcome those?
  5. Share with someone where you see yourself on the 1-10 Evangelistic Temperature (E.T.) scale and why.
  6. When it comes to prayer, proximity and proclamation, which one are you weakest in? Strongest? Share what you think the Lord would have you do in each one of those areas that might raise your “evangelistic temperature” one degree.  What can you do as a family or small group to help each other regularly look at your E.T? What could and maybe should we be doing as a church to increase our church E.T?