The apostle James declared that it is possible for a brother or sister in Christ to err from the truth of God. Notice what he wrote, “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converts the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.”
James was concerned about brethren who “err from the truth.” God does not hold men to the truth by some irresistible compulsion (2 Pet. 1:10). In various ways people stray from the truth.
By turning their ears from the truth brethren err from the truth. Paul warned that men would gather about them teachers who would scratch their itching ears, “And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Tim. 4:3, 4).
By failing to see the value of the truth, brethren err from the truth. One may walk according to the truth for a time, then decide to leave the truth because he sees no real value in it. What we believe does make a difference.
By deception, brethren err from the truth. “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13). Peter warned of men who twist the scriptures, cautioning his readers not to be led away with the error of the wicked (2 Pet, 3:16,17).
By neglect, brethren err from the truth. “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation . . .?” (Heb. 2:3). “Take heed, brethren,, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (Heb. 3:12).
By falling into sin, brethren err from the truth. Some men and women obey the gospel, but in practice they abandon the truth. Sadly, this is also true for preachers and teachers of God’s Word. In other words, they don’t practice what they preach (Rom 2:21,22). This in turn can lead many astray, for many will follow the customs and practices of their teachers. This is why adultery has engulfed the churches of Christ, and has become an epidemic in the world at large. Many have fallen into sin and are now wallowing in it.
There are two classes of sinners: aliens (people who have never entered into covenant relationship with God) and erring brethren. James was addressing brethren in our text. “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him . . . he which converts the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul . . . .”
The faithful have an obligation to the erring. Some who have erred will resent our admonitions, but others will profit by them. Our manner of approach is important (Gal. 6:1,2). Everyone’s first concern should be the saving of the soul. Jesus taught that the soul is more valuable than all the world’s possessions (Matt. 16:26).
Death, eternal separation from God, is the penalty for sin. “For the wages of sin is death. . .” (Rom. 6:23). Some try to make sickness, or mental anguish, or possibly physical death the only punishment for sin. Others suppose that annihilation is the penalty. The Bible describes the punishment for sin as one’s being “cast into the lake of fire”, “tormented day and night for ever and ever” which is “the second death” (Rev. 20:14, 15; 21:8,10). To save a soul from this terrible penalty should be the objective of every faithful saint of God “To seek and save that which is lost” (Lk 19:10)!