Hearts of Christians break when someone they love as a fellow Christian walks away from God, the church, and their faith. How can you reach out to a struggling Christian and help them home?
A. Do you believe in some type of eternal punishment? In 2014 Pew Research asked Americans questions about the afterlife. They reported that 72% of Americans believe in a place of eternal reward (normally called Heaven) and 58% believed in a place eternal punishment (normally called Hell).
B. Breaking that down, Christians were 85% believed in heaven and 70% in hell. Jewish Americans it was only 40% in eternal reward and 22% in punishment. Muslims were the highest with 89% in reward and 76% in punishment. Those with no religious affiliation that number dropped to 37% in reward and 27% in punishment.
C. As you can imagine, seeking to share Jesus with people who don’t believe in eternal reward or eternal punishment is difficult. The question becomes, why should I follow your teachings if I don’t believe in your view of an afterlife?
D. But what about you? Do you believe in an eternal reward and eternal punishment. If you do, does that affect how you see others and their life after this life ends? Does it prompt you to take any type of action to share more about what you believe if you think a person will spend eternity separated from God?
I. Elijah and Israel
A. Let’s come to the book of James and I want to remind of what he just wrote about. James has been telling his readers that prayer is powerful at healing the sick – physical or spiritual. The spiritual sick need as much healing as the physical – I would say, even more. Right after James teaches about confessing and prayer he takes us to a story about Israel.
B. 1 Kings 16:29-33. Ahab and Jezebel led Israel away from God. God then sends in Elijah (1 Kings 17:1). We know that it doesn’t rain for over 3 years.
C. But let me ask you to think about this. God loves his children. God desires for them to turn from their evil ways and so God brings about a discipline that would have been so harsh that it should drive them back to God. But it doesn’t. Three and half years the country of Israel suffered from a drought. Then God sent Elijah again, to show Israel that there is a God and there is only one God.
D. That competition on Mt. Carmel proved to the people that Jehovah (YHWY) is God and the only God. With fire, God revealed himself. After which the people cried out, “The Lord, He is God!” Then God told Elijah that rain was coming again.
E. I tell you that story because when we read the last two verses of James, they are not disconnected from the topic of prayer and Elijah. With that backdrop listen again to James 5:17-20.
II. Brother Who Dies
A. There are some difficult verses in the Bible that deal with people who claim the saving grace of Jesus and then turn their back on it. One such is 2 Pet. 2:20-22.
B. James says if a brother “wanders from the truth.” James says that person is dead. Dead to grace of God. Dead to the reward of those who seek God. Dead to the point that there soul now stands condemned.
C. How many people who have claimed the blood of Jesus turn their back on it? Too often we have seen people who study, learn, accept God’s truth about salvation only to wander away – to fall away – to turn back to their old way of life. But let God challenge us: Are we our brother’s keeper? I know that comes from Cain, but it is a question to answer.
D. I will be the first to say that James, and most of the NT writers, put the responsibility on the one who wanders. It is their choice, and often done at their will and knowledge. But how far do you go to reach out and seek to bring that one back home?
E. It is not matter of do we care, but how do you bring him back?
III. Come Home
A. The word James uses for “brings him back” is the word “convert” or “to turn around.” How do you reach out to someone who has already walked way? Let me share a few ideas as we close:
1. Pray. This whole ending section of James is about prayer. Pray for them like Elijah did for Israel. Pray that God will move in their life, that God will bring about something to stir their heart and mind to remember Him. Pray, pray more.
2. Be gentle. Gal. 6:1-2. Honestly, this starts with the fact that you have to one who left, or been caught in a sin. They generally don’t come to you. When you go to them, go with a gentle heart seeking a cause that might have led them down this path away from God.
3. Remember they are dying. When a person is drowning, I am told they will often fight the person who is trying to rescue them. These are people who are spiritually dying and they may fight back as you reach out. So what do you, let them drown or keep trying?
4. Talk about home. When you do get to spend time with that person, talk about the good that is going on in the church family. Talk about God in a positive light and what God has done in your life. There is enough negative in this world, tell them the good of the “good news.”
5. Accept repentance. This last one is to us as a church. We need to learn to accept a person who is seeking to repent. Christians sin. Christians act like unbelievers at times. But when a person wants to come home, we either accept them where they are and walk with them, helping them grow in their holiness; or we can be like the elder brother and be free with our accusations about their life.
A. James ends with “covers over a multitude of sins.” Whose sins? The wanderer who comes home or the one who went after the lost sheep? Either way, I like it. If you are ready to come home, there is no better time to turn from sin and turn to God than right now.