Does James 5:19, 20 say a Christian can lose his salvation and get it back if he returns to God?

Posted: September 22, 2018 in Uncategorized

I don’t think so. I appreciate the following brief, but powerful, explanation of this passage by Bob Wilkin (Ph.D., Dallas Theological Seminary):

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 (cf. 1:22-27; 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.

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 death.”

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 from 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 reformation.

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).

“Soul Salvation,” Part 2

I might add that the problem with faith+works is two-fold: Those who adhere to it always set up the straw man, “Well, so you’re saying I can be saved then do whatever I want!” and beat it to death. They place the cars before the locomotive, to use the analogy of a train. Cars have no power to move the train; only the locomotive can do it. Set the locomotive—faith, in motion, and the cars—works, will follow. If they do not, if there is a locomotive but no cars, what good is it? James, too, recognizes this when he says, “Faith without works is dead.” A locomotive with nothing to pull is a very expensive assembly of metal parts, nothing more, nothing less. In fact, I would submit that when you see a person “get saved” (walk the aisle, make a profession, etc.) but see no subsequent change in that person’s lifestyle, you’re seeing an impostor, someone who has, to use a modern term, stolen an identity!Image result for cart before the horse

Second, it sets up a salvation based on fear mentality. One can never really know if they are saved because it is simply not possible for us to live according to the standards God has set for us. Lives will be spent performing good deeds in an endless drudgery, but a frantic one, instead out of joy. Even the apostles were not immune to sin, like pride and wrong-headed thinking. Peter, for example, had to be rebuked by Paul for his religious bigotry/self-righteousness, “When Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.” (Galatians 2:11) In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul writes in horror of a man in the church who had been sleeping with his step-mother. While he exhorts the Corinthian church to “Expel the wicked person from among you”, nowhere does he mention the state of the man’s salvation other than to say, “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” Apparently, then, this was a Christian who had fallen into terrible sexual immorality, but it did not cost him his salvation:

The expression “deliver such a one unto Satan” is the equivalent of “put away the wicked man from among yourselves” (v. 13).It is a biblical idiom for the severing of Christian fellowship.It represents a dramatic expression of the literal formula, “have no company with” (v. 9), or the more specific admonition “with such a one do not even eat” (v. 11), i.e., refrain from ordinary social fraternization with such a one (cf. 2 Thes. 3:6).

One must note that Hymenaeus and Alexander had been “delivered unto Satan” in order that “they might be taught not to blaspheme” (1 Tim. 1:20). If the “deliverance” was death, how does the subsequent clause make any sense?It was not anticipated that these gentleman would be doing post-mortem blasphemy!

What then, is the meaning of that ambiguous phrase, “for the destruction of the flesh”? The sense almost certainly is this: Turn the man over to Satan (i.e., back into the world community of debauchery), that he may reap the consequences of his rebellion (whatever physical and/or emotional disadvantages that might involve), along with distressing estrangement from a warm, loving association with the church.Under such circumstances of distress, if there were a remnant of conscience remaining, the rogue brother might well learn to “destroy” his baser, “fleshly” urges, and thus be reclaimed for the Savior’s cause.

This is a sensible approach to the text that does not thrust scripture into the realm of the absurd or the inconsistent.

What Is the Meaning of, “Destruction of the Flesh,” in 1 Corinthians 5:5?

Scripture must always be judged by scripture. Where it is silent, ambiguous, or paradoxical, or where meaning has been lost due to time and/or culture, we must humbly learn to admit, in the exhortation of Maimonides, “I do not know”, rather than to pretend God has anointed us with “special revelation.”

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