Correcting the Erring – James 5:19-20

Our text is one that is very interesting. Though it may appear that these verses are referring to the conversion of lost souls, it is not the case. This passage is referring to the need to correct believers who have erred or strayed from the truth. I believe that the ESV version has the best reading of this passage when it says, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 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.”[1] The theme of the book of James is to be doers of the Word and not hearers only. Throughout this book, we are instructed in how we are to live in obedience to the Word of God. In our text, James has in mind those who are not living in obedience. Those who have wandered are those who have not just fallen into false doctrines, but to those who know the truth yet has deliberately turned away from the truth and is living a life of sin. When such an individual is restored he or she is saved from death. The term ‘death’ in this passage refers to physical death rather than spiritual death; because a true believer is saved from spiritual death. This, I believe, is proof that sometimes God may choose to take a believer prematurely in order to keep them from bringing greater harm to themselves and to the cause of Christ. The natural result of sin is also death. Therefore, by rescuing someone from their erring ways, you may in fact be saving them from a premature death.

When it comes to the church, we must understand that we have a responsibility to hold each other accountable to living in obedience to the Word of God. There are three basic things for us to consider when it comes to correcting those who have erred.

The process of correcting. Notice what the scripture says in Matthew 18:15-17. Now, in order to understand this process of correcting we must understand who this correcting is for. There is a difference between helping a brother or sister who has done something wrong and complaining about something that you just don’t like. What does the Bible say about complaining? Philippians 2:14 says, “Do all things without murmurings and disputings.” In other words, if all you have is a complaint, then shut your mouth! Murmuring and complaining has no business being in the life of the church. However, if there is someone in the church who has done you wrong or has been involved in a lifestyle of sin then you have a responsibility to do something about it. So, what is the process of correcting someone who has done wrong? (1) Talk to them one on one. Anytime someone comes to me with an issue that they have with someone else. I am always quick to ask them if they have talked to that individual first. If someone has erred, then you should go to that person first and lovingly point out their fault and encourage them to repent. (2) If they will not listen, talk to them with a witness. If the individual at fault appears to be unrepentive then you should go to someone else, preferably a leader in the church, and explain the situation to them and ask them to go with you to approach the erring one again. (3) If they will not listen with a witness, then bring the matter before the church body. The goal of bringing someone before the church in response to their wrong behavior is to restore them to proper fellowship. However, if they still refuse to repent then the individual must be treated as if they are an unbeliever, in other words, they are to be removed from church membership. This is a process that you hope we never have to face, however, sometimes it is necessary especially if someone is being disruptive to the point of hindering the ministry of the church.

The manner of correcting. There is a right and a wrong way to correct a brother or sister who has erred. The Bible is very clear on the manner in which we are to correct those who are at fault. There are three passages that we should read: 1 Peter 4:8, Proverbs 10:12, and Galatians 6:1. The key in all three of these verses is love and gentleness. This is the manner in which we are to correct one another. This is often a difficult thing to do. We tend to be quick to jump all over those who has done us wrong. However, if your goal is to restore proper fellowship with them, then correcting must be done out of a heart of love and with a gentle spirit.

The goal of correcting. According to our text in James, the ultimate goal in correcting a brother or sister who has erred is to save them from death or physical harm. The goal is to also cover their sin so that they can continue to effectively serve the Lord in this life. We all need each other in this life. We cannot afford to lose any soldiers in God’s army. Therefore, we should work to hold each other accountable and to correct each other’s faults and then move on to serving the Lord in order the He may be glorified and that more will come to know Him.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Jas 5:19–20). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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