“…let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.”
James concludes his epistle with the subject of divine discipline because his main idea throughout the book is to bring the believer back into a living faith (into dynamic fellowship with God).
let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way
The word “turns” here does not mean to convert a lost person. The word “turns” comes from two words: back and to turn. The business of the believer is to turn backslid believers back to God. It is the responsibility of a believer in fellowship to bring a believer in a state of deflection from the truth back to a walk with God.
will save a soul from death
James refers to physical death here. This believer is susceptible to physical death because of his protracted rebellion against God. The word “save” does not refer to eternal salvation of the soul here but to the saving of a believer under severe divine discipline.
“Soul” here refers to the whole person. “Death” here is temporal death and not eternal death (1 Jn 5:16). James refers here to saving a soul from physical death, not eternal death. If this suggests eternal death then returning to truth makes no sense. There is no suggestion of mortal sin here. James suggests the possibility of recovery.
1 Co 11:30-32 “For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep [die]. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.”
1 Jn 5:16-17 “If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death.”
and cover a multitude of sins
If a believer stays out of fellowship, his sins begin to pile up. The word “cover” means to blot out, cancel, forgive. This phrase “cover a multitude of sins” may allude to Proverbs 10:12. “Cover” is a Hebraism for meaning overlook, forgive. God’s purpose is to reclaim fallen believers out of fellowship. God will not look at the sins of a forgiven believer anymore. God does away with any number of sins for there is no limit to His forgiveness. He will not continue to put him under the sin unto death.
Mi 7:19 “He will again have compassion on us,
And will subdue our iniquities.
You will cast all our sins
Into the depths of the sea.”
The epistle of James comes to an abrupt conclusion. Both Paul and Peter give salutations and conclusions to their epistles but not James.
God calls us to the task of restoring fallen fellow believers.
There is such a thing as saving a sinner and there is such a thing as saving a saint. Jesus continuously saves saints (He 7:25). God gives this task of restoring fallen believers to the believer in good standing.
God does not call upon us to censor other Christians but He does challenge us to restore fallen believers. There is no place for a priggish, self-righteous believer imposing his opinions on struggling Christians. Instead of condemning fallen Christians, we should try to lift them up.
1 Pe 4:8 “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover [forgive] a multitude of sins.’”
Turning back to God can free us from the sin unto death.