“As the family of faith, Christians are responsible to help one another grow toward maturity in Christ. Yet as individuals, we are each responsible for our own actions.”
There’s a difference between being responsible to someone and being responsible for that person. In their book, Boundaries, doctors Henry Cloud and John Townsend clarify that as individuals “we are responsible to others and for ourselves” (32). James echoes this sentiment in his closing exhortation to Christians:
“My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” James 5:19-20 (NASB).
As the family of faith, Christians are responsible to help one another grow toward maturity in Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Yet as individuals, we are each responsible for our own actions (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4). God knew when He created us that while we are each tempted in various ways (James 1:14), collectively we strengthen one another in the truth (Colossians 3:16). Which is why He designed the faith family to live in community, not isolation. Isolation makes people vulnerable to deception, but Christian community protects against unbelief. The author of Hebrews explains it this way, “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (3:12-13). To use an analogy from the Boundaries book, the fellowship and accountability of Christian community function as “guardrails” that protect believers from dangerously swerving away from God’s truth by guiding them along the narrow path of life (Matthew 7:14).
With that in mind, let’s look at what James says. First, Christians are susceptible to straying from God’s truth. Second, Christians are to correct one another by speaking the truth in love. Third, restoration is possible for the Christian who wanders away from the truth.
Now let’s notice what James does not say. James does not say Christians are responsible to save one another. Jesus alone has the authority to save lost souls because He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). James also does not say we are responsible to change the behavior of the wandering believer. No, Christians are simply responsible to “speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another” (Eph. 4:25). As bothers and sisters in Christ, we are to point each other to the Savior in a spirit of love and gentleness while also guarding our own hearts (Galatians 6:1).
How are you guarding yourself against lies? Who have you invited to speak truth into your life? Who can you encourage with God’s truth today?
Living in community isn’t always easy. Sometimes it involves conflict and correction. Nevertheless, the book of James reminds us that the benefits of Christian community are life-giving.