Justified by faith or by works? (James 2:14-26) – Part 3

POST OVERVIEW. The third in a series of articles on James 2:14-26. The purpose of these articles is to give the believer a correct understanding of this passage by providing a number of different approaches to this text. The goal is that, through these studies, the believer will see that James’ teaching here does not conflict with the New Testament’s doctrine of justification by faith. (See also Post #652, 5/24,2023 and Post #653, 5/25/2023.) This fairly long article focuses on the concept of “works.”

This is the third article in a series of studies of James 2:14-26. Let’s take a moment to review where we have been so far, where we are going in this article, and where we hope to go with the rest of the series.


In my first post (#652), I had explained the main interpretive difficulty in the passage; namely, that it can seem that, in James 2:14-26, and particularly in 2:21-15, James is contradicting the core teaching of the New Testament about justification by faith. The apostle Paul teaches throughout his epistles that a sinner is “justified” (meaning “declared righteous”) solely on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, in Galatians, Paul states that a variation in the gospel on this point is anathema (Gal. 1:8, 9) and that those who preach this “other” gospel are cursed. Because of the New Testament’s teaching on “justified” and on “justification,” “justification by faith alone” became one of the five “Solas” of the Reformation. So, this is not a minor point. In my first post, I had proposed a plan of study that would allow us to examine James 2:14-26 using several different approaches to demonstrate that James is not contradicting any of the Bible’s teaching on what it means to be “justified.”

The second post of the series (#653) had begun to work through the points of the plan of study. Our first piece of information was that the verb “justify” has at least two meanings. Understanding how James uses this verb (and its related terms) in James 2:21-25 helps immensely in defusing the difficulties of the passage.

In this third article, we will focus most of our efforts on understanding the word and the concept of “works.”


Broadly speaking, the concept of “works” relates to human effort or accomplishment. “Works” are things which the human does that affect the human’s relationship with the living God, either positively or negatively. The primary factor that determines whether “works” are pleasing to God or are perceived as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) is whether or not the one doing the “works” has believed in God and has been reconciled with God. In our day, the question would be, “Are you a follower of the Lord Jesus?” If the answer is yes, then your works are generally pleasing to God and, if not, then your works are an offense to Him and a stench in His nostrils.

Let me explain this a bit further and then clarify “works” by giving some examples. I said that the primary factor for evaluating “works” is whether or not the person working is a follower of Jesus. Why is that? It is because, when a person comes to faith in Jesus, their motivation for the “works” dramatically changes.


When a person is not a believer in Jesus, he may still desire to benefit from religious activity or religious works. (In fact, a good working definition of a religion is a system of man-made human efforts intended to achieve some spiritual benefit.) Thus the unbeliever will do things prescribed by their particular religion to try to relieve themselves of guilt or to impress others or to make themselves good enough to be acceptable to their god(s) or to God. The point is that the one who “works” in this way is using their human effort to earn favor with the gods or with God.

The problem with these “works” is that they are as offensive to the living God as perhaps anything can be. These “works” offer man’s sinful efforts and his religious rituals as the means of making him acceptable to God, when God has sent His only Son Jesus into the world to be crucified on Calvary’s cross as the only acceptable sacrifice for sin and as the only means of reconciling God and man. In Acts 4:12, Peter declares,

“And there is salvation in no one else. For there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

The only way to be justified before our holy God is to bow the knee to Jesus and confess Him as Lord and Savior. But, instead of repenting of sin and submitting to Jesus, man wants to continue in his wicked ways and to continue in his sin, so he offers to God a token performance of “works.” Jesus has willingly come from heaven to earth to die on the cross as the only means of rescue from the wrath of God, but by means of his “works,” man rejects the Son of God and offers instead his sin-stained man-made efforts. This is why Paul and the other New Testament writers and solid Christian churches today vigorously oppose any teaching that claims that we can be declared righteous by our “works.” Justification is by faith alone in Christ alone.

Consider these biblical examples. Cain offered to God his “works” of the fruit of the ground (Genesis 4) and he was rejected by God and perished. It was his religious “works” that Saul of Tarsus offered to God (Phil. 3:5-6), but for the apostle Paul those works were all “rubbish” (3:8). Nadab and Abihu offered religious “works” of strange fire before the LORD and were consumed in the flame (Leviticus 10). In the gospels, the Pharisees had all their religious rules, but Jesus repeatedly called them hypocrites. “Works” can never bring an unbeliever closer to God or forgive the unbeliever of one single sin. Any “work” that is using human effort or human performance to achieve favor with God is cursed.


We have just described the “works” of the unbeliever and have seen that they are offensive to God, since they offer human effort as a replacement for the death of Christ. So, if this is the only kind of “works” known in the New Testament and if James is suggesting that the unbeliever is justified (“declared righteous”) by his own “works,” we have a major contradiction and a major problem.

But what we find as we examine Scripture is, first, that there are “works” which are entirely appropriate to the believer and which are, indeed, expected for every believer, and second, that James is certainly not suggesting that an unbeliever is justified (“declared righteous”) by his own “works.” Let’s take these two points one at a time.

In our previous post (#653), we have already demonstrated that, in James 2:21-25, “justified” is used in the sense of the believer giving outward, visible evidence of their inward, invisible faith. Their claim of faith is “justified” when they give sufficient evidence of their faith. But not only does James use “justified” in a non-salvific way in our study passage, but we also see that his examples, Abraham and Rahab, are people who are already believers and who already possess saving faith. (We will address this further when we look at Hebrews 11 in parallel with this passage in James in a later post.) Abraham and Rahab are presented not as examples of those who earned saving faith by their works, but rather as examples of those who demonstrated their saving faith by radical acts of faithfulness.

Finally, then, this passage cannot be about how the unbeliever achieves his own salvation by his “works,” because there is not even an unbeliever anywhere in the passage.

What we see instead is that it is incumbent upon the genuine believer to live a life marked by “good works” which give evidence to his claim of salvation. Calls for “good works” or “good deeds” which attest to an already-possessed salvation are common in the New Testament, and this is certainly the type of “works” that James has in mind here.

The following are places where this type of “works” appears in the New Testament:

Matthew 5:16 “Let men see your good works.”

Ephesians 2:10. It is instructive to read Ephesians 2:9 and 2:10 together. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, not as a result of works. For we are created in Christ Jesus for good works.” “Works” do not save, but “good works” should follow salvation.

Philippians 2:12. “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

Colossians 1:10. Paul prays they would “bear fruit in every good work.”

2 Thessalonians 2:17. “Strengthen your hearts in every good work.”

1 Timothy 2:10; 5:10; 6:18. Good works are a mark of a faithful believer.

2 Timothy 2:21; 3:17. “prepared/equipped for every good work.”

Titus 2:7, 14; 3:8, 14. Believers are to be “zealous for good deeds.”

Hebrews 10:24. “Stimulate one another to love and good deeds.”

1 Peter 2:12. The Gentiles glorify God because of your good deeds.


We have seen that “works,” which are presented by the unbeliever as an attempt to merit or earn from God a declaration of righteousness (to be “justified”), are offensive to God and are condemned because these “works” are offered instead of faith in the crucified Christ.

We have also seen that “good works,” which are produced in and by the believer as a visible manifestation (a “justification”) of their invisible faith in Jesus, are expected and are approved by God because these “good works” are wrought through the power of the Holy Spirit.

It is this latter category of “works” that James has in view in James 2:14-26.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 5/30/2023                   #654

Justified by faith or by works? (James 2:14-26) – Part 2

POST OVERVIEW. The second in a series of articles on James 2:14-26. The purpose of these articles is to give the believer a correct understanding of this passage by providing a number of different approaches to this text. The goal is that, through these studies, the believer will see that James’ teaching here does not conflict with the New Testament’s doctrine of justification by faith. (See also Post #652, 5/24,2023.)


Having given an introduction to this series of studies (See Post #652, 5/24/2023), we will begin with an examination of “justify.” This portion of our study will be a little technical, but it is necessary for us to look at definitions and to understand how this word and its related terms are used in the New Testament.

THE FIRST USE OF “JUSTIFY.” As we mentioned above, in the New Testament, the English word “justify” is a translation of the Greek word “δικαιόω.” This word is of profound significance in the gospel of salvation, because its most common usage has the meaning of “declare righteous.” The main message of the gospel is that any sinner who believes (“places their faith”) in the Lord Jesus Christ is immediately declared righteous, forgiven of all their sins, saved from the wrath of God, and has eternal life. In short, by faith he “has been justified.” (This is the passive use of the word “justify.”) This entire set of effects of faith in Jesus has been abbreviated as “justification by faith.” The consistent and abundant teaching of the New Testament is that we are “justified” (declared righteous, etc.) by faith and by faith alone in Christ alone and not on the basis of works. (See later in this series for a deeper understanding of “works” and also for how many times the Bible insists that being justified/justification is not by works.) This use of “justify” (declare righteous) is what the apostle Paul uses almost exclusively in his doctrinal teaching about the gospel of the Lord Jesus and his letters of Romans and Galatians are particularly filled with this doctrine. For this reason, most believers automatically think of “justify” and “to be justified” in terms of “not by works” and “justification by faith alone,” and become concerned and vocal when someone suggests that a sinner can earn salvation (be justified) based on his works. It thus becomes obvious why James 2:21-25 has created some confusion and controversy among believers because James blatantly affirms that Abraham and Rahab were justified by their works. What do we do with that?

A SECOND USE OF “JUSTIFY.” And here it is necessary for us to realize that, while the overwhelming majority of uses of “justify” or “be justified” relates to declaring someone righteous based on their professed faith in the Lord Jesus, there is also a minority use of the word, and it is this minority use of “justify” that James uses in our study passage. James uses “justify” in the sense of “giving outward evidence of an inward reality” or of “supporting a claim to possess an invisible quality.” Other synonyms could be “exhibited,” “demonstrated,” “proved,” or “gave evidence for.”


When I was a purchasing manager several years ago, I had a supplier whose name was Jim Cooper. Jim was a big man. He was probably 6’ 5” and was broad and “thick.” When I shook his hand, my hand almost disappeared into his. He was big. One day we were talking and he mentioned that he was having some pain in his knees. “Yeah, it was probably from too many years playing football.” I paused for a second, then asked, “When did you play football? Were you ever a professional football player?” He said, “I played for the Dallas Cowboys in the late 70’s and 80’s.” I remembered the Cowboys of that era and that they were powerful teams, so I asked, “Do you have a Super Bowl ring?” “Yes, as a matter of fact I do. Super Bowl XII for the 1977 season.” “Would you mind bringing that ring in so I could see it? I have never seen a Super Bowl ring.” “Sure thing. Next time I come over I will bring it.”

Now, I did not doubt for a second that Jim could produce that ring. First, he was an honest man, so he was not lying to me, but second, he was a big man, and the possibility that he had played for the world champion Dallas Cowboys was not a stretch, at all. But at that point in time, Jim’s claim of having a Super Bowl ring was not justified. Jim would not “be justified” until his invisible claim of being on the 1977 Dallas Cowboys was validated (“justified”) by the visible evidence of a Super Bowl ring from Super Bowl XII.

And, true to his word, the next time Jim and I got together, he put his Super Bowl XII ring on the conference table so I could take pictures of it with my phone. Because he had produced tangible visible evidence of his unseeable claim, he was fully “justified.” Jim Cooper claimed to be a member of the World Champion Dallas Cowboys and then produced the ring that proved his claim. In this way, he was “justified.”

If, on the other hand, Jim had claimed to be on the Dallas Cowboys in 1977 but had no Super Bowl ring, there would have been a lot of doubt about his claim. Without tangible, visible evidence to validate his claim, his football career would remain a mere claim, a mere maybe.

This is the way that James uses the word “justify” in 2:21, 24, and 25. If a man claims to have saving faith, then he needs to “justify” (prove, validate) that claim by giving tangible supporting evidence. And the tangible evidence that James is seeking is the evidence of “works.”


After carefully examining the word “justify” and seeing that James uses the word in a very different sense than Paul and the other New Testament writers, we can conclude that there is no conflict or contradiction in James 2:14-26 when compared to other New Testament doctrinal teaching.

NEXT ARTICLE. In this article we have carefully looked at the word “justify.” In the next article, we will examine “works” by first defining what the biblical writers mean by “works” and second, by considering what the role of works is both before and after salvation (Point #2 in our list in Post #652, 5/24/2023). We will conclude the next article by documenting the verses in the New Testament which explicitly teach that “being justified” (“declared righteous”) and justification are always “by faith” and are never “by works.”

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 5/25/2023                   #653

Justified by faith or by works? (James 2:14-26) – Part 1

POST OVERVIEW. The first in a series of articles on James 2:14-26. The purpose of these articles is to give the believer a correct understanding of this passage by providing a number of different approaches to this text. Through these studies, the believer will see that James’ teaching here does not conflict with the New Testament’s doctrine of justification by faith. (Also see previous Post #393, 4/26/2021, on this same passage.)

“But how can a man be in the right before God?” – Job 9:2


From the time of the fall of man in Genesis 3 until the apostolic preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Job’s crucial question went unanswered. But after Pentecost, first the apostles and then the faithful church began to proclaim the good news that, now that Jesus has atoned for sins on the cross, all who repent and believe in Him can be declared righteous and can receive eternal life. That is the gospel we proclaim and by which we are saved. We are justified by faith alone in Christ alone.


But with this as a background, how do we understand James when he declares in his epistle, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works?” (James 2:21)? Perhaps even more unsettling is what we read a few verses later in James 2:24: “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” Then finally James writes, “Was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works?” (2:25). Is James teaching another gospel in which the sinner is justified by faith plus his own works? Has James abandoned “justification by faith alone,” the central doctrine of the Reformation? Does the Holy Spirit-inspired Bible teach that there are actually two ways to be saved, one by faith in Jesus and another by faith plus works?

These are important questions that I want to address in a series of articles which consider James 2:14-26 and discern what James is teaching in this section of his epistle. As we go through these teaching articles, there are several key points that we will consider.

  1. The word that is translated “justify” (δικαιόω in Greek) or, in the passive, “to be justified,” has two different meanings depending upon the author’s intent. Therefore, we need to understand more about this word “justify.”
  2. An understanding of “works” in the New Testament. What do we mean by “works?” The difference between the role of works before salvation and the role of works after salvation must be considered.
  3. The personal relationship between Paul and James and their complete agreement on the content of the gospel.
  4. The New Testament’s abundant, explicit teaching that justification (God’s declaration of righteousness) is never by works.
  5. A comparison of Hebrews 11 with James 2 allows us to conclusively determine that James is using “justify” in a non-salvific sense.
  6. Finally, a careful, unbiased reading of James 2:14-26 makes the author’s purpose and meaning unambiguously clear.

This, then, will serve as an introduction to this mini-series on James 2:14-26. My plan is to work through each of these points in the list above (not necessarily in order) so that we remove any confusion about justification that might be created by this passage and we also pay attention to the warning that James is communicating here.

My next post will be about the meanings of “justify.” (Point #1 from the list above.)

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 5/24/2023                   #652

Resurrection lessons from 1 Corinthians 15 (Part 3)

POST OVERVIEW. The third of a three-part study of 1 Corinthians 15, the great chapter on the Resurrection of the righteous that will occur on the last day. (See Post #648, 5/8/2023 and #649, 5/11/2023, for the first two parts of this study.) The objective of this series of posts is to give the Bible student a firm grasp of the doctrine of the Resurrection.

The previous post in this series (#649, 5/11/2023) finished with the “problem” presented by Paul at the end of 15:50; namely, that no believer in Christ who has a natural, earthly body, whether alive or dead, can inherit the kingdom of God. How, then, does a believer inherit the kingdom of God?

15:51. The solution to the problem is that, in the Resurrection, all believers will receive a glorified body that can inherit the kingdom of heaven.


KEY CONCEPT. In this verse, Paul “tells us a mystery.” In the New Testament, a “mystery” is an event or a detail that is currently unknown but that is certain to be revealed in the future. So here, the mystery that is yet to be revealed will explain what happens to those who are still alive when the Resurrection occurs.


Here is what I mean. Up to this point in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul has only been talking about believers who are dead in Christ when the Resurrection occurs (e.g., 15:42). We also note that the Bible’s supreme example of resurrection, the raising of Jesus Christ from the dead, was obviously a raising from the dead. Thus, by the undeniable fact of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead as “first fruits” (15:23), we can understand how the dead in Christ would likewise be raised from the dead at the final Resurrection. As Jesus was raised from the dead with a glorified body, so the dead in Christ will also be raised from the dead with glorified bodies. We can readily grasp this analogy.

It is also interesting that other prominent biblical pictures of the Resurrection are pictures of saints who are raised from the dead. In Isaiah 26:19, we see a picture of the Resurrection as “Your dead will live, their corpses will rise.” Isaiah gives us a picture of the dead being raised. In Ezekiel 37, the prophet is “in the middle of a valley and it was full of bones. Behold, there were very many bones on the surface of the ground, and very dry” (37:2). But then the Lord GOD says, “Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves” (37:12). This is obviously a vision of God raising His people from the dead. When Jesus speaks of the Resurrection in the gospel of John (5:28-29), He says, “An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice (the Son of Man), and (all) will come forth.” Jesus is speaking about the dead being raised in the Resurrection. All these are pictures of those who are dead in Christ being raised from the dead on the last day.

But what about those who are still alive when the Resurrection occurs? We have no solid example from Scripture or analogy from nature that pictures this. How can those “who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:15) be raised from the dead in the Resurrection? It doesn’t seem to make sense. And so this is the “mystery” that Paul is going to discuss. To repeat the question from above, “What happens to those who are still alive when the Resurrection occurs?”

To answer this question, two things are required. First, we must remember the biblical definition of Resurrection. As we have already seen, it is common for believers to mistakenly think of resurrection only in terms of “being raised from the dead” because Jesus was raised from the dead in His resurrection (see above), but the biblical definition of Resurrection is “the receiving of our glorified bodies.” Being glorified is the primary event of the Resurrection, and both those who are dead in Christ and those who are alive are guaranteed to receive their “spiritual body” (15:44). So first, remember what you have already learned.

But second, we must read our Bible carefully and thoughtfully to understand what Paul is teaching. Paul has told us he is going to be teaching us about a mystery. Therefore, our attitude in reading these verses is to understand exactly what the apostle is telling us about the resurrection of those in Christ who are alive on the last day. Except for what is revealed to us in the Scriptures, we are wholly ignorant of this subject. We are “strangers on the earth” (Psalm 119:19), therefore we come to the Scriptures humbly to gain knowledge and understanding. What, then, does Paul teach us here about those who are alive at the Resurrection?

 Paul announces the mystery: “we will not all sleep,” which simply means that not all believers will physically die before they are resurrected. Some believers will sleep, but some will be physically alive at the Resurrection. (see 1 Thess. 4:15-17). But all believers, whether asleep or alive, will receive a glorified body because “we will all be changed.”

15:52. Paul gives a number of details of the Resurrection in this verse.

The Resurrection (“the change”) will be instantaneous, for it will happen “in the twinkling of an eye.”

The Resurrection will occur when the last trumpet sounds (see “trumpet” in Isa. 27:13, “in that day;” Matt. 24:31; 1 Thess. 4:16). 

“The dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” The dead in Christ (the “perishable”) are raised with glorified (“imperishable”) bodies, and those who are alive (“flesh and blood,” 15:50) are instantly glorified (“changed”). (This latter occurrence is the mystery.)

Note that this description of the Resurrection is in perfect agreement with what Paul writes in 1 Thess. 4:16-17. The dead in Christ are raised and glorified and those who are alive in Christ are changed and glorified. (See also Isaiah 26:19; Phil. 3:20-21; 1 John 3:2.)

It is also important to note that, although Paul does not mention Christ’s coming (παρουσία) in this passage, the Scriptures make plain that the Resurrection occurs simultaneously with Jesus’ coming. From the lips of Jesus Himself, we also know that these events of the Resurrection occur on the last day (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54).

15:53. We know that “this perishable” refers to those who are dead in Christ (15:42, 52). What must occur for them? “This perishable must put on the imperishable.” The “imperishable” refers to the glorified body (15:42). The dead in Christ must put on their glorified bodies.

The Greek word for “must” is δεῖ, which can be translated “is (absolutely) necessary,” “is inevitable,” or “must.” What is being communicated here is that the only way that “the perishable” (those who are dead in Christ) can inherit the kingdom of God (see 15:50) is for them to “put on the imperishable.” For them to be fit for eternity in heaven, the dead in Christ must receive their glorified body. There is no other way.

Likewise, “this mortal must put on immortality.” “Mortal” here refers to those who are still subject to death, which is those who are still alive. The only way that “the mortal” can inherit the kingdom of God (see 15:50) is for them to “put on immortality.” For them to be fit for eternity in heaven, they must receive their glorified body. There is no other way.

15:54. When all the dead in Christ are raised in their imperishable glorified bodies, and when all those who are alive in Christ have been quickly changed into their immortal glorified bodies, then death will have been swallowed up in victory. All “those who are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Cor 15:23) will have donned their eternal glorified bodies and death will have been forever defeated.


We should take a moment after this study to summarize what we have learned, for we have received strong teaching about the doctrine of the Resurrection from 1 Corinthians 15.

  • The Resurrection of all the righteous will occur on the last day (15:23-24).
  • The Resurrection occurs at the same time that the Lord Jesus descends from heaven. So it includes all “those who are Christ’s at His coming” (15:23).
  • The Resurrection speaks primarily about the event when those who are in Christ receive their glorified bodies.
  • All those who are in Christ are guaranteed to receive a glorified body at the Resurrection (15:44, 49).
  • The Resurrection will include the glorification of all the “dead in Christ” and all those who are “alive and remain.”
  • The Resurrection will be instantaneous (15:52).
  • The Resurrection will occur at the sounding of the last trumpet (15:52).

Finally, it is important to remember that, although we have discovered these doctrinal truths by carefully studying 1 Corinthians 15, the truths we have discovered are universal truths. That is, the doctrinal truths about the Resurrection discovered in 1 Corinthians 15 are true for the Resurrection wherever it is mentioned in the Bible. So there is not the doctrine of the Resurrection according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 and a different set of doctrines in Isaiah or in the gospel of John or in 1 Thessalonians. The events of the Resurrection as described in 1 Corinthians 15 must agree with the events surrounding the Resurrection in the other passages in Scripture because the Holy Spirit is the author of all Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16) and He does not contradict Himself. Other Scriptural passages about the Resurrection may add new details or may present the truths with other word pictures, but other Scripture cannot present a different Resurrection. An interpretation of the Resurrection that conflicts with the one taught in 1 Corinthians 15 should be replaced with the one taught in the Scriptures.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 5/15/2023                   #650

The planned evangelistic encounter

A friend and I have been going through Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J I Packer. This study has taken me to the place where I am thinking in terms of a “planned evangelistic encounter” as the way to regularly be engaged in witnessing for Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8) and to be an active “fisher of men” (Matt. 4:19). The following are notes as they appear on my working page.

The gospel has complexity (astute quote from Packer in chapter 3). This means that the evangelist must plan in advance what portion of the full gospel he is going to present in the evangelistic encounter.


In the “entire gospel,” there are many complex ideas to communicate to the other person (God, sin, fallen man, judgment, Jesus Christ, death on a cross, resurrection, repentance, forgiveness of sins, heaven and hell, eternity, guilt, born again, the church, etc.). Because it is impossible to communicate this information in a short time or in a single sitting, I am proposing that the one who is “sowing seeds” (Matt. 13:3ff) and who is “fishing for men” (Matt. 4:19) on a regular, intentional basis (shouldn’t this be every disciple of Jesus?) should develop a “planned encounter” containing a “desired message.” That is, I am proposing that the evangelist plans the evangelistic encounter from initial contact through disengagement so that:

  1. The evangelist’s DESIRED MESSAGE is clearly communicated.
  2. The hearer has been given a clear opportunity to respond to the message.
  3. The hearer’s response can be evaluated.
  4. The hearer has been given a “next step” which they can pursue if they so desire (this would most appropriately be information about our church that was consistent with the evangelist’s message).
  5. The overall encounter can be evaluated and improved.


Note that the DESIRED MESSAGE must be drawn from the gospel message as communicated in the New Testament. Therefore, in this sense, the DESIRED MESSAGE is the most constrained portion of the evangelistic encounter. This message is the heart and soul of the encounter. Indeed, it is the entire reason for the encounter. The other variables and components (see below) that make up the evangelistic encounter are largely up to the personality and creativity of the evangelist and are, therefore, not tightly constrained. For these variables, there is no right or wrong. There is no eternal truth at stake. But the DESIRED MESSAGE portion of the encounter is not like that. This gospel message contains essential truth that must be understood and believed for the hearer to be delivered from the wrath to come. For this message, the evangelist is accountable to the Lord (Romans 1:16-17; 1 Cor. 1:23-24; 2:2; 15:1-2; 2 Cor. 4:7; Gal. 1:8,9; 2 Tim. 1:14).


Here are the components of the evangelistic encounter that should be planned.

  1. Venue. Where will this encounter take place? In a park? On a plane? On a street corner? At the beach? At work? In a café? Homeless shelter? Food pantry?
  2. Hearer. Whom do you envision as your hearer, the one who will hear your DESIRED MESSAGE? Having your hearer in view can help you anticipate roadblocks to your DESIRED MESSAGE.
  3. What is the means of engagement or initial contact? This is an important part of the encounter to consider. How do you plan to gain the person’s attention so they will even listen to you? How directly do you move to your message? You are in control of this part of the encounter. How do you move from stranger to person worth listening to? Thought-provoking question? “What is your opinion” on something related to the gospel or to Jesus? Short opinion survey that leads to the DESIRED MESSAGE?
  4. DESIRED MESSAGE. What is the good-news gospel message you are going to proclaim? The message must contain enough information to point to Jesus, to His death and resurrection and His offer of salvation and eternal life for all who turn from their sin and trust in Him. Remember, this is the main purpose of the encounter. The evangelist should aim to proclaim the DESIRED MESSAGE in every evangelistic encounter, whether that is done fluently and according to plan or done awkwardly. It is the message that has the power to save (Romans 1:16) and so it is the message that must be communicated.
  5. Interaction and reaction to the message. How will you continue the conversation after the message is proclaimed? How will you seek a clear response from the hearer? What follow-up questions will you ask? What reactions might you anticipate?
  6. Disengagement and end the conversation. At some point, either the evangelist or the hearer will seek to disengage from the conversation. The aim here is to make sure that the contact is not wasted. Prolong the conversation until you believe you have been heard and the hearer has given you an acceptable response. When it is time to disengage, do so graciously and be sure to hand out a deliverable that gives the hearer a follow-up opportunity, like information about a local church with service times and church address. It would be appropriate to include a gospel tract with the follow-up information.

BRAINSTORMING. Planning and developing ideas for these evangelistic encounters would very profitably be done in brainstorming sessions, where six to ten disciples from the church gathered on a Saturday morning for training and brainstorming workshops.

The next post related to this topic will focus on the contents and the delivery of the DESIRED MESSAGE.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 5/1/2023                     #645

Evangelism study – Is sin a part of gospel proclamation? Part 1

POST OVERVIEW. A study of Acts assessing whether the sin of the hearers was a part of the gospel message proclaimed by the apostles. (There will be a subsequent study of the epistles to see if the gospel proclaimed includes a portion directed at the sin of those the evangelist is attempting to convert.) This is part 1 of the Acts investigation.


As David Bell and I were carefully going through Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, the excellent book by J I Packer that examines the task of evangelism from a theological point of view, we came to the third chapter of the book that talks in detail about what constitutes the actual message itself. That is, what is the content of the gospel message we are to proclaim? Packer states that the message of the gospel is a message about God, about sin, and about Jesus Christ, and then the hearers are summoned to faith and repentance. Packer’s four points are very similar to those of another influential evangelism book by Greg Gilbert called What Is the Gospel? In his book, Gilbert speaks of God, man, Christ, and response. In my experience, this is very typical of conservative instruction books on evangelism and it seems true to the message we should proclaim. It makes sense and holds to what I believe the apostles proclaimed. So, David and I were ready to discuss the details of how we could present this gospel message about God, about sin (or about man and his sin), and about Jesus to an audience and compel them to believe in Jesus and repent of their sin.

But we encountered a problem as we began to look at the book of Acts. The book of Acts is THE biblical book on evangelism. It is the disciple’s instruction manual for gospel proclamation, since it gives us the only examples in the Bible of people who heard and responded to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The context of Acts is a context like our own, meaning that the gospel proclamation in Acts is done by ordinary men and women and occurs after Pentecost (coming of the Holy Spirit) and before Jesus’ return. The preaching of the gospel in Acts is done in obedience to Christ’s Great Commission given in Matt. 28:19-20, which is exactly the same commission that we must obey. Since all this is true of Acts, I am convinced that our evangelism and gospel proclamation is to be patterned after what we see in Acts. This book of Holy-Spirit inspired Scripture is given to Jesus’ church as the instruction manual for the gospel and our evangelism must be constrained by what we find there.

And here is where we began to experience some tension. David began by saying that, as he examined Paul’s sermon on the Areopagus in Athens from Acts 17, he became aware that Paul barely mentioned sin at all. David said that he became uncomfortable the more he looked at the passage and saw that Paul almost avoided mentioning sin. Yes, he does say that “God is now declaring that all people should repent” (17:30), which hints at sin, and that “God will judge the world” (17:31), which could be understood as alluding to the punishment of sin, but as far as boldly telling these pagan philosophers that they are in peril of going to hell forever because of their sin, there is not a suggestion. So, as we discussed this and pored over the text, it became apparent that the gospel Paul proclaimed in Athens was very light on sin.

At that point, I commented to David that the other sermons and gospel proclamations in Acts might reveal the same thing. That is, as we studied the sermons and gospel proclamations in the book of Acts, we might find that the apostolic proclamations include little to nothing about sin or sins. We might find that the gospel according to the apostles, the gospel that was “fully preached from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum” (Rom. 15:19) and that saw Gentiles by the thousands come to saving faith in Jesus, included very little about sin. And if that was the case, what would we do with our evangelism books and methods that carried a large portion of teaching about sin? This investigation into Acts and what the apostles preached about sin had suddenly turned into a high-stakes event that could seriously shake up our evangelism.


Here, then, is what I am proposing as my approach to this project.

  1. Go through Acts and identify all occasions when the gospel is intentionally preached. List those occurrences by passage.
  2. Examine the text of these occurrences and note any explicit or implicit mentioning of sin.
  3. Summarize the findings and draw preliminary conclusions.

The next post in this series will give the listing of the gospel passages in Acts and will begin the examination of these passages.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 4/21/2023                   #643

A settled response to the experience of fear

POST OVERVIEW. This is an idea that I found from writing I did on September 27, 2016, about the experience of fear and how I determined to respond to those feelings.

The Bible commands us to “fear not” many, many times. Yet, as a fallen human being, I have found that my natural response to many situations is still to instinctively fear and to feel the threat. There is a feeling in the bottom of my stomach or a tightness in the chest that tells me that whatever has just occurred has caused me to fear. Since the Bible commands me to fear not, I must confess that my fear is sin. Therefore, it is incumbent on me, as a disciple of the Lord Jesus who desires obedience, to develop a response to these feelings of fear.

Here is my settled , intentional response to fear and anxiety:

  1. Recognize and acknowledge the feeling of fear. I become conscious of the fact that I am fearing something.
  2. Identify the fear. What is it I fear? Be as specific and concrete as possible and go as deep as necessary to find the cause of the fear.
  3. Confess the fear to the Lord, while acknowledging that fear is not faith and, therefore, agreeing with the Lord that fear is sin. “Whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).
  4. Refuse to be fearful anymore by casting the fear or the anxiety onto the Lord. (See 1 Peter 5:7).
  5. Pray specifically about the fear using the Word of God. Explicitly declare to the Lord that I have this fear and request that the Lord would act on my behalf to remove the fear. “Be anxious for nothing” (Phil. 4:6-7). Restrict the things that I allow my mind to dwell on (Psalm 131).
  6. Consciously and explicitly leave the fear with the Lord and willfully forget the fear. By faith forget the fear and turn to godly activities and thoughts.

Finally, if there is something practical that I can do to address the cause of the fear or if there is some action that I can take to combat the fear, then it is my responsibility to take that action.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 4/11/2023                   #640

How have you impacted the kingdom of God?

This post is simply a series of questions that seek to evaluate the disciple’s fruit and his impact. Are you bearing fruit or producing good works (Eph. 2:10) for the Kingdom? What will be your legacy?


  • Does your name get mentioned in Satan’s war room?
  • Does Satan even know your name?
  • Are you a target for Satan’s attack? (Consider Job 1, 2)
  • Do your prayers frighten Satan? By their frequency? By their power?
  • Is your witness for Jesus something that Satan feels compelled to silence?
  • Are you on Satan’s radar screen?
  • Are you on Satan’s “10 Most Wanted” list?
  • Does Satan consider you dangerous to his cause?
  • If you died today, would Satan breathe a sigh of relief or would he not notice?
  • Does your witness for Jesus keep Satan up at night?


  • If you died right now, would the cause of Christ on earth be lessened?
  • What kingdom work are you planning for the future?
  • What kingdom work are you currently executing (i.e., it is on your calendar)?
  • Will your efforts for Christ bear thirty, sixty, a hundred fold? (Matthew 13:8)
  • Would those seeking to persecute followers of Jesus be able to find you?
  • If Jesus gave you two talents at your conversion, what would you show Him when He returned/when He asked for an accounting (Matthew 25:14-30)?
  • Are there people who have heard the name of Jesus because of you?
  • How is the kingdom of God different because you have lived?
  • Is heaven well acquainted with your voice because of your prayers?

The point of these questions is to emphasize that the disciple has been called to bear fruit for the Kingdom (John 15:5, 8, 16).

“My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples.” –  Jesus Christ in John 15:8

The disciple’s goal is to be useful to the Master (2 Tim. 2:21). How will your life bear fruit for Jesus? How will you be useful to the Master?

What questions would you add to this list?

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 4/10/2023                   #639

The authority of the Bible for doctrine and practice

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

The Lord has graciously given His people His book, the Bible, so that His people can know Him better, so that we can understand all that He has done through the Lord Jesus Christ for our salvation, and so that we can know how to glorify Him on earth. One of the Bible’s strongest statements about the authority of the Bible is given in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, quoted above. The features of the Word that I want to consider in this article are that all Scripture is useful for teaching and for correction.

STRANGERS IN THE EARTH. The Bible also says that we are strangers in the earth. “I am a stranger in the earth; do not hide Your commandments from me” (Psalm 119:19). The psalmist is making a statement about the condition of all mankind. We are strangers in the earth, in that we are born with no sense of direction, no strong means of survival, no significant control, and no real defense against the threats around us. We are strangers surrounded by strangers. Where are we going to find a trustworthy guide to help us through this minefield? The psalmist’s solution is to cry out to the LORD, “Do not hide Your commandments from me.” As a stranger here surrounded by hostiles, the psalmist asks God to give him His Word. God’s Word is what he needs, and so do we.

As we come into the world directionless, purposelessness, and defenseless, so the believer comes to Christ “conviction-less.” What I mean is that the new believer has no convictions about doctrinal truth or about practices within the church or about fellowship with other believers. This is one reason why it is very important for the new believer to become immersed in the Bible as quickly as possible so that they can begin building doctrinal foundations.


Part of growing from a new believer to a mature disciple involves fashioning biblical doctrines and practices into immovable convictions. In my own experience, when I came to Christ, I was worshiping the Lord in a large Baptist church in north Atlanta. This church was Arminian in their soteriology and was Dispensational in their eschatology. Since I came to Christ with no doctrinal foundation at all, I, too, became nominally Arminian and Dispensational simply by osmosis. But as time went on, and as I read through the Bible and studied its passages carefully, the nominal leanings that I had adopted from my pastor’s sermons were replaced with bedrock convictions bought with a firm grasp on the Word. I am now Calvinist in my soteriology and biblical in my eschatology. If there is to be sustained growth in the disciple’s walk with Jesus, it is necessary that the disciple move beyond mere adoption of the ideas of others to having convictions about what the word of the living God teaches.

Let me talk a little more about this idea of discerning and intentionally replacing erroneous ideas. The disciple of Jesus is a man or woman of one book. For the disciple, the Bible is the uncontested authority for all matters of doctrine and practice. All doctrinal and theological statements and ideas and claims should come from and may be tested by the word of God. Every doctrinal or theological statement or claim should be supported by the plain teaching of the Bible. Any teaching or theology of pastor or parent or priest or presbytery or parish or pope or professor must be crushed to dust and swept away if it cannot be readily defended from Scripture.

Therefore, it is the duty of the disciple, for the health of his own soul, to examine the doctrines he is being taught and the practices in which he engages inside the crucible of God’s word to be sure he is drinking pure milk (1 Peter 2:2) and not a diluted or tainted or even poisoned substitute. If, upon examination, the disciple discovers that a dearly beloved doctrine that he has cherished since childhood is in conflict with the teaching of the Bible, his necessary course of action is to slay that beloved doctrine and replace it with biblical teaching. The erroneous teaching must be treated as Deut. 13:6-11 treats the suggestion to serve false gods. That dearly beloved teaching that you learned on your mother’s knee, that you now know to be wrong, must be put to death without hesitation and without pity.


There are dangers to your soul from knowing that your doctrine or practice is in conflict with biblical teaching and yet persisting in it for subjective reasons.

The first danger of not rejecting and replacing this non-biblical doctrine or practice is that you will quickly grow to ignore your Bible altogether. When you tolerate known error in something small, it soon becomes easy to tolerate something bigger and more significant. It turns out that, when it comes to biblical truth, there is no such thing as a small thing. If God put that “thing” in His Word, he expects it to be obeyed, and it is a big deal when someone tolerates something else. Tolerating a “small thing” means the Bible is not the uncontested authority. Your behavior and your tolerating of the error have made clear that something else has more authority than the Word. And that is a huge problem. Now there is a rivalry (Matthew 6:24). Soon you will resent your Bible interfering with your life and eventually you will close your Bible and go do what you want to do. Tolerating any known error or conflict with biblical truth will cause your convictions to vanish like smoke. Therefore, reject any known error.

The second danger of not rejecting known error and replacing it with biblical truth is that you have a “form of godliness (religion), although you have denied its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). Man-made ideas and compromises are impotent and adopting man-made rules and teaching will evacuate all power from your faith. God’s Word is “a hammer that shatters a rock” (Jeremiah 23:29), but man-made substitutes have no power at all. If your church clings to error, you should leave the church. It is better to leave a church than to forfeit biblical truth. You can find another church, but once you surrender your allegiance to the absolute truth of the Bible, you will be forever at sea without rudder or compass. There is no other Word of God. What the Bible says is true and it may be trusted. Indeed, it must be trusted. If you are unwilling to examine doctrine and practice by the blazing light of the Scripture and then conform errant doctrines and practices to those demanded by the Word of God, then your Bible will soon be of no practical use to you and you will have a man-made religion.

CONVICTIONS. The disciple of Jesus must be continually purging man-made practices and made-up doctrines as he earnestly develops biblical convictions that cannot be shaken.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 4/10/2023                   #638

Hebrews: An introduction and an overview

POST OVERVIEW. This article gives an introduction to the letter of Hebrews with thoughts about the author’s purposes, the recipients, the author and the date of writing.

FORM OF A SERMON. The letter to the Hebrews takes the form of a sermon from the displaced pastor to his congregation.


The author preaches his sermon with two different purposes.

ENCOURAGED BY CHRIST AND OTHER BELIEVERS. His first purpose is to encourage the genuine believer and to urge that believer to persevere by faith in the face of persecution. The author’s primary means of encouraging the true believers in his flock is to present Jesus Christ in all His glory and majesty as the model we are to follow. The author also spurs his flock on by reminding them of others from the past who have persevered and who have remained steadfast despite great difficulty and suffering. We can press on and not shrink back because we have “a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us” (12:1).

APPLICATION – As we read about the glory of Jesus Christ, about His holiness and His power and His sinlessness and His sacrifice on the cross, true believers should take heart that we have such a High Priest (7:25) and, knowing that Jesus is our substitute, we should resolve to not shrink back but press on to maturity and persevere to the end.

DO NOT COME SHORT. But there is a second purpose in this epistle that is manifested in the warning passages which characterize this letter. The author is intent on warning the pretender, the one who is blending in with the believing crowd while still holding back from real faith in Jesus. These people are probably not aware themselves that they are unsaved. After all, they are doing the same things that the rest of the congregation does, so why would they not also be saved? But the author’s warnings are intended to make clear that it is possible to come short of salvation. It is possible to drift away, to go through all the motions and then fall away because you never, by faith, trusted in Jesus Christ. The issue is not to check off all the religious boxes and have all the “Christian experiences,” but the critical issue is to come to Christ by faith. With all your heart, mind, and strength, believe in the Lord Jesus without reservation. The author warns that anything short of that is an eternity away from salvation.

APPLICATION – In much the same way that we read 1 John, so we read Hebrews and examine our own profession of faith in light of the warning passages. “Do I exhibit any of the danger signs about which the author is warning us here?” Therefore, when we encounter a warning text, we compare our faith to the warning and see if there are any similarities. We should allow the text of holy Scripture to warn us away from the disastrous consequences of a formal false “faith” that falls short of salvation. We, therefore, put our faith in the balances and allow the Scriptures to determine its saving weight.

SUMMARY. Thus the author writes to his beloved congregation to encourage genuine believers to remain steadfast in their faith in the face of opposition and to warn those who are relying on their religious performance and on their association with the faith community as evidence of true salvation that they must place all their trust in Jesus Christ.

This overview will serve as a good template for understanding the individual sections of the letter. The author is either encouraging the perseverance of genuine believers or he is urging the pretenders to come all the way to faith in Christ, and he is using the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ as his means of accomplishing both.


AUTHOR. We do not know the author of this letter. Before canonicity was fully established, Paul was given as the author in order to justify the letter’s inclusion in the canon, but once the epistle was universally accepted as canonical, the need for Pauline authorship was removed. Thus, modern translations simply refer to it as the letter to the Hebrews.

Apollos seems to be the most likely author of this sermon. All the quotes are from the LXX (Septuagint), which was written in Alexandria, and Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria. We know that Apollos was “mighty in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24). He was also an eloquent man (18:24), which would seem to suggest he was a good orator who would have been a strong preacher of sermons. Based on the breadth of quotes used in the letter, the author of Hebrews obviously had a comprehensive knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures. He also uses the most complex Greek in the New Testament, indicating the author was a very eloquent man. Although Paul is not the author of Hebrews, it is evident that Paul’s person and ministry influenced the author, which would also fit Apollos (1 Cor. 1:12; 3:4, 5, 6, 22; 16:12; Titus 3:13). The author was well-acquainted with Timothy (Hebrews 13:23) and so was a well-known figure in the early Christian church, particularly in Asia Minor and Achaia. One of the most likely reasons that the author did not identify himself is that he needed no introduction. Those who were reading the letter immediately knew who he was, so he just went right into his sermon. All of these are clues that the author may very well have been Apollos.

AUDIENCE. The original recipients are also unknown. The audience did know Timothy (Hebrews 13:23), so they almost certainly knew Paul. The letter is referred to as “the letter to the Hebrews,” but it is inconclusive that the original recipients were Hebrews (Jewish). There is no mention in the letter of circumcision, of ceremonial foods, of the Law, or of Jews and Gentiles, so there is nothing here that we would expect in a distinctively Jewish letter.

Some have suggested that the author’s teaching about the tabernacle and the elements of the Day of Atonement are things that only the Jews would understand, but I would counter that with the fact that pastors today teach the Old Testament Law to Gentiles in order to help all believers know the Scriptures and know the glory of Christ in His fulfillment of the Old Testament types. In other words, that the author teaches how Christ fulfilled the foreshadows of the Day of Atonement reveals almost nothing about the audience.

My best guess is that the original recipients were located far away from Jerusalem and were probably mostly Gentiles. Maybe in Ephesus or Corinth?

DATE. The letter was probably written in the early 70’s AD. Since Paul is not mentioned in the letter, then I assume that Paul was dead by now. If he is not dead, he is far removed from this congregation. But Timothy is alive and is apparently in a leadership position. Nothing is mentioned about the destruction of Jerusalem, but Jerusalem is not mentioned in the New Testament unless someone is going to that city or is coming from that city.

The next post will use our template to give a preview of the letters contents.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 3/30/2023                   #637