Faith, Works, and the Gospel
Jack M. Lane


Was Abraham justified by faith or by works?  Does it matter which? 
What are these scriptures trying to tell us, and what is our responsibility today?



I'd like to begin by going through three passages of scripture which are often used to show an apparent contradiction in the Bible. We take it as an axiom that the scriptures don’t lie or contradict each other. So let’s look at those three passages of scripture and see whether or not they point out a contradiction in scripture.
 
James 2:14-26:
14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?
15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.
16 If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?
17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.
20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?
21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?
22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.
23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend.
24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?
26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
 
Romans 4 – the whole chapter:
4:1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter?
2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about – but not before God.
3 What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." 
4 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.
5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.
6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
7 "Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.
8 Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him." 
9 Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness.
10 Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before!
11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.
12 And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
13 It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.
14 For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless,
15 because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.
16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring – not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.
17 As it is written: "I have made you a father of many nations." He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.
18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be." 
19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about a hundred years old – and that Sarah's womb was also dead.
20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God,
21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.
22 This is why "it was credited to him as righteousness."
23 The words "it was credited to him" were written not for him alone,
24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness – for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.
25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
 
Then Ephesians 2:1-10:
2:1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,
2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.
3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.
4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,
5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.
6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,
7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God –  
9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
   
Did you see the contradiction? Is there something in there that might be confusing?  The difficulty in these passages is this:  Was Abraham justified by works, or was he justified without works?  Paul wrote that Abraham was not justified by works, but by his faith.  Yet James wrote that Abraham was justified because he had works, not simply faith.  James goes on to emphasize that if we simply have faith, but we don’t have works, our faith is useless.  He says our faith is dead if we don’t have works. 
 
So we need to puzzle our way through this apparent problem.  Do these two passages contradict each other? Do we need to do some kind of works as part of the salvation picture?
 
Some people would call us legalists if we ever mentioned a need to do any kind of works.  But we know that we can’t earn our salvation.  We know that all the good works or law-keeping in the world won’t save us.  What saves us is the shed blood of our Savior, Yeshua, the Son of God, the Lamb of God, and our willingness to accept that sacrifice, and our willingness to come under that blood so our sins can be forgiven.
 
But what then?  Do we just go back into the world?  Do we just go back to work, go back to school, go back to drinking with our buddies, cheating on our wives and our taxes, watching television far into the night, and all the other things we used to do?  No, when we talk about faith, we’re talking about walking in that faith.  It’s a walk, not a talk.
 
Our lives have changed.  And we have the Great Commission that tells us to go out and help other people change their lives. 
 
We’re not legalists.  In fact, that’s what Paul was telling the Romans – that we’re not saved by keeping the law, or doing works, and neither was Abraham.  Paul wrote in Romans 3:28:  “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”
 
That’s the whole point of the passage in Romans. Remember, Paul is writing to both Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome.  He’s explaining why the Jews shouldn’t think too highly of themselves because they were law-keepers, and the Gentiles shouldn’t think too lowly of themselves because the Jews kept trying to be superior.  It’s faith that saves us, not law-keeping. 
 
Let’s turn to Galatians chapter 5. In the book of Galatians, Paul makes reference to Hagar versus Sarah, Mt. Sinai versus Mt. Zion, and so forth. He continues on into chapter five, referring to "circumcision" to identify those who rely on observing the law as the thing that saves them. Of course, he’s referring to the Jews, both in and out of the congregation. It was a mindset they had.
 
Galatians 5:1-6:
5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.
3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.
4 You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
 
Paul isn’t saying that the law is bad, or that obeying the law is bad, but rather, "trying to be justified by law" is the problem. If it was possible to do that, then people could save themselves, and they wouldn’t need God’s grace.
 
5 But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.
6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
 
Do you remember the big conference in Acts 15? The whole purpose of that church council was to address the subject of whether circumcision, or obedience to the customs and traditions, should be a notable characteristic of those who follow Christ.
 
It was the first knock-down, drag-out volatile issue that had to be addressed by the young New Covenant church.  Their conclusion, which we believe was the right decision, inspired by the Spirit, was that circumcision and obeying certain customs and traditions was not essential for salvation. 
 
So, what is Paul getting at in Romans?  Let’s go back to Romans chapter 4.  Paul asks, “What did Abraham discover about this matter?
 
Romans 4:2:  “If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about – but not before God.”
 
Abraham could have boasted to other people about how great he was, but God wouldn’t have been fooled. 
 
Verse 3:
3 What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." 
4 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.
5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.
 
It’s interesting that the word "gift" here is translated from the Greek word charis, or grace. If Abraham had earned his justification by his works of obedience, then his wages, his reward, would be an obligation. Paul is saying that Abraham was promised his blessings as a gift, as an act of grace, not as something Abraham had earned.
 
Paul isn’t saying Abraham was a lazy fellow, or that we shouldn’t work.  He’s talking about doing things for the purpose of getting yourself justified with God.  That’s what the whole passage is talking about. You can’t force God to justify you because you’ve done something, like obey all the laws God gave plus several others added in by men.  That’s not how to become righteous.  Believing God is how you become righteous. 
 
Paul is saying in verse 4 that if someone were to work in order to earn justification, or salvation, then God would be obligated to give that person justification, or salvation.  But we know that salvation is a gift.  A free gift. 
 
Paul is writing to the Romans, telling them that Abraham was justified by faith, not by works.  We could say that Abraham was made right, or his sins were forgiven, or the slate was wiped clean, because of faith, not because Abraham was trying to do something to earn it. Abraham wasn’t trying to “get right with God” by doing something physical.  Abraham simply believed God, and that belief was credited to Abraham as righteousness.  Abraham’s religion, and ours, is based on faith. 
 
Romans 4:20:
20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God,
21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.
22 This is why "it was credited to him as righteousness."
23 The words "it was credited to him" were written not for him alone,
24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness – for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.
25 He [Jesus] was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
 
It’s not our law-keeping or works that save us or justify us before God. It’s not the things we do that save us.
Yeshua was put to death for our sins, and then raised to life for our justification.   That’s what saves us.
 
In Romans 5:1, Paul continues: "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God."
 
Jumping to verse 6:
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.
7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.
8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!
10 For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
 
“Reconciliation” means to set things right, to bring two parties back together, to reunite, to patch things up.  We have been reconciled to God through the death of His Son.  Not only that, but this is the mechanism through which God will reconcile the sinful people of the world back to a state of favor with Himself. That’s what Paul was talking about in Romans.
 
Now, how does that compare to what James wrote in his letter to the scattered tribes?  Is James contradicting Paul?  A lot of people think so.  People will put Romans 4 alongside James 2 and point out the obvious contradiction, that either Abraham was not justified by works, or that Abraham was justified by works. Which one is it?  You can’t have it both ways. Does the Bible contradict itself?  Let’s review what James wrote.
 
James 2:20-24:
20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?
21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?
22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.
23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend.
24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
 
Isn’t it interesting that James cites the same scripture that Paul used:  "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." Yet James seems to be saying just the opposite of what Paul said – that Abraham would not have been justified if he had not done some kind of works.  Let’s go back to verse 14 and see if we can find a clue.
 
James 2:14:
14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?
 
So we’re talking here about someone who already claims to have faith.  The hypothetical person under discussion here is someone already in the faith, not someone seeking to gain God’s favor in order to come into the faith. 
 
Verse 15:
15 Suppose a brother or sister [in the faith] is without clothes and daily food.
16 If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?
17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
 
We’re looking at someone who already has faith.  James is saying our faith needs to be accompanied by appropriate action.  That’s not the same thing as trying to do “works” – whatever that means – in order to please God, or gain favor with God. James isn’t talking about trying to be justified in God’s sight just because we’ve done something “religious.”
 
There’s a question of motives when you look at these two approaches. To bring back a phrase we used to hear a lot, one is the way of get – trying to get something from God by obligating Him to pay us our wage – versus the give way of life, when our faith wells up in us to be compassionate to others around us who have needs. 
 
Verse 18:
18 But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.
 
James is saying here what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:  You can know it all, and have all your doctrinal ducks in a row, and even believe in the one God – but without the right kind of faith, it’s worthless.  All your doctrinal knowledge doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.  Hey, even the demons have doctrines right!
 
Now James brings in Abraham.
 
20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?
21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?
22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.
23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend.
24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
 
This doesn’t make sense until you realize that Paul and James are talking about two different phases of justification.  The same word is used for both of these experiences, but they are not identical concepts.  Abraham experienced both of these, so he was an appropriate example to use. 
 
When Paul was writing to the Romans, he was saying that Abraham was considered righteous, and was justified before God, by simply believing what God had promised – that Isaac would be the father of innumerable, teeming millions, in spite of the fact that Abraham was getting ready to kill him, at God’s command. 
 
Paul was telling the Romans that Abraham didn’t do some work in order to be considered righteous, the way the Jewish Christians in Romewere doing. Paul was using Abraham, the revered father of the faithful, to show that trying to get ahead by being super-righteous wasn’t going to get it. Abraham was justified – his sins were forgiven, he got into a right standing with God – because of faith, not because of works.
 
That’s what Paul was doing.  Now let’s consider James.  When he wrote to the scattered Israelites, he was telling them that Abraham did something – he went ahead with sacrificing Isaac – because of his simple faith in what God had promised.  Abraham’s action came forth from his faith.  Abraham already had faith.  And because he did, he was able to do what God asked him to do, with full faith that everything was going to turn out all right.
 
Paul was talking about becoming justified in the first place – and that comes from faith, not works – while James was talking about already being in the faith, already having faith, and taking action based on that faith.  In both circumstances, faith comes first, then action follows. 
 
That’s the explanation of what’s going on in these two passages.   They may seem to contradict each other, but when you put them together, here’s what you get:  If you do works – or keep the commandments, or live a godly life, or help little old ladies across the street – for the purpose of forcing God to accept you, forgive your sins, invite you into the kingdom, and shower you with blessings – and, while we’re at it, protect you from World War III in a place of safety – then you’re going about it all wrong. 
 
However, if you are a person of faith, good works should fairly drip from your fingertips, and you will have compassion for other children of God who might have problems of one kind or another. 
 
Person A is trying to build faith by doing works.  Person B is already filled with faith, but unless he does good things to those around him, his faith is useless. 
 
Paul and James were writing to two different audiences, regarding two different circumstances, and used Abraham as the illustration in both examples. That’s why it could seem that the two authors were speaking at cross purposes.  Yet, there is no contradiction if we understand what is being said and why it is being said.
 
Now that we understand that, we still face a question in our lives:  What do we do about works?  If we already have faith, should we be doing works? And if so, what kind of works?
 
John 6:28-29:
28 Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?"
29 Jesus answered, "The work of God is this:
 
... to get on radio and television, to publish magazines and booklets, to build up a church. 
 
... to preach the gospel. 
 
... learn everything you can about the 623,000 laws of Genesis.
 
28 Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?"
29 Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."
 
These people had followed Yeshua because he could heal the sick, and because He had fed them a meal out of nowhere. To this group of unconverted townsfolk, Yeshua said the first duty they had in obeying God was to believe in the One God sent. That’s the first work – to believe.  Not only to believe in Messiah, but to believe Messiah!  How can you believe Him unless you know what He said? And how can you know what He said unless you read it? We can encourage people to read their Bibles so they can know what He said, so that they may believe in Him. When they read it, they will see that God is against sin. So for them, as for us, the first step in experiencing God’s grace is an acknowledgement of how wrong our sinful life has been. 
 
The second step is baptism, with the laying on of hands, for the forgiveness of sin and the indwelling of God’s Spirit in you.  When someone is baptized, here is where we could say, “By grace you have been saved!”  And that expression is found in the third section of scriptures we looked at last week, in Ephesians chapter 2.
 
Ephesians 2:1-10
2:1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,
2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.
3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.
4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,
5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.
6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,
7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – 
9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
 
Those last three verses need a little untangling to be clearly understood.  To say it another way: You have been saved by grace – favor, or pardon, or mercy.  That grace comes through faith.  But it isn’t our faith – it doesn’t come from us! It’s God’s faith! 
 
The faith that brings the grace that saves us comes from God.  That faith is a gift from God. It isn’t something we can work up.  It isn’t something we can earn, as a wage or an obligation.  It’s a free gift from God.  Salvation, by God’s special favor, comes through the faith that He gives us. 
 
These three verses have tripped up entire denominations of churches.  These verses are telling us that the faith that saves us is not by works – we can’t work it up, we can’t earn it, we can’t obligate God in any way to give us this faith. It doesn’t come by works.  It comes from God.
 
But look at this, in verse 10.  Our salvation, our faith, our standing with God, are not our handiwork.  But on the other hand, we are God’s handiwork! 
 
Do you like what the Spirit does to people?  Do you see God’s grace and beauty in the faces of people in the faith?  Do you see hope for a dead and dying world in the gospel message?  Do you look forward with longing to the resurrection because, like Abraham, you believe what God has promised? 
 
The faith that brings the grace that brings the saving – it comes from God.
 
But what about doing works?  Look at the rest of verse 10:  We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works!  We are to do good works, after all!  But what should we do?  How can we find out what we should do? Should we just pick a project and go?
 
Verse 10 says “we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” 
 
Now, if I read that correctly, God has prepared us to do good works, and He has prepared good works for us to do.  It sounds as if God has fore-ordained us to do good works, and He has also given us something to do. What do you suppose those good works are? I can’t help but think the answer lies somewhere in the gospel message itself.
 
Mark 1:14-15 (NKJV):  “Now after John [the Baptizer] was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.’” 
 
So the gospel is the good news, and it has something to do with the kingdom of God.  What is the kingdom of God?  Some say it’s heaven.  When you die you go to heaven.  To some people, that’s the gospel of the kingdom of God.  Others say the kingdom is the Millennium, the period of time after Christ returns, when the saints are resurrected and Christ sets up his kingdom on earth.  But do either of those two ideas – heaven now, or the Millennium later – agree with what Jesus said in Mark 1:14-15? 
 
The NIV translates this passage:  “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.  ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news!’” 
 
The gospel is, of course, the good news about the kingdom of God.  But notice also that the kingdom of God is near.  The KJV and the NKJV say that the kingdom of God is at hand.  It’s very close.  The kingdom is not something that’s far away in heaven,         nor is it in a distant time in the future.  Messiah went throughout Galilee proclaiming that there is good news, and this good news is about God’s kingdom, and that God’s kingdom is really close at hand!  It’s really close by.  Not far away in heaven.  Not 2,000 years or more in the future.  It’s near.  It’s at hand. 
 
The word translated “kingdom” is the Greek word basileia, which is better translated “reign,” or “rulership.”  Messiah was actually proclaiming the good news that God’s reign, or His rulership, was close by. 
 
In Matthew 9:35-38, we read:
35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.
36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.
38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
 
He made a similar statement in Luke 10:1-3: 
1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.
2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.
3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.”
 
In John 4:34-38, we read: 
34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.
35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.
36 Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.
37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true.
38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.” 
 
What does it mean, “One sows and another reaps”?  Paul explained the principle in 1 Corinthians 3:1-9: 
1 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly – mere infants in Christ.
2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it.  Indeed, you are still not ready.
3 You are still worldly.  For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?  Are you not acting like mere men?
4 For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men?
5 What, after all, is Apollos?  And what is Paul?  Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task.
6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.
7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.
8 The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.
9 For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.
 
How often have we spoken to someone about our faith, and they don’t seem to be interested at all, but we have gone away saying, “Well, at least I planted a seed.”  What do we mean by that?  We mean to say that we have placed the idea in that person’s mind, and when God is ready, He can water that seed so it can grow.  Or when God is ready, He can send someone else to talk to that person, and the seed you planted in their mind will begin to grow and flourish. 
 
What if someone else planted a seed in someone’s mind years ago?  What if it’s your job to talk to that person, and the things you say ring a bell in that person’s memory, or awaken an interest in what you have to say.  What if it’s your job to water what someone else planted?  Because of that, we are supposed to be ready to preach the gospel, instant in season and out of season, as Paul wrote to Timothy. 
 
Let’s look at that, in 2 Timothy 4:1-5:
1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge:
2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.
3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
 
Notice, in verse 2, the two-part instruction on how to preach the word.  First, Timothy was to correct, rebuke, and encourage.  Those are three different aspects of Timothy’s message – or our message today, if we were going to preach the word.  Some people are better at correcting and rebuking; some people are good at encouraging. 
 
But notice also the other part to the instruction.  How are we to do this correcting, rebuking, and encouraging?  With great patience and careful instruction.  If we can do that, we can preach the word powerfully, in season and out of season, carefully instructing people with great patience, while at the same time correcting people in their life’s walk, rebuking them for living in such a way that Christ had to die for them, and encouraging them to overcome their sinful ways and live a godly life in Christ Jesus. 
 
Doing this helps to fulfill the Great Commission Christ gave to his church. 
 
Matthew 28:16-20 (American Standard Bible): 
16 But the eleven disciples went into Galilee, unto the mountain where Jesus had appointed them.
17 And when they saw him, they worshipped (him); but some doubted.
18 And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth.
19 Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit:
20 teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.
 
I quoted that from the ASB because it has a better translation of verse 19, “baptizing them into the name” rather than simply “in the name.”  The Greek word means “into” rather than simply “in.”
 
When we are baptized, we are immersed; we are put into something other than just water.  The Greek phrase used here is the same type of wording as if to say that we were like money being put into someone’s bank account.  We are baptized, we are immersed, into the name of God.  We become God’s possession.  We become part of His family.  We take on His name as our own name, as His children. 
 
God’s name for no purpose, for no value.That’s part of the gospel message.  That’s also the sting of the third commandment, which tells us not to take up the name of our God in vain; it tells us not to take on  When someone is baptized into God’s name, and thus into God’s family, it is not for no purpose.  It is for a grand purpose. 
 
This passage truly is the commission to the church:  “Go out to all the nations and make disciples.”  These disciples, these students – what are they to learn?  What are they to study?  Whatever things Christ commanded. 
 
James wrote, in James 3:1:  “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”  It’s not saying that we shouldn’t be teachers, but that we should be careful.  In fact, we should all be teachers! 
 
Notice Hebrews 5:11-12: 
11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn.
12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again.  You need milk, not solid food!
 
In my opinion, if our teachers and preachers and ministers had been doing their jobs back there in the church many of us used to attend, we should all have been in training to become teachers.  Instead, to this day, many of those people show up week after week to hear the same “milk in due season” they have heard for many years. 
 
The gospel of the kingdom is the good news about God’s reign in our lives.  The kingdom of God is the rule of God in our lives.  That’s what the Greek word basileia means. The good news about the reign of God, which is at hand, means that God is close to us – closer than we think – and we can come under God’s reign very easily.  He is near at hand, not far away.
 
Jeremiah 29:13-14:
13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
14 I will be found by you," declares the LORD,
 
If we understand what the gospel message is, we can feel much more secure about telling others about it.  
 
The gospel isn’t about how God’s laws are there, and we need to obey them.  It’s true, of course, but all that comes as part of the conversion process.  It isn’t the message. 
 
The gospel isn’t about some “soon-coming kingdom” that will begin when Christ comes “within the next ten to twenty years,” and you repeat that message decade after decade.  Yes, there will be a kingdom set up when Christ comes, but who knows how soon that will be?  Not me.
 
The gospel is not about the Sabbath day, or the holy days, or clean and unclean meats.  Those things are there, but it’s part of the package.  You don’t lead with that; you teach that later on.
 
It’s the gospel of the kingdom – the good news of the basileia of God. There’s a really good definition of what the kingdom really is in Romans 14. 
 
Romans 14:17-19: 
17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,
18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.
19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
 
Verse 17 first states what the kingdom is not – it’s not eating and drinking, or vegetarianism, or being picky about food as part of your religion.  Then verse 17 goes on to state what the kingdom, the rulership, the reign, really is:  Righteousness.  Peace.  Joy in the Holy Spirit.  That’s a real biblical definition of the kingdom of God.  Righteousness.  Peace.  Joy in the Holy Spirit. 
 
Luke gives us more information in his gospel account. 
 
Luke 24:44-53: 
44 He [Yeshua] said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms."
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.
46 He told them, "This is what is written:  The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day,
47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
48 You are witnesses of these things.
49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."
50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.
51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.
52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.
53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
 
This doesn’t really amount to a repetition of the Great Commission, but this passage shows two very important things.  Notice verses 46-47: 
 
46 He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day,
47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
 
So when the disciples were going into all nations and making disciples, they were to teach whatever Christ taught.  What did Christ teach?  Well, he taught repentance:   
 
            “Go, and sin no more.”
            “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
 
He also taught the forgiveness of sin at a personal level: 
 
            “If you don’t forgive others, your heavenly Father won’t forgive you.”
 
So really, the Great Commission to the church meant that the church would go out from Jerusalem and teach people about repentance and forgiveness of sin.  Here is a major part of the gospel message in just a few words:  repentance and forgiveness of sin. 
 
But let’s see how Paul boiled it all down to one word. 
 
2 Corinthians chapter 5. 
There are a great many aspects of the gospel in this chapter.
 
2 Corinthians 5: 
1 Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.
2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling,
3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.
4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
5 Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.
7 We live by faith, not by sight.
8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.
10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.  What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience.
12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart.
13 If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.
14 For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.
15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.  Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:
19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
20 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.  We implore you on Christ's behalf:  Be reconciled to God.
21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
 
There you have it.  The message of reconcilitation.  The ministry of reconciliation.  Be reconciled to God.  What’s the gospel message in one word?  Reconciliation. 
 
What does it mean, to be reconciled?  In some Christian circles, there is much talk about “the fall of man,” or simply, “the Fall.”  When Adam and Eve sinned, mankind fell from grace, they were under the curse, and they went out of the garden to till the soil by the sweat of their brow.  Worst of all, access to the tree of life was taken away.  But we see the tree of life in Revelation, at the end of the story – the happy ending – when the tree of life becomes available to mankind again. 
 
Christ redeemed us by his blood.  This is how God chose to reconcile us to Himself. 
 
Here’s an example of how you could present the gospel message briefly:
 
Mankind has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  The wages of sin is death.  We have all earned eternal death because of our sins.  But God has made a way for us to escape this eternal death, and instead receive eternal life, through Christ Jesus.  Because God sent His son to die for us, so that we could die in him, the shed blood of God’s son has atoned for our sins, wiping the slate clean, so we can boldly approach the throne of grace and seek God’s forgiveness, and live in newness of life as living sacrifices, buried in Christ’s death so we can be in the resurrection with him. 

 
All this can be summed up in one word:  Reconciliation.  Everything else is commentary. 
 
Here is a simple message you can get across:  God is reconciling the world to Himself.  Sin separates between God and us; the cross brings us back together.  Everything else is commentary. 
 

 
Summary:  
 
We need to do good works – not to earn anything, but as an outflowing of our faith.  God made us so that we could do the works He has planned.  The plan for doing these works is found in scripture in reference to both (1) correcting our lives, living in newness of life, walking in the Spirit, and also (2) spreading the Gospel, which is the good news of God’s rulership.
 
 
 
  

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