The Simple Gospel

The Simple Gospel

by Pastor Barry Black

(formerly entitled, “Easy Believism” – A Misnomer concerning the Pure Gospel)

Misnomer: 1. Unsuitable name – a wrong or unsuitable name or term for something or somebody. 2. calling something by a wrong name – a use of a wrong or unsuitable name or term to describe something or somebody.

Generally when the suffix “ism” is placed behind a word, it describes a movement, doctrine, or system of belief. Usually it is meant to allude to cult beliefs (i.e. Mormonism, etc.). Obviously, the usual reason for calling the Pure Gospel of grace (faith alone in Christ alone for eternal life) “easy believism” is to insinuate those who adhere to it as “sectarian” or “cult like”.

So is what some consider “easy believism” a new view of the gospel? Is it a deviation from the real gospel? Or is it indeed the good news that sinners may have – and thus be guaranteed of – eternal life by simple (simple, not “easy”) faith in Jesus Christ? Let’s look and see what Jesus said concerning eternal life. We will primarily focus on the gospel of John.

The gospel of John is the only of the 4 gospel accounts written for the sole purpose of assuring us how to know we have eternal life (see John 20.31). Strangely enough, the only condition for receiving eternal life (i.e. heaven when we die) is to believe on Jesus Christ…period. In fact, the Apostle John uses the word “believe” or “faith” (same word) 98 times in the gospel of John. He never says to “believe and be baptized”, “believe and join a denomination or church”, “believe and repent”, “believe and be sorry for your sins”, “believe and turn from your sins”, or even “believe and pray to be saved”. Only one condition and one condition only: believe. Why do people (even well meaning people) add something else to believe? “It seems too easy to just believe”, is the usual argument. Well, believe is the only condition given. Look at John 3.15-18, 36. In John 3.18 it is clear that he that does NOT believe is condemned already (present tense) ; and in John 3.36 it is clear that the one who does NOT believe, the wrath of God (eternal judgment, i.e. Hell) abides on them.

Over and over, the gospel of John records that the one and only condition for eternal life is faith in Christ. The words “faith” and “believe” are English words for the Greek word, “pistis”. “Faith” is the noun form, “believe” is the verb form. After the death of His friend Lazarus, Jesus came to the home of Mary and Martha. Before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He talked to Martha about eternal life. John 11.25,26 records, “Jesus said unto her (Martha), I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” After telling her that, Jesus asked a very simple question of Martha. It had nothing to do with Martha joining a church, or turning from or quitting her sins, or professing Christ publicly, or promising to do better, or walking an aisle, or filling out a card. She didn’t even pray! Jesus simply asked her, “Do you believe this?” She answered in verse 27, “Yea, Lord, I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.” Simple? Yes.

But, let’s look at the “easy” part. Would you be willing to say that to believe/place your faith in a man who claimed to be both God AND man, died for your sins on a cruel cross, rose again the third day so that YOU can have eternal life by believing in Him alone, is easy? Then why do so many people depend on something or someone else to get them to heaven? Why do so many depend on believing on Jesus and being baptized, or believing on Jesus and joining a particular church or denomination, or believing on Jesus and turning from ALL their sins? Here is something odd: when someone presents the gospel with those two conditions, “believing on Jesus and turning from ALL your sins”, they never mention to turn from the sins that you have not yet committed! Not to mention the ones that you can’t even remember that you committed!

Man by nature is very religious. That is, man by nature wants to DO something in order to have peace with God, or maintain peace with God. The prime example is Cain. Remember in Genesis 4 when Able brought an offering as God had commanded? Cain brought of the fruit of the ground – what he had grown as a result of his own efforts. The idea here is that he brought something good, something that God had given him the ability to do, but Cain’s error was that it was not what God required. Salvation is NOT in human ability. Ephesians 2.8,9 makes that very clear: “For by grace are ye saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” What God has required is faith in Christ and Christ alone for salvation (i.e. eternal life). He requires simple faith. However, just because it is simple, does NOT mean it is easy. It is against human nature and thinking to believe that there is NO human effort in salvation. In other words, we cannot do anything to be saved, or t0 stay saved. If we are counting on anything other than faith or in addition to faith, it is NOT what God requires.

Romans 5.1 “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” When one places his or her faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation (eternal life), the result is we are “justified”. The word “justify” means that God declares the believing sinner righteous, even while we are still in a sinning state.

So basically, we could summarize this by realizing that the issue is not “easy believism”. The truth of the matter is, that “easy” is a relative term. Simple, now that is a definite term. A better term is quite simply, the simple gospel.

Barry D. Black is Pastor of Anchor Bible Church
Barry’s e-mail address is:


Haven of Truth Article – Sin

By Pastor Barry Black
“Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast.” Hebrews 6.19

In the words of Barney Fife, “Yes, sir, that’s one subject you just can’t talk enough about…sin.”

“First, the bad news…”

From the moment that Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit, they became sinners. Every person born thereafter is born with a sin nature. That is everyone, with the only exception being our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Romans 3.10,23 “As it is written, There is none righteous, no not one. For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Sandwiched between those verses (Romans 3.11-18) is a brief eight verse description of man’s sin nature. Several other passages in Scripture describe the sin nature of all mankind: Mark 7.20-23; Romans 1.29-32; 1 Corinthians 6.9,10; Galatians 5.19-21; Colossians 3.5-9.

We are not sinners simply because we sin; we sin because we are sinners – born with an inherited, imparted sin nature. Most theologians define sin as “missing the mark”. Because of our inherited sin nature, we will never be able to get back to the condition that Adam and Eve knew before they fell into sin; in other words, no matter what we do, we will always “miss the mark”. Our attempts at righteousness are futile – we can never measure up to God’s righteous standards. Isaiah 64.6 “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags…” Because all people are sinners, all people are potentially capable of falling to any temptation and therefore engaging in any kind of sinful activity. In the discipline of Psychology; psychological disorders, defense mechanisms, etcetera, are quite simply rooted in mankind’s sin nature.

“Are we hopeless?”

Matthew 5.20 “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Wow, at first glance, that seems pretty hopeless – especially when you read a description of the Pharisees. In Luke 18.10-12, one Pharisee boasts of fasting, tithing…wow, if our righteousness must exceed that, we will all fall short! But the problem was with the Pharisee’s view of righteousness. But take a closer look at the Pharisee’s self-righteous perception of himself which Jesus addresses in Luke 18.9: “And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous…”

“A screen door on a submarine”

Therein is the problem. It is made evident in modern Christianity when people (well meaning though they may be) tell a lost person to “turn from their sins” in order to be saved (i.e. “receive eternal life”). The problem with that is three-fold. First, “turning from one’s sins” is not the requirement for eternal life. Secondly, telling someone to “turn from their sins” in order to receive eternal life is to put the spotlight on human effort, and therefore take the spotlight off of where it belongs – on our Savior and His death, burial, and resurrection. Third of all, to tell an unsaved person to “turn from his/her sins” places an impossible burden upon them simply because a lost person has no power in and of him/herself to turn from their sins. To try to produce one’s own righteousness is not the answer. Romans 10.3 “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” As you can see when it comes to eternal salvation, human effort is more worthless than a screen door on a submarine. To think we can do anything equal to or better than God’s way (i.e. Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection) is foolish.

“Oh, but there is GOOD news!”

However, there is good news! The bible calls this good news “the gospel”, and it is defined in 1 Corinthians 15.1-4 “Moreover, brethren, declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you…Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures: and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” That is the gospel, the good news of eternal salvation in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul stated in Galatians 1.6-12 that if anyone preach any other gospel than that, let him be accursed. In other words, let God condemn that person. The good news is given by our Savior in John 3.16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Placing our faith in Jesus Christ gives us eternal/everlasting life. After we believe on Christ, we begin a wonderful journey in discovering what Christ has done for us.

“I need to exchange this please!”

When we believe on Christ as our Savior, we make the ultimate exchange. We give Him our sin for which He died; and He gives us His righteousness, which we could never earn nor deserve.
2 Corinthians 5.21 “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
When Jesus died on the cross, He died between two criminals (Matthew 27.38-44; Mark 15.27,28; Luke 23.39) both of which deserved their punishment. Jesus had done nothing to deserve punishment (Luke 23.40,41). One of the criminals mocked and would not believe on Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God (Luke 24.39). In fact at one point both were both in unbelief (Matthew 27.38-44). However, something happened to one of them. He said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom” (Luke 24.42). Jesus responded, “…Today thou shalt be with me in paradise” (Luke 24.43). One criminal refused to believe; the other realized that Jesus was exactly who he said He was, and believed on Him. Both were sinners, undeserving of God’s grace and mercy (as are we). One refused to believe (as do many). One believed and received eternal life, and the righteousness of God in Christ (as I have, and I hope you have). Paul put it this way and said concerning Abraham:
Romans 4.3-5 “…Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”
So when we believe on Christ for eternal life, one of the many things that happen is that God places Christ’s righteousness to our account. From that moment on, when God sees us, He sees us through the righteousness of His Son, Jesus Christ! And one way that the Apostle Paul describes us, we are“accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1.6).

“The deceitfulness of sin”

Once we receive eternal life (and the righteousness of God in Christ); the debt of sin has been paid in full. However, for the rest of our life, we will be faced with sin – its desires, and ensuing consequences. The writer of Hebrews encourages us: “But exhort one another daily, while it is called today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin”(Hebrews 3.13). Temptation and sin are deceitful for several reasons. One of which is that we think that we can be an exception to the rule, or that we can get by with it, or that we won’t get caught or it won’t effect me the way it does everyone else. Or perhaps we may think that we can sin and not suffer the consequences (Galatians 6.7,8). Another reason that temptation and impending sin is so deceitful is that over a period of time we are conditioned or “desensitized” by it. As the serpent kept enticing Eve, the fruit likely seemed more pleasant each time (Genesis 3.1-6), and God’s warnings eventually became more faint than a whisper. I am reminded of a phrase from the 1734 poem by Alexander Pope entitled, An Essay on Man, (Epistle II):

Vice (sinful behavior) is a monster of so frightful mien (appearance),
As, to be hated, needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.

“Now wait a minute…would a Christian do THAT?”

The problem of the remaining sin nature in the life of the believer is twofold. First there is the problem that all sinners have – saved or lost – and that is the problem of giving in to the desires of our sinful nature. Some hold to the view that when a person receives eternal life at salvation, then the desire to sin is either completely severed (eradicated), or that it at least becomes much weaker since the person has been born again. Often when a Christian falls to temptation, it is common to hear others make statements such as: “Well if he/she was ‘really saved’ they wouldn’t have done that (committed a particular sin)” (as if there could possibly be a difference between being saved and being “really saved”). Herein lies the dilemma concerning eternal salvation, and a Christian falling to the pull of temptation and sin. There are a few possibilities. Either the person was not saved to begin with, or the person lost his/her salvation (as if any amount of sin could be committed to cause that). The first possibility can only be determined as to whether the person has placed his/her faith in Christ. If they have placed their faith in Christ, then they have eternal salvation. Eternal salvation cannot be “lost” by any sin, or any amount of sin (which takes care of the second possibility).

Another possibility is that the person is saved, but their sin nature has not yet been eradicated (i.e. cease to exist). This would create a somewhat intermediate state of eternal salvation, and then the eradication of the sin nature would become a requirement, or at least a “step” towards eternal salvation. This would nullify the Biblical doctrine of salvation by grace through faith apart from works of any kind (Ephesians 2.8,9). Think about it – if any of the above possibilities are true; then at death a person will stand before God only to find out that either they were saved but lost it, or that they were never saved in the first place! No room for assurance or security with either of those!

There is at least one more possibility, and it is the most likely of any; in fact, the only biblical possibility. This possibility is the biblical doctrine of carnality in the believer. We will deal with this further in another article.

Barry D. Black is Pastor of Anchor Bible Church
Their website is:
Barry’s e-mail address is:

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A Very Sad Verse

Haven of Truth Article – A Very Sad Verse

“Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast.” Hebrews 6.19
By Pastor Barry Black

The bible is so very practical and up to date. Even the saddest of verses is important and can be full of application. In this article we will see specific passages of Scripture, which teach both a doctrinal and practical truths for the believer.

It doesn’t feel very good, does it?
Have you ever been forsaken by a friend? It is a very sad and lonely feeling, and can be quite overwhelming. At the end of Paul’s life (some believe in the last days or even hours), Paul penned his second letter to Timothy. In 2 Timothy 4.9-22, Paul spent the last 14 verses of his last letter with personal greetings and remarks. Most of those were positive remarks toward those who had been a help to him in his ministry. However there were at least 2 people whom Paul mentioned that stand as a rebuke and warning; one of which was a man named Demas. But first let’s back up and look at the people Demas is mentioned alongside and see what we learn about him.

Mentioned only a few times
In two places Demas is listed as a fellow worker with Paul. “Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas greet you.”(Colossians 4.14) He is also listed in Philemon verses 23,24: “salute…Ephaphras, my fellowprisoner in Jesus Christ. Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.” Demas was a brother in Christ and a fellowlabourer with the apostle Paul – a partner in the furtherance of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He was in the company of Epaphras, John Mark (a.k.a. Marcus – Colossians 4.10; Philemon vs. 24; 1 Peter 5.13), Aristarchus, and Luke (a.k.a. Lucas – 2 Corinthians 13.14; Philemon verses 23,24). Although not much is mentioned about Demas, he is listed as a co-worker alongside some spiritually mature believers mentioned often in Acts and in Paul’s letters.

He was previously faithful
Apparently Demas was a trusted veteran among the ranks of those with whom he is mentioned. Epaphras is mentioned in Scripture as a man of fervent prayer (Colossians 4.12). John Mark was a young man who is described at the end of Paul’s life as one who was profitable for the ministry (2 Timothy 4.11). Aristarchus is mentioned as a companion in Paul’s travels (see Acts 19.29; 20.4; 27.2; and Colossians 4.10). Luke was the “beloved physician” (Colossians 4.14) and faithful friend of Paul (2 Timothy 4.11), who penned the book of Acts (Acts 1.1; Luke 1.3).

Wonder what happened?
In 2 Timothy 4, the Apostle Paul writes his final words included in Scripture. When writing his closing words to Timothy about long time friends and partners in ministry, Paul said in 2 Timothy 4.10:
“For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia.”
Demas is described as having “forsaken” Paul. However, it doesn’t simply mean that he only forsook Paul, he certainly did that; but there is more to it than merely forsaking Paul’s company and friendship. The Greek word that Paul used for “forsaken” (egkataleipō), means: to totally abandon, to desert, to leave in straits, to leave helpless, to utterly forsake ( Interestingly enough, the same Greek word is used by Matthew and Mark when recording Jesus words on the cross, “my God, why hast thou forsaken me”.

To forsake Paul was one thing. It was sad enough that Demas left Paul, his good, faithful friend in Christ. But what is even sadder is that Demas had forsaken the ministry that he once had with Paul; and quite possibly abandoned his walk with His Lord. Who was Demas? Was he a missionary? He was of sorts at least, if not “officially”. But then all of us are missionaries to an extent; we are all given the command to spread the gospel everywhere (Mark 16.15; 2 Corinthians 4.1-7), and to be a testimony to other Christians as well as to the unsaved (1 Corinthians 8.9-13; 9.23-27).

However, Demas had forsaken that calling. For some reason, he left to go to Thessalonica. Perhaps persecution had become too great. In fact, as Paul wrote Second Timothy, Pau was just a short time (days or possibly hours) from being martyred for the sake of the gospel. Maybe that price seemed too high for Demas. Perhaps he went to Thessalonica for financial gain, or for family. We can only speculate as to why; but the truth of the matter is that something pulled him away, as indicated in the phrase, “…having loved this present world…” The apostle John said in 1 John 2.15-17:
Love not the world, neither the things in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, are not of the Father, but are of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.

“He’s not the only one”

In Luke chapter 8, Jesus gives a parable to His disciples of the sower, the seed, and the soils. It is evident that the first of the 4 seeds sown on the wayside (Luke 8.5) represents those who hear the gospel, but do not believe on Christ as Savior (Luke 8.12). The other three types of soil represent those who are saved; but of those, 2 types of soil represent believers that do not do well spiritually. Those in Luke 8.7 and 14 are described as being sown among thorns. Thorns represent believers who have been “choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection” (Luke 8.14). Their condition is found in other places in scripture as well. For example, Hebrews 10.38: “Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.” Demas is a prime example of the believer described by Jesus in Luke 8 verses 7 and 14. Something had obviously “choked” (Luke 8.14) his desire to continue in obedience, and therefore caused him to “draw back” (Hebrews 10.38).

Was it worth it, Demas?

A sobering question which we should regularly ask ourselves would be, “What could seem to be more rewarding than what we can enjoy for eternity?” In other words, what can we gain in this life that would be more important than something we could enjoy for eternity? (See also Matthew 6.19-21). Approval and reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ should be enough motivation to keep us focused on the eternal and to run the race well (1 Corinthians 9.24-25; Hebrews 12.1-3); but unfortunately that is not always the case. Certainly all believers have times when we struggle as did the Apostle Paul – (Romans 7.18-24). In fact, it is very possible you struggle on a daily basis. With that in mind, it is very possible for a believer to fall prey to the same tragedy as Demas. His legacy is a sad, sobering warning of what could happen when a believer forsakes the work of God, and embraces a life of disobedience to our Lord. Hopefully at some point Demas made his way back into fellowship with his Lord. But from what Paul wrote, it appears that Demas was “disqualified from the race” (1 Corinthians 9.26-27).

Count the cost and avoid the loss

Luke 14.25-35 Jesus gives several analogies concerning discipleship. One of them is found in 14.28-30. He likens discipleship to building a tower, and being able to finish the tower. The difference between beginning to build the tower and whether or not it can be finished, is found in the ability to count the cost. The application is clear: to be a Christian requires faith alone in Christ alone. To be a disciple requires cost. The cost may be a willingness to suffer ridicule or even martyrdom; or it may be to be “disowned” by family or friends (or even to sacrifice relationships with family or friends see Luke 14.26,); or bearing our cross (Luke 14.27) in some way.

Count the cost and anticipate the reward

Correct teaching about the Judgment Seat of Christ teaches us application of important truths regarding eternal security, living for the temporary, and potential embarrassment at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
4.8 “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
4.1 “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom”

When Paul begins chapter 4, he reminds Timothy and all believers that the Judgment Seat of Christ is a certainty in our future. With that in mind, he encourages and challenges Timothy (and all believers) to remain faithful (verse 2 – “be instant in season, out of season”), and to spread the gospel (verse 5 – “do the work of an evangelist”). The Judgment Seat of Christ is an encouragement to be faithful and fruitful; but it is also a warning about becoming lax and foolish in our Christian life (for other references, see 1 Corinthians 3.9-17; Romans 14; 2 Corinthians 5; 2nd John verse 8). There are other reminders in Scripture to believers about forfeiting eternal rewards for temporal pleasure (Hebrews 12.15-17).

The safest place on earth is in the center of God’s will for our life; loving Him and serving Him faithfully. We should all take heed to our spiritual walk lest we become like Demas and others who “went back, and walked no more with him” (John 6.66).

Barry D. Black is Pastor of Anchor Bible Church
Their website is:
Barry’s e-mail address is:

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A Dead Faith?

Haven of Truth Article – A Dead Faith?
By Pastor Barry Black
“Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast.” Hebrews 6.19

What comes to mind when you think of the word “faith”? The simple, biblical definition of faith is “to believe”, “to trust or rely upon”. InJames 2:17 we read, Even so, faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Is it possible that a person’s faith could be described as “dead”? If so, what defines a faith that is “dead”? In fact, a legitimate question we could ask ourselves would be “Is my faith dead”?

When studying the book of James, it is very important to remember that the book of James is not a “gospel tract”. In other words it was not written for the purpose of telling lost people how to receive eternal life. Rather, the book of James was written to encourage and urge those who have already received eternal life (believed upon Christ) toward practical Christian living.

The Problem Revealed
James 2.14,24,26:

14 What doth it profit, brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? 24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. 26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. “…can faith save him?”

At first glance, these verses can seem a little confusing. However as with any passage of scripture (particularly passages which at first glance appear unclear, or are often misinterpreted), there must be careful interpretation (“rightly dividing the word” – 2 Timothy 2.15). Remember, James is not writing to tell readers how to receive eternal life (i.e. how to be saved). If that were the case, he would certainly contradict Ephesians 2:8,9, which clearly tells us that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Two, The Problem Investigated
In James 2, the word “dead” is found three times in regards to faith and works – verses 17, 20 and 26. Let’s take a look at the first instance that James mentions: Even so, faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone (James 2:17). Now, to find out what James is talking about, we need to carefully read the previous verses – James 2.15,16:
If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
James puts the whole problem in perspective in very practical terms. He then took a very relevant problem to give this issue clarity. Verse 15 describes a Christian brother or sister that is in need. James tells us in verse 16 that to simply say some well-meaning words without giving any help does not “profit”. The words spoken may sound very nice, but when someone is without clothing or food, kind words simply do not help at all. The old adage is true, “actions speak louder than words”. James then continues in verse 17, “faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” We know what faith is, faith means “to believe, to trust”. But what does James mean by “dead”? Does it mean to no longer exist?

After a storm, you probably have the same problem that I have – those pesky limbs on the lawn which fell from your trees as a result of wind or ice. Those same limbs which once bore fruit, or provided shade; there they are on the ground – dead. Seeing them there on the ground, you realize that they are good for little but burning (seeJohn 15.1-6), or maybe being made into mulch. When you see those dead limbs, you would not say, “Oh, look at those limbs which either never existed, or have ceased to exist”. They exist…they are simplydead. Though they were once useful, they are now dead – no longer of any practical value. James makes the point quite clear: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2.26). When a person dies, their spirit leaves their body. In fact, Paul tells us that for the believer, to be absent from the body means that we are with the Lord (see 2 Corinthians 5.1-8). Death certainly does not mean that the person never existed, or no longer exists; death means that the body is no longer alive, it has ceased to function.

Three, Problem Solved

Another important element in understanding what James is saying is to realize that the word “saved” in the Bible has more than one application. The word “saved” means “deliverance” or “to be delivered from trouble”, etc. It can refer to being saved/delivered from eternal punishment in hell by receiving eternal life (as inEphesians 2.8,9). It can refer to saving/delivering someone from physical death, as in the case of Job – Job 2.6; or Noah and his family – see 1 Peter 3.20; 2 Peter 2.5; and those who sailed with Paul – Acts 27.31. It can mean to be delivered from temporal judgment or chastisement (James 5.19,20; 1 John 5.16,17). It can also mean to be delivered from losing rewards at the judgment seat of Christ – 1 Corinthians 3.11-15. It is evident that James is not referring to salvation in the sense of eternal life, but rather in the sense of being delivered from loss of rewards now, or loss of rewards at the judgment seat of Christ, or possibly both of those. In summary, James recognizes their faith, but warns them of the danger that their faith could become unproductive; and the loss that could incur as a result. So, let’s recap the highlights:

  • James is not concerned with the reality of the readers’ faith. If you notice, more than once he refers to them as: “brethren” (James 1.2, 2.1, 2.14).
  • If James uses the word “saved” as describing eternal salvation, then he would be implying that eternal salvation is received, or maintained by faith combined with works. This would contradict the gospel of grace, and James would be guilty of the heresy of “another gospel” (2 Corinthians 11.1-4, Galatians 1.6-9).
  • The word “dead” in relation to works does not mean“nonexistent”, it means “unprofitable, of no practical use”.
  • As James clearly illustrates, words without actions cannot meet practical needs (James 2.16).
  • Faith is “invisible”, but is made evident to others by our good works (faith put into action).
  • When good works flow from and combine with our faith, we mature as a Christian.

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A Very Hopeful Verse

Haven of Truth Article – A Very Hopeful Verse

By Pastor Barry Black
“Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast.” Hebrews 6.19

The Bible is a living book filled with truth for daily living. Sometimes a single verse can speak volumes. However, as with all scripture, we must interpret scripture with and by scripture, and not build a doctrine around a single verse (known as “prooftexting”). With that in mind, let us take a look at the passages of scripture concerning Mark. At the end of his life, the Apostle Paul told Timothy: “Bring Mark with thee, for he is profitable to me for the ministry.” (2 Timothy 4.10) (See also our article “A Very Sad Verse”in the “Haven of Truth” section.) First though, let us back up to earlier references to Mark.

All in the Family

We know a little of the man named Mark. He is mentioned several times in the New Testament, sometimes he is called “John” (Acts 13.5,13) (but not to be confused with John the Apostle), sometimes“John Mark” (Acts 12.25), sometimes he is called “Marcus” (Colossians 4.10; Philemon 24). His mother’s name was Mary. Mary lived in Jerusalem, and quite possibly Mark lived with her. It is possible that Mary was a widow since nothing is mentioned of John’s father. The scripture tells us in Acts 12.12:
“…he (Peter) came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying.
Apparently John Mark had the spiritual heritage of a Christian mother that believed in prayer, and was willing to open her home for believers to gather for prayer (Acts 12.5, 12).

Mark was the nephew of Barnabas: Colossians 4.10 “Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;)
Mark is also mentioned in the book of Philemon along with three other of Paul’s friends in ministry; one of which was Demas:“Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellow-labourers.” (Philemon vs. 24)

The influence of the Apostle Peter

1 Peter 5.13 “The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son.”
It is quite possible that Mark had been converted through Peter’s personal influence. If not, it is evident that he was at least mentored or discipled by the Apostle Peter. Peter was a “spiritual Father” to Mark, much the same way Paul was to Timothy (see 2 Timothy 1.2). At the opening of Acts 12, Simon Peter is in prison and awaiting execution, as commanded by Herod (see Acts 12.1-6). While Peter was in prison, the Bible tells us that at Mary’s house “many were gathered together praying” for Peter’s release. It is very possible that Mark was in the prayer meeting that took place in his mother’s home when Peter was in prison (Acts 12.5,12). Imagine the impact made on young Mark when Peter was miraculously released from prison, and thus escaping execution (Acts 12.13-17)! I can just imagine him saying, “Hey Pete, tell me again about that angel…did it hurt when he hit you on your side to wake you up?” “How were you able to sleep so soundly when you were about to be executed?” “What did you think when that gate just swung open on its own?” Many writers and commentators believe that Simon’s influence can be greatly seen in the writing of Mark’s Gospel.

A helper on the mission field

In 12.25 we read that John Mark accompanied Paul (still called“Saul” until Acts 13.9) and Barnabas on their first missionary journey.

Acts 13.5,13
And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister. Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.”

It is uncertain as to why John Mark (referred to as “John” in Acts 13.5,13 and as “Mark” in Acts 15.39) departed from Paul and Barnabas and went back to Jerusalem. Possibly he was homesick. Maybe it was because of the difficulties that they faced in Paphos when they confronted a false prophet and sorcerer named “Barjesus”– the (Acts 13.6-12). It could be that he felt that he was not equipped mentally or spiritually for the journey. Another possibility is that he did not like the idea that Gentiles were saved by simple faith alone. Whatever the case, he left and went back home to Jerusalem.

No way, not him!


And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.”

In this passage, Paul is about to embark on his second missionary journey. As he begins talking to Barnabas about traveling with him, Barnabas wanted to take Mark along with them. Perhaps Mark had matured, and Barnabas was able to see it. However, Paul did not think that he could trust John Mark. It is apparent that Paul had strong feelings about it – just as strong as Barnabas was convinced that Mark was ready for the trip: “the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other” (Acts 15.39).

This was no minor disagreement. It was a major rift of two co-laborers in ministry – two friends. It could have been that Paul was in the wrong, or maybe it was Barnabas. However, it is obvious that God’s providential hand was upon John Mark; and that Barnabas was there to motivate Mark toward spiritual maturity, and to help Mark to prepare for usefulness in the furtherance of the gospel.

Enter the Encourager
Somewhere between the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas as recorded in Acts 15.39, and Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 4.11, the influence of Barnabas encouraged Mark and helped him to grow in grace. In Acts 4.36, Barnabas is called “the son of consolation” – meaning, “encouragement”. It may have partly been his influence as Mark’s uncle, but Barnabas ministry of encouragement made a difference in Mark’s life. Perhaps it was during that time that John Mark penned the gospel of Mark.

Time can be a great healer

In another article entitled, “A Very Sad Verse”, we talked about the Apostle Paul at the end of his life. We see in the closing statements of his last letter included in Scripture, various greetings and comments, and requests. In 2 Timothy 4.10, Paul mentions a former co-laborer who had quit serving and ministering, quite possibly to never return:
“For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica…”
However, in the very next verse, he now mentions one who had once left ministering, but was about to return:
2 Timothy 4.11, “Take Mark and bring him with thee, for he is profitable to me for the ministry.”

This young man that Paul once saw as a “deserter” is now described as “profitable”. The particular greek word for “profitable” (euchrestos – meaning: “easy to make use of, useful”) found here in 2 Timothy 4.11, is used only two other times in the New Testament (source: It is translated in 2 Timothy 2.21 “meet for (i.e.“profitable for”) the master’s use”. In the context, Paul is talking about being a believer that is a useful, clean vessel (2 Timothy 2.20).
This same greek word is also found in Philemon verse 11 where, interestingly enough, Paul writes concerning another individual named Onesimus (a runaway slave), who was also once unprofitable, but later proved to be “profitable” (greek – euchrestos). We are not sure as to how the Lord did it, but we do know that Paul knew that Mark was now profitable for the ministry. I believe that “the ministry” (2 Timothy 4.11) in this passage refers to ministry in any form that honors the Lord and is for the furtherance of the gospel; it may refer to pastoring, youth ministry, missions ministry, deacon, etc.
I don’t know about you, but I find the life story of John Mark quite hopeful. For whatever reason, it is quite possible for a believer to walk away from serving the Lord in their life and works (John 6.66). Unfortunately, I have known a few people over the years that fit the description of no longer “profitable” for the ministry, and sadly they may never be. However, I hope that some day they will follow the example of John Mark rather than the example of Demas.

Barry D. Black is Pastor of Anchor Bible Church
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