A Rescue and Resurrection Religion
Now I would remind you brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve (I Cor. 15:1-5).
This past week I was given the privilege of bringing a short series of chapel messages at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Osijek, Croatia (a portion of the campus is pictured above). Because my series fell at the beginning of Easter-week, I focused with them on Paul’s unpacking of the gospel in the opening verses of I Corinthians 15. I want to share some of that material with you, broken up over four posts. I would invite you to read with an open heart and an open bible.
These are such simple words. “Christ, died, for, our, sins.” “He, was, raised, on, the, third, day.” But the heart-beat of the Christian hope is found here. The story-line of the whole Bible comes together here. The power to change your life for the rest of eternity flows here.
Notice that Paul understands this is not new information for them. He says in vs 1, I am “reminding you of the gospel I preached and you received.” He calls it in vs 2 “the word I preached to you, and you believed.” In fact, back at the beginning of this letter, Paul summarizes his time in Corinth like this, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” That is the cross. “And I was with you…in a demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” That is the resurrection – the Spirit poured out by the risen, living Christ.
So the death and resurrection of Christ has been his theme. He is not teaching them new information as he comes to the end of his letter. Rather, he is opening for them the implications of what they should already know. Notice again the end of vs 1, it is the gospel of Christ crucified and raised that Paul preached and they received, and in which they stand. The preaching is in the past (aorist). The receiving is in the past (aorist). The standing is in the perfect tense, meaning the power of a past event (namely the cross and resurrection) is brought forward into the present as the ongoing foundation of their faith. For Paul, “to stand” is to live as a believer – to live a manner of life worthy of the gospel.
So they stand – how? By holding fast to “the word.” That is why Paul is reminding them. That is why we take this Easter season to rehearse what for many of us is a familiar theme. Our faith is how we live day by day. We fight sin through faith. We worship by faith. We live a life pleasing to God by faith. And the foundation of our faith is the rock of the Christ – event in vss 3-4.
Even more urgently, as we see in vs 2, the gospel is the power of God by which we are being saved. Here we have moved from the perfect tense into the present tense. Paul tells us in chapter 1 that the very wisdom and power of God are present in the gospel. The gospel is the power of God! So brother and sisters, Paul says, my ministry is to remind you – to make known to you again the good news; because when I proclaim it as good new, and when you receive it as good news, the power of God to save and the power of God to help you stand is present and active.
We never outgrow the gospel. We never outgrow our need of the gospel of Christ crucified and risen again. This “word” is of first importance, Paul says in vs. 3. First importance for what? From what we have seen thus far, it is of first importance for holding fast, for standing firm, and for being saved.
How does this work? I think it works like this – when we hear these words and are drawn to believe, we place our faith in what God has done for us in Christ. This faith is dynamic, it connects us to the saving, sustaining power of the living God. This connection is required not just at one time in the past (conversion), but every day we must be empowered to stand by the truth of the gospel. Saving faith is a relationship! Everyday we live by placing our trust in who Jesus is and what He has done. This is our hope. This is our joy. This is our strength. And this is what we hear in the gospel.