Declaration of the Gospel
Tim Temple

Introduction

Open your Bibles, please, to I Corinthians, chapter 15. We have been studying through Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, verse by verse, for some months now. Today we come to the beginning of a new chapter, the next to the last chapter of the book. As we come to this new chapter, we find a new problem. If you have been with us for these studies, you remember that the letter to the Corinthians was written to deal with problems in the church. There was a church at Corinth, and that church had many problems, so God inspired Paul to write this letter to that church. He then included it in the New Testament so that other churches down through the years could have those answers. We have seen that these answers are still relevant because the problems are still the same, and Paul has touched on many kinds of problems that apply to our church or to any other church as we try to put the Lord Jesus Christ in first place in our church. Hopefully, you've seen very clearly by now that the lordship of Christ in our church depends on the lordship of Christ in your life and in my life–in each of us individually.

The Reality of the Resurrection

Without taking the time to go back over all of the other problems that we have looked at in I Corinthians, let me just point out that here in chapter 15 the problem that Paul deals with is the problem that some of the believers there in Corinth were rejecting the idea of the Resurrection. That is a problem that we face, perhaps not greatly in this particular local church, but certainly in our day. There are those who tell us that the Resurrection is a myth, or it is something church fathers have dealt with that we sort of talk about in church; but as far as a real event, the Resurrection is not in that category. That was a problem there in Corinth.

There was a false cult, known as Gnosticism, based on the Greek word for “knowledge”, and one of the basic tenets of Gnosticism was that if you can't feel it and if you can't demonstrate it and if you can't work with it, then it's not true. Does that sound familiar? We don't call it Gnosticism any more; we call it Humanism now. It is the same age-old idea that man is supreme and that if the human mind cannot conceive of it or if the human mind cannot work it out, then it must not be true. Something like the Resurrection, which has to be accepted by faith and which those who do experience it are not present with us any longer, is rejected by the Humanists and by the Gnostics, and the problem is that sometimes even we as Christians begin to reject those kinds of things because we get so influenced by those around us. So I Corinthians, chapter 15, is designed to deal with the question of the Resurrection. I trust as we work our way through it, God will speak to your heart about the reality of the Resurrection.

The Reason for the Resurrection

Because of the limitations of time, we're only going to have time to look at the first few verses of the chapter, which begins with a review of the reason for the Resurrection in verses 1-11. As we go through the verses in this section, we will see that the reason for the Resurrection is the fact that Jesus Christ died to pay for our sins. We have not specifically mentioned a vital truth–He did not stay in the grave; He rose from the dead. Some of the Corinthians and much of the society of that day was beginning to question that, particularly the application of that. Paul says, first of all, the Resurrection is important and the Resurrection was necessary because of the death of Jesus Christ. God's purpose would not have been accomplished if Jesus Christ had stayed in the grave. The Scripture then tells us that because Jesus Christ did rise from the grave, we, too, will have that experience at a certain point in time. In fact, we are going to see as we look at I Corinthians, chapter 15, that these two points are inextricably intertwined. As the old song says, “You can't have one without the other.” You cannot have the Gospel without the Resurrection, and you can't have the Resurrection without the Gospel. The two go hand-in-hand.

Importance of the Gospel

In verse 1, the starting point of the Resurrection is defined. Where do we begin in talking about this ethereal subject of the Resurrection? Verse 1 tells us that it is the Gospel; that is the starting point. Notice in I Corinthians 15, verse 1:

I Corinthians 15

1Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;

That verse doesn't mention the Resurrection, but it is the beginning of this chapter which deals with the Resurrection. Notice where he starts. Paul is going to establish the truth of the Resurrection, and where does he start in establishing that? With the Gospel–“the Gospel which I preached unto you”. In verse 3, he goes on to tie that directly in with the Resurrection. If you look at the last part of verse 3, and on into verse 4:

I Corinthians 15

3…how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

So there, you see, the Resurrection is tied in directly with the Gospel. So the starting place for talking about Resurrection is the Gospel, and what we want to do, as we begin our study of this lengthy chapter, is zero in on that starting point. We are not going to have the time to talk about the Resurrection itself. We will come to that in future studies. Today I want us to look again at the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is something that many of us, hopefully most of us, are very familiar with; and I want to caution you here in the beginning that this is one of those passages about which we have a tendency to say, “Well, I already know all of that. I'll think about my golf game while he explains that to people who don't know about it,” or “I'll think about my appointments for tomorrow,” or “I'll think about something else, because I know the Gospel already.” Don't do that! We need to be reminded again and again of these basic, foundational truths. God has designed the Scripture so that as we systematically study the Bible again and again, we come across these foundational truths, and nothing is more important than the Gospel. No one loves you more than Jesus Christ does, and nothing is more important than the fact that Jesus Christ died for our sins. The groundwork that Paul is laying here is that to deny the Resurrection is to deny the Gospel. To misunderstand the Resurrection is to misunderstand the Gospel, and conversely, to understand the Gospel correctly is to accept the truth of the Resurrection.

It is interesting and important that Paul refers to this as “good news”. He uses the term, “the Gospel”, but in the Greek, the word that is translated “the Gospel”, is a translation of the Greek word euangelion , which actually means “good news”, or “glad tidings”–a glad announcement. All of us, of course, can think of good news in our own experiences. Many of you are old enough to remember the good news that World War II was over, and you remember what a day of celebration that was. Others of us were maybe not old enough to personally remember that, but we can remember the good news that the war in Vietnam was over. Think what good news it would be if we heard an announcement that a cure for cancer had been found. You can think about all kinds of good news, but listen, the best news that has ever been given is the fact that your sins can be forgiven. The best news that anyone will ever hear is that God is willing to forgive sins and remove them as far as the east is from the west, and that's why Paul refers to this as “the Gospel”. That's why he refers to it as “a glad announcement”. So that is the starting point, the Resurrection.

Status of the Gospel In Corinth

In the last part of verse 1 and going into verse 2, Paul goes into the status of the Gospel among the Corinthians. We need to look at that for a moment. Notice in verse 1, he says:

I Corinthians 15

1Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
2By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.

Notice what he says about the status of the Gospel among the Corinthians. First of all, he says it had been preached by Paul–“the Gospel, which I preached unto you.” Let me digress here for just one moment and say that this is the true tradition of the Apostle Paul. What did the Apostle Paul preach? Paul preached that Christ died for our sins and that He was buried and that He rose again the third day. The reason I mention that is that there are churches in the world today that are named for the Apostle Paul that deny that truth. They talk about the traditions of the Apostles; they talk about the tradition of Paul. Let me tell you, this is the tradition of Paul. Paul said, “The Gospel which I preached unto you is that Christ died and was buried and that He rose again.”

Each year the Gideons have a banquet for the pastors around town. One of the fringe benefits, one of the perks of being a pastor, is to get to go to this really good banquet once a year. There are other banquets, too, but this is the one the Gideons give. I recently attended one of those banquets, and I had the opportunity to sit next to the pastor of a church here in Abilene–one of the large churches. That particular church is a very sound Gospel-preaching, Bible-believing church, but the denomination as a whole is extremely liberal. I was fascinated as this older pastor told me of the efforts he has been involved in over the past 20 years to try to salvage the tradition of the Apostle Paul in that particular denomination and the grief that he has gone through, seeing the truths of the Scripture denied. Let me tell you something: That pastor is the one that is in the right, and those who do not preach the Gospel–that Jesus Christ died for our sins and that He was buried and that He rose again the third day–are the ones who are not in the tradition of the Apostles. Paul says, “I preached the Gospel.”

Something else about the Gospel among the Corinthians was that it had been received by the Corinthians. Notice he says, “The Gospel which I preached, which you also received.” You see, the Gospel is not some hair-brained idea that just the lunatic fringe accepts. This was a going, thriving church. Some Church historians believe there may have been as many as ten thousand people in the church at Corinth. That's a matter of opinion and historical interpretation. The Scripture doesn't tell us, but it was a large, going church. We see in earlier chapters of the book that they had all kinds of people in that church, many gifted and talented people. The Corinthians had received the Gospel. Peer group pressure today tells us that the Gospel is something from the past, and that we are oddballs if we accept that literally. But the Corinthians had accepted it. It had been received by the Corinthians. In fact, he says, “upon which you stand.” They were basing their hope for the future on the Gospel. Now they had many problems in that church, but they had accepted the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Something else, in the first part of verse 2, that is very important for us to notice and that is that the Corinthians were being saved by the Gospel. I hope you listened carefully to the way I said that. They were being saved. Someone may say, “Do you mean that I'm only in the process of being saved, that I'm not saved yet?” The reason that I am camping on that particular phrase is that you need to know that that is a correct translation of the original text. In the Greek, the phrase, “are saved”, is in the present tense, and so the accurate way to translate that would be, “You are being saved. You are in the process of being saved.” Another reason I am making an issue of that is that you also need to know, and if you know already, you need to review the fact that salvation is referred to in three tenses in various places in the New Testament.

Deliverance From the Power of Sin

For example, the Scripture speaks of salvation in the past tense, and it is certainly true if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior. If you did that forty years ago, as some of you did, or if you may have done that this morning around the Lord's table, as hopefully someone may have–no matter when you accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior–it is theologically correct to say, that you were saved at that instant. God forgave your sins the moment you put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ, and the Scripture very often speaks of salvation in the past tense. We were saved. We were saved at that moment from the penalty of sin. God no longer holds us accountable for those sins. We were saved from the penalty of sin, but there are verses like this one and many other verses that speak of salvation in the present tense, the fact that we are in the process of being saved. We have already been saved from the penalty of sin. Listen, God also wants to save us from the power of sin. And that's where the real rub comes, isn't it? I mean, isn't that really what the Christian life is all about right now–trying to find the power of God in our lives on a daily basis to be free of the power of sin?

Paul had this problem. He wrote to the Romans, “Oh, wretched man that I am. Who will deliver me from the body of this death?” Paul struggled with sin in his life just like you and I do. Now I don't know the secrets of the lives of most of you, but I know myself, and I know that we all struggle with sin. But one of the beautiful things about the Gospel is that God is also providing the deliverance from the power of sin for us. This is one of the basic aspects of the Christian life–the fact that the Holy Spirit lives within us and God gives us instruction in His Word, and as we study and read His Word, we come to understand what His principles and standards are; then the Holy Spirit reminds us of those truths and enables us to say yes to God and to say no to sin. But as we have talked about so many times before, that is a step-by-step process, which is possible because of our salvation, to be delivered from the power of sin.

Future Freedom From the Presence of Sin

We choose many times to not follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. We choose many times not to consult God's Word. We choose many times to ignore what we do know of God's Word to the extent that we do not obey God's Word and to the extent that we do not claim the power of the Holy Spirit. We are not saved from the power of sin, but we are already saved from the penalty of sin. That is a closed issue. God has forgiven our sins. He has taken away the penalty for those sins, but we still have to deal with the power of sin every day. But God is saving us, present tense, from the power of sin; but praise the Lord, there is a third way in which the Scripture also speaks of salvation, and that is in the future tense. All of those verses that have to do with being in His presence in Heaven when we will not only be free from the penalty of sin, but will also be free from the power of sin which we struggle with so much right now. We will even be free of the very presence of sin. The day is coming when we stand in His presence in Heaven when sin will no longer be an issue of any kind. Isn't that good news? Isn't that a relief to think of the fact that someday as we stand in His presence, we will be free even from the very presence of sin, and all because Jesus Christ paid for our sins and made us righteous in God's sight, so that we can be there in His presence where no sin can be.

Present Tense of Salvation

Let's go back to the present tense of salvation for just a moment. If we don't understand that, there are a lot of verses in the Scripture that we are going to misunderstand. One of the reasons that people think that they can lose their salvation is that they don't understand this present tense salvation and because of that they misinterpret many verses that are talking about this present tense aspect. For example, in Philippians, chapter 2, verse 12, we find this interesting little statement: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” There are a lot of verses like that in the book of James as well as other places in the New Testament. Now that verse is a present-tense salvation. Theologians call it “sanctification”–the fact that we are being saved, the fact that God is giving us growing power over sin, and that potentially God has given us power over sin. But what Philippians, chapter 2, verse 12, means, since we understand present-tense salvation, is that we should let that salvation that God has already provided for us show out in our lives, that we should work out in our outward activities that which God has already done for us internally, that we should live lives that reflect the fact that we are free from the penalty of sin, and that we should live lives that reflect the fact that God has given us power over sin if we will appropriate that power. So the present tense of salvation, the fact that the Corinthians were being saved, is a very practical area of the Gospel, and something that we could spend a great deal more time talking about if there was time. But that's the aspect of salvation that ties in most directly with the Resurrection.

Another indication of the status of the Gospel among the Corinthians was the fact that it was evidenced by their continued belief. Look at verse 2:

I Corinthians 15

2By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.

I can't leave this passage without pointing out to you that this verse is sometimes used to suggest that people can lose their salvation or fall from grace. Notice what he says: “If you hold fast that word which I preached unto you.” There are people who say, “You see, if you don't hold fast that Word which Paul preached (you believed it, but if you don't hold on to that) you can lose your salvation.” Let's look carefully at what he is saying here. There are two things about this verse I want to point out. First of all, those two English words, “hold fast”, are a translation of one Greek word, which without going into all the semantics of it means “to remember”. It means “to hold in memory”. So Paul is saying, “You have got to keep on believing; you've got to hold on, or you won't make it.” What he is saying is, “Remember the Gospel.”

Are you wondering whether or not you're saved? Do you remember what it was you based your salvation on? Do you remember the Gospel that was preached to you when you believed it? If you can't remember the Gospel, then chances are that you were basing your salvation on something other than the Gospel. We've been talking about the Gospel over and over again, and it's the same Gospel many of you believed forty and fifty years ago. You were saved when you believed that. Some of you believed it more recently than that. That is what Paul is saying. Are you saved? Well, if you remember the Gospel, then you are saved. The Gospel is the same today as it was then, and no circumstances in life can interfere with that. Your situation in life may have changed greatly since you accepted the Gospel, but if you remember the Gospel, that's the same Gospel that we're preaching today, and it's the same way people get saved today. So don't be thrown off balance by things that may have changed in your life since that time.

Conversely, if you cannot remember what it is you are basing your salvation on, if you can't remember the Gospel, or if what I have been talking about today as the Gospel is not really what you believed when you accepted Christ as your Savior or thought you did, if what you remember is not the same as what we're seeing here in the Scripture, then you need to put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ and not in some other system or something you may be believing in. If you remember the Gospel, you're saved. It's the same down through the years.

Faith Based On the Gospel

There is something else that I need to point out. In the last part of the verse, is a phrase that troubles a lot of people: “Unless you believe in vain.” Sometimes folk say, “You know, I believed the Gospel, but maybe I believed in vain.” We have to take that phrase in the context of this verse, and what he is saying is this: “If you believed something other than the Gospel, if you remember what you thought was the Gospel, as I have just challenged you to do, if you look back on that time you think you became a Christian, and what you remember is not what the Scripture is saying is the Gospel, you have believed that thing in vain.” It is emptiness for you to believe that. That's not what is going to save you. But if what you have believed in the Gospel, though some other preacher may have expressed it in a little different terminology, though the circumstances in which you heard it may be different from these circumstances–it may be you even read the Gospel somewhere and believed it, but if what you base your faith on is the Gospel–then you have not believed in vain. That is a living hope. It is not empty. It's something you can base your hopes for all eternity on; but if what you remember is not the Gospel or if you don't remember the Gospel, then whatever you are believing in is an empty hope, and you have believed in vain.

In verses 3-11, Paul gives the statement of the Gospel very clearly, and I want to just look, in closing, at verse 3 and 4:

I Corinthians 15

3For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

We've talked about the Gospel a lot in this lesson, and if you don't remember the Gospel as I've been preaching it, then perhaps you've believed in vain. Make no mistake about it. This is the Gospel. What is the Gospel? There is no clearer expression of it anywhere than right here in verses 3 and 4. What is the Gospel? That Christ died for our sins, and that it had been predicted in the Old Testament Scriptures, and that He was buried and that He rose again the third day. That is the Gospel. That is what all of the Old Testament points toward, and that's why he says this phrase, “according to the Scripture.”

The Source of the Gospel

I want to emphasize, as we close, the source of the Good News. You know, the source of the Good News is important. Maybe you have seen those television commercials in which the guy is representing one of the Japanese cars, and he tells all kinds of big stories, and across the bottom of the screen it says: “This is a lie.” It's a clever reverse psychological way of presenting that and you realize that even though he is telling you some information that sounds true, it's not true. This is why we have people swear to tell the truth in court, and they can get into legal problems if they don't tell the truth after having sworn to tell the truth, because the source of any news is important.

I remember a man who said to me one time, “You know, all the Indians in Peru always walk single file–at least the one I saw did.” You see the source of the news is very important. If someone is so biased as to make some kind of statement like that, then he is an illegitimate source for the truth. It is vitally important that we understand where the Gospel comes from. What is the source of Paul's news? In verse 3, he says “…that which I also received…” Paul doesn't tell us here, although it's apparent in the context, but in Galatians, chapter 1, verse 12, Paul very carefully says:

Galatians 1

12For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

God told Paul what the Gospel was. He wasn't just following church tradition. He didn't just go to the right seminary, but God revealed it directly to him, and he then has passed it on to faithful men, who will be able to tell others also. I'm telling you today, on the authority of the Word of God, that this is the Gospel: Christ died for our sins, and He was buried, and because God was satisfied with that payment, He rose from the dead. That's the Gospel. It's not just my theory. That's not just what they teach at the seminary that I went to. That's not just what Bible churches in general tend to teach, and so that's what we teach here. That is the Word of God. That comes directly from God by means of the Apostle Paul, through the agency of the written Scripture.

If you are trusting in anything else, then you have no real hope for eternity. No matter what else may be true in your lives, if you believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins, and that God has delivered you from the penalty of those sins strictly because Jesus died in your place, then no matter what other problems you may have, you have eternal life, not because I say so, not because this church says so, not even because the Apostle Paul says so, but because God says so. That's my authority in giving it to you today.

Conclusion

Let me ask you one last question: What is your hope for eternity? Have you ever come to that place where you have done business with God, where you have faced the fact that you are a sinner? You may not have sinned very much. Some people are much greater sinners than others, but all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Have you come to grips with that fact? God is of purer eyes than to behold sin. He cannot look upon iniquity. Can God look upon you? All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Are you as good as God is? If you have to answer no to any of those questions, then you see you are a sinner. Have you come to grips with that? Secondly, God has provided a means of solution to that problem, and you can be in the presence of God, and you can know God on a personal basis before you ever get to Heaven because Jesus Christ died in your place.

If you have never done so before, I exhort you to consider the claims of Christ and receive Him right now, even right where you sit, as your Savior. Admit that you're a sinner and claim that free gift of salvation that comes through believing that Jesus Christ died in your place.


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