by Mike Ratliff
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. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2 ESV)
I had a retort this morning concerning my last post., Emergent Fallacies and the Dummying Down of the Church, which sent me back to my own time of God drawing me out of the darkness into the truth. The person attempted to derail the content or focus of that article by implying that God could save people any way He wanted so why should we be so narrow and judgmental. The one complaining insisted that he knew of many people that were “emergent,” but who loved the Lord and were excited about serving him, et cetera. However, they would not fit the mold of what I would define as Christian. The reason that sent me back to my own time of renewal in 2004 was that I remember that very statement coming across my lips in my excitement of what God was doing in me. I remember it like it was just the other day proclaiming to my wife that God could save any one any way He chose and we were wrong in placing limits in our theology on this. However, I did not hold to that fallacy very long. In fact, it was less than six months later that I went through an intensive study of theology and from that I gained a more precise understanding of the Gospel, what it is and what it does, and why this is the one and only way God has designed to save His people.
The Apostle Paul defined the gospel for us throughout his writings in the New Testament. I would like to start in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. I placed vv1-2 at the top of this post. In v1 he tells us that he is going to define the Gospel (ευαγγελιον) as a process. In this process, the Gospel must be proclaimed (ευηγγελισαμην) and through this some who hear it will receive it and it is their very foundation. I pray that you noticed the similarities between the two Greek words above. The word ευαγγελιον is Greek for “a good message” or “the good news.” The word ευηγγελισαμην literally means “announce good news.” It is the word from which we get our English word “evangelize.” Notice also that those who hear the good news and are saved by it also stand (εστηκατε) within it because it is their foundation. This Greek word means “you stand” They abide in the covenant of the Gospel because it is now their foundation.
The Gospel is that which has the power to save us (σωζεσθε). It needs to be held fast (κατεχετε) not changed. The picture here is that those who believe the Gospel are not only changed by it, it becomes their foundation, and they assume control of it by holding it fast and never allowing it to be changed by false teachers because this is what Paul preached to them (ευηγγελισαμην) and it was through this process that these results came to bear among the Corinthians. The last part of v2 is the contrast. He tells us that if we allow the Gospel to be altered to the point that we abandon the truth (unless we have believed in vain ει μη εικη επιστευσατε). If the Gospel is abandoned like this then all future work will be in vain. These two verses define the process of the Gospel. Now let’s look at the content.
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. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Corinthians 15:3-10 ESV)
In v3 Paul reiterates that the Gospel needed to be proclaimed, and he did it. The Gospel is the most important thing and what he proclaimed was not changed from what he had received. In other words, the Gospel Paul preached was the same Gospel that had saved him. Now he tells us what the Gospel is.
- Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3)
- he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:4)
- and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Corinthians 15:5) Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:6) Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. (1 Corinthians 15:7) Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:8)
- For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1 Corinthians 15:9)
- But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10 )
In these five main points of Paul’s Gospel definition we see that Christ’s death was a propitionary sacrifice (the doctrine of Penal Substitution) to pay sin’s penalty, which is exactly what the Bible says is needed. Our Lord really did bodily die. It was not figurative. However, He did not stay dead, but was resurrected and is alive now. He did not swoon on the Cross and revive in the tomb. He died and was raised from the dead, which is exactly what the Bible prophesied. His appearing to the apostles and others was convincing proof of that reality. Notice that he appeared to others outside of the inner circle including more than 500 brothers at one time. The way Paul wrote this, he is suggesting to the Corinthians that if they have doubts about the veracity of the Gospel, they could go check with those who are still alive who witnessed it.
Paul then comes to his own conversion. Even though the Lord was raised and ascended before Paul’s conversion, Paul proclaims that he too saw Jesus appear to him. Notice that Paul also proclaimed that he was totally unworthy of this. He had no merit for the gift of salvation. In fact, like all of us who are in Christ, we deserve the opposite, but instead, we are given grace. However, by God’s grace we are all changed and Paul uses himself as an example. True salvation is eternally, irrevocably, life-changing. It changes our desires, making us different. This is not according to self will or self-strength, but by God’s power.
That is the content of Paul’s description of what the Gospel is. Then in v11 He returns back to the process.
Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. (1 Corinthians 15:11 ESV)
The Gospel is as Paul defined it, but it is also a process that works a specific way. It is preached and those who hear and believe are saved. In Romans 1:1-5 we have a more encapsulated explanation of the Gospel.
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, (Romans 1:1-5 ESV)
This is a summary of the two-stage life of our Lord Jesus Christ. The first stage leads up to His death on the Cross then the second stage is a second life when He was raised up in glory by God’s Spirit. Our Lord Jesus Christ is God’s promised Messiah who was risen from the dead. Just as Romans 1:1-5 summarizes the content of the Gospel we find the effect of believing the Gospel summarized in Romans 1:16-17.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17 ESV)
The Emergents and all those who preach a diluted or changed gospel have violated Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 in that they have edited or changed it beyond all recognition. When they do that they remove it from the power that is inherent in the Gospel preached by one who has believed and been changed by it. He will not be about finding peace between Christians and those of other religions. He will not be about remaking the earth or trying to make the world a better place temporally. No, He or she will be all about not being ashamed of the real and unchanged Gospel for it and it alone is God’s plan for saving His people. It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. For in it alone is the righteousness of God revealed from faith for faith. Those who believe and are changed by the Gospel according to the will of God will be declared righteous as they are justified by faith. They will then live by this faith just as the Corinthians did in embracing and abiding in it as their foundation.
The Gospel is defined very well for us in God’s Word. It is the one and only way God has set up to save His people. If it is messed with or edited in any way then it is no longer the Gospel. However, the false versions of the gospel can be used by those pushing them to fool untold numbers of people to believe their lies and follow another Jesus proclaiming another gospel. This was going on in the 1st Century and is most certainly going on in our time. Just because people make professions of faith that they are Christians does not mean they are. Only those who have heard and believed the real Gospel which is all about the real Jesus Christ are truly saved.
Soli Deo Gloria!