1 Corinthians 15:3-4 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures 4 And that He was buried and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures.
Folks, this is the gospel. This is the good news. Paul declares that in verses 1-2 of 1 Corinthians 15:
1 Corinthians 15:1-2 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; 2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
This is the gospel by which we are saved. The good news that Jesus has paid the price for the sins of those who trust Him alone for salvation. We must believe these things in order to be saved; we must trust the testimony of scripture concerning Christ’s atoning work on our behalf. (John 20:31) By the way, it is impossible to trust these things if you do not also trust that you are a sinner in need of a savior. (Luke 13:5) No one seeks a solution for that which they do not believe they have a problem. No one, who still has faith in their own righteousness, will fully cling to Christ. (Matthew 5:3).
I want to focus on the phrase leading up to verse 3: “unless you have believed in vain.” The reading is clear: we are saved by “this gospel” if we keep in memory what was preached unless we have believed in vain! This goes right along with Matthew 7:21-23 where Jesus makes it clear that many will believe in the name of Jesus Christ for the sake of vanity. Uselessness. Belief in something that is devoid of real meaning. A false Christ. Very little is as chilling as the thought of a person seriously understanding their own need for a savior, and being deceived into trusting an idea that cannot save, but the the Bible is clear that this can, and will, happen.
So how do we determine if we’ve believed in vain? Or what if we are trying to help another who we are afraid has believed in vain? How do you approach that situation? I believe examining yourself in the light of scripture is the only way. So “what saith the scripture?”
I. We will remember the gospel.
According to 1 Corinthians 15:1-2, the gospel is wherein “we stand” and something that we will “keep in memory.” Profession of faith in Christ, although a one time decision that must be made in order to be justified by faith, is not an event that occurs, and then is fleeting. According to the scriptures, we will continue to keep in memory the gospel and stand in it.
What does it mean to keep it in memory? I think the best example I’ve heard is the example that I learned from Living Waters. When someone tells me they are a Christian, I ask them to tell me in 3 minutes or less what it would take for me to become a Christian. Sometimes I tell them to pretend I’ve just been stabbed and I only have 3 minutes to live. How would they communicate to me how to be saved? Most people I meet fail this test. They say things like “believe in God” and I respond, “I do!” They said, “ask him to forgive you,” and I reply, “for what?” Most people leave out the word ‘sin’ or they leave out the name “Jesus Christ.” Many people don’t even really seem to understand why another person would need to become a Christian. I think a lot of people just believe they’ve “always been a Christian” because they grew up in church, or have gone to church for a while.
Ultimately, the point isn’t to test people’s theology or condemn them for being unskilled in sharing their faith. The point is this: if a person cannot tell me how to become a Christian, which includes why I should become a Christian (1 Peter 3:15), then I have no reason to believe they know how. Or as I put it with a young man named Christopher a few weekends ago: If you can’t tell me how to get to Heaven, why should I believe that you know the way? This sounds hateful on the surface. Testing people to see if they can answer questions about theology. This practice, in essence, refuses to take people at their word when they say they are a Christian. But there can be nothing more loving in light of 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. To trust the bible and its proclamation that all men are liars and the heart is deceitful, in order to test someone is a loving act. The goal is NOT to find false converts and gloat, nor is it just to ‘prove someone wrong.’ The goal is LOVE: to provide the person with assurance of faith if it is there, and assurance of their current condemnation if that is their state so that God may grant them repentance and lead them to faith in Christ.
2 Timothy 2:24-25 And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, 25 In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;
II. The second point made in this passage is that not only will we “remember” the gospel, but it is “wherein we now stand.”
Marks of a true believer; volumes have been written about this. Sermons have been preached to the masses for centuries and still, many fall away. (1 John 2:19) Not only will a true believer learn to be able to communicate the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and be ready with an answer for the hope that lies within him, but he will live a life that honors God. Sinless perfection: NO. (See my 1 John 1:9 posts for more on that), but a life that has a marked reduction in sin: a life of repentance and growth toward God. I’ve heard John MacArthur call it ‘direction, not perfection.’
Your feet shod with the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15), you will walk worthy of being called God’s child. You will fall and be chastened (Hebrews 12:6-7). You will grow in the knowledge and grace of Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:18) Your life will be a testimony of His work for other people to see. (2 Corinthians 3:2). You will hunger for God’s Word and it will have meaning to you! (1 Peter 2:2). You will find yourself with a love for others, especially the brethren. (Galatians 6:2, Ephesians 4:32). You will realize you do not love this world (1 John 2:15), and you will feel like a stranger in a foreign land, for your citizenship is in Heaven.
Yes indeed, you will stand in the gospel in which you’ve believed. You will live there! You must! It is your home. It is the only place you truly feel safe. Praise God for that. He will not let one of His own be snared by the devil, and He will never leave you nor forsake you. Know, dear Christian brother or sister, that you have not believed in vain.
1 John 5:12-13 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.
If you are not sure that you have a reconciled relationship to God through Christ, what is keeping you from it? Do you love your sin that much? So much you’d prefer to burn in eternal fire to enjoy it for a season in this life? Don’t go another day without Christ. If you have any questions or concerns, contact me and I’ll talk to you about this wonderful journey the Lord may be starting you on today!