A conscientious parent who heads into a Christian bookstore might be completely overwhelmed by all the books and topics represented. Where do you begin? What is it that a parent needs to be teaching their children about how to be a child of God?
If you had the chance to share the truth about Jesus to a friend what information is necessary for that person to understand in order to be saved?
Even as a young Christian you may head out to look for a good church to join where you can grow in your discipleship. However, as you ask people what their church teaches about the way of salvation you can become confused by what you are told. You may be told you have to be good, or sincere, or be baptized in a particular way. You may be told you need to have a certain experience or say a particular prayer. You may be given a list of truths you need to embrace that varies from church to church. This morning we ask the question: What are the essential truths of the Christian faith?
1 Corinthians 15 is a majestic chapter that teaches us about the resurrection of Jesus and how that resurrection impacts our lives. Over the next four weeks Rick and I will take you through this great chapter. This morning we want to focus on the first 11 verses.
Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
I believe that in these verses Paul gives us the essential truths of the Christian faith. In verse 3 Paul says this is the gospel he “received”. This isn’t something he made up, it is something revealed to him by God. In these few words is some rich and wonderful truth.
In the very first word Paul makes a theological declaration. We need to remember that Christ was not the last name of Jesus! Christ is a title meaning the “Messiah”. It is a declaration that Jesus is the One the Old Testament pointed to. He is the one sent from God. A belief in a sovereign promise-keeping God is assumed.
The Bible makes some bold claims about Christ. In Colossians 1 Paul makes this precise description of Christ,
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
In this text Paul declared that Jesus was not simply an ordinary man. He was the Christ, the Messiah, He was (and is) the one in whom “all the fullness of God lived”. He was involved in creation (meaning He is eternal); in Him all things hold together ( He is the ruler of the World). Jesus is God become man to dwell among us.
I’ve said it many times and believe it with every ounce of my being: if people are wrong about Jesus, they are following a false God! If they diminish or lessen who He is, they have a perverted faith.
A child may think of their parents as “the people who live in the same house as I do” or as “the person who bankrolls my life”, or “someone I enjoy being around.” These are all accurate statements, but they don’t go far enough. A child needs to understand that their parents also have authority over them and responsibility for them. They need to understand this because they must listen to their parents and do what they say because the parent is looking out for the child’s best interest whether the child realizes it or not.
It is the same way with Christ. He was a good man, He provides a sterling example for us, He was a great teacher. However, those statements do not go far enough. He is the Christ . . . the One God promised to send to rescue us and lead us in the way of life.
Died for Our Sins
Paul declares that Christ died for our sins. Paul points to a specific event in history as the pivotal event that took place just outside of Jerusalem around 30 A.D. that makes salvation possible. Don’t miss the significance of this. The message of salvation and new life is not someone’s thesis on how to live a better life. It is not something that comes from the imagination. It is anchored to verifiable history. This simple statement that Christ “died for our sins” implies some other core beliefs.
We are sinful and held responsible. Paul said Jesus died for our sins. Just as a cancer patient must be someone who has been diagnosed with cancer, so a person who needs his sin forgiven, must be a sinner.
Sin is a breaking of God’s law. EVERY one of us has missed the mark that God has set for our lives. We live at a time when people resist taking responsibility for their lives. They blame their behavior on their parents, their environment, and their trials.
I was on a jury once that heard a case of a man who violated a town ordinance but would not pay the fine or correct the problem. The attorney for the defendant claimed the man was being treated unfairly. He claimed all kinds of mitigating circumstances that were meant to get the jury focused on the wrong issue. It almost worked. When we reached the jury room I was astounded that the discussion centered on the issues raised by the defense attorney. I listened to this for awhile and suggested that people were missing the point. I read the instructions from the Judge and then asked a simple question: “Was this man guilty of violating the ordinance?” They said, “Yes”. “Was he warned of the consequences if he did not comply?” The answer again was “Yes”. I pointed out that this was the issue we were charged to decide. Once they understood the issue they voted to declare the man guilty and issued a fine.
There are many voices in the world trying to confuse the issue of our responsibility before God. The issue is simple: have we done what God has told us to do? If not, we stand guilty before Him.
Sin is Serious. The issue of sin did not involve simply paying a fine like the person I heard in court. The cost of sin required the death of Christ to pay for it. These simple words remind us that God is holy, uncompromisingly good, He is just (sin will be dealt with), and He is the Judge. As a result, God takes sin seriously. Sin is not a mistake over which we can simply shrug and say, “Oops!” Sin is serious. It is a capital offense.
There are some who don’t understand this fact. They believe that if they do some good things it cancels out the bad they have done.
Suppose someone was guilty of treason because they were selling military information to our enemies leading to the death of young soldiers. Suppose during his trial the traitor claims that he should be let go because he has done a number of good things. Suppose he says he was a Scout leader, he helped out at the local Nursing Home, or helped provide meals for the hungry. Hopefully, no jury would set the man free. You don’t erase treason by doing a few good deeds! Neither do we erase the capital nature of sin by doing some good deeds in our life.
The most serious problem in our world is not the economy, it is not a war, it is not the price of gas. The most serious problem is sin. Our sin has made us enemies of God!
Jesus is Our Only Hope. Paul says Jesus is our rescuer. What is it about Jesus that makes Him able to give his life as a payment for our sin? Suppose two men were on trial for a murder. If the one guy said to the judge, “Your honor, I would like to take my friend’s punishment upon myself.” Would the Judge agree? Of course not! The Judge would point out that the man had a penalty of his own to pay.
Jesus had to be without sin be qualified for the job as our substitute. Jesus is qualified to die for our sins because of who He is. He is sinless and therefore can trade his life for another. Because He is God, His life has infinite value and is therefore sufficient to pay for the sin of any who will believe. The deity of Christ (and the doctrine of the Trinity) are important parts of His ability to die for our sins.
According To The Scriptures
Paul says this is all in accordance with the Scriptures. Jesus was the One promised by God in the Old Testament. The Bible is not just a great book . . .it is God communicating to us. The Bible is God’s Word and because it is His Word it stands as the ultimate authority over our lives and beliefs.
When a person dies there is often a question about the estate of that person. How should it be divided, who should get what items? If there is no will or written declaration by the one who died, conflict often ensues. Everyone believes they “know” what the person wanted to do. They all have their opinions about what is “fair”. On the other hand, if the person established a legal will, the questions are gone. What the person wanted is clear.
We live at a time when truth is being treated like the estate without a will. Everyone feels free to define truth, right and wrong as they see fit. Standards are being turned upside down. Those who claim to know what is true are called arrogant and narrow-minded. Christians declare that God has given us His written will in the Bible. He spoke through an audible voice, through the prophets, and through the writings of men who were specially chosen by God. When the Bible speaks to an issue the child of God considers it settled in the same way a legal issue is settled when a ruling comes down from the Supreme Court. We believe the Bible is God’s Word. It is the standard by which we measure and govern our lives.
He was Buried
This too is significant. Jesus did not merely have a near death experience. He was crucified, declared dead, and then placed in a tomb. This tomb was then put under guard by the authorities.
He was Raised
The cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith is the resurrection of Jesus. The remainder of 1 Corinthians 15 is going to focus on this fact so we will address it quickly. The resurrection of Jesus showed,
- He was who He said He was: God become man.
- His sacrifice was sufficient as a payment for our sin.
- Eternal Life is Real . . . there is indeed life beyond the grave.
- Jesus is the true way to this life beyond the grave.
The resurrection is the most significant event in human history. The resurrection gives us the hope of forgiveness. It also gives us hope that there is meaning and purpose to life. It gives us confidence that we will live even though we die. Through this one event we know that God cares about us and has entered our world in the person of Christ.
Anyone can make promises. In the resurrection Jesus delivered on those promises! We’ll talk much more about this in the next couple of weeks.
This last piece of information is a declaration that there are eyewitnesses to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. It is a historical fact and Paul invites the Corinthians to check it out. He encouraged them to talk to the eyewitnesses.
Christianity and the Bible have been examined by antagonists since its inception. The critics can give theories and make wild claims but they have done nothing to disprove the resurrection of Jesus or to show the Bible to be false in any sense. People have examined the evidence! The evidence is compelling.
Some people proudly declare that they are atheists. They have concluded that God does not exist. If you ask them for evidence that God does not exist, they have none. In truth, they haven’t examined the evidence at all. Others say they are agnostics. An agnostic says they don’t know what the truth is . . . but most of them are not even looking for the truth! Paul invites the Corinthians to talk with the hundreds of eyewitnesses that were alive at the time. The gospel is NOT a nice fairy tale. It is something wonderfully real.
In these few verses we see the essential truths of the Christian Faith,
- God has revealed Himself through the Scriptures
- We have rebelled against God’s revealed will and become enemies with God
- Jesus was the promised deliverer the Bible pointed to. He was the sinless Son of God. He is fully God and fully man. Because of his unique qualifications he died as our substitute
- He was buried
- He rose physically from the dead
- Eyewitnesses saw Him
Paul concludes his words with a bit of personal testimony.
9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
Paul understood that he did not deserve God’s grace. He was aware of his own rebellion magnified in his persecution of the church. Paul understood that salvation is something we cannot earn. It is something we receive as a gift from God.
This is Christian belief. We must believe these foundational truths not only intellectually, we must believe them wholeheartedly. In other words it is not enough to simply believe these truths . . . you must be willing to bet your life on them. This is faith. It is standing on the truth and basing your hope, confidence, and life choices on that truth. May I ask, have you believed the truth in this way? If you have, you are part of the family of God, if you have not, I invite you to put your trust in Him this day.
These essential truths lead us to some practical conclusions. First, we need to realize that what we believe matters. Those who say, “it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere” really misunderstand the nature of our transgression against God and what is required for us to be made right with God. You can be sincere and still be wrong. We must check our beliefs by the truth of Scripture.
Second, since salvation is a gift from God we should live gratefully. We deserve God’s wrath and He has extended mercy and grace. We must never forget that we have received an undeserved mercy.
Third, we need to focus our debates on essential issues. In the book of Jude, the author (a brother of Jesus) said he had to write to “urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (v. 3). We spend too much time in the church contending for our preferences and neglecting the essential truths of the faith. Churches split over issues like church music, worship styles, tongues, faith healing, predestination and free will, and forms of baptism. At the same time we allow the person and work of Christ to be watered down in the name of political correctness. We sit back while so-called believers dismiss the authority of God’s Word. Do you see the absurdity? We fight over what is less important while ignoring what is of primary importance
Finally, we must learn to clearly articulate the truth of the gospel to others. It is becoming increasingly important to know what it is that we believe. Christian pollsters, George Barna and George Gallup found that 49% of protestant PASTORS reject these core Biblical beliefs. It is our job to pass on the truth to our kids and to anyone else who will listen.
These are critical times. If we get the essentials wrong, we promote a false religion. We are like someone who throws a big rock to a person who is drowning. Rather than rescuing that person, we actually make their situation worse. Our society is drowning in the confusion of false teaching. We must speak clearly or we will only add to the confusion.