Reminders, Vain Belief, First Importance
"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 . . . " 1 Corinthians 15:1-3
Reminders. Every day my phone reminds of things I need to do. I set reminders for myself all the time because I forget things. Forgetting my haircut appointment is one thing, missing a wedding I'm officiating is quite another (I've never actually done that, btw . . . yet). There's one thing though, that every Christian knows about but still needs to be reminded of, and that is the gospel. Paul had planted the church in Corinth, he had spent a year and half there preaching and teaching gospel-centered sermons, and he had corresponded with them regularly after he moved on. And yet they needed reminding. We are no different. Every believer should be preaching the good gospel to themselves everyday, in its glorious simplicity: Christ the Son of God lived, died and rose again so that my sins could be wiped out. Reminding ourselves of the gospel while we're in the car, lying in bed, doing the dishes, or getting frustrated with a family member re-centers us, and gets us back on the rails.
Vain Belief. Does this mean that you can believe all the right things and then somehow salvation doesn't actually work? Not exactly. Paul himself testifies to the security of true believers (1 Corinthians 1:8, Romans 8), but there is a balance in the New Testament between assurance and presumption. Paul's emphasis here is on believing the right thing, that is, the word "I preached to you." There were false apostles and heretical teachings threatening the Corinthian church and Paul was concerned that some of that congregation would follow them. Things are no different in our day - false teaching and distorted "gospels" abound. If you believe in and follow them, you do not have salvation. Another facet of vain belief is believing without faith. What a strange thing to say! However, do we not all know someone who easily assents to Christ's life, death and resurrection, but it's obvious that they are not Christians? The fact is that some lack a true commitment, a changed heart. At the end of John 2, we read that many people "believed in his name" but that Jesus did not entrust himself to them because he knew their hearts. They were without faith. So you see, there is an important shade of difference between believing and having faith. We should be able to say with Peter “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69). Paul didn't want anyone at Corinth to have believed in vain.
First Importance. The priority, the center and beginning of the true Gospel which brings true faith, is that Christ died for our sins. There are at least four things implied by this succinct statement:
1. That death was what it took. Hundreds of thousands of sacrifices couldn’t atone for sin – they were only representative. The death of a sinless Savior was what it would take to atone for sin.
2. That we could do nothing about it. How helpless and unable must mankind have been (and still is) to attain heaven if the thing required was the Creator offering himself?
3. That we are imperfect and guilty. How sinful must we be to require such extreme measures? God didn’t prescribe a program of penance. Jesus wasn’t just roughed up and ridiculed. He was murdered and hung for public display, choosing to face God’s just wrath against sin. Our guilt before God was no small thing.
4. Christ’s love is great. Can you even begin to imagine it? Paul describes it in four dimensions in Ephesians 3:16-19 and then says that God's love even goes beyond KNOWING!