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1 Corinthians 15:3-5 & 1 Corinthians 15:11 by Robert Dean
Series:Resurrection and the Gospel (2009)
Duration:1 hr 5 mins 45 secs

Resurrection and the Gospel Message, 1 Cor. 15:3-5; 11


The point of 1 Corinthians chapter fifteen is not to explain the gospel or the content of the gospel, it is to explain to and remind the Corinthians of the significance of the resurrection for their spiritual life.


We live in a world today when there are many different distortions of the gospel. There are people who not only add to the gospel but there are people who take away from the gospel. As we study the Word we should be asking the question: What is it that we must believe in order to be saved? And we should also be addressing the question of when I am explaining to someone how they are to be saved, what is the information that I should be giving them? That is going to vary from person to person depending on their background, exposure they have had to the Bible, and on how much time we have. Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are expected to witness to unbelievers, to explain the gospel to them, so we need to have in our minds a clear understanding of what it is that we should be communicating and what it is that is necessary to be believed in order to be saved.


We also live in an era where in recent years there have been some disagreements and also divisions that have come out by specifically what we refer to as the free grace movement. The free grace movement refers to mostly a group of men coming out of a background of Dallas Theological Seminary who recognize the danger of what is known as "Lordship salvation" which is really a sort of back door works gospel. In a nutshell what Lordship salvation does is the idea that the final authority on how you really know you are saved is that you have works that indicate that. They will take a verse out of context, such as the statement by Jesus, "By their works you shall know them." The context of that statement by Jesus is the works are their words, the teaching of the Pharisees. It is not their external activities, it is what they teach and it was inconsistent with the rest of Scripture. Lordship salvation basically says that if you claim to believe in Jesus as your savior and you are still carrying out all the same terrible sinful things you were doing before you were saved then you don't have the right kind of faith in Jesus; you are not really saved. This is a subtle back door introduction of works to the gospel. It is saying that the real faith you much have is always going to be indicated by certain kinds of works. Who are we to judge? One problem with the Lordship gospel is that it makes everybody a fruit picker, a fruit judger. The focus is on a subjective look at works and not the objective belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ.


In the context of this movement there have been many wonderful and great things that have been said and produced and written that have truly clarified many problem passages and many issues related to the gospel and that the gospel is truly a free gift. But in the last seven or eight years many within that movement, specifically within a movement called Grace Evangelical Society [GES], began ask a question. Often in the history of Christianity the way people get off track is they start asking the wrong questions. It results in trouble when they try to answer them. The question they were asking is: What is the minimal information somebody needs to believe in order to be saved? The Bible never addresses it that way. When we look at the explanation of the gospel by Acts two, by Peter and John in Acts 3, by Paul in Acts 13, 17, and later on when he is testifying before Felix and Agrippa, we do not see a cookie cutter gospel approach. Each time Paul presents the gospel he is very attuned to his audience and their background and understanding and therefore different facets of the work of Christ on the cross are emphasized. There are also passage sin Acts where the gospel is simply summarized but statements surrounding it indicate that much more was said than that one statement. We think it is wrong to say there is simply one very narrow way of expressing the gospel. The problem also is that the GES gospel said that you do not need to know anything about what Christ did on the cross, that all you have to do is believe that Jesus can give you eternal life and you will be saved; you don't have to know anything about Jesus. There has to be some content to who this Jesus is that we are proclaiming before we believe in Him.


The second thing that is wrong with their approach is that they go to passages that are statements of Jesus in the Gospel of John that are before Jesus goes to the cross and addressed to people who are not clear that He is going to the cross. But when we look at statement of Scripture after Jesus goes to the cross it is the cross that becomes the focal point that Jesus died on the cross as a substitute for our sins. So this has caused a tremendous ripple and reaction. We always have to be careful about any reactions we have to some sort of erroneous teaching because the history of the church is also filled with these kinds of patterns where somebody goes off in one direction and then the corrective goes all the way to the other side, and often it is not quite right either. So it forces us to go to the text and to see what is stated there.


When we look at Galatians 1:6-8 Paul talks about this gospel, and they way we know he is talking about a narrow use of the gospel is because in the second chapter he refers to the gospel again in verse fourteen. In the structure of the epistle to the Galatians the first two chapters deal with their distortion of the gospel and chapters three through six deal with their distortion of the spiritual life. But in 2:14 Paul talks about the truth of the gospel and then in the next couple of verses he goes on to talk about justification by faith in Jesus Christ. Notice here that he doesn't mention eternal life and he mentions really the work that Christ did—faith in Christ who provides us with justification. But Paul doesn't mention justification every time he gives the gospel, sometimes he talks about other aspects of the cross. So we have to distinguish between the narrow and the broad use of the word gospel.


It has been emphasized that as Paul gets into the discussion in 1 Corinthians 15 he talks about "the gospel that you received," past tense, completed action, "in which you now stand," perfect, active indicative of histemi [i(sthmi]. It is a stand that has been taken in the past and it is emphasizing the current results of the already completed action of standing. He is reminding them that they believed the resurrection when he first came, but now they are doubting it. His emphasis in this chapter isn't on their entry into eternal life, justification, but in the implementation of resurrection for our ongoing spiritual life—"by which also you are being saved, if [assuming they would] you hold fast to the good news which I proclaimed, unless you believed to no purpose." You can believe in Christ to no purpose, not that you are not saved but that it doesn't lead into spiritual growth because, like Corinthians at that time, you never grow or advance in the spiritual life.


Paul goes on to say in vv. 3-5 what he taught the Corinthians when he first came. This is a passage that many people go to to get a kernel of the gospel; that this is where we are going to understand what the gospel is. It seems that way at first glance. 1 Corinthians 15:3 NASB "For I delivered to you as of first importance [the priority of what should be communicated] what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, [4] and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, [5] and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve."


To understand what is going on here we not only have to understand the context but we have to understand the grammar. The grammar is crucial. The main verb is "I delivered." This is what Paul taught them, what he explained to them when he first went to Corinth. The content of what he delivered is explained in four separate clauses that are clearly indicated by the Greek word hoti [o(ti]. The hoti clause in the Greek or the "that" clause in the English indicates the four propositions that Paul explained to the Corinthians when he first came. 1) "I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures"; 2) "that He was buried"; 3) "that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures"; 4) that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve."


When we chart this out what we see is that these four clauses must be given equal weight. We have to address the question: What is the role of resurrection in what we believe to be saved? But when we look at the grammar here what it shows is that there are four points of equal weight. Christ died for our sins, He was buried, He was raised, and He appeared. If this is telling me what the core of the gospel is then I not only have to believe that Jesus died for me but I must also believe that He was buried and that He was raised and that He appeared to Peter and the twelve.


When we ask the question, what place has the resurrection in our justification, we need to distinguish between information that is given in gospel presentations in the Scripture and information that must be believed in order to be saved. That is an important distinction. What we have in the book of Acts and in 1 Corinthians 15 is a reference to what was explained in a particular context. If we go through the book of Acts and look at every time there is more than a summary statement of the gospel we realize that different points are emphasized and different things were stated about what they believed. We don't have a fuzzy gospel. We have such a complex gospel because Jesus solved so many different problems on the cross. As long as we are believing that He did something on the cross that solved our problem then we have salvation.


Romans 4:25 NASB "{He} who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification." He goes to the cross because of our offences, because of sin. He was raised because of our justification. That indicates that the basis for justification occurred prior to the resurrection, it occurred at the cross.


When we go to the Levitical offerings—the Scripture says Christ is our Passover—the focus there is the lamb. The lamb is sacrificed for us. Did it come back to life? Where is the type of resurrection in the sacrifice of a lamb? The New Testament says that Christ is our guilt offering. The guilt offering, as we study it in Leviticus 4 & 5, has no resurrection. The focal point on what is necessary to solve the sin problem is what occurred on the cross between 12 noon and 3pm when God imputed to Christ our sins and He paid the penalty for our sins. When it was over with Jesus said: "It is finished." John says, "And when it was finished [tetelestai/ tetelestai] Jesus said, 'It is finished [tetelestai]'"—the perfect form of the verb basically means paid in full. Sin is paid for, cancelled—Colossians 2:14 NASB "having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." So the cross is the focal point of the gospel.


1 Corinthians 2:1, 2 NASB "And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." Not Jesus Christ crucified, dead and buried, not crucified, dead, buried and resurrected, but "Jesus Christ, and Him crucified"; because it is that element on the cross that is when the work of paying for our sins is accomplished.


Louis Sperry Chafer, Salvation, p. 101, says: "Preaching the gospel is telling someone about Christ and His finished work for them which they are to believe." (The focal point there is His finished work. They are told something and they are to believe it).  "This is the simplest test to be applied to all soul-saving appeals. The gospel has not been preached" (he is now talking about what has been communicated, not what is believed). "The gospel has not been preached until a personal message [i.e. you must believe this] concerning a crucified and living savior has been presented and in a form which calls for the response of a personal faith."


Jesus is presented as resurrected and living, that is different from saying that they must believe in the resurrection or they are not saved.


Nowhere do we see that resurrection is a necessary component of what we must believe in order to be saved, but it should be there when we explain the gospel. The command is to believe that Jesus did something for you. This is what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 15.


1 Corinthians 15:11 NASB "Whether then {it was} I or they, so we preach [everything that he had said about the resurrection, death and burial of Christ] and so you believed." Some will see the word "believed" there and say that indicates the gospel. The gospel isn't the only thing we believe. The gospel is what we believe in order to be justified but in order to be sanctified, to grow spiritually; we have to come to believe many other things. That is why Paul is addressing the Corinthians' lack of belief in physical, bodily resurrection.