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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published weekly on Friday
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:3-4)
Introduction to 1 Corinthians 15
We know from chapter 1 of this letter that our Apostle Paul is dealing with a divisive spirit in this church (1 Corinthians 1:10-13). Some of the Believers had stated they were following Cephas, Apollos, Paul, or Jesus Christ. In addition, some of these divided Corinthians denied Paul’s apostolic authority, and his doctrine of the resurrection of the dead in Jesus Christ. For this reason Paul states in 15:12: Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection from the dead?
The Bible is silent as to who planted the seed of doubt or denied this vital church doctrine at Corinth, but it’s evident from this chapter this error had obtained a strong foothold in their assembly. But we’re not left totally in the dark because we have the Scriptures to guide us in our study. We know this church originated in a Jewish synagogue (Acts 18:4-11). We also know from Paul’s writings the majority of the Jews rejected Paul’s gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) because they did not believe Jesus was raised from the dead (Romans 9:30-33, 10). It’s also possible a Sadducean influence infiltrated this body of Believers; this might have caused some people to doubt Paul’s teaching (Ephesians 4:14). We also know the Greeks viewed the resurrection of our Lord as preposterous (Acts 17:30-32). Therefore it’s practical to picture these perceptions of the day existing in the city of Corinth, as well as in the church by a few “doubting Thomases.”
In defense of his God-given revelation and apostleship, Paul continues his letter into chapter 15 describing the fact of Christ’s resurrection.
Please open your Bible at 1 Corinthians 15:1
The Fact of Christ’s Resurrection
1 Corinthians 15
1: Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel (not a gospel, as if any salvation message will do, but the one and only gospel) which I preached to you, which also you received, in which you also stand (meaning this is what I believe; I will not be moved and),
2: by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.
Some people don’t care much for the idea of being saved; pride has a tendency to block God’s message and its redeeming effect, but this is the word Scripture has chosen to use. And why not it’s equivalent to an unfortunate individual who’s fallen overboard from a ship, during a raging storm at sea, and a caring individual who witnesses this accident tosses them a life-preserver to save them from perishing, if they hold fast to the object they have trusted in for their survival…
3: For I delivered to you as of first importance 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 (from the dead) on the third day according to the Scriptures,
5: and that He appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve.
Starting at verse 1, the Greek word for gospel is Euaggelion (pronounced: yoo-ang-ghel’-ee-on), Noun Neuter, meaning – the message or the proclamation of the grace of God manifested and pledged in Christ Jesus; the glad tidings of salvation through Christ - good news. The gospel contains God’s message of salvation to the human race; it reveals how individuals are saved; i.e. how they can have a relationship with God the Father.
God has proclaimed the gospel throughout history and mankind’s response to His good news has always been the same: through faith. We read in Hebrews 11:6: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him for he (or she) who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” In other words, faith has always been the vehicle by which salvation was achieved for in the book of Hebrews we learn: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of thing not seen. For by it the men (and women) of old gained (the LORD God’s) approval (Hebrews 11:1-2).
While the means of obtaining salvation through faith has remained constant throughout history, the content of God’s gospel has not. It has changed according to what God has chosen to reveal to mankind in each dispensation. The clearest gospel for our day is found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians at 15:1-4.
I was brought up in a church that used John 3:16, when they preached a salvation sermon and just about every church I’ve attended over the years has as well. I have no problem with John 3:16, it says what it means, and means what it says. But it does not contain the revelation God gave our Apostle Paul for the Church Age. The good news is not the same in these two Bible passages. Compare them side by side and you’ll see what I mean.
Therefore, the way we are saved; the way we have a relationship with God in this dispensation – the Age of Grace, is by believing that the Lord Jesus Christ died for our sins, He was buried, and He was resurrected from the dead, plus nothing else. Some folks omit the fact that the Lord was buried from the gospel; they preach only that He died and was resurrected and leave it at that. I’ll give you two good reasons why we do not omit the fact that our Savior was buried from the gospel that saves.
#1: I’m a stickler for the details in Scripture; therefore, what did our Apostle Paul say? Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel… I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received… meaning this is the gospel or good news the risen and glorified Lord Jesus Christ revealed to Paul in its entirety. Clearly, the gospel that saves contains these three facts: Christ died, Christ was buried, and Christ was resurrected. There are, therefore, three essential parts contained in God’s gospel. Since God has chosen to reveal these Truths as His gospel for today, we do not take anything away from it or add anything to it?
Here’s reason number two.
#2: The birth of our Savior was an important event for all mankind (John 1:14; Hebrews 7:26), but the most important series of events in the history of the world was the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God wanted the world to know His Son was really dead – He didn’t just faint as some scoffers believe (See Swoon Theory). By being buried, Jesus removed any doubt that He had really died for He lay buried in the Garden Tomb for three days, by Jewish record, because He was truly dead (Matthew 27:57-66). In addition to teaching His own resurrection, Jesus taught those who believed in Him would be resurrected to eternal life (John 6:35-40).
The third part of Paul’s gospel is that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was “living” proof that He was victorious over sin and death as our substitutionary sacrifice. Our Lord’s resurrection was the first genuine resurrection in the history of man Scripture refers to it as “the first fruits,” for there will be many who follow after Him (1 Corinthians 15:23). By means of His resurrection, the Lord proved He had power over His death, which assures every true Believer that He will raise us from the dead also one day, if that’s necessary (John 10:17-18; Thessalonians 4:13-18). In addition, His resurrection is the greatest proof that He is who this book says He is, “the Son of the living God” (Romans 1:4).
Paul’s gospel is a gospel of grace or undeserved favor (Acts 20:24). The question for every individual is, “Will you believe it?” Salvation is a choice and requires an act of one’s will. No one is born into salvation, i.e. just because you’re the son or daughter of believing parents doesn’t mean you are automatically saved. Just because you attend church every now and again doesn’t mean you are saved. The question is did you at any time believe with all your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, that He was buried, and that He was resurrected from the dead (Ephesians 2:8-9)? If not, then you are still lost in your sins, a child of disobedience, blind, condemned, dead in your trespasses and sin, perishing, under the wrath of God, under the control of Satan (John 3:18-20, 36, 8:44; Ephesians 2:1-2; Mark 7:21-33; Romans 1:28-32, 3:10-18, 5:19; Galatians 5:19-21).
The Lord Jesus Christ gave Himself as a ransom for our sins, the Just for the unjust. …and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed (1 Peter 2:24).
I’ve encountered many people who have not made a decision for Christ Jesus in my lifetime. These folks don’t hate Jesus and they’re not mocking Him they are, for lack of a better term, known as fence-sitters. They can’t see Jesus Christ making a difference in their life one way or the other and they generally offer an excuse or two as to why this is. To be fair, these individuals are merely confused. Like the Corinthians of old, their listening to the theories of man and putting their trust in them, instead of hearing and believing what the Creator said, and I offer two comments for these people.
#1: I’ve never known a comfortable fence; one you could sit peacefully on for long periods of time. Scripture says the Lord’s return is imminent; this means Jesus Christ could return at any time. Only God the Father knows the day and the hour (Mark 13:32). So, please understand no decision is a decision.
#2: As you ponder that, think about this, Satan owns the fence you’re sitting on! Do you really want him for a landlord? (2 Corinthians 4:4)
While we’re on the subject of “confusion,” I’ve witnessed quite a few “altar calls” over the years and heard many preachers and other well-intentioned individual’s confuse God’s simple gospel. The gospel that saves is that the Lord Jesus Christ died for your sins, He was buried, and was raised from the dead, period. Taking anything away from this message, adding anything to this simple message, or replacing it with cute sounding phrases such as, “Ask Jesus to come into your heart,” “Accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior,” or “Ask Jesus to come into your life and change it,” etc. creates misunderstanding, distorts God’s gospel, and these statements in and of themselves will not save you.
My concern, therefore, is that there are many people sitting in church, week after week, who believe they are saved (I was one of these at one time) who in fact are not. Every single person in the church needs to be aware that God has communicated one gospel by which we are saved in this dispensation and will be judged by it: on that day when, according to my (what) gospel (see 1 Corinthians 15:1-4), God will judge the secrets of men (and women) through Christ Jesus (Romans 2:16).
I believe God considers this to be serious business folks, so we should take it seriously. God’s Word is not to be ignored or watered-down as some leaders in the church are doing today. I’ll give you one example: One Sunday morning a gentleman listened to his church leader give a sermon to the entire congregation on the “many ways to heaven.” He purposely sought this man out after services were over with his Bible open to John 14:6, asking him, “How can you preach there are many ways to heaven, when the Bible says Jesus is the only way?” This church leader said, “Oh, that’s not what that Bible verse is really saying.”
The meaning of John 14:6 is crystal clear. There is only one way to the Father and that is through faith in Jesus Christ. For this dispensation (the Grace Age) this means believing Paul’s gospel, plus nothing else. Ergo, water baptism won’t save you, asking Jesus to come into your heart won’t save you, believing that in comparison you’re better than some other people you know won’t save you, believing you can earn God’s favor by performing good works before you die won’t save you; trusting in anything but Paul’s gospel is meaningless (See 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
As I said John 3:16 is a wonderful verse, but it contains the “kingdom gospel” message, under God’s Prophetic Program, which is in effect saying, “believe in Jesus’ name” or “believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (See Peter’s confession of faith Matthew 13:1-17; see also Acts 8:25-37). John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and the Twelve Apostles, preached “the gospel of the kingdom,” (Matthew 3:2, 4:17, 10).
This gospel was a gospel of repentance and its message was that Jesus was the Messiah-King who had come to establish His rule on the earth and to fulfill the Jewish covenants (Isaiah 9:6; Matthew 6:9-10; Romans 15:8). It required both individual and national repentance (Acts 2:36-38, 3:17-23; Romans 11:25-27). Thus, this good news was that their King was present and the nation of Israel was to accept Him as their Messiah and King of Israel – that was the focus of their faith during the Dispensation of the Law, the period of time beginning at Mt. Sinai when the LORD God added the Law and gave it to His chosen people, the children of Israel, until Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law with His death (Exodus 19:5; Isaiah 9:6-7; Galatians 4:4-5).
Paul’s gospel is different from the “the gospel of the kingdom” (Galatians 1:6-10, 2:1-9). Paul’s gospel is not a gospel of repentance; it did not present Jesus Christ as king; but instead presented Him as Head over His Church, and defined the “kingdom of heaven” as the heavenly position of the Body of Christ. Paul preached faith alone as necessary for salvation and operated solely under God’s good grace and not works. Paul’s gospel is the Lord Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was resurrected from the dead. Paul received his gospel, not from Peter or any one of the twelve original apostles, but by direct revelation from the risen Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11-12).
By carefully examining Paul’s letters to the churches, we soon learn the language he used to refer to his gospel clearly indicates he regarded it as his own. Thus, we read of: “the gospel which I preached to you” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4),
“my gospel” (Romans 2:16, 16:25; 2 Timothy 2:8),
“our gospel” (2 Corinthians 4:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:14),
“that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles (Galatians 2:2),
“the gospel of the uncircumcision” (Galatians 2:7),
“the gospel of Christ” (Romans 15:19, 1 Corinthians 9:12; 2 Corinthians 2:12, 9:13, 10:14; Galatians 1:7; Philippians 1:17; 1 Thessalonians 3:2),
“the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24),
“the gospel of your salvation” (Ephesians 1:13),
“the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15),
“the gospel of His Son” (Romans 1:9),
“the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4),
“the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:8),
“the glorious gospel” (2 Timothy 1:8),
and “the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1, 15:16; 2 Corinthians 11:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:2, 8, 9).
I occasionally remind the group of the importance of “Rightly dividing the Scriptures,” i.e. divide (do not toss out or ignore) those sections of Scripture written to the Jews or to the Gentiles, from those things specifically written to God’s Church (1 Corinthians 10:32). For instance, our Apostle Paul wrote this to the Galatian church: Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of (what) faith who are sons (and daughters) of Abraham. The Scripture, foreseeing that God would (what) justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham saying, “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU” (Genesis 3:6-8).
From this passage we learn faith has always been the means of one’s salvation, dating back to the Garden of Eden experience. However, the content of one’s faith has changed through the ages. It should be rather obvious that since Jesus Christ had not gone to the cross, died, been buried, and resurrected from the dead, men and women prior to this important event believed something else, some other gospel (good news) for their salvation other than what Paul preached as his gospel.
If you’re familiar with the gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry to His own (John 1:11), then you’re aware the twelve apostles were clueless concerning the “good news” of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection for the sins of mankind, or Paul’s gospel. Please turn with me to Luke 18:31-34. Here we find Jesus heading up to Jerusalem, with the twelve, to celebrate the Passover, in keeping with the Law. But the twelve had no idea this would be His final Passover with them or that Jesus was about to suffer and die, even though He says so unmistakably: Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be handed over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again. But the disciple understood none of these things, and the meaning of this statement was hidden from them, and they did not comprehend the things that were said.
To briefly sum up, men and women throughout history are justified by faith in what God has said or revealed in their own time period or dispensation. Let’s look at Abel as an example: By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than (his brother) Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous (or in right standing with the LORD God), God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks (Hebrews 11:4).
Although not clearly spoken in the Genesis account, it is implied from the O.T. account that the LORD God had revealed to Adam and Eve (and they in turn relayed this vital information to their offspring) that righteousness was to be obtained through the offering of a blood sacrifice. We have this explanation in Genesis as a guide: So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground (for he was a farmer). Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions (for he was a herdsman). And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering, but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell (Genesis 4:3-5).
Why didn’t the LORD God accept Cain’s offering? Because God had revealed that to come to Him one had to believe what He said and at that time a blood sacrifice had to be offered (Genesis 3:21). Cain’s #1 problem was he was destitute of faith; he ignored what the LORD God had said and disobeyed Him. He wanted to come to God and be accepted by Him on his own terms – in his own way; people are still doing this today… He refused God’s revelation. Abel, on the other hand, believed what the LORD God had said and responded appropriately. Because he believed, and acted on faith, he obtained God’s righteousness.
Abraham is another example of an individual who was accepted by the LORD God and who obtained righteousness by believing in what God had revealed to him. The “content” of the gospel which Abraham believed, and was justified, according to Genesis 15:2-6 was that God would fulfill His promise to give him and his wife Sarah a son; a heir. The gospel, therefore, for Abraham was that the LORD God would give him an heir from his own body and his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Abraham responded to God by believing Him (Galatians 3:6-8). The best definition of Faith I’ve found over the years is simply taking God at His Word.
What about those folks who lived under the Law? What was the gospel for them? I’m glad you asked. The Law was never meant to make a person righteous its purpose was to reveal their sinful condition and to condemn them, ultimately directing them to their need of a Savior. Our Apostle Paul wrote: Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God, because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:19-20).
Paul’s saying the Law’s purpose was to show a person his or her sin and their need for God. A large part of the Mosaic Law concerned Levitical service and animal sacrifices. A Jew under the Law was to believe and obey God with regard to these sacrifices. Thus, a Believer in those days believed in and obeyed God by going to a priest, offering a sacrifice, believing that God had dealt with his or her sin by means of the animal sacrifice. That was the gospel and the revelation which God had given to that point in time. However, Scripture informs us that the blood of animals cannot remove sin (Hebrews 10:4-6). Jesus Christ chose to be our substitutionary sacrifice, i.e. He was nailed to “our cross” (Hebrews 10:7:27, 10:10).
Once Jesus Christ begins His earthly ministry to His own we note God’s gospel changes again for John the Baptist and Jesus both preached “the gospel of the kingdom,” according to the Apostle Mark: Now after John had been taken custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15).
The Lord said all that needed to be said here. “The fullness of time had come,” “the kingdom of God was at hand,” and then He gave instructions as to what each individual needed to do, “repent and believe the gospel.” The kingdom gospel began with the individual Jew but it ultimately required national recognition (Matthew 3:2, 4:17; Mark 6:12; Luke 13:3-5).
What were they to believe in? Believing the gospel of the kingdom meant one had to believe the good news that the Messiah of Israel, Jesus of Nazareth, had come. This gospel included the fact that Jesus was the promised Messiah and that He was about to establish the long prophesied kingdom upon the earth. We also note from John the Baptist’s ministry that the person needed to be baptized in water, as water baptism symbolized “cleansing” and was a sign of repentance (Matthew 3:5-6, 3:11; Mark 1:4-5; Luke 3:3, 3:13, 7:29-30; John 1:33, 3:23). Water baptism was required throughout Jesus’ ministry and it continued on into the early chapters of the Book of Acts (Acts 2:38).
Salvation under the gospel of the kingdom required one to believe that Jesus was the Son of God or the promised Messiah (Matthew 16:13-17; John 11:27; Acts 8:35-38, 9:18-20). This was a completely different gospel than Paul’s gospel. The revelation revealed to Paul required both Jew and Gentile to believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for their sins to be saved (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). There is no evidence of this good news in the four gospels anywhere or afterwards in Peter’s, James, or John’s. People tend to put it in there, but it doesn’t belong there. This revelation is Church Age Doctrine; it’s specific to our Apostle Paul and doesn’t belong anywhere else in the Bible.
Unnecessary confusion has arisen in God’s one church because of the teaching that His Church, i.e. the Body of Christ, began at Matthew 1:1 or when Jesus Christ began His ministry, or even at Pentecost. A careful study of the Scriptures reveals the Church did not begin at Pentecost or earlier. The early chapters of Acts reveal nothing about the Jew and the Gentile being equal in Christ Jesus; far from it. Search this book for yourself. See if you can find one verse mentioning the Body of Christ before the Lord Jesus Christ calls Saul of Tarsus to be His Apostle to the Gentiles and sends him forth to preach His gospel of grace to Jews and Gentiles alike – for now there is no difference!
Only with Paul’s calling and commission did God reveal the “stewardship or dispensation of grace of God” (Ephesians 3:2) or the “gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). Prior to Paul, no one offered salvation through faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ for their sins nor preached that the gospel of salvation had been sent to Gentiles.
The first few chapters of Acts record that the Prophetic Program of the King and the kingdom that had been proclaimed in the Gospels was still in effect and the audience remained wholly Jewish (Acts 11:19). On the day of Pentecost (50 days after our Lord’s crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection) Peter addressed a huge crowd, but not one Gentile was among them and we know this to be true because this book says so.
Please turn to Acts 2:14: …”Men of Judea and all of you who live in Jerusalem… Peter addressed “men of Judea,” and the “house of Israel” (Acts 2:14). How many Gentiles do you suppose are in the “house of Israel” if you want to know the truth – none. Peter’s message on that day is obvious, he’s saying Jesus Christ is the Messiah and you had a hand in His crucifixion (Acts 2:36) but He God raised Him from the dead (Psalm 110:1). In response to his message his audience asked, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37) Peter didn’t tell them to believe that Christ had died for their sins, was buried, and then was raised from the dead. But what did he say, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself (Acts 2:38-39).
Where have we heard this language before? If you said, “John the Baptist “the Lord Jesus Christ” or any of “the twelve apostles,” you’re correct, because this was the requirement under the gospel of the kingdom. Peter is addressing Jews only in this passage and he’s quoting Scripture. To be honest, the Scriptures met little to nothing to a Gentile, but they meant everything to a Jew, and Peter specifically said the Holy Spirit was the promise for you and your children, etc. This was prophesied by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-34), Ezekiel (Ezekiel 36:22-32, 37:14), and the prophet Joel (Joel 2:28-32). In his speech, Peter quoted Joel’s prophecy (Acts 2:17-21) summing up what was occurring in Israel at that time.
Putting it all Together
The content of the gospel has changed throughout the ages according to the progressive revelation of God. Salvation is gained by believing and obeying what God has revealed to mankind at the time. Today, because of the revelation of the message of grace to our Apostle Paul, salvation is as simple as putting your trust in Christ’s work on your behalf, i.e. that he died for your sins, He was buried, and that He was resurrected from the dead for your justification (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Romans 8:30). Salvation today is based on one’s faith in Paul’s gospel, plus nothing else!
Faith in Christ is not “inviting Jesus into your heart” or “accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.” Any such invitation is a false gospel without any Scriptural basis.
No one is this dispensation (age) is required to “repent,” to be “baptized,” “to offer blood sacrifices” “to join a church,” or do anything ELSE that may have been necessary in an earlier dispensation. Christ’s finished work of the Cross is wholly sufficient and has paid God’s sin debt for humanity’s sins.
Our Apostle Paul recently taught us the moment you believe his gospel, you receive the Holy Spirit and are baptized into the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). The Holy Spirit doesn’t “come and go.” He’s a permanent resident. Paul also tells us if a person does not possess the Holy Spirit, he or she does not belong to Christ Jesus (Romans 8:9). He goes on to teach the Holy Spirit is the seal of salvation for all those who believe. The Holy Spirit is the down payment on our eternal inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-16).
(To be continued)
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