Why Be a Christian in the First Place?
[1st Corinthians chapter 15, verses 1-19]
Since the 15th chapter of 1st Corinthians is noticeably longer than the one we just completed, I will be dividing chapter fifteen into 4 lessons to allow me to get into some real depth regarding the apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, which was located in modern-day Greece. As we begin to read at verse one, we find Paul reminding the Corinthian church of the reasons for its faith, which is unconditional belief and unshakable confidence in the saving power of Christ. I would liken this portion of Scripture to a coach going over some of the basic fundamentals of the game during a team meeting, reminding the players that if they stick to the basics consistently, they will ultimately win. Being a follower of Jesus is a lot like that, and so in one way you may think of Christ as your Spiritual coach.
“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the Gospel I preached to you, which you have received and on which you have taken your stand. By this Gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the Word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: That Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the twelve. 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. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not deserve to even be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 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. Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.” (1Corinthians chapter 15, verses 1-11 NIV)
The basis of Christianity and of belief in Christ as the Son of God is summed up in Paul’s words “ …..Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time…….” So we have basic fundamental teaching and instruction here from Paul to the brethren in the early church, which is the ultimate sacrificial offering of Jesus as atonement for the sins of all mankind who freely accept His salvation. Without this faith, all the good deeds and personal sacrifice in the world will do us no good at all, and we will “have believed in vain”. Based on this portion of scripture I would say that one of our primary tasks as practicing Christians is to make sure our belief is genuine – that is, that we exercise our faith in such a way that our passion for Christ strives to approach and imitate His passion for all mankind when He died upon the cross. As He gave His all for us, so we must be willing to give our very best for Him. In fact, a time is coming soon to America when Christians will begin to be slain for their faith. That’s not just my opinion, that’s a prophecy! The apostles saw the risen Lord, but we believe having not seen Him (yet).
At this point I would ask that all those reading this who are knowledgeable about the Bible, or who have been Christians for a long time like I have, to bear with me for a few moments while I explain something to the newer believers regarding what Paul wrote about himself towards the end of the above passage. Paul wrote, “For I am the least of the apostles and do not deserve to even be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 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 is referring to his initial meeting with the Spirit of Christ on the road to Damascus, which is documented in chapter 9 of the book of Acts in the New Testament. He was blinded for three days and instructed to go to a certain house where he met the apostle Peter, who laid his hands on Paul and healed his blindness. Before all this happened, Paul was one of the leaders of Judaism at that time who actively persecuted Christians prior to his conversion. The book of Acts also documents Paul’s being present at the execution by stoning of Stephen in chapter six. And yet ever since meeting the Lord on the road to Damascus, Paul had been converted and was actively preaching and teaching throughout the world of that time. This is why Paul calls himself “the least of the apostles”, but Paul does one thing here that we all should learn to emulate. He gives all the credit for his conversion to the faith to God through His grace, taking none for himself. He even mentions working harder in his new ministry than anyone else in an attempt to make up for his previous life as a persecutor of the followers of Christ. God gets all the credit for our conversion because He loved us first, not the other way around. Remember what Jesus said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted”. Therefore, if we humble ourselves in our faith by giving all the credit for our salvation to Jesus and to God’s grace (which means unmerited favor), we will be rewarded with higher places in heaven when our physical lives are over and our eternal Spiritual lives begin. I will teach more on this topic at some point in the future. I will now continue today’s study at verse 12.
“But if it has been preached that Christ was raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. But He did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” (1Corinthians 15, verses 12-19 NIV)
Based on what the apostle Paul wrote here, perhaps there was some disagreement among the members of the Corinthian church regarding whether the resurrection of Christ was real or a myth. What we are seeing here is one of the first indicators of denominational teaching. Paul clearly wanted this practice stopped immediately, but history teaches us that not only did this not occur, but the fragmentation of the original church into divisions that were set against one another is an unfortunate reality that continues into modern times. But Paul responds back then by pointing out an obvious truth, which is that being a Christian while not believing in the resurrection of Christ, along with all who have believed on and trusted in His name, defeats the very purpose of one’s belief. The crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on the morning of the third day is the very basis for all Christian faith. Even the two greatest commandments as they were taught by Jesus in the four gospels – love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself – are impossible to follow without a belief in the deity of God through Christ. And a belief in God through Jesus Christ is unworkable without belief that Jesus rose from the dead, and that in so doing He gave all of mankind a chance to have the same opportunity to have eternal life without end that He already has. None of us can ever achieve immortality on our own, but we can all have it through Christ, the Son of God. And that’s a goal worth shooting for every day of the year.