Assuming the Gospel
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. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2)
As Paul tells the Corinthian church what's up, he points them back to the gospel. He uses the word 8 times in the book, either in terms of preaching the good news of Christ or just referring to the gospel message itself. In chapter 15, he's referring specifically to the message of Jesus Christ, the message of his coming, his death, his resurrection, and ascension. He's basically saying, "Remember the good news that I preached to you..." He's referring to the content of the message, the euangelion.
And it's the content of the gospel message which that Paul preached and they received. Paul conveyed the truths of the gospel to people in Corinth, and they believed it. They received Paul and the message of Christ crucified, which we know he didn't preach eloquently (1 Cor. 1:17). He preached the folly of the gospel, which they heard, internalized, and believed. Though folly, it proved to be the authoritative message of God's justice being satisfied through the atoning death of Jesus Christ.
If we stop here, we're in trouble. The gospel message is something we receive, something we believe, at one point in time when we truly place our faith in the person and work of Christ. Though we may not clearly know the exact moment, there was one. Some write the date in their Bible, others look back to a specific season where the gospel was presented, wrestled with, and eventually believed. I fall into the latter, and even with a somewhat ambiguous timeframe for my salvation, I still misunderstood the nature of my sanctification.
As MC Leaders, this is where we need to be careful in how we shepherd our groups toward maturity.
My mistake involved the false idea that repentance and faith was a one-time event. After I put my faith in Christ, the real work of being a better person began. I would even read my Bible and many good books, but the underlying motives was the mistaken idea that my justification before God was based on my ongoing faithfulness to God. In a city and area that is still fairly churched, I'm convinced that many people still think this way. They either surround themselves with teachers that excuse this mentality, or with teachers who reinforce it. Either salvation by license or salvation by legalism.
We need to remember that everyone in our MC, including ourselves, has not yet arrived. We have received the gospel, believed it, but it doesn't end there. Paul continues...
He reminds the Corinthian church of the gospel, in which they stand (1 Cor. 15:1). The word used for stand is histemi, which has the connotation of standing firm or being established. The gospel message is the means by which they would stand firm in their faith. Paul takes it further in the beginning of verse 2, reminding them of the gospel in which they are being saved.
It's by the gospel that the Corinthian church was standing firm in the faith and being rescued from their sin. He adds a qualifier to the end of verse 2, sayting that they may have believed/received the gospel in vain if they are not holding fast to the word that Paul preached to them. So if we believe the truth of the gospel, we will hold fast to it. Holding fast entails acting in accordance with your beliefs, so truth saving faith involves the gospel in justification and in sanctification.
The gospel is not to be assumed. The moment we call people to stand firm in and hold fast to anything but the person and work of Christ, we're calling them to find their justification elsewhere; either in their license ("I'm all about grace, I can do what I want.") or in legalism ("I'm all about the rules."). These will be difficult to discern, as we want to see fruit and obedience. But the only true path to fruit is that of the gospel. We don't add to it, and we don't take from it, but live in light of it.
Therefore, our questions and our follow-ups must be designed to point people to the finished work of Christ. This is the only true empowerment for an obedient, fruitful, God-glorifying life. In his book, Center Church, Tim Keller says this:
"Jesus took our place on the cross and accomplished salvation for us, which we receive freely as a gift. Traditional religion teaches that if we do good deeds and follow the moral rules in our external behavior, God will come into our hearts, bless us, and give us salvation. In other words, if I obey, God will love and accept me. But the gospel is the reverse of this: If I know in my heart that God has accepted me and loves me freely by grace, then I can begin to obey, out of inner joy and gratitude. Religion is outside in, but the gospel is inside out. We are justified by grace alone, not by works; we are beautiful and righteous in God's sight by the work of Christ. Once we gain this understanding on the inside, it revolutionizes how we relate to God, to ourselves, and to others on the outside."
I once believed, though not always consciously, that the gospel was outside in...that "if I obey, God will love and accept me." As leaders, we have the responsibility of listening for this attitude in our groups and quickly/lovingly correcting it. When this happened to me, everything flipped and I went from worshiping myself and my ability to worshiping God and Jesus as my Lord. I wanted to obey out of deep gratitude, and my life changed all to the glory of God. I pray that this same things happens as we call people to stand in and hold fast to the euangelion.
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