Gospel Centeredness Part One
What is the gospel? How does the gospel function in the life of the believer? How is it distinguished from its counterfeits?
Preached by Jason Abbott, senior pastor
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
1. What is the gospel?
a. The gospel is a plan (vv. 3-4).
Yet, it is not just any plan. The gospel is God’s salvation plan that is in accordance with (or that fits with) the Scriptures! Specifically, Paul is highlighting the biblical big picture here. Paul connects Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as it’s revealed in the New Testament to God’s revelation of it in the Old Testament.
Occasionally I have had conversations with those in the church who will characterize themselves as Old Testament guys or gals—meaning (I think) that the Old Testament really resonates with them. Perhaps they like the legal prescriptions. Maybe they like the clear distinctions that are drawn between God’s people and the pagan nations.
Much more often I have had conversations with those in the church who characterize themselves as New Testament guys or gals—meaning (I assume) that the New Testament really resonates with them. They probably like the way Jesus cares for the broken and outcast of society. Or, they might like the way Jesus and then the apostles seem to fight the powers that be.
However either perspective is incomplete! Just look at what Paul says here in 1 Corinthians:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (vv. 3-4).
Paul is essentially telling us that we cannot divorce our Old Testament from our New Testament. We cannot favor one over the other. For, they communicate one unified salvation plan of God that climaxes in the gospel—the life and death and resurrection and ascension and certain return of Jesus Christ! Thus, there is no such thing as an Old or New Testament believer!
For, as Paul explains in 2 Timothy, the whole Bible is:
…able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (3:15-16).
Consequently, here at Community Free Church, we do not dodge passages of the Bible that are difficult to understand. We do not dodge passages of the Bible that are uncomfortable for us to consider. Instead, we take very seriously the task of preaching the full council of God—the complete revelation of his redemptive historical plan.
Furthermore, you will notice if you are here for an extended period of time that we do not separate the preaching of God’s word from the central message of God’s word—the life and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus himself claimed that he fulfilled the plan of God as it’s revealed in the Old Testament scriptures (Matthew 5:17; Luke 4:21; 24:27, 44). Thus, we strive to understand how every passage of our Bible cries out for and is in need of God’s chosen Savior—Jesus Christ!
The next point is considerably less involved but no less important:
b. The gospel is a plan to be received and delivered (vv. 1-11).
Notice how much receiving / believing of the good news is being done in this passage. It is everywhere in these eleven verses:
- Paul reminds the Corinthians of the gospel they received (v. 1).
- Paul points out that it was the same gospel he received (v. 3).
- Paul then begins to tell how the resurrected Christ appeared to those who would receive the good news message and believe: to Peter and the other disciples (v. 5), to five hundred brothers (v. 6), to James and the other apostles (v. 7), and then to Paul (v. 8).
- Finally, Paul again reminds his Corinthian readers that they received and believed the gospel message (v. 11).
Then notice how those who have received become those who deliver:
- Paul delivers and preaches the message that he received (vv. 1, 3).
- The other apostles, like Paul, go out and preach the gospel message they have received (v. 11).
- Finally, note that the word apostle (Greek: apostolos) means “sent one” or “messenger” (vv. 7, 9). Those called as apostles through the good news were thus sent out to deliver the same gospel they had received!
The implications of this for us are clear and profound. All of us who have received and believed the good news are now to be messengers of the good news! We are to participate in proclaiming God’s only message of salvation!
Here at Community Free Church we want to see the gospel progressively change lives. We want each member of our congregation to become more and more astonished at the grace God has given them in Jesus Christ.
As this astonishment grips our church, we want to find ways to empower each one of you to take the good news into the unique spheres of influence you’ve been given—into your family relationships, neighborhood friendships, and workplace acquaintances. We want to prepare all of you to naturally and joyfully share the message that has transformed your lives.
In his awesome book—Evangelism in the Early Church—Michael Green explains that this has always been the most effective way of reaching a lost world. Speaking about lay evangelism in the early Church, he writes:
This must often have been not formal preaching, but the informal chattering to friends and chance acquaintances, in homes and wine shops, on walks, and around market stalls. They [the lay evangelists] went everywhere gossiping the gospel; they did it naturally, enthusiastically, and with the conviction of those who are not paid to say that sort of thing. Consequently, they were taken seriously, and the movement spread….1
I want you to gossip! (Perhaps that’s the first time that has ever been said from the pulpit!) I want our congregation to gossip in this way! This is righteous gossip! This kind of gospel gossip will glorify God and be used by God! It is our hope that all who have received this message will also proclaim this message “naturally, enthusiastically, and with the conviction of those who are not paid to say that sort of thing.”2
Let’s move on to our second question:
2. How does the gospel function in the life of the believer?
a. The gospel is a plan through which we are saved (v. 1).
When we hear the gospel and believe the message of God’s salvation plan in Christ Jesus, we are saved. Here (I believe) Paul alludes to this “finished” or “completed” salvation at the beginning of this passage. He writes:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand… (v. 1).
The verb “received” here is in the aorist tense which points to “a single point of reception.”3 Thus, there is the sense here that the Corinthians’ “salvation is once for all.”4 Through their belief in or reception of the gospel, they have been saved!
Yet, the gospel doesn’t stop there. It continues to be the conduit of salvation. So Paul continues to explain that:
b. The gospel is a plan through which we are being saved (v. 2).
Look again at the text with me. The gospel is also the message:
…by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain (v. 2).
Here (I believe) Paul is expressing something of the divine paradox of the gospel. Namely, that good news is a message that (when believed) ushers salvation, once and for all, into the believer’s life and simultaneously that it is a message that (after being believed) continues to usher salvation into the believer’s life. It is the message through which we are saved and by which we are progressively being saved.
Each of the pastor-elders at Community Free Church has written a short section on the church website that briefly expresses our “hopes and prayers” for this congregation. In mine, I relay something of this competed yet progressive good news work in our lives. This is what I wrote:
My hope and prayer for Community Free Church is that all who come would clearly hear and rehear the good news. We do not become Christians through this message of God’s reconciling work accomplished for us in Jesus then proceed to follow him without it. Rather, we must apply and reapply it throughout our earthly lives. It is a message that both humbles and exalts us; it convicts us that there is nothing we could do to earn our salvation on our own, and it encourages us that God has nonetheless loved us and called us into his eternally blessed family. We need this good news preached to us whether we are just beginning to awaken to God’s love for us or whether we are finishing up a lifelong marathon in his service.5
I would simply add to this that we need to believe the gospel message in order to be saved, and we need to continue to believe the gospel message in order to be sanctified—or made holy—which is salvation being accomplished in us!
3. How is the gospel distinguished from counterfeit gospels?
In truth there are many features that distinguish the gospel of God from counterfeit gospels, but let me outline two distinguishing features which (I feel) have been especially attacked.
a. The gospel is a historical reality.
We see this in Paul’s arguments here. He is making the case for the physical and historical reality of Christ’s resurrection. Basically, Paul says, “Look…Christ rose from the dead! Here is a list of people who saw him! There are even 500 who saw him, most of whom are still alive! Don’t believe me? Go and ask them!”
Christ’s life, death, and resurrection are not simply metaphors that explain how people should turn over a new leaf or emerge from the ashes of a failed life. Rather, they are actual events or real realities! They are historical!
If you hear someone preaching Jesus as a good teacher but not the risen Savior, then it is a counterfeit gospel!
If you hear someone preaching Christ’s death as an example of how people should live sacrificial lives but not as an act of substitutionary atonement for our sins, then it is a counterfeit gospel!
Such gospels are not gospel! Such good news is really not good news!
b. The gospel is God’s free gift of salvation.
Paul is highlighting this aspect of the authentic gospel too! He writes concerning his own salvation:
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain (v. 10).
If someone tells you in any way, shape, or form that you must earn your salvation, then they are preaching a counterfeit gospel! For as Paul explains in Ephesians 2:8-9, it is:
…by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.