Saturday, May 23, 2015, 9:30 p.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song, “He Reached Down.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (ESV).
A Gentle Reminder (vv. 1a, 3-7)
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you…
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, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
Paul said he would remind the church in Corinth of the gospel he preached to them. What is that gospel? First of all, it is that God the Father sent his only begotten Son to earth to die for the sins of the entire world so that, through faith in Jesus Christ, we could be saved. Jesus Christ, God the Son, took on human form, lived on the earth as fully God (God incarnate), yet as fully man. He went about doing good, healing the sick and afflicted, comforting the sorrowful, delivering people from demons, raising the dead, and preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God. He told the people that if they wanted to come after him they must deny self, take up their cross daily (die daily to sin and self) and follow (obey) him. He said if we hold on to our old lives of sin we will lose them for eternity, but if we die (with Christ) to our old lives, we will gain eternal life. He also said that his sheep (his followers) listen to him, he knows them, and they follow (obey) him.
Jesus Christ, when he walked the face of this earth, was loved and admired by some or many people who followed him, but he also had people who hated him and who rejected him. Among those who hated him, many of those were in positions of leadership within the Jewish faith – within the temple. In fact, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day were some of his strongest and fiercest opponents. They hounded him continuously, always trying to find a way to trap him and/or to discredit him so that the people would not listen to him.
His popularity among the people served as a serious threat to the religious leaders and to their positions of power and authority among the people, so they were jealous of Jesus, and they plotted to take his life. They hated him, too, because he told them that what they did was evil, and that they were only clean on the outside, but not on the inside. As well, they despised him because he did not follow all their man-made rules and regulations, and he healed people on the Sabbath, yet they rescued sheep and circumcised on the Sabbath, so their objections were hypocritical and not valid. And, they hated him, too, because he claimed to be God, which is who he is – God the Son.
They hated him so much, in fact, that they had him crucified on a cross, although he had done no wrong. Jesus, although tempted to sin, and in like manner as what we are tempted, never sinned. So, he was able to be our spotless sacrificial Lamb given for the sins of the entire world. When he died, he took on himself the sins of the entire world (past, present and future). When he died, our sins died with him. They were buried with him. When he was resurrected from the dead, he conquered sin, death, hell and Satan on our behalf. He did this, not just so we could escape the punishment of sin (eternal damnation), and not just so we could have the promise of heaven when we die. He died so we might die with him to sin. He was resurrected so we might be resurrected to new lives in Christ Jesus, our Lord, and so we might live to righteousness, no longer walking after the flesh, but now walking after the Spirit; no longer living to gratify the sinful cravings of our flesh, but living to please God in all we do – all in the power and working of the Spirit within us.
This is the gospel that Paul and the other apostles preached. They preached that we must repent of (turn from) our sins and turn to God in surrender to his will for our lives. They taught what Jesus taught, which is that coming to Christ means forsaking our former lives of living for sin and self, being transformed in heart and mind of the Spirit of God, and putting on our new lives in Christ, “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (See: Eph. 4:17-24). They taught that belief in Jesus means that we die with Christ to our old lives of sin, and that we are resurrected with him to new life in him; that being set free from sin means we become slaves of righteousness; and that Jesus condemned sin in sinful humans “in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit” (See: Ro. 6-8; 2 Co. 5:15; Gal. 2:20; Tit. 2:11-14; 1 Pet. 2:24-25; & 1 Jn. 1:5-9).
If You Hold Fast (vv. 1b-2)
“…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.”
Paul said he wanted to remind them of the gospel he preached to them, which they had received, and on which they were standing, and by which they were being saved (present-continuous), IF they held fast to the word Paul preached to them, unless they had believed in vain. So, what is this saying? First off, we need to know the word Paul preached to them, some of which was shared in this previous section in this writing. Although he clearly taught that we are saved by God’s grace, through faith, and not of our own works, lest we should boast, he also taught that true faith is present-continuous, repentant, and submissive to God. Paul, John, Peter and James all taught that faith in Jesus Christ means death to sin and living to righteousness, which is the working of the Spirit of God in our lives, and not something we can do in our own flesh, but we must cooperate with the Spirit’s work.
Secondly, we must know and understand that scripture teaches that we are saved or have been saved (past), we are being saved (present-continuous), and we will be saved (future – when Christ returns). As well, scripture teaches that the kind of belief in Jesus Christ which is saving faith is present-continuous. If we examine the Greek verb tense for “believe” in so many scriptures, with regard to believing for salvation, the word is actually “believing,” which is present-continuous. In other words, we are not saved (past), we then live our lives, and one day we go to heaven. Eternal life is only guaranteed for those “believing” in Jesus Christ. It is only guaranteed for the repentant and the obedient. This is not works-based salvation. This is what scripture teaches. It speaks, not of being in and out of relationship with God every time we sin, but rather it speaks to the issue of lifestyle, i.e. are we walking in the Spirit, or are we still living our lives to please our flesh?
Thirdly, it appears here that it is possible to believe in vain (to have unproductive; worthless faith). What this says to me, based upon what I know of the teachings of scripture, is that it is possible to have surface-only faith which never produced new birth in the Spirit, because it was not based in the truth, but a lie, and so the “believer” never repented of sin, never submitted to the cross of Christ, and thus was never truly crucified or resurrected with Christ. He never experienced death to sin and living to righteousness in the power of the Spirit. So, he remained lost. And, yet I also see from what I know of scripture that it is possible to believe in Christ, but at some point to stop believing (to not continue in Christ), and to even reject Christ. This person will not be saved. So, make sure today that you are believing in Jesus and that you are holding fast to the true gospel of Jesus Christ, otherwise it is highly possible that you may be among those who have believed in vain.
Unworthy to be Called (vv. 8-11)
Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to 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 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. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
After Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead, before he ascended back to the Father, he appeared to many people. I don’t believe Paul was among those Jesus appeared to before Jesus went back to the Father. I believe Paul here is referring to Jesus visiting him in a vision on the road to Damascus, where Paul was headed to persecute and arrest Christians. Jesus asked Paul (Saul) why he was persecuting him. Jesus had ascended to the Father, so how was Paul persecuting Jesus? He was doing it through his persecution of Christ’s followers, his body, his church. It was just as though Saul (Paul) was persecuting Christ Jesus. And, the same is true today for those who would persecute the Lord’s servants and witnesses. We are his body, so how we treat his body is how we treat Jesus.
Even though Paul had been a persecutor and a murderer of Christians, Jesus wanted to transform his life and to use him to bring the gospel of salvation to Jew and to Gentile alike. He was to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they could receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus Christ (See: Ac. 26:16-18). This is the essence of the gospel. Jesus died so we could turn from sin to faith in him, who is the Light, and so we could be delivered from the power of Satan and could be free to walk in Christ’s holiness.
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet. 2:24).
None of us deserve God’s great salvation. We can do nothing to earn it or to deserve it. It is a free gift given to us by God via Jesus’ shed blood on the cross for our sins, and via his resurrection from the dead in conquering sin and Satan on our behalf. Nonetheless, it is a gift we must receive by faith, and that faith means we die to sin and live to righteousness – all in the power and working of the Spirit within us. It means we no longer walk after the flesh, but after the Spirit. If we say we have fellowship with God, but we continue to walk in darkness (sin, wickedness), then we are liars (See: 1 Jn. 1).
Yet, he didn’t choose us because of our own righteousness, for our righteousness is like filthy rags in his sight. He died for us while we were still sinners. He loved us even though we were so unworthy of his love and grace. But, he didn’t die so we would continue to live sinful lifestyles. He died to set us free from our slavery to sin and to make us slaves to righteousness (See: Ro. 6). Amen! I am so thankful for his grace to me, his patience with me, and his wonderful mercy in forgiving me of all my sins, and for choosing to use me for his glory, even though I was so unworthy.
He Reached Down / An Original Work / February 3, 2014
Based off Psalm 18
How I love You, Lord,
My Rock and my strength.
My God is my fortress;
I hide in Him.
He is my shield and the horn of
My salvation, whom I praise.
I have found my refuge in Him.
He reached down from heaven
And rescued me;
Drew me out of waters
So deep, I’d sink.
He delivered me from Satan
And my slavery to sin;
Gave me hope of heaven with Him.
My God turned my darkness
Into His light;
Opened up my blinded eyes;
Gave me sight.
As for God, his way is perfect.
He gives strength to stand secure.
I have found my vict’ry in Him.
My Lord lives!
Praise be to my Savior God,
Jesus Christ, who died
On a cruel cross.
He is my Rock and the source
Of my salvation, whom I trust.
I will give praise always to Him.