Real Christians Believe the Real Gospel

Original Date: 
Sunday, April 15, 2012

1 Corinthians 15:1-11 Real Christians Believe the Real Gospel

This is a Football
Vince Lombardi is one of the most revered football coaches of all time. He coached the Green Bay Packers for 9 years and won 5 league championships, including the first two Super Bowls. In 2010 Broadway hosted a play about his life. The Super Bowl Trophy is named after him.

The year before Lombardi took over as coach, the Packers had one of their worst seasons ever. Despite having 5 future Hall of Famers on the roster, they were 1-10-1. So, on the first day of practice as head coach, Lombardi called the team together, held up a ball and said, “Gentleman, this is a football.”

Then he talked about what you could, and couldn’t do, with a football in the context of the game. Snap it, pass it, run with it, kick it, and so on. He described the playing field, and talked about its dimensions and how to score a touchdown. He talked about how many plays the offense was allowed to run, how to get a first down, how to block and how to tackle, and so on. Essentially, he took a bunch of professional football players who had been playing this game for most of their lives and spoke to them as though they were learning about the game for the very first time.

He took them back to basics. He was sending the message that if they were going to be a great football team, they’d have to get the fundamentals right.

And every season Lombardi was coach, his first speech to the team always started the same way: “Gentlemen, this is a football.”

I think that emphasis on the basics is a good one. Today, we’re starting a new series of messages I’m calling Real Christians. And the point is that for the next several weeks, we’re going to look at the basics of Christian discipleship.

The primary questions I’m seeking to ask and answer are: What do Christians believe and do? What makes a person a “Christian” (Biblically speaking)? What are the basic practices, actions, commitments and attitudes that characterize genuine followers of Jesus Christ?

Some of you are fairly new to faith. You didn’t grow up going to church; or you went to a church where the emphasis was more on fulfilling the rituals than having a personal, living faith; or you’ve been gone from church for a long time. So you might be wondering: what does it mean to be a Christian? How do I live out my faith every day? I’m hoping this series will help answer that question.

And some of you have been Christians a long time. You’re veterans of faith. And for you, I’m hoping this series will be sort of like Lombardi holding up the football: “This is the cross,” “This is a Bible,” “This is prayer” and so on. I hope it will help you get back to the basics. The essentials of what it means to follow Jesus.

And the first, and most important mark of a Christian is this: Real Christians Believe the Real Gospel.

Scripture
Our scripture today is 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. I invite you to turn there with me now, and we’ll also put it up on the screen. 1 Corinthians 15:1-11:

1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 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. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve 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 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. 11 Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
THE Good News
This passage is all about the gospel. In verse 1, the Apostle Paul (who is writing this letter to the church in Corinth) says that he wants to “remind” us of the gospel.

Now, let me do quick word study with you. “Gospel” is a word that gets used quite a bit in church and in the Bible, but it might not be entirely clear to you what it means.

“Gospel” is a translation of the Greek word euangellion. You might recognize the word “evangelism” there. They are related. In Greek, the prefix eu- means “good.” Think of English words like “euphoria” (which means a good mood) or “euphemism” (which means a good way of saying something bad) or “euthanasia” (which means a good death.) And angellion means news or a message. You can probably see the root word “angel”, which is really a messenger. So, euangellion means good news.

In Old English, this Greek word was first translated as “God Spell” which eventually was shortened to Gospel. So, gospel means “good news.”

And in the Bible, this word gets used in two, interrelated ways. One is to talk about the story of Jesus’ life. As in: “The Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.” Essentially, you can use the word “gospel” to refer to the good news of the story of Jesus.

Or, the other way the word “gospel” will get used—and the way it is being used here in 1 Corinthians—is to talk about the essential good news in the story of Jesus: namely that Jesus died and was raised again so that sinners could be reconciled to God and forgiven of their sins. This is the core message of Christianity.

As Paul says in verse 2, it is “by this gospel you are saved.” When the Bible uses the word “gospel” then, it is referring to the essential good news by which God saves people from their sins. Gospel means good news that saves. It’s the news everyone needs to hear. The news that changes everything.

Everybody believes in some gospel. Did you know that?

Even people who don’t believe in Jesus believe in some gospel—they just might not call it that. But everybody believes in some good news that they think will save.

For example, some people believe in the gospel of medicine. They think that if we could just eradicate disease—figure out cancer and AIDS and birth defects and so on—then the world would be saved.

Other people believe in the gospel of education. If we could just teach everybody. Give them a chance to learn and develop and grow, then the world would be saved.

Other people believe in the gospel of money. If we all had enough money—and if those who have would share enough with those who have-not—then we’d all be on an even playing field and the world would be saved.

And still other people believe in the gospel of religion. Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shinto-ism, some cult. Most of these gospels boil down to effort. If you just try hard enough, and follow the right rules, then you can save yourself.

Everybody believes in some gospel. Everybody believes there is some way to make the world better, to save the world.

But Paul says there is only one gospel that actually saves. He talks about “this” gospel. The good news he preached. The good news of the Bible.

This is the Real Gospel. And all Real Christians believe it. Without it, you cannot be Christian at all.

There are two things I want you to notice about this real gospel:

Historical
First, the Real Gospel is a Reliable Gospel. It is historical and verifiable. It is grounded in fact. Look with me at verses 3-8:
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 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. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
The gospel is grounded in historical fact. The good news that saves you grows out of specific events in the life of Jesus Christ. Namely, out of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is what we celebrated last week with Good Friday and Easter.

Now, why would we be glad that Jesus died? Because of those three little words in verse 3: “for our sins.” Christ died for our sins.

Jesus’ death was not an ordinary death. It was a sacrificial death. Jesus died on the cross as substitute. He died in our place, bearing the penalty for our sins.

And since He died for our sins, we don’t have to! Do you see why this is called “good news”? It’s the best news! The biggest problem on our planet is that we are separated by our sins from God. We are in rebellion. But by His death Jesus reconciles us to God. He makes forgiveness possible.

But—and I mentioned this last week—how are we supposed to believe that somebody dying on a cross 2000 years ago has any significance for you and me?

That’s where the reliable part comes in. Paul wants us to know that there are good witnesses to this gospel.

For example, Paul mentions twice that what happened to Jesus was “according to the Scriptures.” How do you know that Jesus’ death and resurrection have anything to do with you? Check the Scriptures. See how they predict exactly what happened to Jesus.

Take Isaiah 53:

He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (v. 5-6)

That was written 800 years BEFORE Jesus was born. 800 years! The United States of America is 236 years old. Go back in time 3 ½ times that long! 800 years before Jesus and Isaiah was predicting how Jesus would die, and that He would die for our sins! Amazing!

Or, again, the truly hard thing to believe about Jesus is that He came back to life. Like I said last week, “Dead people stay dead.” So how are we supposed to believe that Jesus really walked out of His tomb?

Well, go back to our text. Paul mentions some of the eyewitnesses. He says that Jesus appeared to these people. There’s Peter, who was pretty well known by the time of this letter as the leader of the church. There’s the Twelve—meaning Jesus’ closest followers--to whom He appeared in the upper room.

Then there’s the 500. We don’t know exactly when this appearance took place, it was probably in Galilee just before the Great Commission, as described in Matthew 28. But the important thing to Paul is that most of these people were still living at the time that he wrote this. In other words, just like with Luke mentioning the names of the women last week, Paul is saying: “Go check it out! Ask these people for yourself!” If 500 people had the same facts straight in a court of law in our nation today, the evidence would be overwhelming!

And then there’s James. This would be James, the brother of Jesus, the author of the Bible book by the same name and an early leader in the church. The thing that is interesting about this is that Jesus’ family thought He was crazy. They wanted nothing to do with His ministry and really wanted to lock Him up. How do you explain James suddenly becoming a leader in the Christian movement? It can only be because his Big Brother made an unexpected, personal visit after the cross.

And the last witness Paul mentions is himself. Paul was as anti-Jesus as you could get. He was actively hunting followers of Jesus to have them imprisoned and killed when he had a roadside conversation with the risen Christ that utterly changed his world.

The point is: the gospel is factual. It is historical. It is verifiable according to the dictates of historicity. Anyone who says anything different simply doesn’t want to believe it.

And so, the first thing we need to see is that Real Christians believe that the Real Gospel is true. We have to see that this is a reliable gospel. It’s based on solid, historical evidence. There is a multiplicity of eyewitness testimony.

I’ve said before that there are two parts to believing. You have to believe “that” and you have to believe “in”. This is the believe that part. Real Christians believe that Jesus really did die for their sins, He really was dead and buried, and He really is alive again today. It’s not just a nice story. It’s not a legend or a myth or a fairy tale. It’s true.

Merciful
But there is a second thing we need to see about this gospel. The Real Gospel is a Gracious Gospel. It isn’t about what we do, but about what Jesus has done for us. Verses 9-11:
9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve 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 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. 11 Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
Paul reflects on his own life, his own conversion. And the one thing that stands out to him is that he did not deserve to be saved. Like I said, he was as anti-Jesus as they come. He was a bad man. A blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man (cf. 1 Tim. 1:13).

But salvation came to him as a gift. “By the grace of God.”

Grace is unmerited favor. It’s not getting what we deserve and getting what we don’t deserve. It’s not logical. It’s not fair. It’s not earned. It’s a gift. It’s free.

It’s grace.

And the Real Gospel is a Gospel of Grace.

You and I can’t earn our salvation. And we shouldn’t even try. So many other systems of religion are about what we do: following the rules, trying harder, being good. Even some forms of Christianity can be that way. But it doesn’t work, because you can never be good enough to earn your salvation from God. You have to receive it.

Paul says it himself, in verse 10. He says he worked hard—harder than any of the other apostles. And it’s true. Paul went on missionary journeys, he endured shipwrecks, he took stones and lashes—all this after he was a Christian—but none of that had anything to do with his salvation. He says: “yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”

It’s all by grace. Only grace.

And any gospel that is based upon any other principle than grace, is no gospel at all. Because any other gospel leads to Hell. Don’t believe another gospel!

Now, this grace changes us. It is effectual. It turned a killer into an apostle. It changed the way Paul behaved.

In the next couple of months we’re going to talk about the marks of Real Christians and what Real Christians do. And they are non-negotiables. The Lord wants them from each of us. We’re going to talk about being on a mission and loving God and loving people and so on.

But understand this as we start: none of those things take the place of the cross in our lives. None of them earn or contribute to our salvation. They are a response to God’s grace. They are born out of God’s grace. But they do not take the place of God’s grace.

Real Christians do good works, but they do them because of grace, not to earn it.

So, this is the other part of what it means to believe. I said that we need to believe that the gospel is true. We need to believe that Jesus died and was buried and rose again. But we also need to believe in. We need to trust in what Jesus has done for us and accept that there is no other way for us to be saved and receive what He offers as a gift.

Real Christians Believe in the Real Gospel which is by grace alone from first to last.

What To Do
So, in Vince Lombardi terms, Paul is saying: “This is the Gospel.”

It’s basic to Christianity.

So, real quick now, let me point out some actions steps from the text.

The first thing we need to do with the gospel is Receive it. Look back at verse 1:

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received…

They didn’t just listen and then walk away. They took it. The accepted it. They believed it.

And then, second, they took their stand on it. The rest of verse 1: “...and on which you have taken your stand.”

Have you “taken your stand” on the gospel? Have you turned away from whatever false gospel the world has fed you and taken your stand on the Real Gospel? This one?

I invite you right now, right here to put your trust in Jesus Christ and what He did on the Cross. “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures...He was buried...he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

And then, third, hold firmly to the gospel. Verse 2:

By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.

It’s like this football. Imagine the gospel is this football.

And you are a wide receiver.

Paul has thrown a perfect spiral in your direction.

You need to receive it. Don’t let it get by.

You need to plant your feet. Both feet in bounds. Take your stand on the gospel.

And you need to hold firmly to the gospel. No fumbles. No giving it up.

And then, finally, make it of first importance in your life. Verse 3:

3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance:

Make the gospel the most important thing in your life. Jesus must come first. It is only by Him and through Him and in Him that we are saved. There is no other gospel.

My friend Matt likes to says: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

The gospel is the main thing. It is the heart of Christianity.

Real Christians Believe the Real Gospel.