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. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:1–4)
Here are six elements I see in that text on the gospel. If any one of these six is missing, we have no gospel.
1. The gospel is a divine plan. “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,” which were written hundreds of years before Christ died (1 Corinthians 15:3). This means God had a plan, and if he didn’t, we have no gospel — it was just a fluke of history. But it’s all written down in the Old Testament, hundreds of years before it happened, and Paul says that’s essential.
2. The gospel is not only a plan of God; it is a historical event. Christ died. Christ rose again. If that did not happen historically, so that you can see it with your physical eyes, we have no gospel. A lot of modern people try to demythologize this and just turn it into ideas. It’s not an idea. Jesus ate fish after the resurrection.
3. The gospel is a divine achievement through that event of suffering and resurrection. By achievement I mean things like he died for our sins, which we see at the end of verse 3. Christ died for our sins. There’s a design in it. There’s an accomplishment. Something is achieved in this death. It’s not a random death. God has a design. He’s accomplishing something through the historical event like:
- covering our sins (Colossians 2:14),
- removing God’s wrath (Romans 8:3),
- and purchasing eternal life (John 3:16).
These are objective achievements of an objective event, which are true whether you come into existence two thousand years later or not. This is what it means that salvation is extra nos. It’s out there. God did it in history. It’s there, it’s done, and then I get born two thousand years later.
4. The gospel is a free offer of Christ for faith, not works. Christ is offered to you for faith alone. “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). Note the two words receive and believe, just like in John 1:12: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” That’s what it is to receive the gospel. You can’t work for this. It is based on Christ alone. It is external, outside of you — achieved and accomplished two thousand years ago.
Now you’re born. You hear that news. What do you do? I’m going to start working for God so I can impress him with how morally worthy I am. You’re not, and you never get there that way. You receive it. You believe it. You embrace Jesus as your Treasure and your Lord and your Savior from all that you need saving from, and you are then saved forever. It’s an awesome gospel.
5. The gospel is an application of the achievements accomplished in history to your heart when you believe. Forgiveness of sins was purchased once and applied now. All your sins are forgiven when you believe. Justification: You aren’t justified when Jesus died. You’re justified when you believe, when it becomes yours. Then the purchase of the justification and the performance of the righteousness two thousand years ago is applied. That’s why I’m using the word application. It’s applied to you. Or eternal life: You didn’t have eternal life when Jesus died. You have eternal life when you believe. And then what he bought out there, what he wrought out there, becomes yours through the connection with Jesus through faith. So the gospel is the application to believers of all that he purchased and achieved two thousand years ago.
6. The gospel is the enjoyment of fellowship with God himself. Now if you ask, “Where do you see that?” Well, I see it outside 1 Corinthians 15:1–3, but where I see it inside this text is in the word gospel. Gospel means good news, right? So you have to ask what’s good about the good news? And if you stop after “My sins are forgiven” or “I’m vindicated in the court and can go free and I have life forever,” and don’t even mention God, that’s serious.
Do you know why you’re forgiven? So that your guilt won’t get in the way of enjoying God. Do you know why you’re vindicated in the court of heaven? So that your condemnation won’t get in the way of enjoying God. Do you know why you have new life and the promise of a new body someday? So that you have capacities within to finally enjoy God the way he ought to be enjoyed. It’s all a means to number six, and if you want to know where I see it explicitly in the Bible, the clearest text is 1 Peter 3:18: “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”
So I would say Romans 5:11 and 1 Peter 3:18 are the clearest statements in the New Testament concerning God himself being the prize of the price of the gospel.
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