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. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. (1 Cor 15:1-2)
What you look through determines what you see. Read this scripture through works lenses and you will see an exhortation to “hold fast or die!” The message you get will be, “I’ve got to believe and never stop believing and never struggle, never doubt, never waver, otherwise I’m not saved.” And since faith without works is dead, you’ll tell yourself, “I have to prove my faith by producing fruit, keeping the commands, and doing everything the Bible says, or I won’t be saved.”
Don’t be fooled! This performance-oriented mindset will cause you to cut yourself off from Christ and fall from grace. You will end up trusting self and no longer continuing in the faith. I’m not saying that you will lose your salvation, but other bad things could happen to you.
In his letters, the apostle Paul gives us some of the most profound assurances of our salvation. In the passage above he is not preaching conditional salvation. He is not saying, “If you don’t believe perfectly every day of your life, you’re damned.”
The apostle of grace dedicated his life to the gospel of grace. We need to read his words, and indeed the entire Bible, through the lens of grace.
So what does it mean to believe in vain?
The context is resurrection. Paul is saying that if the gospel you hold to doesn’t reveal a resurrected Jesus, then you are believing in vain:
If Christ has not been raised from death, then we have nothing to preach and you have nothing to believe… If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins… (1 Cor 15:14,17)
Some people were saying that Jesus was dead or his resurrection was merely metaphorical. “Believe that,” said Paul, “And your faith is useless. You are believing in vain.” In contrast, the gospel that Paul preached revealed a resurrected Jesus. Look how he hammers this nail in 1 Corinthians 15:
v.4 Christ was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures
v.12 how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
v.15 we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead
v. 20 Christ has indeed been raised from the dead
Jesus is not a dead martyr, he is a living King. He’s not on the cross, he’s on the throne! It’s essential that you see this.
Salvation isn’t just for the hereafter; it’s for today. In the Bible the word for saved implies health, wholeness, and prosperity. (Yes, the p-word is actually in the Bible.) Jesus didn’t die merely to purchase your future salvation; he died so that you might share and experience his abundant life here and now.
But here’s the thing: unless you see Jesus exalted above, you’re not going experience his grace here below. If you don’t see yourself seated with Christ and reigning over your circumstances, you’ll live under your circumstances.
It all comes down to this: Who is Jesus to you? If he is merely a good teacher, a good friend, or a good Samaritan, you will never experience his resurrection power here and now. Your beliefs may bring you a measure of comfort, but if your life is essentially no different from an unbeliever’s, they are in vain.
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (1 Cor 15:19)
Christ didn’t die and rise again merely to give you hope. Hope is good but hope that never bears fruit will make you sick (Pro 13:12).
In another post I told the story of a man who battled alcoholism for 40 years. He got saved and nothing changed. The drinking continued as usual. He was believing in vain. He believed in Jesus who died, but he didn’t have a revelation of Christ who was raised:
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth… (Php 2:9-10)
Alcoholism has a name and King Jesus has a Name and one must bow to the other. When the man got this revelation, he was delivered from his addiction.
What happened to him can happen to you. The problem or illness you are battling with has a name and King Jesus has a Name. The gospel declares that his Name is greater! You don’t need to speak to Jesus about your problem – he already knows and has already provided your solution. Instead, speak to your problem about Jesus.
Grace through faith
Jesus never prayed,“God, you may know not this, but Joe here has asthma and Sally is battling with depression.” Instead he spoke to the problems and commanded them to leave. Go and do likewise.
And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name … they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well. (Mark 16:17-18)
These words of Jesus ought to be inscribed on our hearts. They are not the words of a mere teacher or a dead martyr. They are the words of One who conquered death!
I get so excited talking about Jesus the Risen King and so did Paul. Others may preach a powerless Jesus but Paul (and I) will always point you to a cheerful King who has overcome the world.
This is what we preach, and this is what you believed. (1 Cor 15:11)
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