Believing in vain (1 Corinthians 15:2)

empty tomb“How do I know if my belief in Christ is in vain?” When a reader asked me this question recently, she was referring to Paul’s warning here:

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.

lazarus cartoonBy this gospel you are saved

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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42 Comments on Believing in vain (1 Corinthians 15:2)

  1. Wow! I have heard Philippians 2:9-10 preached before by Joseph Prince but as I read this post it again gave me a fresh revelation of who Jesus is. Thank you Pastor Paul!

  2. Earl Hendricks // February 12, 2015 at 2:49 am // Reply

    I can’t thank you enough for this posting!

  3. So encouraging! Thank you for keeping the words of life flowing from heaven. You can put me in there with you and Paul (T.) any day! I’m just a puppy… But I so do want to run with the big dogs! I guess I’ll have to change my name to keep up😎

  4. Thank you for the post!

  5. pretty amazing especially ”… paul (and I) will always point you to a cheerful King who has overcome the world” . This is really the goodnews about Jesus. So much for the ‘ grace disco’. Stay blessed chap.

  6. Not so sure about the prosperity part here you mentioned. I am sure to have riches here on earth is a distraction to truth over error is it not? I am not saying to be poor on purpose either, yet if I am does this post mean I am in error,. does not the enemy here on earth fight to have control over us in giving riches here on earth, which can cause one to think they are doing right by God, when might not be?
    what would be your take on this please?

    • Under the law, poverty was part of the curses for disobedience. If you are poor it doesn’t mean you are in error or are sinful or anything like that. Like any good parent, God wants to see his children prosper in life.

      • Thank you fro that clear concise truth, to be content in all things is what I see Paul state in his epistles as well as James and Peter also. To live above circumstances her eon earth is not always easy to do. yet able to do so is worth it, is what I see, again thank you, for the truth in god unconditional love t all

  7. Wow! This entry opened my eyes even wider to the power of the resurrection! It is a powerful image to see myself sitting with the exalted Jesus and looking at my life on earth. What do I see? I am loved, adored even by Jesus and the Father. Because of receiving the gift of faith I am righteous and holy, a light in the darkness, just like He is. Jesus is sad when I’m sad, and laughs when I laugh. He grieves when I sin, which is like me picking up some of the filth of the world and spreading it around on myself and others, because He knows it will hurt me. But when I read His Word, it is like taking a bath in Living Water once again revealing the gleaming beauty of the robe of righteousness. From this perspective, nothing can come between me and Jesus and all the promises of the Father!.
    I have lost faithful loved ones to alcoholism, and I wish they had had this perspective on reigning over their circumstances.

  8. I just came across your site and find it very similar to Creflo Dollar’s teaching. Personally, Creflo’s teaching of the Grace Gospel has really helped me overcome a great deal over the last few years.

    I would just say this to your post above. Problems don’t go away immediately. Trusting in Jesus and the renewing of the mind takes time. I would just encourage people that are dealing with something to never lose that trust no matter how hard things seem at times. Have Patience and trust that things will get better as time goes by in somewhat of a roller coaster type fashion. The lows don’t get as low and the high’s get higher as time goes by. Trusting in the Love and Forgiveness of God the Father thru Jesus Christ is key.

  9. So so excellent Paul!
    Thank you for unravelling all these texts!

  10. Patrick Mooney // February 12, 2015 at 9:44 am // Reply

    That is so great. Thanks for putting it so clearly

  11. Hallelujah! Thanks for reminding me. We need reminders daily because we can get so caught up in life. This article made me shout and dance. To God be the Glory. Thanks Paul.


  13. well said Paul, it for me always seems to boil down to the same simple question..” HOW SAVED ARE YOU OR HOW SAVED DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?’

  14. This is so good. Thank you Paul. 🙂

  15. Amen brother Paul!!

  16. Believing in Jesus,s resurrection is only the beginning of not believing in vain , if you still do not believe in your own ressurection not to come but an event that has already happened I would have to say you still believe in vain.

  17. Being changed in an instant is not the same as being ressurected, Jesus was ressurected and he still bore all the marks of the flesh but they had no affect on him.

    • For it is not of the flesh it is of the Spirit of God that we are saved, thank you fro that insight I see this Amen

      • Hi Homwardbound
        Many institutional churches (I use this term to distinguish from the true church body), will quote this as well; yet these same leaders will still feed the flesh. Be thankful for the institutions that focus on the Gospel exclusively. Always be on guard.

        That said, congratulations and spread the Word :).

      • Thank you as God leads not me

  18. Work to maintain salvation is no more than a device used to deny the ressurection, it is nothing less than this.It destroys the power of the Gospel.

  19. Like the illustration Paul, what were the bet, that lazarus was alive and not dead I would guess.

  20. I have to be one who disagrees with you. I see that what you are saying is we must believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and if we fail to believe in the resurrection then our faith in Jesus is in vain. I know of no person who does not include the resurrection of Jesus in their faith. So you are saying that all these are saved and their faith is not in vain.
    They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. (Luke 8:13)
    But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end. (Heb 3:6)
    Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. (Rom 11:22)
    I could fill many pages with scriptures like this. How can a preacher say that this merely means you will lose your rewards, not your salvation?
    There must be something different that we are not being taught because of the fear of speaking against the “once saved always saved” doctrine.

    • So, what are you insinuating here bro donald, cause only the first few lines of your comment relates to the topic, the rest just seem off the point, and i suggest you read the whole chapter before nailing brother paul to the cross. No hard feelings…

    • I can assure you that the full measure of Gods goodness can not be lost , it is just that good that by its very nature it is irreversabile it is unfortunate that you seem not to have found it, continue searchimg my friend. As for me I will dwell in the Lords house forever.

    • If you understood what it meant to include the ressurection of Jesus in your faith you would not doubt as you do.You say it is part of your faith, in another place Jesus says as he is so are we now.

    • Donald, Paul Ellis is referring to the context that Paul the apostle was writing in when he was speaking of believing in vain. In Context he says that if you take the resurrection out of your faith then there is no power and your belief is in vain.

      In the worldwide church, I haven’t noticed any fear of speaking against the “once saved always saved” doctrine. Maybe in your particular home church they believe in once saved always saved and you are experiencing a level of fear. But in truth I wouldn’t know. But what I do know is what is really causing fear in your life is the insecurity of not knowing that you were saved for eternity. I do believe that you could fill up pages listing scriptures that seem to talk about losing your salvation. Anyone who has read the Scriptures for any length of time sees these same scriptures. The problem is not that the Scriptures are in the Bible. The problem is ALL the other scriptures you have to ignore to believe you can lose your salvation! You believe you are wise in finding a balance between all these Scriptures. In doing this you rob the gospel of its power in your life! Paul makes it very clear in Galatians 1, that if anyone tries to alter the gospel from its purity, his life will not experience the fullness of the resurrection power. He goes so far as to say that that if anyone at the highest level of authority comes to you with anything added to the purity of the gospel do not listen to them. He even says, if he or another apostle comes, Don’t listen to them or me, if they’re bringing a different gospel! Paul the apostle gives you permission, Donald to put aside all these other passages and focus in on the message of the gospel! If you decide to do this, please be prepared to experience incredible joy,eternal security, peace and rest from trying to perform for men and your father. Once the foundation of the gospel is laid solidly in your life these other scriptures can be explained just like you try to explain now the scriptures that speak of security in Jesus with eternal life. So the real issue is a firm foundation of the gospel with Jesus as the centerpiece!

      • Donald
        Hi man
        Do you think you have eternal security?
        When you are certain of this everything else becomes clear.
        To be certain of this you need to know how much Jesus loves you and how His death, resurrection and life in you has restored you.
        He won’t and you can’t unrestore yourself.
        Only believe.
        Grace & peace.

    • Bro donald, if you believe that we are all sinners, that is because of one man’s disobedience (Rom 5:19), that’s because of Adam. But if you continue reading that verse it says, by the obedience of one (Jesus) many shall be made righteous. Because of His obedience to the Father’s will at the cross he cleansed us and give us a gift of righteousness (Rom 5:17). No man can undo what our Jesus did for us. He is righteous and so we are in this world (1 John 4:17). Thanks be to God! God bless us with His grace.

  21. What does the scripture “Faith wihout works is dead faith really mean?

  22. Paul, congratulations on the numbers! As you know, God is so good to you!😎I know the message in the book rocked my world! In the near future I would like to send something to you to read, and get your input on it whether or not it should be published. If you don’t mind giving me some pointers?

  23. I was inspired by this piece and the one from Dec 12th, 2012 (that you provided a link to) to say this prayer over my life. I hope it blesses others.

    Addiction (or illness), you have a strong grip on me but the Lord Jesus is stronger still. I cannot defeat you in my strength, but let me tell you about Jesus my God at whose name every knee shall bow, including yours.

    My Jesus is powerful, he can move mountain, keep me in the valley, hide me from the rain. He is awesome, today I am 100% forgiven, his strength is why I am living and I praise his Holy Name. I confess today that I have the heart of Christ in me, I have the mind of Christ in me, I have the strength of Christ in me, I have the peace of Christ in me and I have the power of Christ over you in me!

    You’re an uninvited guest in this most awesome, sanctified, glorified, redeemed body and mind. There’s no room for you in my life, in my house, in my future or past and I literally don’t have time for you. Christ was resurrected to destroy your power over me so you need to submit to that power right now and fwoop – dissipate into nothingness.

    I am delivered and righteous and whole. I am 100% perfect. Jesus has given you the marching orders and I bid thee farewell. Your company has been awful and you have led me to dark places but no more. I declare, right now, that I am free of your grip. I am FREE. I was always free!

    I take hold of my inheritance in Christ who has given me authority over you and your kind. No weapon formed against me and mine will prosper. My mind is occupied with things above, not below. I am filled with awesome and superb ideas, and the strength to make them come to pass. I am confident, sharp and not distracted. I am trustworthy and adequate in all that I undertake. I am hardworking and dependable. I am a pleasure to be around and I give life to everyone I encounter. I encourage those who are broken and help those who need me. I am faithful to my wife and I breathe life into her spirit when I am with her or far from her. I am non-judgemental and I am gracious to those who need to encounter Christ. I am sensitive to the Holy Spirit and I am at peace at all time. He is my anchor and my fortress, my God in whom I trust. I am not afraid, I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Grace and I am living an abundant life. Every step I take is the right step because he, the Holy Spirit, is my rudder. I am successful and I move from glory to glory. I am ridiculously blessed! I can declare this only boldly because I am a child of God and a co-heir with Christ. Alone, I am nothing but I am not alone – the same Jesus who was resurrected literally resides in me! That means there’s nothing I cannot do. I can move mountains! You’re a mountain. So MOVE!

    In Jesus mighty powerful and liberating name! Amen.


  24. I just found your site and really enjoy reading the article’s.

  25. When we believe to be saved, do we need to confess Jesus as Lord? Grace gospels in the internet seems not to make the lordship issue clear.

    • There is nothing in scripture that says we need to declare that Jesus is our master, which is basically what the lordship thing is. Jesus is our Lord by default once we come to Him in faith. We do not need to make a special verbalization of the fact to become saved, stay saved or to “prove” our dedication to God.

      • This might seem like a simple question, but what do you mean “come to Him in faith”?
        I know you posted his months back already and might never see this, but coming to God in faith is….?
        Believing that God can change you right there and right now?
        What is this faith? In my mind it could mean a million things, but there is only one answer.
        Faith just seems so unspecific/vague by what it means.

  26. Ibipntak U // June 11, 2015 at 7:34 pm // Reply

    Greetings to my brothers and sisters here, and especially to Dr. Paul, which by our Lords grace help people like me when I was doomed. Ok, last night I was so depressed to point of feeling hopeless in Christ,though the our lord Jesus Christ got me out of my addiction, and ever since, I had been trying to live a Holy life; which unfortunately caught up with me. I surfed through the internet, plus studying the bible, but to no avail. Anyway, straight to the point, the thing is that, I stumbled on these article, and it made wonders to me. All my life I’ve been bitter and in pain, not realizing that Jesus died, conquered death, which only for us to believe in him, and not trying to live by the laws. NOTE: Just BELIEVE, then love God as you can, and your neighbor as yourself( that is my will), I’m not preaching. But just believe your sins has been forgiven cos he died for us on the cross, then resurrected. NOW, that is hope.

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