The Gospel and Resurrection

Recently, in our apologetics series in Friday night youth group, we went over the importance of the Resurrection. When it comes to apologetics and the resurrection, it’s often a matter of marshaling the textual and historical evidence to support the bodily resurrection of Jesus. As I studied Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 15, however, I was struck, not by any evidence that Paul gives, but by the central place that the Resurrection takes in his preaching. For Paul, the Gospel culminates in Christ’s Resurrection, and that has profound implications for present life, here-and-now. Here’s what I mean:

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. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2 ESV)

Paul promises to sum up the Gospel, the good news in which we are being saved. I think it’s important to pay attention to what he says here, lest we become deceived by all the other “gospels” out there (e.g. prosperity gospel, self-help gospel, etc). Well, let’s see what Paul says:

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.
(1 Corinthians 15:3-5 ESV)

This message should be familiar to evangelical Christians. Jesus Messiah, the perfect, spotless Lamb of God, died for our sins, taking the punishment of death on our behalf. God, however, did not abandon His Son to death, but raised Him on the third day. For many Christians, it’s easy to be too familiar with this message, to take it for granted. So let’s try to pay more attention to what Paul is saying here.

First, a preliminary remark: I know sometimes I tend to think of the death of Christ as the “main event,” so to speak. I mean, that’s where the action happens, right? That’s where my sins get forgiven so I can go to heaven when I die, right? Thus, the resurrection becomes more of an afterthought. It’s the thing that proved that everything worked out in the end…or something like that.Well, of course, the whole thing – Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection – is the Gospel, and it could be foolish for us to try to divide it up. I do think, however, that my way of thinking of the death as the “main event” may be a little misleading, and here’s why. In chapter 15, Paul wants to draw special attention to the Resurrection, and for good reason. Take a look:

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. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
(1 Corinthians 15:6-8 ESV)

Paul continues to emphasize that Jesus appeared to people after his death. In other words, Jesus is alive again, and He still lives. Paul goes on to expand upon this theme in verse 12: Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

So to recap, here’s the Gospel: Christ is not just proclaimed as dead, but as raised from from the dead! Now, why is this so important to Paul? Why all the emphasis on Christ’s resurrection and appearance?

A bit of context will help us here. As we can see from verse 12, there were some in the Corinthian church who didn’t believe in a bodily resurrection. Instead, they (likely) thought of the resurrection in quasi-spiritual terms. The “resurrection” (if there is one) is some ghostly, disembodied state. The conclusion that they drew from this was that it didn’t matter what you did with your earthly body, since it would be destroyed anyway. As a result you have people in the Corinthian church indulging in all sorts of immorality (i.e., the kind that you find in the earlier chapters of 1 Corinthians). The way that Paul fixes this is by pointing to the reality of resurrection.

First, Paul lays out the negative side. If it’s true that there is no bodily resurrection, then it’s also true that Christ wasn’t raised from the dead (vs 13). And if that is true, then the game’s up. This whole Christianity thing is one huge mistake. Preaching and faith is in vain (vs 14). We’re lying about God (vs 15). We’re still in our sins (vs 17). In fact, says Paul, if there’s no resurrection, then Christians are of all people most to be pitied!

You might think that last statement is an over-exaggeration by Paul. After all, people are wrong about things all the time. But Paul knows his Old Testament. He knows that, since the Fall, God’s plan and purpose has been to save a fallen world. Now, if there’s no resurrection and if Jesus isn’t raised, that means death isn’t destroyed. If that’s the case, then Jesus isn’t Lord. Death is. Death is the final master, the ultimate reality. In other words, the problem of sin, suffering and death has not been solved. Everything that’s wrong about the world is still wrong. It doesn’t matter what we do to try to fix it, because in the end, we will still die. To quote verse 32, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

Thankfully, it doesn’t end there, for Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead. Paul continues:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

(1 Corinthians 15:20)

What are firstfruits? Quite simply, they are the first of the fruits gathered at the harvest. In other words, Paul is saying that Christ is the first of the new humanity. In fact, he is the first of the New Creation. God’s plan to restore and save the world has come to its fulfillment, and the firstfruits, the forerunner, is the man Jesus Christ. Furthermore, those who belong to Christ will also be raised like him (vs 22-23). That is, in the same way that Christ was raised, we will be raised too. That’s why the resurrection is so important. If Christ didn’t rise from the dead, then neither will we.

Notice that Paul is speaking of a bodily, physical resurrection. As evangelicals, many times what we look forward to after death is “going to heaven,” where by heaven, we mean some disembodied, spiritual existence with God. However, when we look in the Bible, the New Testament writers are consistently looking forward to the bodily Resurrection. The real goal, the real focus is the resurrection – not just a spiritual resurrection, but a resurrection in which we receive glorified and immortal bodies.

Here’s where the rubber meets the road: what we do in this life matters. Because Jesus is alive, because he has conquered death, our lives are going to be radically different. So says Paul, “Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning” (15:34). The life we live now is lived in anticipation of the resurrection. Or even better yet: in the present, here and now, our calling is to learn to live the kind of life that will “characterize God’s new creation” (to quote NT Wright). That’s why we do the things we do as Christians. It’s not just an arbitrary system of rules. Being a Christian is nothing less than getting a head start on the New Life. You don’t have to wait until after death to start living eternal life. Being a Christian means you’ve died with Christ, but you’re also been raised with him. Eternal life starts now.

So again, let us listen to Paul’s exhortation to wake up. Let put away those petty sins that we think will satisfy us. Stop messing around with drunkenness, lust, pride, envy, and malice. Let us put away the things that the world values – status, wealth, comfort – and start pursuing love, justice, mercy. That’s why the fact of the resurrection is so important to us as Christians. It’s not just about getting it right or wrong. If Christ really rose from the dead, then those of us who belong to him get to share in the same resurrected life now. If Jesus didn’t rise, then we’re not just making an intellectual mistake; rather, we’ve lost the basis for the entire Christian life.

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Assurance in God’s Faithfulness

Hebrews 10:23

Last Sunday, our Sunday school topic brought us to the topic of assurance of salvation. Assurance (along with predestination) seems to be a perennial favorite when it comes to hot topics for debates within evangelical circles. Is it possible to lose your salvation? Once saved always saved?

In the following post, I won’t be offering my own position about whether one can lose salvation. Instead, I’ll offer some reflections that developed out of our Sunday school, which will hopefully encourage us to think about the topic of assurance from a different angle.

There seems to be two ways of framing the question of assurance. One may ask, “Am I really saved? How do I really know? Was my conversion genuine?” On the other hand, one may ask, “What does God promise when it comes to salvation? How is God going to be faithful to his promise to save his people? How do we know that He is going to be faithful?”

Notice that the first way of framing the question is focused on the self and his/her individual state, whereas the second way of framing the question puts the focus on God and His work. When it comes to assurance and our day to day conversations with each other, it seems to me that we have become preoccupied with the first way of thinking about assurance at the expense of the second (and, I think, more biblical) way of thinking about it.

Consider the narrative arc of the Bible. God makes a promise to Abraham that He will bless all the nations through his seed. Thus, the nation of Israel is born, as God calls his “son” out of Egypt (who does that sound like?) and brings the Israelites to the Promised Land. Sadly, after the golden age of David, Israel falls into sin and is eventually forced into exile. At this point, the nation of Israel is effectively gone; it seems that God’s promise to bless all people through Abraham’s descendants has been made void. For an Israelite, the question is, “Where is God? How is He going to be faithful to His promises?”

The good news of the Gospel is that God has proven Himself faithful by sending His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Christ is the faithful and obedient son to the point of death, even death on a cross. And it is through Christ that the blessing of salvation finally passes to all the nations. He has conquered sin and death, and we know that if we have died with Him, then we will also be raised with Him. He is the one in whom God’s promises have been fulfilled.

So when it comes to the issue of assurance of personal salvation, the main way that the Bible encourages us to think about the issue is to look to Christ. A practical implication of this is that we should spend less time analyzing ourselves and more time in praying and reading the Word. Now, there is certainly a time and a place for introspection, and perhaps some folk really must ask whether they have genuinely accepted Christ in faith. Still, the ultimate ground of assurance rests in Christ. Our assurance of salvation should never be dependent upon our own assessment of our status before God. Instead, we must turn to Christ and be found in Him and in Him alone.

Somebody call 9-1-1

Galatians 1:3-5

A few weeks ago, our young adult group started studying the book of Galatians. As we studied the introduction of Paul’s letter, I was reminded of my desperate need for Christ.

Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches differs from the letters that he penned to the other churches he planted. He doesn’t open the letter with words of commendation. That is because the issue that has plagued the Galatians is a serious one. They had allowed themselves to be persuaded by false teachers to put aside the gospel that Paul had preached to them for another message. One that emphasized their own works.

Paul responds to this false teaching with the letter to the Galatians. And his response is rather stern. If we were to simplify his message in as few words as possible it might look something like this: “Christ alone plus nothing more”. As Paul opens his letter, he wastes no time reminding the Galatians of Christ’s all-sufficient death on the cross.

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen.

In these first few verses, the word “rescue” stands out. A rescue implies that there is something dangerous which someone needs to be delivered away from. That danger exists whether or not that person acknowledges their need to be rescued. The need is real.

A rescue is also much more than just a helping hand to assist someone from a sticky situation. This is not some sort of 50/50 deal that stipulates the need for someone to go a certain distance so that they can be carried the remainder of the way. The need is wholly and completely met by Christ.

According to the scriptures, we are the ones in need of rescue. He gave Himself for our sins (Gal. 1:4). Our sins which lead us to pride, lust, selfish ambition, idolatry, hate, and envy. Yet while we were still sinners God sent His son to die for us (Rom. 5:8). This rescue was not some sort of distant effort coordinated from afar. It was by God’s will and His plan that Christ came to live, to die, and to rise again for our sins. We are the object of this rescue. 

However even though I may have been rescued from sin, something inside me always gets caught in a cycle of trying to do things which at their roots are really just seeking to earn favor in the sight of others. If I have been rescued, I am no longer enslaved by the need for approval from others. The approval of man is of temporary value. Being rescued from sin I have the approval of God because of my faith in Christ and what He did for me. I need to stop relying on myself. I need to stop thinking that I need to do something. I desperately need Christ. Jesus Christ came to rescue you and I.

Realize the need, receive His grace through faith in Christ, remember that it is a rescue, and rely on Christ plus nothing more.

Though my sins once separated me from God, they have been paid for by the finished work of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. Through faith in Christ I have been rescued from being enslaved to the destructive nature of sin; this present evil age. That is good news. That is the gospel.

20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. -Eph. 3:20-21

Doxology

Philippians 4:20

Every week in Thousand Oaks a group of young adults meet to study the word and pray with one another. We jokingly named ourselves “Semi Pro” two years ago. How God brought us together and how he has grown and challenged us is an encouraging story I enjoy telling to whoever will listen. But that is something I’ll save for another post.

This past week we finished our series on the book of Philippians. As we stepped through Paul’s letter verse by verse, we came across verses that many of us are familiar with.

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. – Phil. 1:21

7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord… – Phil. 3:7-8

12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of byChrist Jesus. – Phil. 3:12

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Phil. 4:4-7

The book of Philippians, like many other epistles, is rich with memorable verses like these. We underline them in our Bibles, and commit them to memory. They become the “meat” of the book and everything else around it becomes some sort of “filler”. As I prepared for our final study, I struggled with the last set of verses. They read:

20 Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you.22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.

23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Should I have just bundled Philippians 4:20-23 with the previous study? Verse 20 sounded great, but it almost seemed like it was randomly inserted in the letter. We find other similar verses “plopped” into some of Paul’s other letters:

33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? 35 Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN?36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. -Rom. 11:33-36

20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. -Eph. 3:20-21

These all fall into the category of “doxology”. Whenever I used hear the word doxology I thought a song in a hymn book. It was something I remembered singing at the end of a church service. Lots of words that I didn’t ever bother thinking twice about. Words sang to a melody without an understanding of the reason why it was being sung.

So what is doxology? It literally means word of glory. It is words that offer praise to God. When we look at these examples, we find that each of these follows after Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has penned truths about God.

In the example from Philippians chapter 4, Paul explodes into doxology after the statement that HIS God will supply all needs. This is not a distant God that he has heard a thing or two about. This is HIS God. The God who turned a murderer into a missionary on the road to Damascus. The God who demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, sent Christ to die for us (Rom. 5:8). This is the God that Paul knows intimately. This is HIS God. And at this point Paul is absolutely confident. There is no condition. He does not say, “If you do this; if you do that; if you make sure you follow this”. He says, “You are His. He will supply all your needs.” Everything in his letter to the Philippians has been building up to this. Christ is my life (chapter 1), Christ is my example (chapter 2), Christ is my goal and prize (chapter 3). And as he instructs them on how to stand firm in the Lord and how to be content he finds the truth to be so overwhelming that he just can’t stop himself from praising God.

But where many of us find ourselves is at a point of frustration because we constantly let God down. We don’t measure up to His expectations. We must be “doing it wrong”, because we don’t skip down the road reciting doxologies like Paul.

When my life “lacks doxology”, I’ve forgotten the very truth of the gospel. Instead of a thankful heart in light of the gift of the cross, I try to “fix the situation” by doing this, doing that.

George Herbert wrote,

“Thou that hast given so much to me give one thing more, a grateful heart. Not thankful when it pleases me as if thy blessings had some spare days, but such a heart who’s pulse may be thy praise.”

I need to be reminded of the truth throughout each and every day. The truth that I am a sinner and that my sin demands payment. The truth that I cannot pay this debt alone. The truth that it is by grace I am saved, through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection on the cross. The same truth that lead Paul to a real and authentic worship of our God.

Don’t get distracted trying to create an appearance of a worshipful life. Don’t only focus on the fruit. Saturate yourself in the truth. Spend time making sure that the water which feeds the tree is pure. The writer of Psalm 1 understood this:

2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
3 He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither; -Psalm 1:2-3

And so what we find at the end of the book of Philippians deserves our attention. It’s a heartfelt response to the truth. There is no filler in the Bible.

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. -2 Tim. 3:16-17

Jesus came to die

Merry Christmas from all of us at TemporaryVisitors

None of us chose to be born. It just kind of happened. Similarly none of us chooses to die. In fact, many of us would choose to live forever if given the choice.

This Christmas be reminded of Jesus, the only person who chose both to be born and to die. And not only that, but He rose from dead in victory over sin. And He did it for you and I.

But who is He and why did He choose these things? Whether this is a first time introduction or if this sounds like something you have already heard, I encourage you to read on.

Who is Jesus?
The Son of God who saves us from the penalty of our sins and restores our relationship with God the Father.

What did He do?
God chose to send his Son Jesus to live a sinless life among man and to die for us. In Matthew 18:11 Jesus says that, “the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.” God’s love for His people is further elaborated on in the verses that follow immediately after that statement: “What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.” The apostle Paul in his letter to Timothy says that “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.”

Why did He die?
So that our sins may be forgiven. If we pause to think about it, we are all sinful. And our sin demands payment, one we could not pay on our own. But God sent Jesus to die for us so that our sins may be forgiven, what we know as grace. Romans 5:6-8 reminds us that, “while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” He chose to be born and to die so that you and I would know Him, be made whole in Him, and make Him known. He is, according to Hebrews 12:2, “the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross.”

Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” If you have placed your faith in Christ, Romans 5:1-5 says that we have been “justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

While we may have spent the past week worrying about what to get others or felt a bit down thinking about what others have that we do not have, let’s not forget that the greatest gift to man came to earth to live and to die for you and I.

Joy to world, the Lord has come. Let earth receive Her King.

As you look forward to 2012, focus on Jesus, “the author and perfecter of faith” and “let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”

Merry Christmas and happy new year,

Bryan