In 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul addresses the problem of the church at Corinth which is being disrupted by some people in the church who deny the resurrection of Jesus Christ; and the resurrection of all believers being denied, impugned, or ridiculed. So Paul wants to share with them again the basic Kerygma model of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe this is the basic or bare-bones minimums of salvation. In verses 3-4, Paul presents the Gospel in a bulleted form – “…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,…”, as a reaction to those who deny the resurrection. These are the basic criteria about the Lord Jesus Christ which Paul preached to them which they received, and wherein they also stand (cf. vs. 1). Interestingly, the word ‘received’ in verse 1 and verse 3, in Jewish circles, meant ‘passing on of a tradition’. Now Paul is telling us about the gospel that he received. Now, where did Paul receive elements of the Gospel?
I think there are several sources. Number one: if you look at Paul’s conversion that’s recorded in Acts 9, 22 and, 26, Paul was persecuting the church, killing Christians. He was really tearing the church up. Those Christians who were dying would have witnessed to him. Paul heard some of these truths from the very people he was persecuting. Paul in Acts Chapter 7 called Saul of Tarsus then, held the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen. Stephen of course preached in the temple, and the Jews got so mad they dragged him outside and stoned him on the spot. And Paul heard that sermon of Stephen. Another source in Acts 9, Jesus appears to Paul on the road to Damascus and asks him “why are you persecuting Me”, and Paul of course is struck blind, and Ananias a lay person, never read a theology book, laid hands on Paul, and Paul was healed. Ananias tells him about the Gospel, and then Paul begins to preach. In Galatians 1:11-12, Jesus Himself revealed the Gospel to Paul. So Paul was saying that the Gospel was passed on to him and he responded to it. “…in which also you stand,..” – this is a good parallel of Romans 5:2. I would call this positional Christianity. I think we are in Jesus Christ once we trust Him. This same truth about Abraham when he believed God, it was counted to him as his righteousness (cf. Gen. 15:6); imputed righteousness. Imputed is an accounting word which has the idea of God’s righteousness was placed on our bank account. We are righteous because we are in Christ. We are holy because Christ’s holiness is imputed on our account. So, I’m holy because I’m in Him now. That’s the positional aspect of justification by faith. Now because I’m holy on account of the fact that I’m in Christ, the Bible calls on me to live holy > that’s the progressive aspect. The possessing my position aspect. I’m called to be what i already am. Another way of illustrating this is, let’s think of the Christian life as a race. When i trust Jesus Christ, I’ve already won the race, the trophy is on the shelf. I’ve won because I’m in Him. Now because I’ve won, I’m called to run for Him. The thing is, i don’t run to get the trophy. I have the trophy because I’m in Him. I run because I have the trophy and i run because I’m part of the family. I run to please my Father. I don’t run to get anything. So i stand in the Gospel, i am accepted in Christ.
“…by which you are being saved…(vs. 2) – If you’ll look at the verb tenses in the New Testament to describe salvation, sometimes it is past and complete. Sometimes it’s present, ‘being saved’, and sometimes it’s future. Therefore i submit to you that none of us are completely saved yet. We’re not fully saved until we see Him, and are changed into His likeness (cf. 1 John 3:2). I believe that there is a point at which we receive the Gospel. There must be a time where you ask God to forgive you, and to save you. There is a point, and then there is a process, that’s what it is about being saved.
“…if you hold firmly to the message…” – this is a first class conditional statement (assumed to be true) meaning “…since you hold firmly to the message…”. What message? That the Messiah died for our sin according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, and was raised on the 3rd day according to the Scriptures (i.e. vs. 3 & 4). The resurrection is not an option in Biblical Christianity. If Christ’s resurrection is a sham, we’re the biggest fools the world has ever known. The resurrection is not something you can fudge on. If the resurrection is false, Christianity is false. But if the resurrection is true, Christianity is true, and there is no middle ground.
That Jesus Christ died for our sins; that He was buried; that he resurrected on the 3rd day are the core beliefs of historical Christianity that we must go back to again and again. These are the essential truths that we must rally behind, and be united about, and even willingly die for.