Our theme of recent weeks continues…
‘Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospeI 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.’ In other words, unless your faith was never really placed in the person and finished work of Jesus. In vain, your trust has been misplaced. ‘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.’ 1 Cor. 15:1-4 (ESV)
FIRST IMPORTANCE – THE CROSS OF CHRIST
Now, before we go on I want to be able to wrap some context around what is being said here. This is the apostle of grace writing a reminder message to a church of seasoned Christians. This is not a letter to new believers because this letter to Corinth comes way after his first visit there. Three visits Paul made, four letters he wrote, only two of them made it into the Bible – this over a span of some 20 years. His first visit was for a year and a half. It wasn’t like one of those conferences where you fly in, preach a message, and fly out. Oh no, Paul was the message in and among the people. The grace which he had received had become his expression, “I delivered to you that which I first received.”
Until it is received it cannot be given. Everything that Paul expressed was the result of what he had first experienced in the person and finished work of Jesus Christ. So this letter is to seasoned believers – hard working church attending Christians. So in the context of what I have just told you can I read that again?
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospeI preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 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.’ There is never going to be a time in your Christian life where what is of first importance becomes of second importance, third, fourth or fifth importance. 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.’
GOOD NEWS – THE CROSS OF CHRIST
What is the essence of this gospel? Gospel means “good news.” We must keep qualifying these words. Good news here means news that was so radically awesome it was hard to believe. Why was it hard to believe? No one had experienced the kind of love that they had been exposed to and experienced in Jesus coming and dying in our place. That is unbelievable, but you better believe it. Jesus didn’t just die for sinners he died for enemies. That’s shocking love. The message of first importance is that Jesus died for our sins. Why are we sin conscious? I’ll tell you why, because we have departed from first importance.
THE POWER OF GOD – THE CROSS OF CHRIST
The death, the burial and the resurrection of Jesus Christ has been so quickly departed from. As a result the church has no power. How do you know? I’ll let Paul answer himself in the same letter…
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel – the good news, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 18 For the word of the cross is folly – it is of little interest – to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Cor. 1:17-18 (ESV)
The cross is not a message about God’s power – the word of the cross IS God’s power. The moment you depart from the cross you are in human energy – human power – human wisdom. The magnitude of the cross as God’s solution reflects the magnitude of our problem before the cross of Christ came. The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ – we call it redemption – right there in that emphatic, once-for-all-work, all our sins were forgiven. Not only were sins forgiven but we were delivered from the principle of sin within, and through the resurrection and the new birth (which you experienced when you believed into Jesus), imparted to you is the righteousness of God himself. The power of God operates within the parameters of the cross. That is where the Holy Spirit has his latitude.
The Holy Spirit was given to us to remind us – to bring back to our memory – to convince and convict us, not of sin but of forgiveness, deliverance, righteousness and justification, out of which we have peace, out of which we have joy. And the joy of the Lord is the strength of the new creation in Christ Jesus. That is why there are a lot of Christians with no joy, yet they are praising while on the inside fundamentally sad, empty, worried, disillusioned, anxious, nervous, stressed, why? No joy. They are suffering within. Why? A departure from the message of first importance. So instead of yielding fruit of what they already are they are in works of the flesh. Human effort. The apostle Paul here, in his message to this seasoned church is saying brothers, let me bring back to your memory what I first delivered to you as of first importance – THE FINISHED WORK OF THE CROSS. We should never depart from it.
Yet in the pursuit of ‘Christian maturity’ it becomes the first thing we depart from. You rarely hear a message about Jesus and what the cross has accomplished. It is all about “do, do, do” instead of “done, done, done!” Jesus did not invite us unto employment, he invited us into his rest. And out of the rest of God the fruit of God manifests of its own self in our lives. Amen. But the carnal mind really struggles to grasp that concept doesn’t it, because we have all been preconditioned to perform to be accepted and to work to be rewarded. So we are chasing blessings all over the place not realising that as the apostle himself says in his introduction, we are blessed with every blessing there is to be had. (Eph. 1:3)
So then Richie, all of the dramas in our lives, where do they come from? Well let me tell you fundamentally they come from taking an old creation mindset and trying to apply it to a new creation reality. It doesn’t fit. So there’s confusion. Which is why repentance – ‘metanoia’ – means simply to think what God thinks – to take God at his word. So what does he say? He says he made him who knew no sin to become sin so you could be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor 5:21). So you should NEVER feel unrighteous. Never. Meaning you should NEVER feel condemned. Never.
Yet condemnation is alive and well on the religious landscape isn’t it? And what is the outcome of condemnation? Fear. We were not designed to harbor fear and guilt. Why? Because you are a love creation born of the cross and the first thing perfect love casts out is fear. (1 Jn. 4:18) But where does fear come from? The expectation of punishment. Where does that expectation come from? The idea that you have a sin debt you have yet to pay. So if you are in fear you have departed from the cross. At the cross your sin debts were paid in full. A once-for-all payment for all sin, past, present and future. I get so passionate about this stuff because I want you to experience God’s goodness as he has always intended for you to receive. But I am the first to put my hand up, sometimes we depart from the message of first importance. Principally, Paul was not sent to baptize but to preach the gospel of the good news of the grace of God unveiled in the person and finished work of Jesus Christ – and that finds its full expression at the cross of Calvary.
GOD’S WISDOM – THE CROSS OF CHRIST
The cross is God’s wisdom. Christ, the Bible says, has become to us wisdom from God (1 Cor. 1:30). What does that mean? Well, what does that mean with regards to the issue of sin? Christ and him crucified is God’s wisdom on sin. That doesn’t sound very wise to me you might say. That’s because you are carnal. What would you say is wisdom on the issue? Me paying for my own sins. Exactly. And if you could pay for your own sin debts Jesus would not have had to come to pay. I want you to hear me now. If you are carrying any sense of guilt of failure or shame, know this, there is therefore NOW no condemnation for the one who is in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:1) What a relief!
Where does the guilty conscience find rest? Not in trying to get it right. It is in trusting yourself into what has made it right. What is that? THE BLOOD OF JESUS. Be free! For freedom Christ set you free. Galatians 5 verse 1. Jesus did not just set you free – he set you free for the purposes of being free. Free from what? Free from fear. Free from guilt. Free from a burden to perform. Freely receiving. Freely giving. Freely flowing. It’s called the unforced rhythm of God’s amazing grace.
GOD’S WORK – THE CROSS OF CHRIST
Now, we need to revisit wisdom of words (words of eloquent wisdom) because it is a trap. Religion put this question to Jesus and we’ll use Wuest who is a Greek scholar to unpack it. Religion put to Jesus this question and I want to take it out of WUEST Who is a Greek scholar and translates the Bible with Greek themes and mind. Then religion said to Jesus what are we to do as a habit of life in order that we are continually working the works of God? (Jn. 6:28) Now, do you sort of feel tired just reading that? What are we to do is habit of life to be continually working the works of God! So immediately the question is framed wrongly because it’s assumption is that we do God’s work. God does his work. The work God needs he himself does and we enjoy its benefits. But that there is the question and it’s loaded. Most of us, without having had any religious experience at all, step into a religious education that tells us that this is what we have to do for God. And that makes complete sense because that’s been our approach to life. Performing. Living up to a set of expectations. And so we easily adopt that idea (of works) and ask that kind of question.
If you had of asked me that question about four years ago I would’ve said “good question!” A good place to start would be with your church attendance. You need to lift your game. Now let’s just pull out your tithing record and see what that looks like because after all where your treasure is your heart is also. The least you could do is sign up to a ministry and prove your commitment. Submit and commit. Get to the conferences because there are big blessings to be had there. Prayer and fasting would be right at the top of the list. Get a disciplined prayer life going, that’s the stuff of mature Christians. Now throw some fasting on top of that because there’s nothing like a good hunger-strike to impress God. Now, here’s another one before I let you go, try really hard not to sin. Now off you go. As a habit of life continually be doing all of those things. So that would’ve been my answer paraphrased to you. And all the while condemning myself for failing the stuff I just put on you!
And that was certainly the kind of answer that religion was expecting from Jesus. Actually, that was the answer religion was hoping for. Why? So it could keep building its empire off the back of hard working people.
But Jesus takes that answer, wraps it up and throws it in the bin. He says “This is the work of God, that you be continually believing on him who God sent off on a mission.” (Jn. 6:29) You know there is only one mission that ever mattered. Missions are good, but they are an outcome of one Mission. What’s the mission? That God sent his only begotten son to die in our place so that anyone who would believe into him would not perish but would experience and live in the reality of eternal life. That was the mission. In short, Jesus says here is your work, your work is to continually be resting and my finished work! That’s the work. And out of rest you bear fruit of Christ himself. No burden. No performance.
But it freaks us out because we find security in performing – in organised religion – in the structure of it. I just need to back up a bit and put in a little side-note. There is nothing wrong with any of those things I mentioned, like praying and fasting and ministries. Attending church is awesome. But all of those things are merely outcomes of a greater reality. None of them make you righteous. You are righteous. None of them get you blessed. You are blessed. None of it gets you saved. You are saved. None of it makes God love you. Man, you are so loved (by God). None of it brings you closer to God. You cannot be any closer to God than you are right now. He is in you. Do you see the difference? So one life is lived out of an experience of God whereas the other life is lived seeking an experience of God. What’s the issue? Faulty thinking. Wrong believing. Right believing is the foundation base of transformation. The other approach is conforming and performing (Rom 12:2, Eph. 4:23). We are not into that we’re transforming through the reality of God is experienced in Christ – supplied by his spirit all and his grace. A whole world of difference man.
God is good amen? You can say amen because you know he is. There are a lot of “amen’s” that are empty of spirit because there is no conviction in that response. How come? Well, because I don’t know if God is good man because you told me he is good but you said in the same breath that he will curse me if I fail. That is not good news to me. For many of us the thought is downright scary. That is why there are a lot of spooked out believers harboring insecurity based on the sense of failure on the part. But know this, you cannot be IN CHRIST and cursed. That is a contradiction in terms. So we must think in line with the truth of God‘s Word. If God says you are righteous – if his word says you possess his own righteousness then my friend you possess it. How do you feel about that? That buzzes me out all on its own! So we have much to sing and praise about. Praise is a response to what God has done.
Jesus said there is one work. All of the works are wrapped up in this one work, the finished work of the cross. So if you ask me now what are the works of salvation as an example I would say that’s a simple answer, entrust yourself to Jesus and rest in his finished work of salvation. You might ask me what are the works of righteousness. I would say entrust yourself to Jesus and rest in his righteousness. You might ask, Richie what are the works of justification and here is the answer. You are justified because you are righteous. And you are righteous because God through Christ has made you righteous. Richie what is the work of blessing? And I would say you have been brought into all of God’s blessings and they are all provided for in the person and finish work of Jesus Christ. You might say Richie I feel like I need forgiveness. My friend you cannot be more forgiving than you are right now. Don’t look to yourself, look to the cross of Calvary and the blood of Jesus and rest your conscience right there. All of your sin debts, past present and future have been paid for. Be free in Jesus’ name be free. If you want to be free from sin you have to be free from the guilt and penalty of sin. That is why we are no longer under the law but we are under grace (Rom. 6:14). The law brings condemnation (2 Cor. 3:9). The law is the arousal of the sin condition (1 Cor. 15:56). You have been delivered from the law because you have been delivered from sin. There is no sin within, that is why you are Christ-conscious not sin-conscious which makes you self-conscious, which makes us insecure and timid people.
For by grace you have been saved through faith it is not in and of yourself it is the free gift of God. It is not of works list man boasts in his efforts (Eph. 2:8-9). Be clear, you are not saved by faith you are saved by grace. Faith receives the power of grace. It is very important to understand this otherwise you can even turn your faith into a work. Grace is God doing the work. When Jesus says believe me, he is saying trust my work. To believe in vain is to trust in your own works as opposed to Christ. That is vanity. Salvation is all encompassing, it is the constant flow of the supply of God unleashed at the cross and through the cross. It is all in the cross. The cross marks the spot. The cross is the mark of a new creation. Do you know what sin means by definition? It means to miss the mark. When the Bible says what is not of faith is sin it is saying sin is simply not entrusting yourself to the cross of Christ. That’s what it means to miss the mark. The cross marks the spot. To be entrusted to the cross is to be in the enjoyment of God. We know what grace means, it is the unearned and undeserved and unmerited favour of God, just in case by some chance we have forgotten in the last five or six days!
PROFOUND SIMPLICITY – THE CROSS OF CHRIST
I want to round off today’s message, and I’m still in Corinthians because somebody didn’t get the memo. Paul is coming back around at it. He has a concern, the apostle of grace is worried about this particular issue and he says this, and we are going right back to the beginning which helps us identify where the spirit started. We are in two Corinthians chapter 11 verse three, “I fear lest by any means as the serpent beguiled/deceived Eve through his subtlety so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”
What was the subtlety? It was a subtle shift in the object of their trust. Remember Adam and Eve are already in the enjoyment of the grace of the Tree Of Life in the Garden. That is the context. The Garden is a finished work. What does that allude to? Rest! Adam was put into rest – into a finished work to bear fruit (Be fruitful and multiply), not works. So the Tree Of Life is the object of their trust. But there is another tree, a forbidden tree. The tree of self effort. The tree of self-righteousness. The tree of knowledge, the knowledge of good and evil. The idea that man’s good is good enough. So here he (the serpent) comes with his subtle approach. “But I fear least by any means as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”
See here it as our minds, our thoughts, our thinking, it is the basis upon which we believe. It is where you are going to rest your confidence. And the apostle’s concern is that their minds will be corrupted, and here is the key word, from simplicity. The simplicity that is in Christ Jesus.
Our gospel is a simple gospel. It is so simple you need help to misunderstand it. And we’ve all had some help along the way! Have you heard the saying, “Keep it simple stupid!” I think that was in the letter that Paul wrote that didn’t make it into the Bible. Simplicity is a beautiful word. Religion thinks we are simple, as in stupid. Because we are refusing to depart from the simple gospel. But remember that is the wisdom of God – the simplicity that is in Christ Jesus.
The loftiest questions are all emphatically answered in the name of Jesus. You don’t have to be a scholar to preach the gospel my friend. Are you entrusted to Jesus? Then you have a masters in faith because you are entrusted to the Master. That word simplicity there comes out of this word singleness which comes out of that word single, of the eye. Keep your eyes on Jesus!
So then, what does it take to be a good Christian? Christ! Do you have him? Are you entrusted to him? The simple gospel always puts the focus on Jesus and keeps the focus on Jesus. He is the answer because he is the supply. The power of God is what we need, everything else is manpower. The power comes first from the source who is God. John one verse 16 says out of his fullness as a source we have all received grace upon grace. Grace is the human conditions experience of God’s love, God‘s love for sinners. That is why you don’t need to clean your act up to be accepted by God, he comes to you exactly as you are and the work you need done he himself will do, Hence the apostle Paul said he who supplies the Spirit also works the miracle (Gal. 3:5). It is a flow. That is why you see the power of God most evident in a posture of rest. Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord (Gen. 6:8). “Noah” means rest. that is the law of first mention for the principle of grace. Grace and rest go together. Out of his fullness we have all received grace for grace. For the law came through Moses. We are not under the law we are under grace. And Grace came through Jesus Christ, which is the experience of God. Amen.