You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Today's Wild Card author is:
and the book:
Deep River Books (September 5, 2013)
***Special thanks to Emily Woodworth for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Visit the author's website.
SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:
Paul wrote to "all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Cor. 1:2). Far from works of abstract theology, his letters provide practical instruction to people without any special theological training or educational credentials––regular people like you and me. In The Simplified Guide, David Hazelton collects Paul’s instructions on specific issues as faithfully and completely as possible. Rather than promoting a particular interpretation, Hazelton guides readers to make their own observations about applying Paul's instructions to their lives.
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 216 pages
Publisher: Deep River Books (September 5, 2013)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
PART I: RIGHT BELIEFS
Paul explains the essentials of the gospel message of salvation in simple and straightforward terms. Rather than focusing on a rigid set of rules, or a detailed set of rituals, or a complex system of theology, Paul focuses on the person of Jesus Christ, his death on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead. If we understand the gospel correctly, everything else will follow. Before we worry about any other issue, Paul wants us to understand the gospel in all of its clarity, beauty and majesty.
We therefore begin in chapter 1 with Paul’s explanation of this pure and simple gospel. Due to its central importance, Paul issues strong warnings against any additions to or subtractions from this gospel as discussed chapter 2. While insisting on strict faithfulness to the essentials of the gospel, chapter 3 discusses Paul’s declaration of our freedom in practices and personal convictions on secondary matters. Chapter 4 next explains that Paul relies on Scripture as the foundation for understanding the gospel and, more generally, what we believe as Christians. In chapter 5, we conclude Part I of our study by discussing how Paul takes a practical approach to “theological” issues, which brings us back, again and again, to the gospel.
The Pure and Simple Gospel
This is the most important chapter in this book. As Paul makes clear, the gospel is the basis for our salvation. It is the foundation on which all of his other instructions are built. If we build on any other foundation, everything else that we believe or do will crumble in the end.
The gospel message as declared by Paul is easy to understand but often hard to accept. Almost everyone can readily grasp the essential elements of the gospel at a basic level. But many want to make it more complex than it is, perhaps because it is difficult to accept that something so important can be so simple. Paul is very clear, however, that the gospel message of salvation is simple, straightforward, and available to all who come in faith. Let’s examine the foundation for Paul’s teaching—and our faith—and what it means for us today.
WHAT ARE THE ESSENTIALS OF THE GOSPEL MESSAGE OF SALVATION?
In 1 Corinthians 15:1–4, Paul states plainly the gospel by which we are saved:
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.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
Paul provides quite a buildup before identifying the essentials of the gospel message. “By this gospel you are saved” (1 Cor. 15:2). It is the “gospel I preached to you,” the gospel “you received and on which you have taken your stand,” the gospel to which you must “hold firmly,” and it is a matter of “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3). Having emphasized its importance, Paul states the essential elements of the gospel in a few simple words: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (2 Cor. 15:3–4). Clearly, nothing is more important to Paul than the person of Jesus Christ, his death, and his resurrection.
The book of Acts documents that Paul preached this very gospel message to the churches when he was with them in person. When arriving in a city, it was the “custom” of Paul to go to the synagogue where “he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,’ he said” (Acts 17:2–3). Thus, in his sermon recorded in Acts 13:13–41, Paul presented the “message of salvation” (v. 26) and “the good news” (v. 32) by focusing on the historic events of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. Specifically, he proclaimed:
The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. (Acts 13:27–31)
Similarly, when put on trial for preaching the gospel, Paul explained: “I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen—that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:22–23). We are often tempted to complicate the gospel, but when his back was to the wall, Paul stood firm on a simple statement about Jesus Christ, his death, and his resurrection.
Paul’s insistence on this pure and simple gospel wasn’t limited to his preaching. In his letters to the churches, Paul repeats again and again the simple gospel that he had preached. In 1 Corinthians 2:1–2, he explains: “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Similarly, Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 1:23 that “we preach Christ crucified.” He identifies “the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:8–9).
When describing the message that he preached to the Galatians, Paul declared: “Before your very eyes, Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified” (Gal. 3:1). Again, in 2 Timothy 2:8, Paul instructs: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel.”
WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE CRUCIFIXION OF JESUS CHRIST?
Jesus was crucified by the Romans, a regional empire that occupied and controlled Palestine at the time. It seemed like a matter of local politics in a backwater province, where the local Roman governor—a man named Pilate—sought to placate Jewish religious leaders who had a vendetta against Jesus. Yet there was a much deeper meaning to the crucifixion of Jesus—a Godordained plan to restore the relationship between humans and their Creator, a relationship that was fractured when sin entered the world. It was this deeper, divine plan that compelled Paul.
In his death on the cross, Jesus Christ—who lived a life without sin—took our sin upon himself and accepted the punishment that we deserved. As Paul explains in Romans 5:6–11:
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Paul addresses this spiritual reality again and again in Romans, which contains his most indepth discussion of the gospel and its implications for our lives. After explaining in Romans 1:18 to 3:20 that every person is a sinner who is without excuse before God and under God’s wrath, Paul declares that we have access to forgiveness through Christ’s death on the cross:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. (Rom. 3:23–25)
To ensure that his readers understood the eternal significance of the crucifixion, Paul returns to it again and again. Romans 4:25 states: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” In Romans 6:6–7, we read: “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.”
The lifechanging power of Christ’s atoning death is emphasized in Paul’s other letters as well. Ephesians 1:7 explains: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” In Colossians 2:13–14, Paul declares again that “you were dead in your sins” but:
God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.
Thus, as Paul states emphatically, the fact that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” is a matter of “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3) because his death provides the basis for God’s forgiveness of our sins.
WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF JESUS CHRIST’S RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD?
We humans are afraid of countless things. We fear spiders, clowns, heights, public spaces, public speaking, and a thousand other terrors. From the silly to the serious, fear is an unavoidable part of what it means to be human.
Yet there is one fear that rises like a specter above all others, that sounds a sinister echo in the background of our daily lives: the fear of death. Nothing is so terrifying as the realization that we will, sooner or later, die and confront the uncertainty about what will happen to us on the other side of this life. The inevitability of death makes it no easier to accept; its permanence forces us to come to grips with fundamental issues.
It is in this profoundly human context that Christ died as a man, just as every man, woman and child will eventually die. Yet Christ conquered death through his resurrection. As sons and daughters of God, we share in Christ’s victory over death and his promise of eternal life.
Paul’s most extensive discussion of the significance of Christ’s resurrection is in 1 Corinthians 15:12–57. In that passage, he begins by correcting those who deny the resurrection, explaining that “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (v. 14) and “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (v. 17). He then declares in verses 20–22:
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
On the day of our resurrection to eternal life, our decaying material bodies will be exchanged for glorified and imperishable bodies. Christ “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). Much as a seed is planted or sown in one form but then emerges from the earth as something new and better, Paul explains:
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. (1 Cor. 15:42–44)
He compares our current mortal bodies to “jars of clay” (2 Cor. 4:7) and an “earthly tent” which we will exchange for “an eternal house in heaven” (2 Cor. 5:1). The glory of what God has in store for us is beyond our comprehension. “‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’—the things God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).
This resurrection power not only has eternal significance, it also has the power to transform our lives today. Emphasizing the connection between the resurrection and the power to live a holy life today, Paul explains in Romans 6:4–10 that:
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
Again, Paul explains in Romans 8:11 that: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.”
Jesus Christ took our sins upon himself when he was crucified on the cross, but it was his glorious resurrection that conquered death and prepared the way for our resurrection and eternal life. The great human fear of death is conquered in the triumphant resurrection of Christ. His victory over death changed everything.
WHO IS JESUS CHRIST THAT HIS DEATH AND RESURRECTION COULD HAVE THIS SIGNIFICANCE?
Paul emphasizes the primary importance of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in all his teaching. Yet crucifixions were all too common during that period of human history. And while resurrections were exceedingly rare, the Bible records others such as Lazarus who were raised from the dead. What was it about Jesus Christ that, above anyone else who ever lived, his crucifixion and resurrection could have such eternal and earthshaking significance?
Paul states the answer plainly in Colossians 2:9: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” While Jesus “as to his earthly life was a descendant of David” (Rom. 1:3), he is also “in very nature God” (Phil. 2:6). He “is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). Detailing several of the fundamental characteristics that distinguish Jesus Christ from the rest of humanity, Paul continues in Colossians 1:15–20:
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
In Ephesians 1:19–21, Paul explains how God’s “incomparably great power” was demonstrated when God raised Christ from the dead and “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” Paul continues in verses 22 and 23: “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”
As declared by Paul, Jesus Christ’s unique nature as sinless God who became man is the reason why his death could pay the price for our sins and thus provide the basis for our salvation. Outside of Jesus, there has never been a death that could provide forgiveness for our sins, and there has never been a resurrection that could conquer death and pave the way for our resurrection.
HOW DO WE RECEIVE THE GIFTS OF FORGIVENESS AND ETERNAL LIFE AVAILABLE THROUGH THE GOSPEL?
Christ paid the price for our forgiveness and conquered death so we could have eternal life. We are helpless without him. Salvation is therefore a gift received freely in faith, not something we earn through good works. Paul’s letter to the Romans again contains his most systematic discussion of the role of faith in receiving salvation through the gospel. Emphasizing this important distinction between faith and works, he declares in Romans 4:4–5 that:
Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.
Paul emphasizes the important role of faith for salvation again and again in Romans. “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Rom. 1:17). “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Rom. 3:22). Explaining that we “are justified freely by his [God’s] grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus,” Paul declares that “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood— to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:24–25). “For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Rom. 3:28). “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (Rom. 5:1–2).
Driving the point home that faith has always been the basis by which people are justified before God, Paul points in Romans 4 to Abraham, the forefather of the Jews who lived more than 2,000 years before Christ’s crucifixion, as a model of someone justified by faith. “‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’” (Rom. 4:3). “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed” in God’s promise that he would be the father of many nations (Rom. 4:18). “Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old” (Rom. 4:19). “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness’” (Rom. 4:20–22).
Paul is emphatic that salvation in Christ must be received in faith. Indeed, in Romans and his other letters to the churches, he refers to “faith” more than 100 times. For example: “We live by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). “The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). “Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because ‘the righteous will live by faith’” (Gal. 3:11). “He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit” (Gal. 3:14). “In him [Jesus] and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Eph. 3:12).
In his personal testimony, Paul declares that he is found “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil. 3:9). This small sampling of Paul’s references to “faith” reflects his conviction that Christ has done it all, that we cannot save ourselves, and that we only can accept salvation in Christ through faith.
Perhaps the best definition of “faith” is found in the New Testament book of Hebrews. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1). “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb. 11:6). Unless received in faith, the gospel message has little meaning for the one who hears it. “For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed” (Heb. 4:2).
Faith does not require that we understand the mystery of the gospel in its fullness to accept it. When explaining “the message concerning faith that we proclaim,” Paul states the simplicity of the expression of faith required for salvation:
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Rom. 10:8–10)
When we genuinely believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths, it is the Spirit of God at work in us. For “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3).
WHAT DO PAUL’S INSTRUCTIONS MEAN FOR US TODAY?
How does this gospel—the unbelievable, lifetransforming, historyshaping good news declared by Paul—affect our lives today? As we close this first chapter, we pause to reflect on the practical implications of Paul’s instructions. This opportunity for reflection is not intended to prescribe specifically what we need to do or how we need to change in light of the truths declared by Paul. Instead, these few questions can encourage us to come before God and seek his guidance on how to respond to the truths taught by Paul.
1. Why should God let us into heaven?
2. What would be our eternal destiny if God gave us what we deserved rather than the forgiveness we can have through Christ?
3. Can we be saved by following rules and performing rituals? Why not?
4. What is the significance of the fact that salvation is a gift to be received in faith rather than something to be earned through good works? What is the significance of this fact to our daily walk as Christians?
5. What is the significance of the fact that the gospel is centered on Christ and what he did, rather than on us and our efforts? How should this reality affect our daily walk as Christians?
6. What does it mean to accept the gospel in faith? At an intellectual level, how do we accept the gospel? How does receiving the gospel in faith go beyond intellectual acceptance?
7. Can we fully understand the mystery and miracle of the gospel? Why not?
8. If we cannot be saved by our own good works, what is the role of good works in a Christian’s life (which will be discussed at length in Part II of our study)?
9. What is your relationship with Christ? Is he both your Lord and Savior?
10. How should we live differently in light of the gospel?