Summary: What is the common denominator of the Christian faith
Easter—the Foundation of Our Faith
The Corinthian church was beset by a number of serious problems. One of the serious problems involved the unity of the believers. This can be seen in that there were at least four groups that claimed to follow one Christian leader over another as if each were in competition with each other. Other divisions occurred because of bad moral behavior in the church. A third division occurred over the seating at the Lord’s table by social rank. A fourth division occurred over the importance of spiritual gifts, especially those of tongues and prophecy. Were those with these gifts superior to the other Christians? As serious as these issues were, Paul saves the most important issue to last, the belief in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the implications that this doctrine had for the church.
Paul does not tip off his hand at the beginning of chapter 15. He was one who could dive into things with full force, as he had done in Galatians where he could hardly restrain himself to get to the point. The calm start to this topic in no way signals that this is an afterthought. Paul leads the believers at Corinth inductively into the discussion. He establishes the doctrine first, before going into its vastly important implications for the Christian faith. It simply starts with “I want you to know this about the gospel which I preached among you.” The King James is a little too strong with using “declared” here. It almost has the meaning of “I wand to remind you, brethren, what I had preached to you.” He wants to assure the Corinthians that despite all their faults which he has had to deal with, they were still part of God’s family.
The Greek word, gnorizo, almost looks like originally a combination of the word for “knowledge” and the word for “root,” although it rightly means “to cause to know.” But “root knowledge” or “foundational knowledge” is implied by what follows. The doctrine of the death, burial, and resurrection is the foundation of the gospel. There can be no gospel besides it. Paul has literally gospelled the gospel to them, as gospel appears both as a noun and as a verb. The Corinthians had responded to Paul’s proclamation of the gospel by accepting it. Paul goes on to say that the gospel gives the believers standing with God. It is the solid ground upon which they stand.
In verse two, Paul adds to this standing that it is the means by which they are currently being saved. This is interesting because today, we tend to look at salvation as a past act. This is especially true among those who believe in “once saved, always saved.” Does the present tense indicate that one could deny the faith and lose their salvation, or is Paul assuring them that in spite of their heresies that they are still in the faith? What makes it more difficult is the word “if” in the clause that follows: if you hold fast to the word I preached unto you.” Added to this are the words “except you have believed for nothing.” The except here is very strong. This obviously can be very troubling. Can one lose their salvation? Can one commit apostasy? Could Paul be suggesting that some had not really been converted?
Considering the importance of being right on this issue, as our salvation depends on it, it might be prudent to follow Peter who says to make your calling and election sure. At the same time, it would be troubling to be insecure about whether one is a Christian or not. If salvation was something we could lose, we would certainly lose it. If salvation is fully the free gift of God though faith in Jesus Christ, and He is the one who keeps us, how can we lose. Paul treats the Corinthians as though they are believers, and the “if” with the indicative mood in Greek can be translated, “since.”
One should examine what one believes by what follows. Paul had taught them that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and was buried as the proof he really died. It also says Jesus rose on the third day, according to these same Scriptures. The Scriptures of what we call the Old Testament is the first proof of Christ’s atoning death as well as His resurrection. At the beginning of Romans, Paul tells them about the gospel which was promised beforehand. Jesus on the Emmaus road opens up all the Scriptures which showed Christ must suffer these things and rise again. So the proof of Scripture comes first. God told it in advance, so that when it happened, it would serve as proof. God is always good to His word.