[!] ... by which you are being saved [2b]

    1Cor 15: 1Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. 3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ[1] died for our[2a] sins[2b] in accordance with the Scriptures[3], 4that he was buried[4], that he was raised on the third day[5] in accordance with the Scriptures[6](ESV, emph. Added)
As a reader, you must be either a fanatic about these 4 verse of Scripture or a glutton for punishment if you are still with me, but I thank you for still coming back for a bit more once again.

So far, we have made quite a big deal out of 3 words: “Christ”, “died” and “our” (or, as I have used in the last post, “us”). But this next word is the second-most critical in the passage as for as the matter of Paul’s exclamation that this is the part of the Gospel which is “of first importance”: sin.

For those of you reading who are not Christians, or who attend a church where this word is never used, let’s think about something for a minute: if what we have read from Paul so far is correct, what the Gospel is saying is that God planned to kill Christ (Christ who was the Son of God, in Paul’s view, in a way which made him exactly like God in every way, which is to say, of equal value as God the Father) for men – in some way, for their benefit. As I recall history up to the point of Christ’s life, I don’t see men demanding from God that He pony up something valuable – that is, something of the highest value on the metaphysical level and not just on the physical level or in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – because it’s what they want from Him and what He actually owes them. Even the pagans saw that what ought to be right is that men pay to the Divine something to get what they (the mortals, the created ones) want, whatever that happened to be.

The Gospel says that this view – that God owes man nothing – is exactly right, but that it is also exactly why this is good news. It is because Christ died for our sin that man can look at the Gospel and at last see the kind of being God is, and the extent that God is willing to go to in order to make sure that what He has planned – and the intention for what He has planned – comes to pass.

It turns out that the question is not only “Does God owe me anything?” but “Am I square with God?” And the answer is simply no: I am not square with God. At this point, we could go through hundreds of verses that indicate that man does not live up to God’s standards and does not satisfy God by what he does for God. We could start in Genesis, and talk about Adam who disobeyed God not because he was deceived but because he wanted to; we could talk about Noah who, though God had just spared only his family from the utter annihilation of the race, got drunk and passed out naked the first chance he got; we could talk about Abraham the liar who whored out his wife, or Jacob the trickster who stole from his brother, or Moses the murderer, or David the adulterer, or Solomon the idolater, or Peter the coward, or Paul the racist zealot who could not keep peace with his friend and helper Barnabas.

We could cite Scripture on this point literally hundreds and hundreds of ways – but instead I will propose something else to you: I want you to consider me personally. If, for example, God is a holy God who is righteous perfectly and whose name is Holy, I didn’t make it out of bed this morning without failing to live up to that standard. I didn’t make it to the shower today before I was sinful and offensive to God. I certainly haven’t been any great shakes here at work today, either.

When I stand in front of this Holy God – and I stand before Him all the time, whether I think of it that way or not – I stand before Him as someone who owes him the same debt that a criminal owes to the judge when all the evidence is presented. The problem (for me) is that the penalty of any of these sins is death – so in order to pay for all of my sins, it will take more than my own life to pay off the criminal debt to the one who is the right judge of me. That is to say, I could be sentenced to death and the payment would still be insufficient.

It is in this way that what Paul is proclaiming that Christ has done is so extraordinary: Christ died for our sins. Christ didn’t die for our entertainment; Christ didn’t die because God lost at poker with us or the Devil and now has to pay up; Christ didn’t die for our education or to be a billboard for all of history. Let me also say that Christ didn't die to make me important or to give my life purpose: the purpose evident in Christ's death and in the paying of my sin debt and the releif and removal of God;s wrath against me was not to build me up but exclusively for God's purpose, and God's plan and God's glory. Christ died for our sins – as a certain payment for the debt we certainly owe which we cannot repay because we cannot stop accumulating the debt.

Christ died for our sins – and let me say it particularly that Christ died for my sins. Christ died because I can’t live 5 minutes without violating some part of God’s law. Now some of you are saying, “well, cent, that’s because you’re an ass. For the most part, I live every day in pretty good standing – I don’t do saintly works of love and charity every day, but most days I don’t really do anything wrong at all.”

I call bullshit on that – and we don’t need the whole Law of Moses to ferret out the self-deception of that statement. Let’s instead look at Christ teaching about the holy standard of God and see what he says about sin:
    You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.(ESV, Mt 5:21-26)
So when you are muttering under your breath about that person in the office who is intolerable, or when you don’t make peace with them when they do wrong by you, you are guilty of the same law which convicts man of murder. And for those of you who aren’t familiar with that law, it’s not the one in the 10 Commandments. It’s this one from Genesis:
    Whoever sheds the blood of man,by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. (ESV, Gen 9:6)
Jesus also taught:
    You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.(ESV, Mt 5:27-30)
Those are not soft-soaked words, or some weird kind of legalism: it says that if your intention – you motive and your desire – is for something that is wrong, you are guilty as certainly as if you had done it. Moreover, Jesus here says that it would be better for you to cut off your hand or poke out your own eye than it is to think these evil thoughts and be guilty of them.

You are not an innocent person by God’s standard. If you think you are, you don’t know yourself very well. But God’s intention in revealing this to you – and it hardly has to be “revealed” because you know who you are; you know what you hide from other people – is not to grind you into the dust, or even for you to poke out your own eye or cut off your own hand: God’s intention in revealing this is to show you that Christ died for your sins.

Christ died for your sins. Jesus was the eternal Son of God, but He chose, rather than to let you be the victim of your own desires and willingness to disobey, to die – that is to say, to be put to death by men not qualified to judge Him, for crimes He did not commit, by a means that was public and humiliating even though what He deserved was honor and worship – for our sins.

What He paid was greater than what I owed – but when He paid, He was paying for me. He was thinking of me who spit on anything associated with God, and who would have spit on Him if I had met Him in the street. He was thinking of me who has broken the law not just by intention but by doing and living for those desires. He was thinking of me who should have been nailed on a cross and been left to die, and should have suffered there for all eternity because even as I suffered I would have sinned more to curse the one who would have punished me.

Christ died for our sins. And believe it or not, that’s not the whole Gospel – it’s just the first clause of the Gospel.

If you are going to Promise Keepers this weekend in Fayetteville, AR, God be with you. I hope the Gospel is preached there and it is not merely an event or a spectator sport, but that the lives of men are changed by and for the sake of this Gospel by which you are saved.

Other entries in this series: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 |