6. The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (2 Cor. 5:1-21)
1 For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven; 3 inasmuch as we, having put it on, shall not be found naked. 4 For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. 6 Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight— 8 we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. 9 Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 11 Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences. 12 We are not again commending ourselves to you but are giving you an occasion to be proud of us, that you may have an answer for those who take pride in appearance, and not in heart. 13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you. 14 For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. 16 Therefore from now on we recognize no man according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. 17 Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Someone recently gave me a copy of a book entitled, Grave Matters,27 containing more than 500 actual epitaphs from grave stones and markers from all around the world. I found some of them especially interesting. These epitaphs were written with respect to one’s marriage:
Here lies Mary, the wife of John Ford,
We hope her soul is gone to the Lord;
But if for Hell she has changed this life,
She had better be there than John Ford’s wife.
Wilshire, England 179028
The children of Israel wanted bread,
And the Lord he sent them manna;
Old Clerk Wallace wanted a wife,
And the Devil he sent him Anna.
Ribbesford, England c. 177029
Charity, wife of GIDEON BLIGH
Underneath this stone doth lie
Naught was she e’er known to do
That her husband told her to.
Devonshire, England c. 165030
One epitaph which tickled me is this one:
Here lies the body of Mary Ann Lowder
Who burst whilst drinking a seidlitz powder;
Called from this earth to her Heavenly rest
She should have waited till it effervesced.
Bruleigh, New Jersey c. 188031
These epitaphs certainly win the prize for honesty, if not tact:
Here lies the Body of RICHARD HIND,
Who was neither ingenious, sober, or kind.
Cheshunt, England c. 180032
Those who knew him best deplored him most.
This final epitaph wins the prize for what I would call with tongue-in-cheek, “political correctness”:
ROBERT HALLENBECK FAMILY
the family of Robert T. Hallenbeck
None of us ever voted for
Roosevelt or Truman
Elgin, Minnesota c. 195034
On this Easter Sunday, many versions of what I call the “P. C. Gospel” will be preached. I can only wish that “P. C.” stood for “Preach Christ.” Unfortunately, it stands for “Politically Correct Gospel.” There are many variations of the “P. C. Gospel.” To qualify as “P. C.,” it must be a gospel which does not offend anyone and does not state, suggest, or imply that there is but one true gospel, which, if rejected, will result in eternal condemnation. A “Politically Correct Gospel” is not determined by its truthfulness, but by its perception and reception. I hope and pray that the gospel I attempt to proclaim in this message can never be called “politically correct.”
God providentially arranged that on this Easter Sunday we should be studying in 2 Corinthians 5, a chapter which deals much with the meaning and applications of the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord. I am departing somewhat from my normal method of preaching in this message so that we may focus our attention on the gospel which the Apostle Paul preached in 2 Corinthians 5, in Paul’s epistles, and in the rest of the Bible.
It is important that I do this for several reasons. First, it is important to proclaim the gospel because undoubtedly there is someone listening who has never clearly heard or understood what the gospel of Jesus Christ is. If you are that person, I hope the Holy Spirit will enable me to speak clearly, and that you will understand and respond to the gospel Paul preached. Second, some of you may have heard the gospel a number of times, but you still have not recognized that you are a sinner, condemned to eternal destruction, and that you need to trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and the gift of eternal life. Third, we cannot celebrate Easter as we should unless we do so in the context of the gospel. To celebrate Easter properly, we must be able to celebrate the salvation which God has brought about in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Finally, we need to reiterate the gospel because there are those who seek to corrupt it, replacing some of its essential elements with false teaching, resulting in a false gospel. This was a danger in Paul’s day, and it is a danger in our own day as well (see 1 Corinthians 15:1-12ff.; 2 Corinthians 11:3-4; Galatians 1:6-9).
As we see in the very first chapter of his 1 Corinthians epistle, Paul is greatly troubled by the divisions in the church at Corinth. These divisions are based upon the personalities of those leaders followed by some of the Corinthians. By the time we reach the end of his second epistle, we realize at least some of these “leaders” are actually unbelievers who are “false apostles,” serving as messengers of Satan (see 2 Corinthians 11:1-15). These false apostles are preaching a false gospel, which a number of the Corinthians seem to accept without hesitation (2 Corinthians 11:4). I believe Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5 set down, once again, the pure gospel. This gospel is the standard by which all teachers and their teachings are to be judged.
Defining the Essential Elements
of the Gospel Which Paul Preached
Looking primarily at our text in 2 Corinthians 5, and then at other texts, consider these essential elements of the gospel as defined and declared by Paul and the other apostles.
(1) The gospel is the good news of God’s salvation for sinners. The last two verses of chapter 5 and other biblical texts emphasize that the gospel is God’s good news for sinners:
20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:20-21).
6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him (Isaiah 53:6).
9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; 11 THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; 12 ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE. 13 THEIR THROAT IS AN OPEN GRAVE, WITH THEIR TONGUES THEY KEEP DECEIVING, THE POISON OF ASPS IS UNDER THEIR LIPS; 14 WHOSE MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS; 15 THEIR FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD, 16 DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR PATHS, 17 AND THE PATH OF PEACE HAVE THEY NOT KNOWN. 18 THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES” (Romans 3:9-18).
23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
For a person to be saved, he or she must first realize that they are lost. When Jesus came to the earth, He associated with “sinners,” thereby greatly offending the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees. When challenged about this, Jesus had this answer:
29 And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house; and there was a great crowd of tax-gatherers and other people who were reclining at the table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax-gatherers and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered and said to them, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:29-32).
Do the self-righteous find our Lord’s association with sinners perplexing and even distressing? The reason He associates with sinners is that He came to save sinners. Our Lord has little time for the self-righteous, but He has much time for sinners. Jesus came to seek and to save lost sinners (Luke 19:10). The scribes and Pharisees are sinners, but they do not realize they are. Jesus’ ministry and message are “sweet music” to sinners, who know they need to be saved. But they are “sour notes” to the self-righteous, who do not recognize their sin or their need for salvation. No one is too sinful for God to save. Paul tells us that he takes “first place” among sinners as the “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). There are many who are too righteous to be saved.
(2) There is nothing sinful men can do to merit God’s blessings or to earn their salvation. God does not grade on the curve. God’s standard for us is His own righteousness. All men fall desperately short of that standard:
6 For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away (Isaiah 64:6).
Neither here in 2 Corinthians, nor anywhere else, does Paul speak of unsaved men winning God’s approval by their good works. Even our best efforts are tainted by sin. Nothing which we offer to God as a good work is acceptable or worthy of praise. Anything we think, say, or do which is pleasing to Him is brought about by Him (1 Corinthians 4:7). God works through our weaknesses, so we dare not boast in our strengths. And even these “strengths” are those God has given. It is by our faith, and not by our works, that we are saved. We are saved by what God has done for us, in Christ, and not by any works we have done:
4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:4-7).
When men asked our Lord Jesus what they should do, Jesus told them to believe:
28 They said therefore to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (John 6:28-29).
The law was not given so that men would keep it and, by so doing, be saved. The law was given to show us that we desperately need to be saved. The law reveals that we are sinners, helpless and hopeless before God, in need of grace, not of more effort on our part:
19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:19-20).
4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. 5 For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. 6 But the righteousness based on faith speaks thus, “DO NOT SAY IN YOUR HEART, ‘WHO WILL ASCEND INTO HEAVEN?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), 7 or ‘WHO WILL DESCEND INTO THE ABYSS?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” 8 But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART”— that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; 10 for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED” (Romans 10:4-11; see also Galatians 3:1-14).
Men do not need to do “something good” in order for God to save them. They need to acknowledge that they are incapable of doing anything good, and trust in what God has done for them in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Men do not need to go into heaven to persuade Christ to come down. Christ came in obedience to the Father’s will, in order to save us (see Philippians 2:5-8). No one needs to go down to hell to bring Christ from the dead. The Father has already raised Him from the dead. All we need to do is to believe the gospel, which is before us in the Bible, and the proclamation of those who preach the gospel in simplicity and truth, as Paul and his colleagues do.
Second Corinthians 5, along with the rest of the Bible, portrays God as the One who has provided salvation for sinful men. God saves sinners on the basis of His grace and not on the basis of our works. Those who acknowledge themselves as “sinners” are not the ones whom our Lord sternly rebukes and rejects; He rejects those who think they are saints, who take pride in their own righteousness (see Matthew 23).
(3) A day of reckoning is coming when all men must stand before Jesus Christ, who will judge them according to the deeds they have done in the body.
10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Some might think that Paul’s words here in 2 Corinthians 5 leave room for us to conclude that salvation is by good works, but clearly this is not so in the light of other Scriptures. This 2 Corinthians statement must be understood in the light of what Paul has already written in 1 Corinthians 3 and 4:
10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But let each man be careful how he builds upon it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work (1 Corinthians 3:10-13).
2 In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. 3 But to me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. 4 For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. 5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God (1 Corinthians 4:2-5).
In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul has only Christians in mind, not unbelievers. Those who faithfully minister35 to the church, building properly upon the foundation Paul lays, will be rewarded for their faithfulness.
In this day of judgment, for the Christian the issue will not be one’s salvation but one’s reward as a steward of the gospel and the grace of God. Those who serve faithfully (in heart and in deed) will be praised by God. Those who are not faithful will see their “works” burned up, but they will nonetheless enter into the kingdom of God, “though as by fire,” by the proverbial “skin of their teeth.” This is the reason Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:9 that his ambition, along with his colleagues, is to “be pleasing” to God.
Those outside of Christ, who have not trusted in His death, burial, and resurrection for salvation, must be judged according to their deeds. We are either saved on the basis of the work of Christ, or we are judged according to our works. Since our works apart from Christ cannot please God, and since men rely on them rather than on Christ, such works are really an offense to God and the basis for the condemnation of the lost. This is what John writes about in Revelation 20:
12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:12-15).
This eternal “death” in the lake of fire is called the “second death” (Revelation 20:6, 14).
The resurrection of our Lord from the dead makes this future day of judgment possible:
38 “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil; for God was with Him. 39 And we are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. And they also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. 40 God raised Him up on the third day, and granted that He should become visible, 41 not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us, who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. 42 And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. 43 Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:38-43).
30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).
Christ’s resurrection from the dead proves that He is the Son of God (see Matthew 12:38-40; Romans 1:4). As the living Lord, Christ ascended to the Father, and He will someday return to reign upon the earth. His resurrection from the dead is the basis for the resurrection of all men, believing and unbelieving. Those who have not trusted in Him will spend eternity separated from Him; those who have trusted in Him will spend eternity with Him.
The teaching on the resurrection of the dead is a comfort therefore to those who have trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation (see 1 Corinthians 15:58; 1 Thessalonians 4:18), but for the lost, it is a terrifying thought. In the second chapter of the book of Hebrews, the writer says that the Lord Jesus added perfect humanity to His undiminished deity, in order that He might deliver us from the fear of death:
14 Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; 15 and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives (Hebrews 2:14-15).
This fear of death plagues the unbeliever until the day that he or she comes to faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who not only died for their sins but was raised from the dead, thus changing death from a dreaded foe to a friend. This is what Paul has been writing about in the early verses of 2 Corinthians 5.
(4) Our sin has alienated us from God, but in His great love, He has accomplished reconciliation for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ and the offer of this reconciliation is made known through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).
8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation (Romans 5:8-11).
1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. 11 Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity (Ephesians 2:1-16).
18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything. 19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fulness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. 21 And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, 22 yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach— 23 if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister (Colossians 1:18-23).
Apart from Christ, we are dead in our sins, enemies of God, and alienated from God and His presence. Though we do not seek God, He seeks us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Paul says in Romans 5 that Christ did this while we were His enemies, demonstrating His great love for us and to us. Sinners are reconciled to God as they acknowledge their sin and trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and the gift of eternal life. Those who know and trust God are given the privilege and responsibility of proclaiming the gospel, which is an appeal to sinners to be reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ.
(5) This reconciliation was promised in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, who lived a sinless life, bore the penalty for our sins by dying on the cross of Calvary, was raised from the dead by the Father, and then ascended into heaven. The Old Testament Scriptures foretold the coming of our Lord, to live, die, and rise again:
44 Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; 47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:44-48).
1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
10 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven— things into which angels long to look (1 Peter 1:10-12).
The Passover lamb of the Old Testament (see Exodus 12:1-20) was a prototype of Jesus Christ, the “Lamb of God,” who died for lost sinners:
4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. 6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. 7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living, For the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due? 9 His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth (Isaiah 53:4-9).
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29).
6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? 7 Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).
It was not just Christ’s earthly life (though sinless and marked with amazing signs of His divine power and nature) or His teaching (which was from God) which accomplished our salvation. These things qualified Him to accomplish our salvation through His sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection. This was the purpose for which He came and which He was determined to accomplish. By faith, all who trust in Jesus Christ are united with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection:
3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God (Romans 6:3-10).
9 For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; 11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross (Colossians 2:9-14).
6 And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. 7 And He came, and He took it out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. 8 And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10 And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” 11 And I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” 13 And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever” (Revelation 5:6-13).
(6) This salvation, which God has accomplished in the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, is available in no other way. We live in a pluralistic society, which means that our neighbors have the right to believe in and practice whatever religion they choose. I do not have the right to force my faith on others, nor do they have the right to force their religion on me. But “political correctness” demands more than this. Political correctness wants us to think that whatever religion one chooses is just as good as the religion of another. People do have the right to choose their faith, but they do not have a right to be right about that choice. The Bible does not offer men a number of ways to have their sins forgiven and to obtain eternal life; the Bible has but one way, and that way is Jesus Christ.
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name (John 1:12).
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6).
14 “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:14-18).
12 “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
11 And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life (1 John 5:11-12).
Put in blunt terms, “You may get to heaven God’s way (by faith in Jesus Christ), or you may go to hell any way you like.” There will be no one in heaven singing, “I did it my way.”
(7) We enter into the blessings of our Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection as we personally acknowledge our sin, and place our trust in His finished work for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Some of the Jews actually believed that being Jewish was all that was necessary to be saved. John the Baptist quickly dismissed this error, and so did Paul:
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance; 9 and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (Matthew 3:7-9).
1 I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. 6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED” (Romans 9:1-7).
Professing to know God and to be one of His children is not proof of possession, even when one is able to accomplish great things in the name of Jesus:
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS’” (Matthew 7:21-23).
Even believing essential truths about Jesus Christ is not enough:
19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? (James 2:19-20).
Jesus makes it clear that there will be those who are false believers, “wolves” who come in “sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15), and only later they are recognized for what they really are:
24 He presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares also among the wheat, and went away. 26 But when the wheat sprang up and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. 27 And the slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ And the slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ 29 But he said, ‘No; lest while you are gathering up the tares, you may root up the wheat with them. 30 Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn”’” (Matthew 13:24-30).
Paul indicates the same thing to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:29-31). It is apparent in Paul’s Epistles to the Corinthians that some who profess to be saved are not really believers at all. Throughout most of 1 Corinthians, Paul gives his opponents the benefit of the doubt, although his teaching in chapter 15 on the resurrection of the dead makes it clear that anyone who denies this truth has departed from the gospel. In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul begins to speak plainly to the saints at Corinth regarding an “unequal yoke” with unbelievers:
14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? 16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. 17 Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,” says the Lord. “AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; and I will welcome you. 18 And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).
Clearly, Paul labels some Corinthian leaders as false apostles in 2 Corinthians 11. Then, in his closing chapter of his second Corinthians epistle, Paul makes this very significant challenge to them: “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
The most dangerous thing in the world is to reject God’s provision of salvation in the person of Jesus Christ. The most tragic thing in the world is to fail to trust in Jesus Christ because you assume you are already in the faith. Jesus’ words shocked not only the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees, they shocked His disciples:
20 “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
23 And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 And when the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” 26 And looking upon them Jesus said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:23-26).
Jesus catches Nicodemus completely off guard when He says to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Nicodemus is one of the prominent religious teachers of his day, and yet he has no clue what Jesus means. Jesus tells him it is not enough to know the Old Testament Scriptures well. It is not enough to have an academic knowledge about God. He has to be “born again.” Jesus is talking to him about the miracle of conversion, a conversion which requires not only faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, but a miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit, bringing about regeneration (a re-birth, being born anew).
Men can do nothing to gain their salvation; salvation is received as a free gift, by faith. Faith believes God’s evaluation that we are sinners, deserving of His eternal wrath. Faith understands that we cannot do anything to earn God’s favor or blessings. Faith not only believes that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, but trusts in His death, burial, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. Saving faith entrusts oneself to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Saving faith does not just give mental assent to the gospel. It clings to the gospel, and acts upon it. Saving faith is entered into once for all, but it is practiced daily, as we live out the gospel by the grace and power of God, dying daily, and daily experiencing and expressing the resurrection power of Christ:
10 And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you (Romans 8:10-11).
20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).
1 If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. 5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry (Colossians 3:1-5).
As we conclude this message, I have these questions for you, my friend: Have you been born again? Have you acknowledged your sin and the fact that rightly you deserve to suffer God’s eternal punishment? Have you placed your trust in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of your sins and the gift of eternal life? If you die tonight, do you know for certain that you will go to heaven? If you are not certain about the answers to these questions, I urge you to consider the gospel which Paul and the apostles preached, to accept the gospel as God’s only way of salvation, and then to place your trust in the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
35 I use the term “minister” in the general sense most often found in the New Testament, of that “service” to the body which each and every member is to contribute (see 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4:12), and not in the more limited sense of “ministry” by a select few, known as the “clergy.”