Here’s the audio and notes from part of a sermon I preached two years ago.
What is of first importance in your life?
There’s so many other things going on, especially in the Bible Belt, where we tend to look a lot alike. But Paul says that there’s something—when you dwell on it and when it’s at the center of your life—it’s transforming. It will set you apart because people know that you’re bent around something different.
That’s what I want to talk about. Right off the bat we’re talking about something that’s of first importance. It’s a priority. But then the passage goes on to say that this isn’t just an important facet of the Christian life but it’s also something that you continually need. Look at verse 1.
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand. By which also ye are saved…”
The gospel isn’t a vacation.
I just had spring break for school, and it was refreshing. We didn’t have that too long ago. It’s a new thing, and we really look forward to it. It’s something important to me. I need that week off. But do we treat the gospel in a similar way—like this is something I just need for a week? Like, I need God right now. I need Him on Easter Sunday but not so much the rest of the year.
Don’t treat the gospel like vacation. This is something Paul says you need to stand on. This isn’t a stepping stone. This isn’t, “I got saved so I’m past the importance of the resurrection and I’m onto more spiritual things now.” This is at the forefront from the beginning all the to the end.
The gospel isn’t a stepping stone.
I remember camping with some guys from the soccer team at Bob Jones. Me and Karl Walker were responsible for walking ahead of the group and finding a place for us to camp. And I didn’t want to go for one of the mainstream places to camp that’s clearly laid out where to stay. I wanted to find something cooler than that. So we ended up climbing about 30 feet down a ledge with a bunch of coolers and stuff. And we had to across a river. When me and Karl spotted the destination, there was still light outside. But by the time we ran back, got the group, and brought them to where we were going, it was pretty dark. So now we have to walk across this river in the dark with all of our gear.
It was really hard to see the stones in the river, and the water was very cold. So if I skip to the end of the story, a lot of us got really wet. I lost some socks that floated down the river, and our feet were cold all night. Not to mention most of the group hated me for the rest of the trip because those stepping stones were important. We needed them to get to the other side dry. But, once again, that’s not how we can treat the gospel—that I’m trying to get where I want to go and I’m just going to use God to get there. I’ll step on him just so I can get where I want.
Keep standing on the gospel.
The gospel is not something that you step on, it’s something that you stand on. You stay there. It’s something that you need. If you’re not rooted in it, even as you mature and you are farther along in your Christian life, you still need it. It’s at the forefront of our minds, and it’s the foundation of what we stand on.
It’s weird to think—and sad to think—that we have this idea that once you’re saved, now all of a sudden Satan is not going to bother you. But, if anything, you probably have a larger target on your head. So when it comes to temptation and Satan, the Accuser, trying to guilt you and trying to make you forget about the Cross—maybe you believe that Christ rose, but it’s not even on your mind when you’re dealing with sin and guilt—so you don’t know how to fight it.
We need the gospel everyday.
This is why we need the gospel every day. How else do you fight that? This is how I’m being sanctified, and this is how I don’t grow really weary—because I have a lot of sin. Unless I continually remind myself that Christ is risen and interceding for me, then I’m going to be stuck in guilt. Satan is good at accusing. But I need to stand firm on the gospel, and remind myself that I’m not standing on my works. I’m standing on Christ’s. I’m forgiven. And when it comes to that temptation, I have the power that raised Christ from the dead to fight against it. That’s a good weapon.
So I encourage you to refuse to tackle the day until you’ve reminded yourself of the gospel. That you wouldn’t move on from something like the resurrection but that it would be central—even later on in your Christian walk.
The Significance of the Resurrection
But here’s something else that’s really exciting. Paul points to a lot of things as proof of the resurrection. I don’t want to give an apologetic lesson; I want to talk about the significance—the implications and effect—of the resurrection. When this is a reality in your mind, what does it do to your life? When this is something that you really are centered around and standing on, what does that life look like?
Peter and Paul
“[Jesus] was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once” (1 Corinthians 15:5-6).
Peter saw Jesus. And what happened in Peter’s life when the resurrection of Christ became a reality for him? You have someone like Peter who not too long ago was denying Christ. He’s in a group there and says “I don’t know the man.” And he ends up feeling a lot of guilt for that. But when he encounters the resurrected Lord, that Peter is transformed into a follower of Christ who won’t even consider it a worthy death to be hung the same way as Christ—he’d rather be hung upside down. And Paul—Paul who is persecuting the church—he encounters the resurrected Lord, and now all of a sudden is being persecuted on Christ’s behalf.
When we’re talking about the reality of the resurrection—something that’s central in your life—we’re talking about something that is incredibly and radically transforming. It’s because there is a hope there that pushes you to your limits. There’s a power—a strength—to go to limits that you didn’t know existed.
You won’t believe this, but me and my brother are training for a triple marathon. We have 24 hours and need to complete about 77 miles. You’re probably asking, “Why in the world would you do that?” We’ve attempted it before, and failed. It was awful. So why try it?
But there’s something incredible about the experience. There’s something that you hit called “a wall,” and when you run that far you hit a lot of them. And sometimes they feel doubled up and trippled and you just cannot break through. So you got like 20 miles left and you’re feeling like you can’t go five more steps. How do you go five more steps? What do you cling to that helps keep you going? It’s a hope that I’m actually going to be revived at the end.
This is what’s crazy as you do a long run like that. Your body goes through cycles where you feel like you’re absolutely toast and like you’re not gonna make it five more minutes, but then you push it another ten minutes and you get a burst of energy back. So you need to trust that just like the past five times I broke through this wall, that I will get more energy and that I actually won’t feel this bad at the end. It’s weird how it works, but you have to trust it because if you’re thinking it’s only going to get worse from here, you’ll quit.
Power Through Hope in the Resurrection
This is what Paul is doing. Paul is pointing to the resurrected Lord and the power he gives us. He says there’s a hope that I have that I don’t need to preserve this body but I can use it and one day it will be revived. I don’t have to protect this, I can use it. This is Paul who was beaten and stoned. Why would he do that unless he believed that it was actually going to get better?
This is what we’re talking about with a transforming hope. You’re clinging to a hope that just like Christ died and was raised—he’s the firstborn from the dead. So when we follow him, we can push ourselves to the brink of death or even to death. But we’re going to rise just like him.
Think about the martyrs of the Christian faith. What gives them the strength to do that? One preacher put it this way—that they were so set on things above (because that’s where Christ is seated) that it didn’t matter what you did to the body because even if you killed it, all you would do is reunite their body with where there mind has been this whole time. Did you catch that? If our mind is focused on Christ, where he is seated in the heavenly places, then we don’t care what happens to our bodies here because the worst thing that can happen is we are united with him in heaven. That’s resurrection power. That’ll take you in to a journey that’s difficult but worth it.
What if the resurrection isn’t real?
At the end of chapter 15, Paul talks about how the resurrection is absolutely essential. You can’t miss this because if the resurrection isn’t true, my life is in vain. Why is that? He actually says if there’s no such thing as the resurrection, I’m of all people most to be pitied.
That can make you scratch your head for a second. What is he implying about his life? That it is so invested—that it is so transformed and bent on the kingdom of heaven and following after Christ—that if it turns out to be vain, there’s not anything he can point to in his life that wasn’t wasted.
Being All In
There’s one show that was called the Million Dollar Money Drop. What happened is you were given a question, and you had a certain amount of money. The couple I’m thinking of had $880,000 on the line. They were presented with a question and had three options to choose. And they way it works is they have around 60 seconds to decide where they will place their money. There’s three boxes with answers on them, and they can decide to put all their money on one answer. If it turns out to be right, they will keep all their money. Or they can play it safe and spread their money around so even if the other two answers are wrong, they can keep what was left on the right answer.
They were asked, which one of these was sold first? A Macintosh computer, a Sony Walkman, or Post-it Notes? Which one do you think was sold first? And how sure are you of your answer? Would you put all $880k on one answer? The couple wasn’t sure so they put $800k on one Post-it Notes and $80k on the Sony Walkman. The answer was the walkman so it wasn’t a complete lost. They lost $800k but got to keep $80,000.
Here’s why I mentioned that—that’s somethmes how we view the Christian life. That this is something I can spread my bets. That if Christ doesn’t turn out to be real, I’ll be alright because I’ve been doing all this other stuff.
But that’s not how it works. The gospel is something that you’re all in. This is how centered we’re suppose to be on it. This is how firm we stand on the gospel—hat we don’t keep one foot over here or part of our mind over here. It’s all in because if the resurrection is not true—if this is in vain—then all of my life is wasted.
Make People Wonder
That’s a strong statement. This is what Paul is implying about how much the gospel transforms us—that we’re so bent on following after Christ to death that people see and they say there’s no explanation for that except for the cross.
Why else would you go all in like that? Why would someone love that sacrificially? Why would you give up that much to follow Christ? Because he’s real.
So that’s a question for you to ask yourself: is this something that you’re standing on? What are you trusting? What is your mind centered around? How has this impacted your life? Where are we at? Can we say that we would be of all men most to be pitied? There are a lot of people who are committed to their ideals and principles. Can we say that we’re all in? It’s so worth it.
Resurrection Power is Noticeable
There’s this idea right now—I think this is mostly my generation—that the gospel changes you from the inside out but it’s alright if it doesn’t make it to the outside. It’s where my old-man days are not too different than my new-man days. The actions are still the same but I just title things differently. So I still hang out with the same friends in the same way but just call it discipleship now. It’s where my life looks the same, but I attribute it to the Christian life.
That’s a tricky thing to think about. But what I think what Paul is presenting is that the gospel has a bigger impact than that—that there’s something noticeable when the resurrecting power of Christ is working in your life. We talked about Peter. We talked about Paul. But is this something that’s just for the elite apostles? Or are we given the same transforming power? I think you know the answer. It’s given through his Spirit. And how many of you have the Spirit inside of you? Is it saved for the pastors, for the apostles, or for certain types of Christians? No.
This Spirit was given to all of us who believe in Christ, and it’s that Spirit who raised Christ from the dead that is working the same resurrection power in you. So we don’t just title things differently now. Our life is actually transformed.
1 Corinthians 4
If you are a Christian, you are a fool. Look at verse 10.
“We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are honorable, but were are despised.”
Think about just half of those phrases. You wise in Christ. You are strong. You are honorable. Does that sound like a compliment? Now read the following verses.
“Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place; and labor, working with out own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: being deemed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.”
Think back to what he called them in verse 10 and read the following verse. “I write these things not to shame you.” What’s up with that? You are wise, strong, and honorable, but I write that not to make you blush or feel ashamed? It’s because he’s calling them to a different kind of life. He says in verse 16, “I beseech you, be followers of me.” This is the effect that the resurrection has on its followers. They are fools for Christ—not that they’re just weird, but they sacrifice so much that it looks foolish. They say, “Paul why would you do that? You’ve been in prison for so long. Just let the chains go.” But he knows that’s his calling. He says, “I’m following after Christ. Be imitators of me. Be a fool.”
2 Corinthians 4
Read about this power in verse 7: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us.” There’s something that God is showing off and he can only do it through a certain kind of life.
“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death works in us, but life in you. We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak; knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus will raise up us also by Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence.”
What kind of lifestyle is he calling us to? One with immense sacrifice. One where are bodies are actually at risk—where we are toiling and striving according to the incredible power at work within us that God used to raise Christ from the dead. That’s what happens when we give ourselves over and sacrifice ourselves in that kind of way—the only thing people can attribute it to is the cross. Someone doesn’t give themselves over to death unless they believe that they are going to be raised up—that there’ something after. And that’s what our lives give us the opportunity to do—to make people wonder. Sometimes it looks foolish, but it points to the life that we have in Christ.
Why so many passages? Because this can really sound like it’s out there. Like this is maybe just something mentioned in a weird part of that Bible. Like this isn’t central and isn’t what the disciples are actually calling all their followers to.
It says in verse 7, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted as loss for Christ.” Okay, so we’re about to read about something that actually makes Paul consider everything else equal to dung.
“Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.”
Here’s where it gets to what I want to know—why I count everything else as worthless. It’s because there is something so much more valuable.
“That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. “
Giving yourself over and sacrificing to the extent of death is something that Paul actually really valued because he was following after the footsteps of his Lord. I want to know that. I want to know that kind of power. I want to know that kind of power that takes me to the brink of all my energy so I can toil and strive with all that God is powerfully working in me and so I can know what it’s like to really follow Christ and one day be raised with him.
It’s foolish. But I’m proud to be a fool for Christ. And my hopes is that Christ will show himself real to you.
Christ didn’t stay in the grave.
And neither will we.
When I saw our Lord being displayed at Living Gallery—it just strikes you and has an effect on you. You’re impacted because this really happened. And it’s hard not to burst into tears that Christ did that. And that effect hopefully stirs within you a desire in response to that love he showed me when he gave his life. Now I want to show that kind of love to others, which means giving myself up just like he did—even to death.
That’s bold. But we can only do that if the resurrection is at the forefront of your mind—if its of first importance. If comfort is what you’re centered around, this isn’t your life. But if this is what you’re standing on, God stands there with you. And you have an incredible life to look forward—yes, of suffering, but suffering with Christ and the hope that you will be raised with him.
So right now I’m seeking after things above because that’s where Christ is. And he’s gonna come back. And I want him to find me following after his footsteps. And all the pain that I went through, I’ll find out it was working a much more exceeding weight of glory.
We know that Christ didn’t stay in the tomb. He’s alive. It’s a sad story if it ends in the tomb, but it doesn’t. And even for us it doesn’t end with death. There’s a resurrection of all of those in Christ. And we can have that to look forward to and to cling to so that we can give ourselves now and trust we will be revived.
Father, thank you so much. You’ve given us your Word that shows us the love of Christ. And you’ve given us your Spirit who works in us this incredible power that raised your own son from the dead. For many of us this life that you are calling us to seems foreign, and maybe we’re not familiar with it. But I pray that as we let go of earthly values that you would show us the exceeding value of knowing Christ, even suffering for Christ as something we can count everything as loss for. We look forward to the day when we will be raised just like you were, and we just pray for the strength until that day. And we pray this in your son’s name. Amen.