As we grow older, the more our memory fades. We misplace our car keys or cell phone. We arrive at the bottom of the basement stairs only to forget why we went down there. We start telling others about a movie we saw, or a book we read, and we can’t remember the names of key players or the author. But don’t worry too much. Doctors say this it’s normal and is not necessarily a sign of more serious issues. Forgetfulness is common.
However, since memory loss is common we may wrongly assume it is inevitable…that there is nothing we can do to combat it. But that’s not necessarily true. The brain is capable of producing new brain cells at any age. Significant memory loss is not inevitable. But, as it is with other muscles in the body, we have to use them or we lose them. Stop going to the gym and it will not take long to notice how flabby and weak we have become. Stop challenging your mind with learning, using all your senses, and repeating important information, it will not take long to notice sharpness fading. This can be true spiritually, too.
It was a problem in the church at Corinth. The church had started off with a bang when the apostolic missionaries first brought the gospel to their city. But as time passed, problems developed including divisions, immorality, lawsuits, adultery and divorce, abuse of spiritual gifts, and more unloving behavior.
But there was another problem in the Corinthian church, which was greater than all the others combined—the purity and priority of the gospel were at risk. The gospel was being threatened openly by some who denied the resurrection. But the gospel was also at risk of being threatened in a subtle manner—through forgetfulness, by lack of conscious remembrance. So Paul writes to remind them of the beauty and glory of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is God’s gospel. It is His good news concerning His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the salvation provided through faith in Him as Lord and Sin-bearing Savior. It is the one and only message containing within itself the power to save each of us sinners.
Like all things that are important to remember, the warm truths surrounding the gospel must be rekindled in our hearts and minds, lest we lose our priorities, our focus, and then ultimately our way. Therefore, to strengthen your memory function and prevent yourself from wandering, God wants you to remind yourself of four essential aspects of the gospel mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11.
Remind yourself of the centrality of the gospel.
The Gospel (Good News) is what Paul brought to them (1 Cor. 15:1-3). He preached it to them and they received it. It was now the gospel in which they stood; their very standing before God was based on the gospel of grace (Rom. 5:1).
By this gospel, the apostle writes, “You are being saved…IF” – two conditions are being met.
- You hold fast the word. To “hold fast” means to be obedient to it. This, Paul says, is a mark of true salvation which produces a life that is growing in obedience. We’re not talking about perfection, but a change in direction which is part of being a new creature in Christ. Clearly, there were members of the church in Corinth who needed to examine the genuineness of their own faith.
- Unless you believed in vain. The word “vain” means without due consideration. Vain faith is the non-saving faith that James warned against (James 2:17, 26). Leon Morris wrote in his commentary: “If people profess to believe the gospel, but have not given due consideration to what that implies and what it demands, they do not really trust Christ. Their belief is groundless and empty. They lack saving faith.”
This should press home to us the importance of preaching the gospel thoroughly. Our evangelism should not be hit and miss, carelessly throwing seeds here and there, but thorough in its teaching. We must be careful to not call people to believe in a Christ they do not know enough about, lest we help them to merely believe in vain. To the apostle, the gospel was of first importance. Why? Because it is the message that saved him, and the message God commanded him to preach. The gospel must be central to our faith or we have missed the mark.
Remind yourself of the content of the gospel.
The gospel is not a religious word that everyone has the right to define for themselves. It is God’s gospel and, therefore, contains the content that He alone revealed to us (1 Cor. 3b-4). There are three parts to its content.
- Jesus Christ died for sin. Jesus Christ the Son of God died in our place, as our substitute, according to the Scriptures (Isa 53:4-6).
- Jesus Christ was buried. “According to the Scriptures” is assumed (see Isa 53:9, for example).
- Jesus Christ rose from the grave. This miracle was also “according to the Scriptures” (see Psalm 16:9-10).
The repetition of “according to the Scriptures” demonstrates that the apostle rested the confidence of his faith upon the inerrant Word of God. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ adhere to one another to form a unit concerning the most central event in all of earth history. If any of these three pieces is removed the whole gospel house collapses.
Remind yourself of the confirmation of the gospel.
In 1 Corinthians 15:5-8, Paul went on to mention some of the witnesses who confirmed the resurrection: Cephas (Peter), the twelve, more than 500 believers at one time, James, all the apostles, and Paul who considered himself as a miscarried baby, unable to sustain life. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most confirmed miracle in history.
Remind yourself of the call of the gospel.
What I mean when I say, “Remind yourself of the call of the gospel” is that you keep in mind two aspects of the gospel call: The gospel’s call to your heart by the Holy Spirit, and God’s call to you as an ambassador of the gospel. Paul mentions both of these (1 Cor. 15:9-11).
“I am least of the apostles,” Paul believed. That is, the closer Paul got to Christ, the uglier his sinful heart appeared to him and the more he realized how badly he needed the Lord. He was unworthy to be a Christian, no less an apostle, but it was by God’s mercy he was called (1 Tim. 1:12-16), and continually empowered by the grace of God.
Salvation is more than merely intellectual assent to the factual content of the gospel (death, burial, resurrection), but it includes moral submission to God’s diagnosis of your own heart’s need. The extent to which you think you need Christ, and consistently remind yourself of the gospel of grace, the more your love for God will grow.
It’s like the humble woman in Luke 7, who was broken over her sinfulness. In the presence of Jesus, she broke open her expensive jar of perfume and poured it over her Savior’s feet. In contrast, the Pharisee who hosted the dinner was embarrassed for Jesus and angry at the woman. But Jesus was not embarrassed. He was not angry. The woman, Jesus said, loved much because she had been forgiven much. “But the one who is forgiven little,” Jesus said, “loves little.”
- Are you like that woman? You know you are deeply sinful and, therefore, have never gotten over the love of God for you in the gospel. You love much because you know you’ve been forgiven much.
- Or, are you like the Pharisee? You think you are not as bad of a sinner as other people. Yes, you need a Savior, but not quite as much as others who have totally messed up their lives with sin. Beware! There’s spiritual pride lurking under the surface. You love God little because—in your heart—you believe you only need a little forgiveness.
What is the condition of your soul memory? Ask God to heal your gospel amnesia. Remind yourself that without Christ you are nothing. Remind yourself that in Christ you are immersed in God’s grace and give Him never-ending praise.
[Adapted from last Sunday’s sermon at Cornerstone Community Church in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.]