Thursday, October 4, 2012
The "Nutshell Gospel" Part 1
Every now and again I find it edifying and refreshing to return our focus to the heart of the Christian faith: the gospel. In this instance I would like to visit a chapter in the New Testament that provides what I like to sometimes refer to as “the nutshell gospel.” Like all of Paul’s inspired writings, this presentation of the gospel we are about to read was not arbitrarily given late in his letter to the Corinthian church; it was a reminder that was the driving point to counter false teaching that was being propagated within Corinth.
What was that false teaching? The rejection of the reality of a future physical resurrection. We know this doctrine was much maligned by a number of groups numerous times. The Sadducees rejected the resurrection of the body and so came into contention with Jesus regarding this teaching, Luke 20:27-38. The Sadducees likely rejected the resurrection because they did not believe in a spiritual existence, Acts 23:8. This seems to be so, since Jesus used the persons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to demonstrate to the Sadducees that the dead still “live” after the body perishes. In short, the Sadducees were just shy of being Judaist atheists.
Twice also Paul received incredulous responses from his teachings regarding the future resurrection based on the resurrection of Christ our Lord from the dead. The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers whom Paul debated with in Athens mocked him when his discourse turned toward a future resurrection and judgment, assured to all by the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, Acts 17:31-32. The Epicureans were named after their founder Epicurus, who began his school of teaching about 306 BC. Their philosophy was concerned with the pragmatic effects of immediate physical and mental pleasure rather than concerns about their future spiritual state. The Stoics were founded by a man named Zeno and Stoicism was one of the principle philosophies in Greece. It taught a dispassionate view toward life in which God was an all pervading soul that inhabited everything and ultimately controls everything. Man was to resign himself to his fate; fatalism abounded, and in light of these teachings a personal Savior and future resurrection must have seemed incredible to say the least.
Finally Paul encountered a dismissive attitude in Festus when the apostle was giving his defense before King Agrippa. Paul prefaced his defense early on by asking “Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?” Acts 26:8. A little later Paul speaks about Jesus’ resurrection, and that the Son of God was merely the first to rise from the dead; implying that those sanctified by faith in Christ would likewise partake in the resurrection, Acts 26:18, 23. Festus broke in and exclaimed that Paul was insane, Acts 26:24. To him the subject of the physical resurrection of the dead was nonsense. To many today the idea of Christ’s literal, physical resurrection is nonsense. But as we shall see, the resurrection is utterly necessary if the gospel has any power to save, or there is any truth to its message.
When Paul turns his full attention to the presentation of the gospel we find that it is for this very reason; some within the Corinthian church, or visiting “ministers” from another area, had perverted the simplicity of the gospel by denying the resurrection’s reality. It is for this reason that Paul reiterates the message of the gospel to a group of men and women who have already heard and believed it; they needed reinforcement against this barrage of false teaching that was washing over their church, and Paul was not one to idly stand by while Christians were subverted from their faith. The point of this entire chapter could be summarized with the simple fact that if they ceased believing in the reality of the resurrection there was no point to their faith.