The apostle Paul made a clear presentation of the gospel message when he wrote to the church at Corinth. He stated, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel [εὐαγγέλιον euaggelion – good news message] which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain” (1 Cor 15:1-2). The gospel is information that is communicable from one person to another, whether by spoken or written means. It is received as factual information that benefits the recipient who accepts it by faith. Paul then provided the content of the gospel, “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4).
The gospel is best understood as the solution to a problem. There are two parts to the problem. First, God is holy (Ps. 99:9; Isa. 6:3), which means He is positively righteous and can have nothing to do with sin except to condemn it. The Scripture states, “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You cannot look on wickedness with favor” (Hab 1:13), and “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Second, all mankind is sinful and separated from God (Rom. 3:10-23). This separation occurred when Adam sinned and brought death into the world. Scripture informs us that “through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom 5:12; cf. 18-19; 1 Cor 15:21-22). The idea is that Adam served as the federal and seminal head of the human race, and when he fell, we fell with him. Because of sin, every person is spiritually separated from God and helpless to change their situation (Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:1), and good works have no saving merit before the Lord (Isa 64:6; Rom 4:1-5; Gal 2:16; 3:21; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5). We cannot save ourselves any more than we can jump across the Grand Canyon or throw rocks and hit the moon. But God, because of His mercy and love toward us (John 3:16; Eph 2:4-7), did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He provided His own solution to the problem of sin, and this was worked out through His Son, Jesus, who became human and accomplished what we could not.
Jesus solved both problems: 1) He lived the righteous life that God demands and committed no sin, and 2) He died for us on the cross, as our substitute, and paid the penalty for all our sins. God the Son—the second Person of the Trinity—came into the world by human birth (Luke 1:26-35), and lived a perfectly righteous life (Matt 5:17-21). Scripture informs us that Jesus “knew no sin” (2 Cor 5:21), “has been tempted in all things as we are, yet He did not sin” (Heb 4:15), and “in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). Being sinless qualified Him to go to the cross and die for us. No one forced Jesus to go to the cross; rather, He willingly laid down His life and died in our place, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). Jesus said, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). We are redeemed, not by anything this world can offer or by anything we can do, but His “precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:19). The blood of Christ is the coin of the heavenly realm that pays our sin debt and liberates us from the slave-market of sin. But we must trust in Jesus as our Savior. We must accept His good work on our behalf. Though Jesus’ atoning work on the cross is sufficient for all (John 1:29; Heb 2:9; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), it is effectual only for those who believe in Him (John 3:16-18; 20:31; Acts 4:12; 16:30-31). If we reject Christ as Savior, the result is that we will be forever separated from the Lord (Rev 20:11-15). For “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 3:18). At the cross, He judged my sin as His righteousness requires, and saves me, the sinner, as His love desires. He did this out of His own goodness and mercy, and not because of any worth found in me. To comprehend the cross of Christ is to understand the heart of God toward a fallen world He wants to save.
Salvation is completely the work of God and comes to us as a free gift (Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5), for we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). When we trust in Christ as our Savior, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7; Col 1:14), positionally identified with Him (Rom 5:14-18; 1 Cor 15:22), given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28), given the gift of God’s righteousness (Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9), and have the power to live righteously (Rom 6:1-13). God saves us from the penalty of sin (John 5:24; Rom 6:23; 8:1), the power of sin (Rom 6:11; 8:13; 2 Cor 5:17), and ultimately the presence of sin (Phil 3:21; 1 John 3:2). God has prepared good works to follow our salvation (Eph 2:10), but they are never the condition of it. The matter is simple: Salvation comes to us who believe in Christ as our Savior, believing He died for our sins, was buried, and rose again on the third.
Dr. Steven R. Cook
- God’s Imputed Righteousness
- Not of Works
- The Meaning of Sin
- God’s Righteousness at the Cross
- Christianity is Not a Religion
- An Ambassador for Christ
- The Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53
- Soteriology – The Study of Salvation
- Three Phases of Salvation
- Christ to the Cross
- Saved by God’s Grace
 The word vain translates the Greek word εἰκῇ eike, which denotes, “being without careful thought, without due consideration, in a haphazard manner” (BDAG, p. 281). The main thrust of 1 Corinthians chapter 15 concerns the resurrection of Jesus, which is an essential part of the gospel message. Yet, there were some within the church who were saying “there is no resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor 15:12). Paul asserts, “if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain” (1 Cor 15:13-14). The point is, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; [and] you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:17). Denying the resurrection of Jesus meant they had believed in a Jesus that could not save them, because the object of their faith was dead, and therefore powerless to help them. Getting the gospel message right matters.
 Being born in Adam, we also possess a sin nature which is the source of our rebellious heart (Rom 7:14-25; 13:12-14), and we produce personal sin each time we yield to temptation (Jam 1:14-15).