First Corinthians 15:1-11 reveals the necessity, nature, and effectiveness of the gospel. The Corinthians desperately needed to hear about all three things, because they were in danger of turning away from the faith. Let us consider each in turn.
The gospel is necessary for our salvation: “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.” We live in a day and time in which the objective content of Christianity is downplayed in favor of its subjective experiences. Doctrine, we are led to believe, is unimportant. What matters are feelings of wonder, joy, and love, and actions that treat our neighbors with tolerance, respect, and fairness. But, I think we must ask: Wonder at what? Joy for what reason? Love for whom? And why should we treat our neighbors well when they so often treat us badly? The objective content of Christianity explains its subjective experiences and motivations for ethical behavior. You cannot have one without the other. And so Paul urged the Corinthians to believe the gospel, not merely to feel spiritually or act morally.
Verses 3-8 delineate the content of the gospel: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” Christians believe much more than this, of course, but they can never believe anything less. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection are the whole point of Christianity. The Corinthians, it seems, thought they could get along just fine without a belief in the resurrection, however, so in the rest of chapter 15, Paul argues for the futility of their position. Here, though, he emphasizes one major point. The content of the gospel is not the fanciful product of a make-believe mind. It is a tradition, a valuable belief handed down from one generation to the next. It happened “according to the Scriptures,” that is, in accordance with prophecies written beforehand. And it was certified to be true by numerous witnesses, including, last of all, Paul himself.
And that brings us to the final point, namely, the effectiveness of the gospel. “Christ died for our sins,” Paul writes. In other words, he died because of our sins and in order to release us from our sins. Christ is both our substitute in the dock of divine justice as well as the guarantor of our holy life. And yet, it is all too possible that the objective content of the Christian gospel may fail to alter our subjective experience. Many people, after all, believe many things that make not one whit of difference in the way they live. For Paul, however, the change was immediate and obvious: “I persecuted the church of God But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” In one blinding moment on the road to Damascus, God transformed Paul from an enemy of Christianity to its greatest evangelist.
God’s power to transform lives is available to us today if only we believe the gospel.