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4/2/06 “Gospel-centricity” 1Corinthians 15:1-4
The Copernican revolution made us realize that the sun and not the earth was the center of the solar system. It shows us that it’s very possible to see and believe in a lot of things but not properly understand their relationship to one another.
In the same way, the center of Christianity is the gospel. All other aspects of God’s truth revolve around this. The gospel is the hub, everything else being the spokes. This is the same thing as saying that Christ is the center of everything. The gospel is, after all, the story of His coming into the world and dying to save sinners. Everything revolves around the Son.
We see the primacy of the gospel in 1Cor.15:1-4: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
The gospel Paul had delivered to the Corinthians was “of first importance.” It was not just one truth among many, even in the Bible. It is first. Not necessarily logically first or chronologically first, but first in importance. Why? Because the gospel is the power of God unto salvation: “by which you are being saved.” (v.2). The laws of the Bible aren’t at the center. The history isn’t. The biographical studies aren’t. The gospel, the other hand, is not just the most important thing, it is the center of everything.
Paul spent time in Corinth imparting information. “He spent a year and a half there teaching them the word of God.” (Acts 18:11). A year and a half is a long time. What specifically did he teach? Paul preached the gospel. When he summed up his message, it was the gospel. He didn’t preach Biblical law or Biblical history. He didn’t teach them the geography of Palestine or the poetic characteristics of the Psalms. Of course, Paul preached many things to the Corinthians, but only as a part of the gospel.
Think about a movie. What is the center? The actors? The director? The script? The special effects? No, it’s the story. The gospel at its heart is a story: “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” (v.3-4).
These people had not only already heard the gospel from Paul, they had heard it explained for 1½ years while Paul was in Corinth. This means there must be something in us prone to forget, prone to wander. The gospel is something we need to be reminded of. “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you.” (v.1).
Part of the gospel story is the effect that the gospel produces in the lives of those who hear it. In v.1-2: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.” there are a series of steps: 1- the gospel is preached 2- the gospel is received 3- the gospel is stood upon 4- the gospel is in the process of saving us
There are lots of things happening around us in this world. People are busy. There’s a lot of hustle and bustle. People are getting into this or that, pursuing this new thing or listening to that person. But unnoticed, right under our noses, there is a process taking place that is of infinitely greater importance. For God is at work in the gospel, opening the eyes of the blind to the reality of Jesus, gathering to Himself a family here, a lonely soul there, opening hearts to Himself, bringing hope and encouragement to His people, setting free from slavery to sin, knitting people together in His love. And it’s largely unnoticed; to the world it is of no significance. And yet in reality it is more important than all the elections and all the terrorist attacks and all the championships and all the latest movies. My friends, the fact is that, compared to the gospel, there’s a world of non-events happening out there. But when the living God reaches down with His finger of grace and touches a human soul, that is something of true significance. If we miss this, we miss the main thing.
The gospel is at the center of the Bible’s message. The gospel is at the center of human history. The gospel is at the center of our relationships: with each other, with our families, with non-Christians. The gospel is at the center of our worship. The gospel is at the center of our service of Christ.
Sometimes other things get put in the center. Evil things can certainly take center stage: murder, hatred, immorality, abuse, oppression, etc. But things of beauty and importance can also be wrongly placed at the center, and a good thing becomes a heresy and idolatry when given a central role it does not deserve; the good becomes the enemy of the best. This includes things like keeping the rules, like human approval, like family, like doctrine, like order, like passion and zeal, like thrilling and sensational experiences.
It even includes the Church. Sure, the church upholds the gospel. But the gospel creates the church. The church without the gospel is nothing but a tomb. And it includes worship: the music, the order, the experience, the mood. It includes evangelism: the task can become the hub instead of the reality being the hub. It includes love. Love in general is not the center, the love of Christ for sinners which compelled Him to come down and die for their salvation — that is the center.
Imagine you’re a mom preparing for a birthday party for your child. You may need to get gas in the car, bake a cake, go to grocery store to pick up ice cream for the cake, wrap presents. You may even need time for a nap so everyone is at their best — and not cranky — by the end of the day. Then afterward, there are dishes to do, and clean up of the house. But all the activities are related to and focused on the celebration of that child on his birthday. There are three ways you could potentially get off track: 1- Doing bad things (e.g. thinking that the main goal of the day is to get appreciated for what you are doing — to get angry at the child for not thanking you, to get angry that they don’t have the movie you wanted to rent at the video store, or that the clerk made a mistake) 2- Doing good things which are irrelevant to the birthday (e.g. your taxes, getting your hair done, chatting at the grocery story, etc.) 3- Putting good and necessary things — instead of the celebration of the child’s birthday — at the center (picking out a movie that the birthday child doesn’t like because you really want to see it, or caring more about winning a birthday game than about making it a special time for the birthday child, or sitting by the side of the road with a broken down car frustrated that your birthday plans are thrown out of whack instead of enjoying the time with the child and making it as positive and special for him as possible).
This is exactly what we do with the gospel. We forget that it is the central purpose of our lives. We forget that our role as parents is first to pass on the gospel. We forget that our role as neighbors at its core is to represent and promote the gospel in the lives of our neighbors. We forget that our first role in the workplace is to live lives of love and hope and good works so that others might be drawn to the Christ of the gospel. We forget that our role in the church is at its core to serve the interests of the gospel in the lives of our brothers and sisters. We forget that the most important thing of every day is not to get our to do list done or to act in accordance with Biblical morality, but to remember the gospel and live in fresh awareness of our remarkable salvation and walk with our beloved Savior.
It’s not enough to live right. The Pharisees were all about living right. We’re supposed to live right, of course — but not as an end in itself. If right living is an end in itself, we’re law-keepers not believers, we’re moralists not Christians. We live right as a result of the gospel and in service of the gospel. The right living God calls us to is right living that flows out of a heart captured by the gospel, and eager to promote the gospel among other sinners who need the same forgiveness we receive from Christ.
There are many many details of the gospel, many questions and answers. And all that is good. But there is a tendency to get lost in the details and forget the big picture. We lose the forest for the trees. The older I get the more I realize what a tendency this has been in my life. I do things but I forget what the things are for. Satan loves to get us to latch onto something very true and important, which distracts us from the main thing. The main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing. This is our constant battle.
I’d like to end by reading the introduction to our church’s core values:
I. FIRST THINGS: The Gospel of Grace, Core of Our Core Values
A. At its core, the Christian religion is a story, a love story. It is a story of the God of the universe sending His Son Jesus to redeem for Himself a bride, namely His people, His church. It is the story of the coming of this One to lay down His life for her, taking her place: the innocent for the guilty, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order that He might take the stain of her sin and the penalty for her guilt upon Himself, thereby clothing her in the pure white robe of His righteousness. Now He builds a glorious new home for her where He will one day live with her happily ever after.
B. This story is called the gospel (which means, good news). It is the heart of the Christian faith as revealed in the Scriptures. Everything else flows out from it. Worship is the celebration of the gospel. Doctrine is the explanation of the gospel. Love is the demonstration of the gospel. Evangelism is the propagation of the gospel. The church is the family of the gospel. Marriage is the symbol of the gospel. The Christian family is the training ground of the gospel for the next generation. The fruits of the Spirit are the virtues of the gospel. The gifts of the Spirit are the tools of the gospel.
C. Other Biblical truths can be accurately expressed and defined, but if the gospel is left out, then there is only an empty shell, a lifeless corpse. Even if the gospel becomes just another spoke in the wheel instead of the hub itself, the glory of Christ is undermined at best, and ruined at worst.