Holding Fast or Believing in Vain?

Holding Fast or Believing in Vain?

“Holding Fast or Believing in Vain?”
(1 Corinthians 15:1-2)
Series: Chaos & Correction (1 Corinthians)

Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD

Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson

•Take your Bibles and join me in 1 Corinthians 15 (page 775; YouVersion).

If you’re visiting with us we have been in a series of messages through the book of 1 Corinthians and at least as far back as chapter 7, Paul has been answering questions raised by the Corinthian congregation. You’ll remember that phrase back in chapter 7, verse 1, “Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me (1 Corinthians 7:1),” and Paul began answering some of their questions. So it very likely that what Paul writes about here in chapter 15 is also written in response to questions raised by the Corinthians.

Chapter 15 is one of those wonderful chapters in the New Testament, a chapter devoted entirely to the doctrine of the resurrection, teaching about the resurrection. Chapter 15 is Paul’s answer to questions about life after death, namely about the possibility of one’s having a body in the afterlife.

It seems the majority understanding about death in the Greco-Roman world was a false understanding that at the moment of death a person either ceased to exist entirely or that one continued on in a sort of “soulish” and ethereal way, no physical body but just an airy kind of disembodied existence where one continued on into the afterlife without a body like a ghost or something.

In any case this popular way of thinking in ancient Greece had infiltrated the church which created no small amount of confusion on the part of the Corinthians. We know some of the Corinthians were shaped by this faulty thinking because down in verse 12 Paul asks, “How do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:12)?”

And perhaps some took the position of Hymenaeus and Philetus, mentioned in Paul’s second letter to Timothy. These two guys, Paul says, “strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past (2 Timothy 2:17-18).” So some believed that, whatever the resurrection was, it must already have taken place in some way or other, some way other than being a literal future resurrection of a physical body in which the Christian’s soul would inhabit and remain for eternity.

So it’s not these Corinthians didn’t believe in the resurrection of Christ. They did. What they were confused about was the resurrection of believers. And so we’ll note in the weeks to come that Paul corrects their thinking about the resurrection of the bodies of Christians by teaching that the truth of the Christian’s resurrection is based upon the truth of Christ’s resurrection.

So if the preceding chapters treat disorderly worship in the church, chapter 15 treats disorderly belief in the church, namely belief about the resurrection. Now in all fairness, many Christians today are perhaps equally as confused or unclear about these matters as were the Corinthians 2000 years ago. I am often asked questions that reflect the same kind of head scratching done by our Corinthian brothers and sisters. You know, “What’s the deal, pastor? When we die our soul goes to heaven, but we don’t have a body? And we will get a body later? What will that body be like?” Same questions on the minds of the Corinthians here in chapter 15.

This morning we’re going to look at the two introductory verses of the chapter, verses 1 and 2 and I invite you to hear what Paul teaches in these two verses about the gospel.

•Please stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.

1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand,
2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.



Questions about the afterlife are important questions. They are questions that are usually on the minds of most people and they are questions the Bible answers. They are questions the gospel answers. Sometimes questions about the afterlife are pushed aside by the sense that man will just go on living forever. Death is what happens to the next person, not what happens to me.

A wise old man once asked a young boy, “What are you going to do with your life?” The young boy replied, “Well, I’m going to college and I’m going to get a business degree.” The old man said, “Well, what then?”

The young boy said, “Oh, then I’m going up to New York and I’m going to work on Wall Street. I’m going to become a broker, and then I’m going to become a billionaire.” The man said, Ok, what then?’ The boy said, “Then I’m going to buy myself a fine house, and I may try to retire early so that I can enjoy the good life.”

The man asked, “And what then?” The boy said, “Well then, after that, I’m just going to party, relax, and enjoy my grandkids.” “Okay,” said the old man, “And what then?” The boy said, “Well, I guess after all of that, I’m gonna die.” The old man paused and smiled wisely, looked the young boy in the eyes and asked, “And what then?” And the boy was silent.

The wise old man had made his point, a point made centuries earlier by Jesus Christ in Mark 8:36, “What shall it profit a man that he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” What then? What then?

The gospel answers questions about eternity, questions about life after death, questions about the resurrection. But before we can even begin to discuss these questions we must be clear on the gospel itself. And in these two introductory verses Paul points up a few ways the gospel impacts us and relates to us. He teaches us a few truths about the gospel and I want to share them with you now. First:

I. The Gospel and our Stability (1)

He writes in verse 1:

1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand,

Barclay notes, “The very first function of the good news was to give a man stability. In a slippery world it kept him on his feet.”

The gospel keeps us on our feet, it provides strength and stability. We live in a fallen world, an unsteady world, a slippery world. And the gospel grants us the safety and security of sure footing, a firm standing.

Paul will go on in the following verses to define the gospel proper. He’ll remind us in verses 3 and following that, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,—verse 4—“and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,” and so on.

The word “gospel” means good news. The gospel is good news because it is itself the answer to bad news. The bad news is that all men and women are sinners under the judgment of God. We are born sinners and we sin by choice and this sin separates us from God.

And in spite of our rebellion and our deserving hell, God demonstrates His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Jesus Christ took upon Himself the penalty of our sin. He died for us. He died in our place, He died as our substitute. So after having lived a perfect life in order to fulfill the requirements of the law, He died, was buried, and rose again. God the Father raised God the Son that we may be justified, declared righteous, our souls saved from the wrath to come. When we believe in Christ and trust Him for salvation, we are saved. We are saved by grace through faith in Christ and in Christ alone.

So this is the Gospel that provides believers with a sure footing. We stand firm in a slippery world, knowing that our soul is secure. As new creations in Christ, we have the Spirit of the living God within us. When shaken by the world, we have the gospel to keep us on our feet. When tempted, we have the power to resist temptation. When fearful we are told to “fear not.” We have stability—stability to stand in the face of fear, to stand in the face of doubts, to stand no matter what happens to us this week. We have the gospel, the good news in which we stand. The gospel and our stability.

So Paul reminds the Corinthians about the gospel, the good news. He writes in verse 1, “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you.” More literally, the text reads, “I make known to you the gospel which I “gospelized” unto you.” That’s actually closer to what Paul says.

And I find that helpful because the gospel is communicated not just by preaching in the sense of what I am doing right now. A preacher stands in the pulpit and the congregation listens. It’s a sort of one-way form of communication. And certainly this is one way by which the gospel is communicated, but the word used here conveys the idea of sharing the gospel much as we think about sharing in personal evangelism. This is where we get the word evangelism from, from the word for gospel. The word for gospel is eujagge÷lion, sounds a bit like evangelism, same word.

So Paul says, “I make known to you the gospel which I “gospelized” unto you. I shared the good news, the gospel, with you all.” We each have the responsibility and privilege to share the good news of the gospel with our neighbors, friends, co-workers, and our associates. We have the privilege of “gospelizing the gospel.”

Now again, there is a sense in which the regular preaching and teaching of the gospel takes place in this form as I am doing now, preaching as I stand before you, preaching the Bible. There are words to describe this form of preaching, words translated as teaching the gospel and announcing the gospel as a herald, as one who announces and proclaims the good news.

And there is a sense in which the preacher is always preaching the gospel to the congregation. No matter where he is in the Bible he is preaching the good news. I like what J. I. Packer says here, drawing upon the faithful biblical preaching of the puritans. He said, “If one preaches the Bible biblically, one cannot help preaching the gospel all the time, and every sermon will be, as [Robert] Bolton said, at least by implication evangelistic.”—The Puritan View of Preaching the Gospel.

So if we are taking care to preach and teach the Bible systematically, preaching passages of Scripture in proper biblical context, we will invariably be preaching the gospel. Every sermon will be at least by implication evangelistic.

It’s an important point! The gospel is there in every text, either highlighting our fallen condition, or prophetically pointing us forward to Christ, or explicitly teaching about the person and work of Christ our Savior. This is why we love to hear the gospel. It resonates with our spirits! We agree with the hymn writer:

I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.
I love to tell the story, because I know ’tis true;
It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do.


I love to tell the story, ’twill be my theme in glory,
To tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love.

Now, note that Paul teaches also here in verse 1 that this gospel which provides stability must be “received” by those who hear it. Do you see that in verse 1? “which also you received.” The gospel must be “received,” received as an intact teaching, specific content, a body of information that is, in and of itself, good news.

Paul doesn’t say, “You received” this gospel after tweaking the content a bit or modifying it to suit your needs. “I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received.” They received it just as he had preached it.
We must never play fast and loose with the gospel. We preach it and teach it as it is. We share the gospel just as it comes to us from the Word of God. We do not divorce the essence of its contents and preach it as a less-than-complete gospel—one of the major problems of the so-called “prosperity gospel.” Truth is, to preach a so-called “prosperity gospel” is to preach no gospel at all.

So if a preacher proclaims what he calls the gospel, but you hear no word about sin, repentance, judgment, the substitution of Christ, and other elements, then the preacher is preaching something, but it is not the gospel.

The gospel is itself the full gospel. If any of the contents of the gospel are missing or, if anything is added to the gospel, then we no longer have the gospel.

And verse 1 indicates that one must “receive” the gospel in order to be saved. That is, there is a personal action involved on the part of the hearer. No one is anonymously saved, or automatically saved, apart from a personal decision to turn from sin and turn to Christ and take, receive, welcome Christ into one’s life. John 1:12, “As many as received Christ, did God give the authority to become children of God.” We must personally receive Christ, by personally receiving the gospel.

So Paul opens chapter 15 by writing of the gospel and our stability. Secondly, we note:

II. The Gospel and our Salvation (2a)

Verse 2, first part, Paul referring still to the gospel, he writes:

2 by which also you are saved,

The grammar is better, “by which also you are being saved. The verb is in the present tense. The gospel is that by which we are “being saved.”

Of course, this reminds us that salvation is at once a present reality, a past reality and a future reality. We speak biblically when we say that we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. There are three tenses involved in our salvation: past, present, and future.

Christians “have been saved.” They were saved at the moment they trusted and “received” Christ as Lord and Savior. That is a time in our past experience, a specific point in time wherein we heard the gospel message and believed it. Having believed we were “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise who is the guarantee of our inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14).” We were at that moment saved from sin’s penalty.

Then, Christians are “being saved.” This is a present reality. We are being saved day-by-day not from sin’s penalty, but from sin’s power. We often refer to this is our sanctification or growth in Christ. To the degree that read our Bibles with frequency and regularity and to the degree that we submit ourselves to the teaching of Scripture, we are growing in Christ, growing in our sanctification. We are “being saved” from sin’s power.

So we “have been” saved—saved from sin’s penalty; a past experience—and we are “being saved”—being saved from sin’s power; a present experience.

Thirdly, we “will be saved.” This is a future reality. We will be saved from sin’s very presence. Heaven is a place of perfection, a place where there is no sin, no sin of any kind. So Christians “will be saved,” saved from sin’s presence.

So if you’re a Christian you can say, “I have been saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved.” All three are true.

The Gospel and our stability, the Gospel and our salvation, thirdly:

III. The Gospel and our Security (2b)

Paul says in verse 2 that it is this gospel “by which also you are saved,” and then watch this: “if (a conditional clause) you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.”

The grammar of the first part of verse 2 is such that Paul assumes the Corinthians are indeed “holding fast,” to the word he had preached to them. That is, he assumes that they are “holding fast” to their belief in the gospel. He assumes that the Corinthian believers are genuinely saved.

And if they are in fact “holding fast” to their faith, then they are indeed saved. This is the point of what Paul has just said in verse 1. When one “receives” the gospel message, he “stands” in that truth and, verse 2, he is “being saved.” He is, continuing in verse 2, “Holding fast that word which (was) preached.”

And the reason he is holding at all, is because he is held by another. He is held by God. It is God who keeps the believer saved through the Christian’s active faith. Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

So those who “hold fast” are those who are “held fast.” Those who hold fast to the word are those held fast by the Lord. It is not that we “hold ourselves.” We are not saved by our efforts, by our deeds, by our works. This would be to earn our salvation or to merit salvation by our goodness or by our actions. We do not “hold ourselves.” It is God who works in us and through us.

Philippians 2:13, “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”

If we are saved it is because God has saved us and keeps us saved. We “hold fast” because we are “held fast.” Like an earthly father who walks closely beside his child and takes him by the hand through this perilous world, so our Heavenly Father walks alongside us and takes us by the hand. We “hold fast” because we are “held fast.”

It speaks of the Christian’s security! Paul writes in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels no principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The gospel and our security, but wait! There is a cautionary statement here at the end of verse 2. Paul adds, “unless you believed in vain.” So here is the very real possibility that one many not be saved, that one has merely “believed in vain.”

The Phillips has, “unless, of course, your faith had no meaning behind it at all.” The New Living Translation, “unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place.”

I am asked at times, “Does the Bible really teach the security of the believer, ‘once saved, always saved.’” And the answer is, “It depends.” It depends on what one means by the phrase, “once saved always saved.”

If one means that a person simply makes a decision at some point in the past but never grows, never yearns for more of Christ, never loves more deeply and loves more profoundly the Lord Jesus Christ and others, then this is a person who may have believed something, but he has more than likely believed in vain. Because the one who genuinely believes recognizes that the gift of salvation is a gift more satisfying than any competing pleasure the world may provide.

A person who is genuinely saved, who has genuinely believed the genuine gospel, goes on believing and thus goes on being saved. He “has been” saved from sin’s penalty; he is “being saved” from sin’s power, and he “will be saved” from sin’s presence. His faith is an active faith. He goes on believing. He has a faith that is demonstrated by growth and by a heart that yearns for more of Christ.

But if a person has a kind of faith that has no meaning behind it at all or is believing something that was never true in the first place, then he or she has believed in vain. It does matter what one believes. One must believe the gospel message and he or she—by God’s grace—goes on believing. He “holds fast” to the word, because he is “held fast” by the Lord.

So you see it is possible for folks to have an empty faith, a vain faith, a faith that does not save. This is why Paul says in the second letter to the Corinthians:

2 Corinthians 13:5, “ Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.”

I ask you, “Are you saved?” Do you recognize God’s salvation as a gift more satisfying than any competing pleasure the world may provide?

1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand,
2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

•Stand for prayer.

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