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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Matt's Messages - Real Christians Believe the Real Gospel

“Real Christians Believe the Real Gospel”
Real Christians
September 16, 2007
1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Today, we’re going to begin a new sermon series that will last throughout the Fall.

I’m calling it, “Real Christians.”

What I want to do with our times together this Fall, is to remind ourselves of the basics of the Christian life.

“Real Christians” is going to be a sermon series on the basics of Christian discipleship–what it means to follow Jesus by faith. It’s going to be a set of sermons that lay out the basic practices, actions, commitments and attitudes of genuine believers.

Each message will be something that Real Christians do. So it will be very application and action-oriented.

I think that there will be, in each message, something for everyone.

Because, I want us all, every last one of us, to be Real Christians.

Genuine, authentic, honest-to-goodness, verifiable, bona fide Christians.

And God tell us in His Word what Real Christians are like.

He also tells us what fake Christians are like. And we’ll see that, too, as we go along.

Hopefully, we’ll learn better how to spot a counterfeit Christian as we study Real Christians.

And I also hope to have several testimonies and stories of Real Christians throughout history that illustrate the principles and practices that we are going to learn about.

This is football season, and most football fanatics have heard of Vince Lombardi.

Lombardi was the famous coach of the Green Bay Packers. [I know, they don’t hold a candle our Pittsburgh Steelers!]

The story goes that the team had done miserably for years before Vince Lombardi was hired along as the coach.

And at his first practice with his new team, Lombardi gathered them all together and said, “Men, today we’re going back to the basics. This is a football.”

And then he proceeded to tell them what a football could do. How in the game of football it could be snapped, passed, kicked, and caught. And then he reminded them about the lines on the field and how to score a touchdown. What the rules were. All of the basics. And as I understand it, he continued to do this every year at the start of the season. Even after they started winning championships.

I’m hoping that as we study “Real Christians” we are reminded of the basics of the faith.

“This is a Bible.”
“This is the Cross.”
“This is the Church.”

And so forth. And being reminded, we are all motivated to get into the game and really start winning.

The first and most important mark of a Christian is this:

REAL CHRISTIANS BELIEVE THE REAL GOSPEL.

Let’s read 1 Corinthians chapter 15, verses 1 through 11. This is from the pen of the Apostle Paul.
“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: 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, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because 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. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.”
Notice in verse 1 that Paul says that he wants to “remind” them of the gospel.

They needed reminding. And so do we.

We must be reminded again and again of the gospel.

Because it is the Main Thing.

And as I’ve said before, the Main Thing Is to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing.

If you don’t get anything else out of my preaching, I hope that you get the importance of the gospel.

The gospel is the most important thing in the Christian life. Paul says in verse 3 that it is of “first importance!”

And so, Real Christians Believe the Real Gospel.

Everybody believes some gospel. Did you know that?

“Gospel” means “good news.” And really, it means the “best news.” The news that everyone needs to hear. The news that changes everything.

It is the answer to the problems of humanity and the problems of the world.

And everybody believes in some gospel.

Some people believe in the gospel of medicine. If we can only get the right medicine into the right hands, the world would be saved.

Some people believe in the gospel of education. If we can could just educate everyone, the world would be saved.

Some people believe the gospel of self-esteem. If everyone could just see how good they are down deep inside, then the world would be almost perfect.

Some people believe the gospel of money. If I just had enough money, I’d be happy. And if everyone had enough money, the haves gave to the have-nots, then the world would be a good place.

Some people believe in the gospel of world religions. The good news according to Buddha or Mohammed or Hinduism or Shintoism or some cult. Most of those gospels boil down to the gospel of being good. If you are good (however defined), you can earn salvation for yourself.

Everybody believes in some gospel, even if their good news doesn’t seem so good.

But Paul has taught these Christians a particular gospel. V.1

“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you [a particular one], which you received and on which you have taken your stand.”

This is the Real Gospel. And all Real Christians believe it.

I want you to notice three things about this Real Gospel:

#1. IT IS A SAVING GOSPEL. V.2

“By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.”

“By this gospel you are saved...”

God uses the gospel to save sinners like you and me.

Romans 1:16 says that the gospel “is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes...”

It isn’t just good news. It is good news that saves people from their sins.

How does it do that? Look at verse 3.

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: 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...”

The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was raised from the dead.

The gospel is the good news of Jesus’ death.

Now, why would we be glad that Jesus died? Because of these three words in verse 3, “for our sins.”

Jesus’ death was not an ordinary death. It was a sacrificial death.

Jesus died on the Cross as our substitute. He died the death that we should die.

He died “for our sins.”

And since He died for them, we don’t have to!

Isn’t that good news?! It’s the best news!

Because believing in that news will get you saved. It’s a saving gospel.

But you do have to believe it. V.2 again.

“By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.”

Real Christians Believe the Real Gospel.

And they keep believing it. The proof that the Corinthians’ faith was genuine was that they stuck with it. Paul doesn’t have a category for believers who do not believe!

Now, don’t think that this means that your salvation is only as strong as your ability to keep believing. If you are a true child of God, then He has committed His vast and powerful resources to keep you believing.

But if you stop believing, if you no longer hold firmly to the word preached to you, you can have very little assurance that your faith was genuine in the first place. A faith that gives up on the Gospel is not a saving faith at all. It is “in vain.”

Real Christians Believe the Real Gospel.

And they are saved. Because sin is the greatest problem in the universe. The greatest problem of every person and the greatest problem of the planet.

And only the Real Gospel addresses the real problems of our planet.

No other gospel will do.

The second thing I want you to notice is that (#2) the Real Gospel is a RELIABLE GOSPEL.

By that, I mean that is historical and verifiable. It comes to us through witnesses.

The first set of witnesses was the Scriptures. “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures...he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

Paul is appealing to the witness of the Old Testament which predicted the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Messiah.

The Corinthians accepted the Old Testament, especially passages like Isaiah 53, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Those words were written 800 years BEFORE Jesus was born. The United States of America is 231 years old. Go back in time 3½ times that long! 800 years before Jesus was born, Isaiah said that He would die for our sins.

Second was the witness of eyewitnesses. V.5.

“[And I passed on to you that] he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles...” Stop there for a second.

Eyewitnesses. The Corinthians heard that this gospel was not just a hallucination or a lie. It was verifiable history. Eyewitnesses had seen His death, and (more importantly) eyewitnesses had seen Jesus alive again! Over 500 at one time! And many of those were still alive to give personal, eyewitness testimony at this point.

If 500 people had the same facts straight in a court of law in our nation today, the evidence would be overwhelming!

This gospel is factual. It is historical. It is verifiable according to the dictates of historicity. Anyone who says anything different simply DOESN’T want to believe it.

If you are not yet a Real Christian, a believer in Jesus Christ this morning, you need to seriously consider the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In fact, I want to challenge you to read a good book that outlines the facts. One of the best is called the Case for Christ. If you promise to read it, I’ll buy you one.

This last week, I’ve been reading a book called, Can We Trust the Gospels: Examining the Reliability of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

And the answer is, “Absolutely, Yes!”

The Real Gospel is a Reliable Gospel.

Third, was the abnormal eyewitness of Paul. V.8

“...and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

All these other resurrection appearances were before Jesus’ ascension into heaven. But Jesus made a special trip to call Paul on the Damascus road!

The word for “abnormally born” here was used of miscarried fetuses. Babies that were born pre-maturely. Here Paul is saying that he was spiritually born POST-maturely. This was not the usual way of saving someone or calling them into the apostleship. It was abnormal, especially in its timing.

But he had seen the risen Christ and Christ had appointed him to be an apostle. V.9

“For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”

You see, Paul was not just ambivalent about Jesus, until he met Him face to face, he thought that Jesus was a BAD THING for Israel. He used to believe a different gospel! And he was willing to kill for it.

But one day, Paul got knocked off his donkey by the glory of Jesus Christ and was called to be an apostle of His grace.

God’s grace reaches down to the worst sinner. If He could save Paul, He can save you. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your sin is too big for Him to handle. The blood of Jesus is the most powerful “cleansing agent” in the universe. It can wash you clean, as well.

His grace is so powerful! It could turn a persecutor into an apostle. Imagine what He can do with you!
And that’s the last thing I want you to see about this gospel.

#3. It is a GRACIOUS GOSPEL.

The Real Gospel is a Gospel of Grace.

That is to say that it is a gospel that comes as a gift.

It isn’t a gospel that says that we earn our salvation in any way shape or form. V.9 again.

“For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because 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. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”

Grace is unmerited favor. It is not getting what we deserve and getting what we don’t deserve.

It’s not logical. It’s not fair. It’s not earned. It’s grace.

It’s a gift.

It’s free.

And Real Gospel is a Gospel of Grace.

You and I can’t earn our salvation. And we shouldn’t even try.

We have to receive it.

And any gospel that is based upon any other principle than grace, is no gospel at all.

In the book of Galatians, Paul had to give strong words to those who were flirting with a different gospel, one based upon works:

He said:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel–which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we [Paul himself out of his mind] or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!”
Real Christians Believe the Real Gospel.

Because any other gospel leads to Hell. Don’t believe another gospel!

There are some people who think that all religions are basically the same.

But that’s not true.

Most religions are based upon works.

But the Real Gospel is based on grace.

It’s free. Free for the receiving.

Now, that’s not all. This grace is not just free. It is also effectual. That is to say, it accomplishes something.

The grace of God doesn’t just forgive us, it enables us to live differently.

It turned a killer into an apostle! V.10 again.

“But by the grace of God I am what I am [an apostle now!], and his grace to me was not without effect [a double negative meaning “it was effectual!”]. No, I worked harder than all of them [all the rest of the apostles, but he’s not bragging, because it wasn’t something he earned]–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”

The grace of God accomplishes something in the hearts and lives of Real Christians.

It changes them.

Over the next 12 weeks, we’re going to talk about the marks of Real Christians and what Real Christians do.

And they are non-negotiables. The Lord wants them from each of us.

But understand this as we get started with this series, each thing that a Real Christian does comes from grace. They each come from grace.

None of them are meritorious. None of them are saving in and of themselves.

Real Christians do good works, but they do them because of grace, not to earn it.

One of the biggest errors that Christians fall into is the trap of legalism.

Legalism is a false gospel that says that we can please God by meeting up with some standard.

Maybe we might think that we’re saved by grace, but that we stay saved by works.

Or that we can earn God’s pleasure by doing good deeds.

But that’s not right. Real Christians Believe in the Real Gospel which is by grace alone from first to last.

V.11

“Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.”

Real Christians Believe the Real Gospel.

What Paul is saying is that in Vince Lombardi terms, “This is the Gospel.”

It’s the Main Thing.

And the Main Thing is Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing.

The first thing we need to do is to RECEIVE IT. Look back at v.1

“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received.”

They didn’t just listen and then walk away. They took it.
But more than that: (v.1) “...and on which you have taken your stand.”

Have you “taken your stand” on the gospel?

Have you turned away from whatever false gospel the world has fed you and taken your stand on the Real Gospel? This one?

I challenge everyone here to TAKE YOUR STAND on the gospel.

I invite you right now, right here to put your trust in Jesus Christ and what He did on the Cross. “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures...He was buried...he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

And everyone who takes their stand on that gospel is saved.

And more than that, we need to (v.2), “hold firmly to the word” preached to us.

HOLD FIRMLY to the gospel.

It’s like this football. Imagine the gospel is this football.

And you are a wide receiver.

Paul has thrown a perfect spiral in your direction.

You need to receive it. Don’t let it get by. Don’t let it get intercepted.

You need to plant your feet. Both feet in bounds. Take your stand on the gospel.

And you need to hold firmly to the gospel. No fumbles. No giving it up for another game.

Even if they take you down, don’t drop this gospel. Because it is a saving gospel, a reliable gospel, and a gracious gospel.

There is no other game in town!

This is the Real Deal.

And last, MAKE IT OF FIRST IMPORTANCE in your life.

Paul says that he gave it (v.3) “as of first importance.”

There isn’t anything more important than the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

Treat it as of first importance, as the main thing.

Because Real Christians Believe the Real Gospel.

***

Message in the Real Christians Series:

Real Christians:

1. Believe the Real Gospel

2. Really Love God

3. Really Love People

4. Are On a Real Mission

5. Really Pray

6. Delight in God’s Word

7. Trust God in Times of Trial

8. Walk in the Light

9. Are In a Real Battle

10. Are In the World But Not Of It

11. Really Are the Church

12. Really Look Forward to Christ’s Return

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