How the Christian Faith Becomes Something Other Than the Christian Faith
1 Corinthians 15:29-41 (NIV)
29 Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? 30 And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31 I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised,
“Let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die.”
33 Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” 34 Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.
35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.
To those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people (i.e., us):
Yesterday we closed with the assertion that in order to be a Christian—in the sense that the Church has taught and affirmed from its inception—you had to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Christian faith means nothing apart from the historical event of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has been interpreted to mean many things through the centuries when in reality it means only two things: the defeat of sin and the end of death. This alone is what motivated the Apostle Paul to say things like this:
I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised,“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
The Christian faith has nothing to do with growing more prosperous, though it has led to the prospering of many. It is not a self-improvement strategy though it has improved the lives of countless millions. The Christian faith is not a new idealism for a utopian society, though it holds the capacity to give rise to the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. It is not an ideology for social reformation, though it has probably given birth to more social reform than all the other religions combined in the history of the world.
We get into trouble and drift from our faith when we make it about its effects more than its core agenda. In other words, the Christian faith—also known as the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—is about the defeat of sin and the end of death. The defeat of sin and the end of death leads to all manner of human flourishing and prospering. It leads to the improvement of human beings beyond measure. It gives birth to endless creative reform and innovation in every sector of society, favoring the lifting up of the poor and the inclusion of the outcast. It gives rise to nothing short of the establishment of the Kingdom of God, on Earth as it is in Heaven.
It sounds like an obvious idea, but this is the way the Christian faith becomes something other than the Christian faith. No matter what it is that we are doing and how much good it contributes to others, if it is not directly connected with the defeat of sin and the end of death, we might as well be the Kiwanis Club. Taking it a step further, if what we are calling the Christian faith is not solely dependent on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it is not the Christian faith.
The Corinthians were quickly turning the Christian faith into something other than the Christian faith. It had Christian forms and practices but it was drifting from the core story and truth of the gospel. This drift was ground zero of the Corinthian chaos. It’s why Paul would know nothing save Christ crucified and risen from the dead among them.
If the Church could be replaced by the Rotary Club (no offense intended to the Rotary Club), the church is simply something other than the church. Paul didn’t face death every day, fight wild beasts, rot in prison cells and the like for our bake sales.
Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name. Your Kingdom come. Your will be done; on Earth as it is in Heaven. We confess that we mistake the effects of the Gospel for the cause of the Gospel. Keep us near the Cross and empty tomb. Help us fix our gaze on the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ, who is Lord of Heaven and Earth; the head of the Church, even our God. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
- Do you get what I’m saying about disconnecting the gospel’s outcomes from its core truth?
- Have you ever been part of churches that “do good” without doing the gospel?
- What distinguishes your local church from a social organization or a charity?
- How do you connect your own efforts in mission and ministry to the core agenda of the defeat of sin and the end of death?