Agonizomai: 1Cor 15:1-2 - Preaching to the Choir is Good

Friday, September 05, 2008

1Cor 15:1-2 - Preaching to the Choir is Good

1-2 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.

Now Paul turns to reminding the Corinthians of the basics of the faith that they professed when they first believed - indicating to them that it is the very same gospel that is able to save them to the uttermost if they stand in it. The word "salvation," we are reminded, does not always refer to exactly the same thing just because the word occurs in the text. Here there are two aspects of salvation included in Paul’s thought, but the use of the actual word in context is in reference to the sanctification that all true believers experience by faith.

Paul is not saying that they were saved and that they will remain saved as long as they keep doing the right things. That would be works salvation - or to separate regeneration and sanctification to such a degree that one is possible without the other - that salvation can be had, but also can ultimately be lost. That is the error of Roman Catholicism, by which people are robbed of their assurance, or are enslaved to ritual and sacerdotalism, and exposed to false doctrines like purgatory or the treasury of merit.

But what Paul is saying is something quite different; he is saying that, if they hold fast to the gospel truth they will prove themselves to be children of God because only He is able to make them stand. They do not stand by their own merit, nor even because of their own obedience - but through faith in the obedience of Christ by which He works to finish in them the good work that He started unto that Day. They stand in the good news that Christ has provided to them and for them all that is necessary for their eternal security. They believe above all things - they believe first and foremost - and out of that belief springs fruit by the power of God, according to the promises of God, because of the grace of God in Jesus Christ towards all who believe in the Son.

The rebukes, the warnings, the admonishments the exhortations - all these are merely means by which true believers are brought to the obedience of faith. They must obey - but when they do it is only on account of the power and grace of God, through faith in the finished work - the fully complete and eternally sufficient work - of God the Son on their behalf.

And for those who might ask what happens if a "true" believer refuses to acknowledge or to respond to all these means that God employs - I say the answer is obvious. He will prove himself to be a reprobate - one who seemed to be saved, who made a profession, but who bears no fruit and will ultimately be cut down and thrown into the eternal fire - unless he repents.

I suppose that one way to put it would be to say that election is unconditional, but salvation is not. Election is God’s decree but it is a hidden decree. All that He elects will be saved and no others. But salvation is how election is experienced in the lives and consciousness of fallen people, and sanctification is the evidence of it. Yet salvation is conditional upon repentance and faith. Not a one-time repentance and a one-time profession of faith. That is modern day evangelicalism - a product of shallow theology and experiential emphasis in religion wherein many people make "decisions" but only a small fraction of those actually bear the fruit of repentance and faith. True believers keep on to the end - they bear fruit in due season, they faint not, they do not weary, they press on towards the upward calling, they cry out to heaven for grace to endure and to persevere. Their lives are characterized by continual repentance and growth, and by ongoing faith.

This is either exceptionally clear and simple, or it is bewilderingly complex and seemingly contradictory - depending upon where you are coming from. Some people get it right away. Some labour for years - a lifetime even - to lay hold of the deep and abiding and counter-intuitive truth of the way God works. But it is worth repeating - that we must be found repenting and believing because God expects it of us, but that we cannot do so apart from grace - so that, when we are repenting and believing we know that it is God at work in us, because He has loved us with an everlasting love from of old; we know we belong to Him and we are assured, encouraged, made to be at peace.

This is the gospel they have believed. It is a gospel based upon sure historical facts in which we are called to believe with that belief that comes with a genuine repentance - a 180 degree turning of the whole direction of our lives. A renewed heart to which all things are made new. Though we stumble and wander, yet our course is never set upon what we have left behind, but upon that place and that Person to whom we have been called. There is no looking back. There is no going back for the Christian. There is only a hungering and thirsting after God.


Blogger Derek Ashton said...


Truth be told, I have been looking forward to this section most of all. It's one of the key texts for Gospel-centered theology (not to overlook chapters 1 and 4 of this same letter, of course).

You've hit this squarely on the head. The text calls for a discussion of perseverance, and you've addressed it with grace and truth and clarity. Nice job!

5:21 pm  
Blogger agonizomai said...


Thanks for the encouragement. I even threw a little paradox in there for good measure!



6:35 pm  

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