Thursday, July 15, 2010

"There Is a Savior" Part 2

(This is not a test. But it may feel like it. :) ).

Identify to whom the following Biblical salutation was directed (I have omitted the location from the text).

"Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, unto the church of God which is at ----, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; that in every thing ye are enriched by Him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: so that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord."

Surely this strong affirmation of those "sanctified in Christ Jesus," who are "enriched by Him," and who will be "confirmed" and "blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" must have been directed to a faithful and thriving community of believers unto whom Paul penned an epistle of glowing commendation. Indeed, the salutation above is arguably the most affirmative of a group of Christians in the entire New Testament. To whom did the Apostle write?

The answer is the Corinthians. The salutation opens Paul's first letter to this, the most wayward fellowship of believers mentioned in the New Testament. They were divisive and partisan. They were indicted by the Apostle as "carnal." They were tolerant of sexual immorality in their midst. They used the secular legal system of the Roman government to settle issues that should have been church matters. They were both legalistic and licentious concerning issues of food. They questioned Paul's very apostleship. They committed idolatry. They disrespected the Lord's supper, turning it into a narcisstic feast of self-centeredness rather than holding the ordinance in the most solemn respect as the remembrance of the death of Christ. They exalted the gifts of God rather than the Giver, forgetting that the love of God revealed unto, within, and through us is the greatest of all spiritual graces. And they actually questioned the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. The first letter to Corinth is an indictment of a largely wayward church that distrusted and disobeyed God in numerous and important expressions of carnality (I Corinthians 1:10-11; 3:1; 5:1-2; 6:1; 8:1-13; 9:1-3; 10:7-31; 11:20-34; 12-14; 15:1-58).

Again, however, the epistle begins with perhaps the strongest affirmation of any community of believers in the New Testament. More importantly, Paul's salutation immediately centralizes the Lord Jesus as the heart and soul of such affirmation. In a brief paragraph, the Savior's name is mentioned seven times, and is identified as the sanctifier, benefactor, confirmer, and ultimate finisher of the Corinthians' relationship with God. They will be confirmed unto the end by the Lord Jesus, and held blameless through His person and work.

The first epistle to the Corinthians provides vivid confirmation that the message of the Gospel, whether to unbelieving sinners or wayward saints, must begin with the proclamation of the Lord Jesus. Who is He? What has He done on our behalf? What is He doing and what will He be doing for us and within us forevermore? The preaching and teaching of the Gospel begins with the answers to these questions or it does not legitimately begin at all.

Perhaps you are seeking to lead an unbelieving loved one or acquaintance to faith in the Lord Jesus. Maybe you know a believer who has stumbled along the path of righteousness and lies bloody and wounded in a ditch of unbelief and disobedience. Or perhaps you yourself require cleansing, restoration, and reinvigoration of living fellowship with God. Whatever the case, the message of the Gospel first directs all attention to the crucified, risen, and ascended Christ of the Gospel. He is the issue, and the discovery or remembrance of His person and work is the illumination that leads human hearts to redemption in whatever form is required. Unbelief and disobedience are not overlooked, of course. Paul strongly and pointedly challenged the Corinthians for their waywardness, and called for active measures to overcome it. Again, however, the Apostle sets the stage for correction by beginning with the Christ who is the Author of our faith, and he affirms the grace-given fact of his wayward brethren's relationship and standing with God.

Before sinners or saints ever existed, there was a Savior. This is truth and reality. Our ministry and message must always follow this Divine sequence of the Gospel. True change is never forthcoming if we begin our evangelistic or edification efforts with the indictment of humanity's need. The proclamation of God's supply in Christ must form the preamble of all spiritual communication. The Apostle Paul faithfully followed the Divine sequence in his letter to a most wayward community of believers in the first century. May we follow his example in our own generation of waywardness and need.

(The reference below is the first Christian sermon, spoken by the Apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost. Note the sequence of Christ first, and then the indictment of man).

"Hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by Him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that He should be holden of it."
(Acts 2:22-24)

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