Saturday, 24 August 2013

Paul's Gospel: Jesus Christ - Crucified Saviour and Risen Lord

“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2, ESV).

“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord...” (2 Cor. 4:5, ESV).

In 1 Cor. 2:2, Paul reminds the Corinthians what message he proclaimed while he was among them preaching the gospel and establishing the church.  It is the gospel of “Jesus Christ and him crucified”.  He preached Christ crucified without resorting to lofty speech or worldly wisdom (1 Cor. 2:1).  Paul preached the cross of Christ. 

In 2 Cor. 4:5, Paul reminds the Corinthians again of the message he and his fellow gospel workers’ consistently preach among the churches and, specifically, what they preached to the Corinthian church:  “Jesus Christ as Lord”.  Paul preached Christ as Lord without using cunning or tampering with God's word but simply by the open statement of the truth (2 Cor. 4:2).  Paul preached the Lordship of Christ. 

The two statements above, taken respectively from Paul's first and second epistles to the church at Corinth, are clearly parallel statements.  If Paul determined to know nothing among the Corinthians but “Jesus Christ and him crucified,” and if this is consistent in Paul’s mind with the overarching statement that his proclamation is always “Jesus Christ as Lord,” we have to conclude that Jesus Christ crucified and Jesus Christ as Lord are synonymous in Paul’s mind.  For Paul, to proclaim Jesus Christ as Saviour and Jesus Christ as Lord is to proclaim the same message.  Paul preached salvation through the cross of Christ and salvation into the Lordship of Christ.  It was the same message to Paul; it was the gospel message.

This is why, in his epistles, you don’t see Paul writing only doctrinal exposition of salvation.  The first half of each letter (not always exactly half) explains and expounds the doctrines of the gospel.  But then he always moves on to calling the church to a way of life which is to be lived in light of the doctrines of salvation he has just expounded.  Paul sees the indicatives of the gospel as only half of the story.  True gospel proclamation includes gospel imperatives, the way of life for the one who is in Christ.  This is not something that follows later at some future point.  Paul does this with new believers and immature churches (like the Corinthians and Galatians) as well as with more mature churches (such as the Philippians and Thessalonians). 

Paul combines the saving work and Lordship of Christ in 2 Cor. 5:14-15: 

“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”  (ESV)

Here Paul declares that the love of Christ compels the apostle and his co-workers to minister as they do and preach what they do.  They have drawn a conclusion:  that Jesus has died for all – he is the Saviour – and whoever is in Christ has died with him (see also Gal. 5:24).  Paul further concludes that those who have died with Jesus have also been raised with him to new resurrection life, a life which is no longer to be lived for self (since those in Christ have died to self and sin), but lived for Jesus, the one who died and rose for their sake (see also Gal. 5:25 and 2:20)In other words, in Paul’s mind, the roles of Jesus as Saviour and Lord in the life of a believer can no more be separated than can his death and resurrection.  In Jesus’ death, we who are in him die to idolatrous self-mastery.  In Jesus’ resurrection, we are raised to life under a new master.  We who once pronounced ourselves as lord of our own lives died with/in Jesus and have been raised in Jesus to a new life which is oriented toward Jesus as Lord.  We no longer live for self but for him.  This is Paul's point as well in Rom. 6:1-14. 

Taking these passages from First and Second Corinthians together should be enough to end once and for all the “Lordship gospel” debate.  Unfortunately, there are many in the church who still believe that you can “receive Jesus as Saviour” but not acknowledge him as Lord, or at least not until some undefined time in the future.  There are many others who, while verbally professing a “Lordship gospel”, don’t live as though they actually believe it.  To look to and proclaim Jesus as Saviour and not, at the same time and to the same degree, as Lord is something Paul would have considered another gospel.

The apostle’s proclamation of the gospel no more permits Jesus' Lordship and “Saviourship” to be separated in the life of a Christian than it permits Jesus' death and resurrection to be separated in the saving work of God.  So-called evangelicals who say that a person can turn to Christ and be saved from sin but not simultaneously turn to him as Lord and submit to his Lordship in their lives have edited and compromised the gospel every bit as badly as mainline liberals who admit the death of Jesus but deny his bodily resurrection.  Both result in an empty and vain faith.  Those who would turn to Christ for the benefits of his salvation but refuse the demands of his Lordship are effectively seeking to profit from his death without being constrained by the new resurrection life that union with him brings.  This is ultimately an attempt to be saved from the wrath and judgment that sin deserves but still retain the "right" to walk in that sin.  Along with taking the Father's punishment for sin, Christ's death serves also to free us from our slavery in sin, but it frees us to something. It frees us to be slaves of Christ, which, in typical gospel paradox, is true freedom indeed!

The biblical gospel is the proclamation of the resurrection as well as the crucifixion of Christ and biblical Christians are those who proclaim Christ’s Lordship with their lives as well as proclaiming the cross with their mouths.  While you can distinguish between the death and resurrection of Jesus (two different historical events three calendar days apart), you cannot separate them in God’s saving work.  Along with Jesus’ incarnation, obedient life, present reign and future return, his death on the cross, his burial, and his walking out of the tomb three days later are all part of God’s saving work through him.  If Jesus only died and did not rise, then we would still be slaves to sin and our faith would be in vain (1 Cor. 15:14, 17).  But the resurrection did happen, and those who are in Christ not only died with him but rose with him as well.  And the life the believer now lives is not his/her own (recall again Gal. 2:20).  This means that, by very nature, a true believer is someone who views Christ as Lord and Saviour, and acts like it.  

So, while you can differentiate between Jesus’ work as Saviour and his reign as Lord, say for the purposes of discussion or theological examination, you cannot separate them either in the person and work of Jesus or in the life of any one of his true disciples.  Surely this is what Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth were all about.  In those letters, we witness him reminding the Corinthians of the gospel they received and calling them to live lives not only worthy of it but also as a witness to it, just as Paul saw his own life, complete with its sufferings, to be.  Sure, disciples may be in various stages of their maturity and therefore in different places in their submission to Christ as Lord.  An apple tree sapling may only be growing blossoms whereas a mature apple tree may bear blue ribbon-winning Granny Smiths.  But every true disciple bears fruit in keeping with their nature.  In Christ, united to Christ, Christians live lives in the power of Jesus' resurrection just as they first died with him. 

Paul preached the gospel of Christ to the Corinthians.  For him, that meant preaching the death and resurrection of Christ.  For him, that meant preaching the cross of Christ and the throne of Christ. 

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