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1 Corinthians 15:1-11 Study Guide: Gospel Centered Faith

Community Group Study Guide — Gospel Centered Faith
1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Main idea:
In this last major section of First Corinthians Paul helps us understand how the gospel is central for living out faith in Jesus Christ. Many of us can think that the gospel is for evangelism or people who do not know Jesus but here Paul applies shows us why the gospel matters to Christians and specifically the call to humility, unity and being focused on following Jesus. In this study guide we will see how the gospel is a historical reality and the power by which God changes us to be more and more like Jesus. 

Study Information:
Throughout First Corinthians Paul has been addressing the core issues of pride, division and an obsession being “someone” or having power in the church. This manifested itself in church members dividing into factions, ranking one another based on their association with church “celebrities”, an over emphasis on knowledge without corresponding action and a desire to be focused on with their spiritual gifting rather than using those gifts to build up the body of Christ. Paul has been correcting these issues throughout the letter and compelling the Corinthians to model their life on Jesus who is “the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 2:6-15). Jesus exemplified true humility, power and love for others that led to unity, restoration and spiritual growth. So far Paul’s arguments have been building to a crescendo and his final focus is on the gospel itself. Their hope for unity and transformation is to understand and know the gospel.  We can often think that the gospel is about entrance into relationship with God. We think it is about having our sins forgiven so we can get to heaven. Those two things are true, but Paul wants us to see that it is more than that. Paul is writing to a Christian audience; yes they are a struggling church, but they’re still spirit filled and sanctified in Paul’s mind. This means that the gospel is for Christians. It is by the gospel that we enter God’s kingdom and it is by the gospel that we grow in living out our faith. The Corinthian’s problems were really rooted in either not really knowing the gospel or not appropriately responding to it. 

So what is the gospel and how does it shape the Christian life?

First, the Gospel is the power by which God shapes and changes us as we follow him.
1 Corinthians 15:1-2
The word “gospel” simply means “good news” and historically this word was used to declare an event that happened in real time that was life changing including things like military victory or the birth of a royal child. The scripture takes this ancient word and applies it the ultimate life changing event in history, what happened in and through Jesus Christ. In these first few verses Paul wants the Corinthian christian to understand that you do not graduate from the gospel. In the first verse Paul wants to remind them of the gospel that was preached to them and for them to hold fast to it. It appears that Paul believes that even though they’d affirm the doctrine of the gospel that their culture and actions do not match. Things like chasing after political influence, power, eloquent speech, being thought much of because of their spiritual expression in worship, rivalry, division and the like all show that they are not living out the gospel. The gospel is the power of God for salvation and for one’s growth in the Christian life. Look at verse 2, the gospel is the power by which they are “being saved” which means that any sort of sanctification or transformation in life comes from the good news found in Jesus and not because of our own efforts, self-will, self-help or any sort of power within ourselves. The Corinthians loved power and self-efforts because it allowed them to boast, but if salvation and transformation is found in Christ then we can only boast in him! This does not mean we abandon any sort of effort to fight sin (look at verse 10, Paul says “I worked harder than any of you!”), rather that all our efforts are found in response to the gospel, the good news that God loved us enough to send his son so that we can find forgiveness and restoration through faith in his person and work on the cross. 

Practically speaking this means that we understand the grace of God and what we have is a gift. It means that we know our identity as redeemed sons and daughters of God who were helpless to save ourselves but God forgave us in Christ and bought us back and adopted us into his family. For that reason, their rivalry and pride have no place in the church. The solution is to remember the gospel and by the power of the Holy Spirit to bring in line their actions and attitude to match that of God’s. So the gospel is not just the way you get into heaven, it is the power God uses to mold and shape us more and more into the image of Jesus as we respond and act according to it. 

Second, the Gospel is the good news of what God has done in Jesus Christ to reconcile sinners to himself and it is an historical reality.
1 Corinthians 15:3-11

Paul gives us detail for what the gospel is in these verses. Notice he also calls this “of first importance” meaning that some of the things there were dividing over were secondary or tertiary things, likely even things that were simply a matter of opinion. The gospel is primary and necessary. Verse three and four give us the key components which are that Christ died for our sins which includes him being buried and that he was raised to life. Both of these components are in accordance with the scriptures. The death and resurrection of Jesus stunned both his disciples and the Jewish world but they were not random; they happened as they were foretold in the Hebrew Bible. The disciples did not predict it but they were radically changed by the resurrection of Jesus whereas the Pharisees and opponents of the church were hostile to the idea of the resurrection and could not believe it or see it even though they knew their bible really well.

The death and resurrection of Jesus encapsulates that: 
  • Jesus lived a fully godward life as the Word made flesh 
  • he was our substitute on the cross taking our place with our sin
  • because we are under the curse of death he shared in our fate and died and was buried to defeat death
  • his resurrection is the first fruits of what we can expect because of being united to Christ
  • walking in new life is possible through faith in Christ

This is not too good to be true. To prove his point, Paul takes it a step further and gives us some historical certainty of this event having taken place. He lists off many people who saw the risen Christ including Cephas (Peter), the twelve (apostles), a group of 500 most of whom were still alive, James the half brother of Jesus and last of all to Paul himself. The point here is that at any given time these people could be tracked down and testify to what they saw. Pretty much everyone on this list would lose their earthly life over the truth of Jesus being raised from the dead. We do not know the fate of the 500 who saw the risen Jesus, but the apostles, James and Paul are all martyred for their belief in the gospel. If you are curious about the historical evidence for the resurrection there are some great works out there today that you can read more about, but the point here is that this is early evidence that there was a large number of people who saw Jesus raised from the dead. It was not a fluke, legend or some sort of thing that was made up by a small group of people. The gospel is not wishful thinking; the good news we proclaim is rooted in a historical reality. God the son came into the world to reconcile sinners to himself, to put to death our old selves so we can walk in newness of life. 

Conclusion:
We do not gradate from the gospel, but rather what God has done in Jesus is the power of God for salvation. Through the gospel we enter the kingdom of God and through the gospel we are changed. So when we struggle with pride, division or getting caught up in things of this world, when it comes down to it our struggle is to accurately belief and respond to the gospel because that alone is what saves and shapes us as the people of God. 

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:

Read 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

What is the gospel?

How does the gospel relate to their issues with rivalry and pride?

What do verses 3-11 tell us about the historical reality of the resurrection?

How is it that a church could affirm the truth of the gospel (right doctrine) but struggle to live it out?

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