Tonight marks the beginning of a new evening sermon series that will finish out our 2018 year. For the next 7 weeks we’ll be taking a dive into discipline. Don’t be frightened by this word. In every other area of life the word discipline brings up mainly positive images or ideas. We discipline ourselves to be better with our money, to grow more physically fit, and even to become better readers. All of this takes discipline, and from devoting ourselves to a rigorous and structured disciplined routine or discipline ourselves to grow into new and healthier habits, we reap much benefit. The same is true when for discipline in the Christian life.
Be sure though, when I say discipline in the Christian life I do not mean Church discipline, whether informal or formal, but the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life. Specifically those habits that you and I, from our conversion, are to continually give ourselves to and avail ourselves of. And to be more specific, of all the things we could focus on in this series we’ve decided to take a bit of a broader aim at it by only focusing on three disciples. God’s Word, Prayer, and Fellowship. Or to say it another way: hearing His voice, having His ear, and belonging to His body.
So here’s where we’re headed. Tonight I’ll introduce us to these things with a call to the Christian life as the disciplined life. Then for the next six weeks we’ll spend two weeks on each of these three main habits we must cultivate and grow in.
To begin I’d ask you to open to 1 Corinthians 15:1-10, where we see not only a reminder of the gospel (v1-2), and the essentials of the gospel (v3-7), but an application of the gospel (v8-11). I’ll be briefer on the first two of these points because it’s the third point, Paul’s application of the gospel, where our call to discipline comes into view.
a) A Reminder of the Gospel (v1-2)
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.”
Here at the end of a long letter to the Corinthians Paul begins chapter 15 (which contains his famous defense of the resurrection) by reminding them of the gospel he had once preached to them. He says they not only received it at first in the past, but that they continue in the present moment to stand fast in it and are being saved by it. So for these Corinthians, and really for all Christians, believing in the gospel is part of our past, something that we at one time did. Whether it was from our parents, friends, a book, a preacher or however we heard it, we heard the gospel, felt convinced of it’s truthfulness, repented of our sin, embraced it by faith, and experienced the power of God in salvation – this is a past memory for all Christians. But notice how Paul is speaking here: belief in the gospel is not just something involving our past, it’s also something that has an ongoing present and future importance to us.
The gospel has settled our past, secured our present, and made certain our future. So, we can hold fast to Christ amid the troubles of this world knowing that Christ has been, is, and always will be holding fast to us.
Note the “if” as v2 ends? After all the glory of receiving, standing in, and continuing to be saved by the gospel, Paul says “if you continue to hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain.” There is a warning for us here, a call to examine how we first believed in Christ. We will only stand in and be saved by the gospel in the end if we received it correctly at the beginning, that is in true repentance and true faith. By this Paul means, if we cease to hold fast to the gospel in the present moment it is evidence that we, at first, believed in the gospel in vain. Or we can read this another other way – if we truly believed in the gospel at first, we will hold fast to it for all our days. So, if you find that you’re not holding fast to Christ in the present moment you may just find that you did step 1 with Christ wrongly. And if we find that we have begun wrong, the best way forward is to go back and began again. Well what is the gospel Paul is eager to remind them of?
b) An Explanation of the Gospel (v3-7)
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”
Paul is eager to remind them that this gospel isn’t something he made up, but is a gospel he received from God. And more so, this gospel he’s about to explain to them carries first importance, it is supreme, it carries an unmatched prominence, so that nothing is more central or precious to the Christian than the gospel. But what is the gospel? Beginning in v3 Paul explains the gospel through a series of propositions:
Proposition 1: Christ Died for Sins
That Christ died for sins carries with it some implied meaning Paul doesn’t explicitly speak of here.
Firstly, for Christ to die for sins implies that the eternal Christ once came to us, that He in His Person bridged the gap between God and man. Truly God He became truly Man in His incarnation, He walked among us, He lived among us, He became and is now forever the God-Man.
Secondly, for Christ to die for sins implies that man is in a desperate sinful condition and cannot save himself. If this bad news about ourselves is left out we not only have no true understanding of the good news, we have what amounts to a kind of gospel-lite where one learns how to be saved without learning why one needs to be saved.
Thirdly, for Christ to die for sins implies that Christ diedbecause of sin and for sinners. Our guilt and cross laid on His shoulder, in our place He suffered bled and died. Because Jesus drank the full cup of God’s wrath dying for our sins as the Old Testament Scriptures foretold, sinners can drink from the river of God’s delight freely and fully for all eternity.
Proposition 2: Christ was Buried
The culmination of the shame Christ bore for us was not just that He condescended and came to us, not just that He lived a life acquainted with sorrow, not just that He died a real physical death on the cross for us, but that He after dying was buried. That the very Author of life laid dead in a tomb is staggering. It shows us: 1) the ultimate end sin will bring us to if we remain in it and 2) that because He truly expired and embraced the chill of death that we could feel the warmth of new life.
Proposition 3: Christ was Raised
This resurrection was the divine stamp of approval that the Father had accepted the Son’s sacrifice. This resurrection was the validation that Jesus was truly the Son of God in power. This one act sets Jesus apart from all others. He isn’t dead, He’s alive forevermore.
Proposition 4: Christ Appeared to Many
After rising from death, Jesus made public appearances to all the leaders of the early Church, and a group of 500 people who are, for the most part, still alive. You know what that’s called. Verifiable data. He came, He lived, He died, and He publicly rose.
These are Paul’s gospel propositions that he employs to explain the gospel to us. Things precious, things true, things we ought to never forget.
Now, what does all this lead to? It leads to discipline. We see this last.
c) An Application of the Gospel (v8-11)
“Last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.”
Commenting on v8-11 pastor Stephen Um says, “Paul speaks about the gospel as something he has experienced – something that ought to be having an effect on the Corinthian believers. It is not merely an idea or institutional religion. It is not even a way of looking at the world. It is historical news with ultimate personal impact.”So let’s ask the question, what kind of personal impact did this gospel have on Paul? What kind of personal impact does Paul want this gospel to have on the Corinthians? And lastly, what kind of personal impact does God want this gospel to have on you today? The answer is one word – grace. But grace shows itself in two ways here in this text. For Paul, the first thing grace did was dethrone self, and second, grace motivated him to work.
Paul knew himself, that he didn’t deserve the grace shown to him. In fact, he knew himself so well that he confessed everything good thing in his life was solely due to God’s grace. v10, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” You need to be able to say this yourself, and you can’t truly say this as long as you believe that who you are or what you’ve done through work, effort, or ability is the reason why your life is the way it is. This gospel is not a call to improve yourself, it’s a call to come to the end of yourself and become someone entirely new. So as Paul did, we must gain an appreciation for a holy self-deprecation, renounce all self-esteem and replace it with God-esteem! For grace to be central, self must die, and you must rest in the work of Christ for you.
Some would have you believe that this kind of grace heavy religion will only lead to laziness or licentious living. ‘If the gospel truly is all of grace, than we can just do whatever we desire…right?’ Wrong. Notice what resting in Christ did for Paul? v10 again, “By the grace of God I am what I am. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” A true understanding and embracing of God’s grace – that He gives us grace not because of who we are but because of who He is and despite who we are – this grace goes through us creating a life overflowing with a passion to work hard for the kingdom. Paul renounces self, embraces grace, and works harder than anyone. Careful readers of 1 Corinthians will realize this isn’t the first time Paul spoke of this disciplined work and effort. In chapter 9 he employed the imagery of an athlete competing in a race saying in 9:24-27, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
So naturally the question comes up, has God’s grace got ahold of you? If so, are you laboring for the kingdom in your day to day? More so, are you wearing yourself out in kingdom work? Are you showing other believers this life-giving message through serving them in the Church? Are you spreading this life-giving message through sharing it with the lost outside the Church? Sure, some of you are busy. Some of your schedules are filled to the brim, but I fear your schedules betray you, revealing your hearts true affections because busy as we may be, what kind of busy-ness devours us? Worldly endeavors, worldly lifestyles, worldly accomplishments, worldly entertainments. At the end of his life Paul said he felt like he forsaken comfort and had been poured out like a drink offering…while most of our lives are aimed at increasing comfort. Rest in gospel grace yes, but if you’re not wearing out for the kingdom you haven’t got grace.
You could mishear me. Don’t. I’m not saying we work to earn favor from God but work from the favor of God already given in the gospel! You know what a grace fueled diligence leads to? Zeal without burnout.This is the Christian life. A God-given, grace-fueled, and gospel-fed kingdom labor. When we work like this, joy in Jesus won’t be “…icing on the cake, it will be like gun powder in the shell…”exploding out of our satisfied hearts, leading us to dive deeper and deeper into this life of discipline. Or think of it in terms of the Holy Spirit. We we’re dead in sins and the Spirit’s work of new birth resurrected us to new life, giving us a new heart with new desires, new loves, and new joys. And praise God once God the Spirit regenerates us He isn’t done working, no, He continues to work, expanding His life within us as we grow throughout our entire Christian lives. And of all the things He grows us into, He leads us to three new habits, disciplines, or means Scripture, prayer, and Church. Of these means John Piper says, “These are the means God has given for drinking at the fountain of life. They don’t earn the enjoyment. They receive it. They are not payments for pleasure; they are pipelines.”Historically these have been called the ‘means of grace’ and they are indeed, because by them God grows and nourishes His people. But do not miss that these means of grace are called such because they are means of our joy in God and therefore means to the glory of God.Means that He has given us to devote our lives to and avail ourselves of as often as we are able.
So as we begin this 7 week endeavor into the disciplines of the Christian life, I’d just say this. Make it the aim of your live to put yourself in the path of grace. Two quotes to end:
J.C. Ryle, in his book Holiness spoke of these same things like this, “The ‘means of grace’ are such as Bible reading, private prayer, and regularly worshiping God in Church, wherein one hears the Word taught and participates in the Lord’s Supper. I lay it down as a simple matter of fact that no one who is careless about such things must ever expect to make much progress in sanctification. I can find no record of any eminent saint who ever neglected them. They are appointed channels through which the Holy Spirit conveys fresh supplies of grace to the soul and strengthens the work He has begun in the inward man…Our God is a God who works by means, and He will never bless the soul of that man who pretends to be so high and spiritual that he can get on without them.”
David Mathis speaks of the same like this, “I can flip a switch, but I don’t provide the electricity. I can turn on a faucet, but I don’t make the water flow. There will be no light and no liquid refreshment without someone else providing it. And so it is for the Christian with the ongoing grace of God. His grace is essential for our spiritual lives, we but we don’t control the supply. We can’t make the favor of God flow, but He has given us circuits to connect and pipes to open expectantly…we can routinely avail ourselves of these revealed paths of blessing or neglect them to our detriment.”
These three points make up the three sections present in David Mathis’ book Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2016).
Stephen Um, 1 Corinthians: The Word of the Cross, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 259.
Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, page 296.
Um, page 261.
Christopher Ash has a book about this that’s worth reading, Zeal Without Burnout.
John Piper, Habits of Grace – Foreword, page 12.
Ibid., page 13.
Mathis, page 19.
J.C. Ryle, Holiness (Peabody, Minnesota: Hendrickson, 2007) page 26.
Mathis, page 25.