If a Christian forsakes, or distorts in any way any part of the gospel, then he has delivered a death blow to the very heart of the existence of Christianity. If he remains religious in his attack, then he has turned away from being Christian to being a self-sanctifying religionists. If any part of the gospel message is either questioned, or denied, or disobeyed, then one leaves or distorts the very purpose for which the Son of God came into the world to reveal the gospel—to seek and to save the lost (Lk 19:10). If such attacks are made against the heart of the gospel, then one will lose his way as a disciple of the Son of God. In fact, he will simply cease being a disciple of the One who revealed the gospel to the world.
The Holy Spirit knew that such an apostasy would happen among some Christians in various areas of the world throughout history. He thus prepared some specific recorded cases in the New Testament where there were attacks made against the heart of the gospel. He recorded why and how some would lose their way, and thus cease to be witnesses in their communities that Jesus was the Christ and Son of the living God (See Mt 16:16-18).
While the apostles were still alive, there were some Christians who cut away part of the core of the gospel message. They were “saying that the resurrection is already past” (2 Tm 2:18). And by promoting this teaching, “they overthrow the faith of some” (2 Tm 2:18). The denial of the resurrection was one reason why Paul was on his way to Corinth. He was headed to Corinth in order to cut out of the fellowship of the church of God those who became arrogant and who attacked the gospel by denying the resurrection (See 2 Co 1:23; 10:1-18; 13:2,10).
There were those among the Corinthians who believed that the dead would not be resurrected. But if this were true, then why, Paul argues, would we ever be baptized in order to put to bury the old dead man of sin (1 Co 15:29)? Why would one be baptized to bury the old man of sin, if we in the future will not be raised to join Christ in eternal life (See Rm 6:3-6).
It was not coincidental, therefore, that Paul began 1 Corinthians 15—the New Testament chapter on the resurrection—with a brief definition of the heart of the gospel:
“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Co 15:3,4).
In obedience to the gospel, we connect with the atoning blood of Jesus when we are crucified with Him in repentance before being buried with Him in the waters of baptism (Rm 6:4). We are subsequently raised with Him in order to walk in newness of life (Rm 6:4). Therefore, “if we have been united together in the likeness of His [Christ’s] death [in baptism], we will also be in the likeness of His resurrection” when He comes again (Rm 6:5). We connect with the future resurrection when Jesus comes again when we are raised with Christ from the waters of baptism.
If one denies the resurrection in the end, then he has denied the reason we are buried and raised with Christ in the present. If one denies this part in our obedience to the gospel, then he has denied the totality of the gospel! Why would the Son of God ever leave the comforts of eternity in heaven in order to die on an “old rugged cross” for our sins if there were no resurrection in the future? Why would one even be raised from the grave of water with Jesus if there were no such thing as a resurrection from the dead?
One is a Christian because he or she has followed Jesus to the cross, and from a grave of water, to the promise of a bodily resurrection in the future by being raised with Jesus from the waters of baptism. In this response to the gospel of Jesus, one has obeyed the gospel. It is for this reason that Christians are encouraged, motivated and compelled to both obey and preach the gospel to others (See 1 Pt 4:17).
When we bring into doubt any part of the message of the gospel, or response to it, then we deny the reality of the gospel. We have left the motivation of our first love, and thus, our motivation to seek and save the lost! Any doubt or denial of the resurrection of both Jesus, and ourselves in the future, cuts the heart out of the gospel. Christians are believers to be pitied for their faith if there is no resurrection of the body when Jesus comes again (1 Co 15:19). If there is no resurrection coming when Jesus comes, then we lose our motivation to take the message of the gospel into all the world (See Mk 16:15,16).
We thus preach and obey the “connection” (baptism) with the gospel of Jesus as necessary in order to enjoy the coming resurrection from the dead. We are not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus’ atoning death and bodily resurrection (Rm 1:16). Neither are we ashamed of proclaiming the mandate of the Holy Scriptures that one must connect with the gospel of Jesus through immersion into Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. If we would be ashamed of this connection, then we would reveal to the world that we actually have little faith in the power of Jesus’ atoning death and bodily resurrection.
We must never lead ourselves to believe that the power unto salvation is simply in our own belief in the gospel. Neither is our salvation in a legal action of baptism in water. The power unto salvation is the gospel of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and resurrection. When we are responsive to the gospel by baptism into Christ, then we connect with the atoning death of Jesus in order that our sins be washed away (At 22:16). It is through this obedient connection that we are raised with Him in anticipation of the resurrection of the dead when He comes again (See Jn 5:28,29). In order to connect with the power of the gospel, therefore, one must go to the cross, grave and resurrection with Jesus in baptism.
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