One of the hardest things for non-Christians to understand about Christianity is it’s exclusiveness. As I said in my posts last week, Jesus didn’t leave any wiggle room for other religions to come in and stake a claim on people’s salvation. Jesus said that “no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Sometimes people still try to argue this point, but perhaps even more troubling are the people who accept Christianity as an exclusive religion, yet still don’t believe in every facet of the Gospel. A good example is the resurrection. There are people today who claim to be Christians but don’t believe in the resurrection. Take this one site, The Questions Christian, who wrote this in a post titled What if the Resurrection Didn’t Happen?:
At least according to the synoptic Gospels, the essence of Christianity is three things:
- Love God above all;
- love your neighbor as yourself — and your neighbor is everyone who crosses your path, not just your fellow tribesman; and
- be willing to change your life to more closely match God’s will.
Other doctrines such as the resurrection, the virgin birth, the atonement, etc., are at best ancillary to [i.e., less important than] the Essential Three. But they did fortuitously [i.e., by luck or chance] serve as pedagogical devices, as “hooks” that got people’s attention and thereby helped them internalize the Essential Three.
A professed Christian who denies the resurrection? Seems contradictory, doesn’t it? But he isn’t the first person in history to do this. The Corinthian church was known for being a troublesome congregation, and Paul wrote 2 letters to them in hopes of getting things straight. In his first letter, he told them
1Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2)
What is this gospel that he preached to them? He explains in the next set of verses:
3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.9For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed. (1 Corinthians 15:3-11)
So what was it in the gospel he preached that the Corinthians were having trouble believing? Paul addresses this in the next verse:
12But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? (1 Corinthians 15:12)
See? People have been arguing the reality of the resurrection of Christ since the first century. And people still don’t take it has fact – one survey of Americans found that only 36% believe in a physical resurrection of the dead, yet another survey found that 87% of people believe they themselves are going to heaven. If people believe that heaven is only a spiritual place or if they just haven’t thought it all through – I don’t know. But these numbers don’t line up with the core teachings of the Bible. How did Paul respond to the Corinthians in this case?
13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
There is only one true gospel – the gospel that Paul preached to the Corinthians and that he summarized in the passages above. If we don’t believe that gospel in it’s entirety, whatever we do believe is useless to us. Our faith is futile. We are still in our sins, and we have absolutely nothing to hope for. And if that is the case, we should be pitied greatly.