A recurring New Testament theme is the necessity of obeying the gospel.
Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”Mark 1:14–151
Describing Christ’s second coming, the apostle Paul says:
Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel.2 Thessalonians 1:7–8
With this in mind, let’s read 1 Corinthians 15:1–4:
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.1 Corinthians 15:1–4
Here we see Paul stating that the gospel enables one to be saved. He then shows that the gospel message in a nutshell is the death burial and resurrection of Jesus.
Question: How in the world does a person obey the historical event of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus?
I guess someone could arrange to be nailed to a cross and then laid in a tomb after dying. But I imagine arranging the bodily resurrection might pose a few difficulties. So I think we can safely rule out obeying the gospel literally.
This still leaves our question unanswered. How does a person obey the gospel of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus as a non-Christian, and how does a person maintain his or her obedience to this gospel as a Christian?
How does a non-Christian obey the gospel of the death, burial, and resurrection?
But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.Romans 6:17–18
Paul rejoiced that the brethren in Rome had obeyed, and thus were freed from sin. What’s interesting is the wording used to convey what they obeyed: “you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed.”
The “teaching” clearly refers to the gospel, but what did Paul mean by that form of it?
The Greek word for “form” (τύπος) equals a figure, an image, a representation. It refers to the impression that’s left after a blow. For example, if I put a coin on some soft clay and hit the coin with a hammer, it would leave an impression of the coin in the clay. The dent in the clay is obviously not the literal coin, but gives an impression (form) of the coin.
So, the Christians in Rome had obeyed the gospel teaching of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Not literally, but a “form” of it. When did they do this and how? The beginning of the chapter answers this question. First note verse 5:
For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection.Romans 6:5
The word “likeness” [ὁμοίωμα] is similar to the word “form”. Thayer defines it as “that which has been made after the likeness of something, hence: a figure, image,…representation… a resemblance… such as amounts almost to equality or identity.”
Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.Romans 6:3–4
Here’s the answer to our question. The brethren in Rome had symbolically re-enacted the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ through the process of “dying” to sin (repentance), being “buried” in the waters of baptism, and then being “raised” (resurrected) to newness of life. They were thus forgiven and saved.
A sinner expresses a willingness to repent, that is, die to sin; he is baptized by being immersed or buried in water; after which, he is raised or resurrected out of the water and now enjoys a new spiritual life. This is the “form” of the gospel the Romans had obeyed, and this exact same “form” of the gospel is what one must obey today in order to be saved.
There’s no wonder, then, why the Scriptures say that Jesus is the source of eternal salvation to all those who obey Him (see Hebrews 5:9). Jesus Himself says in Matthew 7:21:
Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.Matthew 7:21
Okay, we’ve now seen from the Bible how a non-Christian obeys the gospel, but…
How does a Christian obey the gospel of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ?
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.1 Corinthians 15:1–2
This indicates that in order to maintain the good spiritual standing and salvation provided after one’s initial obedience, he or she must, in a sense, continually obey the gospel of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Again, not literally, but figuratively. But how?
I find it interesting that Christianity is often portrayed in the New Testament by terms relating to death, burial and resurrection. Let’s look at several of these:
If anyone wishes to come after Me [Jesus], let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.Luke 9:23
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.Romans 6:1–2, 12–13
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.2 Corinthians 4:8–11
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.Galatians 2:20
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus.Ephesians 2:4–6
But Christians are not raised up to sit down and do nothing.
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.Ephesians 2:10
We are raised to serve!2 A new spiritual life ought to translate into a new way of thinking and behaving.
I might be stretching the idea a bit with these next two, but hopefully the basic point is still relevant. In 1 Timothy 4:12–13 Paul urges Timothy to be an example of speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity, and that he needs to exhort and teach the brethren. Then, he says:
Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all.1 Timothy 4:15
No one likes the idea of being snowed under in their job or buried in paperwork, but Christians should relish being immersed in godly character and church service.
Then there’s this passage:
If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.1 John 1:6–9
Perhaps you’re familiar with “Bubble Boy.” David Vetter was born in Texas in 1971 with severe combined immunodeficiency, and he was forced to live in a specially constructed sterile plastic bubble from birth until he died at age twelve. Because of his sterile bubble, he was famously known as “Bubble Boy.”
Christians live their lives figuratively buried within a bubble of Christ’s purifying blood. As long as we do our best to walk in the light (live faithfully), and confess our sins when we do occasionally mess up, we enjoy continual cleansing from sin. David Vetter’s lifelong burial in a plastic bubble was sad and uncomfortable; but the Christians lifelong burial in a bubble of Christ’s blood is a joyous relief.
We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.1 John 3:16–18
While it may be the case that one day we’ll find ourselves in the drastic position of needing to choose to actually die for a brother or sister in Christ; here it shows that laying down our lives for our brethren may simply mean sharing what we have with them.
We have now seen several examples of how Christians can continually obey the gospel of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.
Okay, so we have set before us the gospel, which in a nutshell is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
How does one obey it?
For non-Christians, there’s no need to be literally crucified, literally buried in a tomb, and then figure out how to be literally resurrected. You simply have to obey a form or likeness of it. Be willing to repent of sin, allow yourself to be immersed in water for the forgiveness of sins, and then you’ll come up out of the water with a new spiritual life.
For Christians, it’s a matter of taking up our cross daily and dying to sin, dying to selfishness. It’s a matter of staying buried in Christ’s cleansing blood, by being faithful and confessing our faults. It’s a matter of immersing ourselves in good character and good works. We’ve been raised to a new higher quality of life. We mustn’t sink back down into worldliness, but set our minds on things above; basking in a renovation of spiritual knowledge & spiritual service.