The Fourfold Foundation of the Gospel


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, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).

As Paul wrote to the brethren in Corinth, he reminded them of the fundamental truths in the gospel upon which everything else was built. In the verses above, the apostle mentioned four facts that are “of first importance” to God’s saving message.

  1. Christ died – The first truth that Paul reminded them of is that Jesus “died for our sins.” He told the Colossians, “He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death” (Colossians 1:22). The death of Christ was a demonstration of God’s love toward us (Romans 5:8, 10). Not only that, but Jesus willingly died for us. In speaking of His life, Jesus said, “I lay it down on My own initiative” (John 10:18). This shows us the great love He has for us as well: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
  2. He was buried – Jesus did not just die. His physical body was buried. A man from Arimathea named Joseph took the body of Christ, prepared it for burial, then “laid it in his own new tomb…and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb” (Matthew 27:57-60). Jesus’ burial shows that His death was not a hoax – it really did happen. Fortunately, the story does not end there, or else we would be in a most pitiful condition (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).
  3. He was raised – When Jesus said He willingly gave His life, He said, “I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18). Since Jesus – through divine power – was raised from the dead, He became “the first fruits of those who are asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). He was not the first in the Bible to be raised from the dead, but He was the first to arise to never die again (Romans 6:9). Because of His resurrection, we have hope (1 Peter 1:3).
  4. He appeared – We often think of the foundation of the gospel being comprised of three things: Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. But Paul mentions a fourth: Jesus’ appearance to others – not just a few individuals, but hundreds. This fact provides proof for the others. Eyewitness testimony is used in the court of law to determine the truth. It is used the same way in the Bible. We can believe because we have the testimony of eyewitnesses (2 Peter 1:16; 1 John 1:1-3).

On these four truths rest the whole gospel message. They do not represent the entire message, but they are the foundation for everything else contained in the gospel.

In the same way, there are certain things that we must do that correspond to these truths about Christ. They represent the foundation of our lives as Christians. Again, these are not the totality of our service to God, but everything else is built off of these things.

  1. Our death – Writing to the brethren in Rome, Paul said that “our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin” (Romans 6:6). We must consider ourselves “dead to sin” and not allow it to reign over us (Romans 6:11-12).
  2. Our burial – This is not the literal burial of our body when we pass from this life. It is a burial with a spiritual significance. Again, Paul told the Romans, “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” (Romans 6:3-4). Paul was very clear about what this burial is. It is baptism. While many in the denominational world want to minimize the importance of baptism, we must understand that it is part of the foundation of our life in Christ.
  3. Our resurrection – After we are “buried with Him through baptism into death,” then “as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). In conforming to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, we put off the old man and put on the new man (Colossians 3:9-10), ready to begin our new life as a follower of Christ.
  4. Our appearance – As Jesus appeared to others following His resurrection, demonstrating that He had been raised from the dead, we too must prove through our lives that we have put off sin and have begun following Christ. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). We are not to be “conformed to this world, but…transformed” (Romans 12:2).

If one wants to be saved, he must “obey the gospel” (2 Thessalonians 1:8). Have you done that? Have you died to sin, been buried with Christ in baptism, and raised to walk in newness of life? Have you been living in such a way that people can see that you are a “new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17)? If not, why not?

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