Life After Death (1 Corinthians 15:35–49)

sermon photoLife After Death (Sermon Audio)

Few passages are more exhilarating than 1 Corinthians 15 and its promise of resurrection life. For those who trust in Christ, Paul says what is buried in the dust will be raised in glory. Taking up a variety of images, he describes the indescribable in verses 35–49— namely the way in which children of Adam formed from the dust of earth are raised to life in Christ to share his heavenly glory.

In Sunday’s message I took time to explain how Paul makes his argument to skeptics in Corinth. Looking to creation, to the way in which seeds come to life, and to the way dust becomes glory, I tried to follow and flesh out Paul’s argument. You can listen to the sermon online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and further resources—including Andrew Peterson’s lyrical eschatology—are listed below. Continue reading

Baptism and the Resurrection: Looking Again at 1 Corinthians 15:29 and ‘Baptism for the Dead’

baptismOtherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead?
If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?
— 1 Corinthians 15:29 —

Few passages in Scripture are more confusing than 15:29, with its language of “baptism for the dead” (βαπτιζόμενοι ὑπὲρ τῶν νεκρῶν). What is Paul trying to say? Is he addressing, or condemning, or condoning some strange practice in Corinth? Is he speaking of the traditional ordinance of water baptism, but using strange language? Should we read 1 Corinthians 15:29 with everything else Paul said about baptism? Or should we delimit this verse to the cultural context of Corinth?

For starters, we can clearly assert that Scripture in no way supports “proxy” or “vicarious baptism.” In the context itself, Paul is not giving instruction for baptism; he is using it as a rhetorical illustration: if many line up for baptism, which depends on the resurrection, why do you accept baptism but not resurrection. Again the focus of 1 Corinthians 15 is resurrection; “baptism on behalf of the dead” is in reference to that larger issue. Paul is not giving us any instructions for the ordinance itself

Rightly, the orthodox church has always understood Paul this way. Throughout church history, this passage was only used by heretical groups to implement such a practice; it has never found a place among true believers.[1] Among Mormons, there is a false doctrine built on this verse, that a Mormon priest must baptize someone for them to be born again—hence some are baptized today on behalf of earlier, unbaptized souls.[2] But among evangelicals there is no such practice.

What is present among biblical Christians is a wide variety of interpretations. In what follows I will attempt to list these interpretations and conclude with something of an approximation of what I believe Paul is saying. I say approximation, because this is one of those passages that we must hold with open hands. In other words, while we can confidently stress what this passage does not teach, we are in a more difficult position to lock down a precise definition of what Paul does mean. The context, the grammar, and the meaning are all difficult to us. Still, we should labor to understand his words, especially in the context of the book. But first, a list of possible interpretations. Continue reading

Raised with Christ (pt. 2): The Unfolding Reign of Christ’s Resurrection

obc-1 corinthiansRaised with Christ (part 2): The Unfolding Reign of Christ’s Resurrection

First Corinthians 15 is one giant meditation on Christ’s glorious resurrection. Verses 1–11 speak of the resurrection’s centrality in the gospel; verses 12–19 explain the necessity of the resurrection; and now in verses 20–34 we find how the resurrection of Christ applies to us.

In what follows you can find discussion questions about Sunday’s sermon and a few resources that may help you better understand the beauty and goodness of being raised to life with Christ. Sermon notes can be found here. Continue reading

Raised with Christ (pt. 1): The Unfolding Effects of Christ’s Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20–28)

sermon photoRaised with Christ (pt. 1):  The Unfolding Effects of Christ’s Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20–28)

Nothing is more central to the Christian faith than Christ’s resurrection. Yet, how exactly does his resurrection secure ours? In what way is his resurrection applied to our lives? Is the promise of our resurrection just divine fiat, or is there something more that unites us to Christ? And is the resurrection only a future reality or is there something present to it?

All these questions are addressed in 1 Corinthians 15:20–28. After showing the necessity of the resurrection for the gospel (vv. 1–11) and salvation (vv. 12–19), Paul explains the (theo)logic of the resurrection in verses 20–28. Picking up concepts (firstfruits and covenant headship) and cross-references from the Psalms (110:1 and 8:6), Paul explains the way in which Christ’s death raises us to life.

This Sunday we started to unpack these verses, next week we will finish this section. You can listen to the sermon online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and resources for further study are below. Continue reading

Martin Luther on Christ’s Resurrection and Ours

harvestBut in fact Christ has been raised from the dead,
the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. . . . 
But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits,
then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
— 1 Corinthians 15:20, 23 —

First Corinthians 15:20 is a glorious passage, full of insight into Christ’s resurrection and ours. As the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep,” Jesus is the firstborn from the dead. He is the proof that resurrection is possible, permanent, and secure. Unlike Lazarus and the saints raised to life by Elijah and Elisha, Jesus resurrection was of a different order—it literally began a new creation.

Accordingly, Paul speaks of Christ’s resurrection in harvest terms because it both inaugurates God’s long, foretold eschatological resurrection (Ezekiel 37; Daniel 12:1–2), and it promises that the rest of the harvest—an eruption of redeemed saints from the earth—is forthcoming (1 Corinthians 15:35–38). Just as the festival of firstfruits celebrated the beginning of the harvest, portending to a bounty to come, so Christ’s resurrection promises bodily resurrection for all those who fall asleep in Christ.

This reality stands at the center of the Christians future hope, but it also promises resurrection life today. Indeed, multiple places in Scripture besides speak of the resurrection as a present reality (see John 5:26–29; Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 3:1–4). This does not deny the need for or anticipation of a future bodily resurrection; it only reiterates the ruling power of Christ in heaven and the work of his Spirit on the earth.

To this point Martin Luther once commented on the present effects of Christ’s resurrection. His words are worth quoting in full. Let his always-colorful language stir your heart to worship as you remember the glorious working of Christ’s resurrection—both a future hope and present power.

And what is more than that, by calling Christ “the Firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” Paul wishes to signify that the resurrection is to be viewed and understood as having already begun in Christ, indeed, as being more than half finished, and that this remnant of death is to be regarded as no more than a deep sleep, and that the future resurrection of our body will not differ from suddenly awaking from such a sleep. For the main and best part of this has already come to pass, namely, that Christ, our Head, has arisen. But now that the Head is seated on high and lives, there is no longer any reason for concern. We who cling to Him must also follow after Him as His body and His members. For where the head goes and abides, there the body with all the members must necessarily follow and abide. As in the birth of man and of all animals, the head naturally appears first, and after this is born, the whole body follows easily. Now since Christ has passed over and reigns above in heaven over sin, death, devil, and everything, and since He did this for our sake to draw us after Him, we need no longer worry about our resurrection and life, though we depart and rot in the ground. For now this is no more than a sleep. And for Christ it is but a night before He rouses us from the sleep.

Now if I know this and believe it, my heart or conscience and soul have already passed through death and grave and are in heaven with Christ, dwell there and rejoice over it. And in that way we have the two best parts, much more than half, of the resurrection behind us. And because Christ animates and renews the heart by faith, He will also surely drag the decomposed rascal after Him and clothe him again, so that we can behold Him and live with Him. For that is His Word and work on which we are baptized and live and die. Therefore this will surely not fail us, as little as it failed Him. No matter when or how God ordains that we die, whether in bed or in the fire, in the water, by rope or by sword, the devil, death’s master and butcher, will surely see to killing us and carrying out his trade, so that we will not be able to choose or select a mode of death. But no matter how he executes us, it shall not harm us. He may give us a bitter potion, such as is administered to put people to sleep and make them insensitive, but we will wake up again and come forth on that Day, when the trumpet will sound. That the devil shall not prevent, because even now we are more than halfway out of death in Christ, and he will not be able to hold back this poor belly and bag of maggots either. (“Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15,” in Luther’s Works, 28:110–11)

Come what may of our earthly tents, whatever the devil aims to do to destroy us, the resurrection of Christ is already at work in the world and at work in his saints (2 Corinthians 4:1–11). Let us take heart in that, and with the power of Christ’s resurrection, put to death the deeds in the body by means of the Spirit which seals our own future resurrection (cf. Romans 8:11–13).

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Discipleship in a Digital Age

Discipleship in Digital AgeFrom Abraham to Abraham Lincoln, the speed of the world didn’t change all that much. From the agrarian lifestyle of the Patriarch to the rural farms of North America, among which Lincoln grew up, the speed of news typically traveled at the pace of a horse. In this historical setting, the famed presidential debates between Lincoln and Douglas lasted for hours at a time, with people taking a break for dinner, only to come back for more.

What a difference 150 years makes, only its not time that has changed the world, its technology. In the three millennia between Abraham Lincoln and his namesake, the world didn’t change that much because communication didn’t change that much. To be sure, the printing press in the fifteenth century changed the world and powered the Protestant Reformation. But nothing has changed the world like the technological advances of the telegraph, radio, television, Internet, and now the iPhone.

Through each of these advances the world became smaller, communications faster, and information easier—easier to accumulate, easier to disseminate, and easier to manipulate. And significantly, the pace of life and speech has increased in exponential fashion.

It’s not like the move from industry to information to digital preoccupation has increased gradually over the last 150 years. Far from it! With the Internet and the iPhone, in particular, digital information chases us, hacks into our brains, and produces within us data smog. All told, unless we learn to walk wisely in this age, we are at risk not only of becoming servants to our digital masters, but to lose our Master altogether.

Walking Wisely in a World Full of Pings, Pixels, and Panic (FoMO)

David Wells said two decades ago “the fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequentially upon the church” (God in the Wasteland30). In his corpus of theological studies into evaluating evangelicalism at the turn of the twenty-first century, he identified the effects of modernity on the church. By modernity, he was not speaking of modernism—the Enlightenment-derived elevation of man and his autonomous rationality—but the effects of our hyper-transient, ultra-consumeristic, technologically-dependent, and information over-saturated modern world. This materialistic cocktail has wreaked havoc on the soul of the Western Church and has brought about a loosening of doctrine and lightening of God himself. Continue reading

Framing the Gospel: Four Biblical Truths For Rightly Proclaiming and Protecting the Gospel

framesFor the gospel of God to remain in focus it needs a frame. That is to say, if we are going to proclaim Christ clearly and consistently, we must understand the biblical presuppositions necessary to preserve and protect the gospel. In particular, the gospel needs at least four truths to guard it from distortion. These truths do not add anything to the gospel, but they do ensure that nothing is taken away from the gospel.

What are these ‘framing’ truths?

From 1 Corinthians 15, I believe Paul explains the gospel as needing to be kept (1) central, (2), external, (3) Scriptural, and (4) historical. Without these four frames the gospel will be put in jeopardy. Therefore, to better understand the biblical presuppositions with undergird the gospel, let’s consider each of these truths briefly and then what happens when they are lost. Continue reading

15 Propositions About Tongues from 1 Corinthians 12–14

night-house-stars-churchWhat does 1 Corinthians teach about tongues?

That’s a question I’ve been wrestling with all year as we’ve preached through 1 Corinthians. In pursuit of understanding these chapters myself, I’ve written a number of blogposts. And here is a culminating post offering 15 propositions to crystallize what Paul says and does not say about tongues in 1 Corinthians 14.

More must be said about this subject, especially as it relates to redemptive-history and the book of Acts. Moreover, more could be said comparing and contrasting Acts and the rest of the New Testament. But what follows focuses on 1 Corinthians 12–14.

Here are the 15 propositions. You can find biblical expositions below.

  1. Tongues, as a spiritual gift, fit into the larger categories of what Scripture says about tongues.
  2. Tongues reverses the strife caused by the “gift” of tongues at Genesis 11.
  3. Tongues is a judgment against Israel.
  4. Tongues is a spiritual gift.
  5. Tongues was the least of the gifts.
  6. Tongues were not given to everyone.
  7. Tongues is not discussed in any other letter, not even 2 Corinthians.
  8. Tongues does not address men, but God—maybe.
  9. Tongues as private prayer language is not from the Spirit.
  10. Tongues are nothing compared to prophesy.
  11. Tongues are lexical languages.
  12. Tongues must be interpreted.
  13. Tongues in the plural may be different than tongue in the singular.
  14. Tongues are not absolutely forbidden by Paul, but they die the death of ‘one thousand qualifications’.
  15. Tongues are not a normative practice today.

Continue reading

Is It Finished? Clarity and Conviction about the Miraculous Gifts (1 Corinthians 12–14)

sermon photoIs It Finished? Clarity and Conviction about Miraculous Gifts

On the cross Jesus exclaimed this glorious truth: Tetelestai! It is Finished!

Our eternal security is settled by this truth. And this week we celebrate Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday because Jesus Christ finished his gracious work of redemption on on the cross. 

Strangely, we are less certain about the finished work of the Holy Spirit. Some might even question whether he has finished anything. Isn’t the Holy Spirit still working in our midst today? Of course he is, but this doesn’t deny his finished work of revelation and the inspiration of God’s Word. In the Bible, we find the Holy Spirit’s finished work.

Considering both the finished work of the Son and the Spirit, Sunday’s sermon marked the final message on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12–-14, where I answered the question: Is the work of the Spirit finished?

After seven messages on 1 Corinthians 12–14, this message sought to summarize our findings  in those chapters, understanding their historical context and making practical application today. This was not intended to be a typical exposition of the text, but an doctrinal and applicational sermon answering many questions related to the cessation of the miraculous gifts and the continuation of their intended purpose—the confirmation of God’s Word and the ongoing work of the Spirit by that Word.

You can read the sermon notes here, listen to previous expositions from 1 Corinthians 12–14, and find discussion questions below. Resources for further study are also available below. Continue reading

No Other Gospel: Reflections from The Gospel Coalition

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
— Galatians 6:14 —

For three days this week, ten of us from Occoquan Bible Church traveled to Indianapolis to join 8,500 other followers of Christ at The Gospel Coalition’s bi-annual gathering. This year we celebrated the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and its recovery of the gospel. The theme of this week’s conference was “No Other Gospel” and in less than 72 hours we heard six messages from Galatians and three messages on the historical figures of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other reformation heroes, including the women who contributed to the Reformation. We also sat in on countless breakout sessions related to church history and practical ministry. In all it was a much needed time of refreshment and recalibration.

In all, our trip to Indy was an encouraging time of worship, fellowship, and learning. I benefitted most from John Piper’s opening message on Galatians 1 and Tim Keller’s closing message on Galatians 6. In particular, Keller’s connection between boasting in the cross (Galatians 6:14) and spiritual transformation was powerful.

His point was this: It is not enough to know about Christ and his cross. If one wants to be changed—i.e., freed from sin and full on grace—he or she must boast in the cross. This means verbal praise but even more, it is a confidence in life that taunts all other competitors and presses deeper into Christ. There is nothing more glorious than Christ and his cross, the message of the gospel. As we cling to that truth and boast about that reality above all others, God will change us.

With that in mind, let me share a few more observations from the men who went to Indy. Hear them boast in Christ, his cross, and the chance to devote three days to worshiping. Let it spur you on and encourage you to listen to the sessions online or to join us next year. Continue reading