2 Corinthians 11:1-4 “I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness; but you are already doing that. I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.”
As we have studied this letter we have discovered that Paul’s ministry has been under attack from a group of people in Corinth, and that there have been a number of places in this letter where he has had to defend himself. The matter isn’t finished. “Indulge me yet again,” he says to them, “while I engage in some foolishness. Of course, I realise you’ve already been putting up with me doing this.” In other words Paul is here going to write some things that he regrets having to write, but he can think of no other way of making his point. It might seem to us that he is making rather a meal of all this in the opening verse, but that has the effect of making the delicacy of the issue as Paul saw it all the more vivid in our minds. Irony and self-defence can get so near the sin of bragging, and that would be unacceptable to Paul. What he is about to do is this, he is going to tell them in the second half of this chapter all the sufferings he has endured in travelling to Corinth to bring the gospel to them. This will contrast his pain with the lives of the fat cats who have challenged his authority. By relating this list of suffering in some detail he is going to shame his detractors into silence. He doesn’t enjoy doing this, but for the gospel’s sake – to keep the Corinthian Christians believing it – he judges it to be necessary.
In other words, it’s as if Paul is now going to parade his medals before the church. He has come through a long war for Christ, has been often wounded in many a campaign, and almost killed in battle a few times. He has shown such bravery, his fame is legendary, and so it seems an act of foolishness, almost vanity, for him to go to a cupboard, open a drawer and bring out these medals. He, of all people, doesn’t need to do this. Think of visiting a minister and he begins to tell you of the books he has written, the conferences he has spoken at, the trips abroad he has made, the famous churches at which he has spoken. Then, to make matters worse, he goes to a drawer and he takes out a bundle of letters of appreciation which he has collected over the years and he begins to read them to you one by one! It is cringingly embarrassing. You think to yourself, “Why is he doing this? What’s wrong? He’s lost it!” Hasn’t Paul just told them in the previous verse that it isn’t the man who commends himself but the man whom the Lord commends who is accepted by God?
The reason for all this is that Paul’s foolish opponents have gone too far in challenging his apostleship. The faith of many Corinthian Christians in Paul’s gospel is being undermined, and so he has resolved to answer a fool according to his folly. “I am embarrassed about having to do this,” he says in effect, “but, please bear with me, as you always have.” So Paul begins by reminding them about what a true Christian is, and how every Christian must face the reality of constant temptation. “You are under attack,” he says, and he proceeds to tell them four things about a true Christian.
1. THE TRUE CHRISTIAN IS A PERSON BETROTHED TO CHRIST.
Notice Paul’s words, “I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him” (v.2). You see this extraordinary picture: the Creator of the universe of Genesis 1:1 sending his Son into the world to obtain a bride. That determination was in God’s heart before the foundation of the earth. “It is not good that my beloved Son shall be alone. He is going to have a companion just like him to love him and be loved by him for ever.” But God did not create a bride for him – as he had created Gabriel or Michael the archangels. He could have, but he chose not to. This bride was going to be found amongst the children of men. “I will send my Son into the world to seek and to save this bride.” But there are enormous impediments to such a match. The bride is ugly, conformed to the world, and loving sin. “I will change her,” cries Christ. “I will give her a new heart and new nature. Behold, I will make all things new. I will sanctify and glorify her. I will change her into my own image. When she sees me she shall be like me. She shall be a partaker of the divine nature. She shall become a fair and lovely bride.” The bride is also in great debt because of her sins. Again the voice of Christ is heard; “I will pay the whole amount she owes,” and this is what he does on Golgotha. He takes her every liability and discharges every obligation. Everything is covered. All her bills are paid – every single one of them. But the bride is also defiled and stained in her sins. “I will make her clean,” cries her husband. “I will open up a fountain for sin and uncleanness on Mount Calvary, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains. She shall be as pure as I am.” She has nothing to wear on her wedding day. “I shall provide a beautiful dress for her,” cries the Lord Jesus. “It will be made out of my own righteousness. The fabric will be my own obedience to God, how I loved him with all my heart, and also how I loved my neighbour as myself. That will be the material, and I will clothe her with it. There never can be a dress like this dress. It is infinitely, eternally and unchangeably glorious.
“This spotless robe the same appears,
When ruined nature sinks in years!
No age can change its glorious hue;
The robe of Christ is ever new” (Nicholas L. Von Zinzendorf, tr. John Wesley)
When Luther saw the robe of Christ’s righteousness with his own name on it and clothing his own filthy garments from head to toe he said, “Straightway I felt as if I were born anew; it was as if I had found the door of Paradise thrown wide open. The expression ‘the righteousness of God’ which I had so much hated before, became now dear and precious – my darling and most comforting words.”
What of the marriage contract? “I will draw one up,” cries Christ. “In my broken body and in my shed blood there is a new covenant between me and my dear bride. I shall be her Lord and she shall be my wife.” What a dowry God will give this bride – “he who did not spare his own Son … how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Roms. 8:32). Modern brides have lists of the things they need in order to set up home. They send the list to their friends and family, hoping that most of their needs will be met, but nothing the bride of Christ needs does God withhold from her. She is even given a prepared place in heaven. “In my Father’s house are many mansions.”
The New Testament goes on to describe the courting of this bride to gain her consent. What marvelous grace, that this heavenly bridegroom proceeds to woo her; he pleads for her hand, and effectually he wins her. He does this both outwardly and inwardly. Outwardly he speaks to her through his ambassadors. When his spokesmen, who are his preachers, address her it is as if he were speaking to her himself. “I love you and will take you as my bride. Come to me and I will give you rest. I will cancel your debts and clothe your nakedness and take you to the place I have prepared. Come to me,” they say, and as they preach those words he is speaking to his elect bride through them. He shows her all the good reasons for marrying him – how kind and patient and faithful and strong he is. Who would not want such a husband? He gets down on his knees before her and proposes marriage. “Will you not come with me through life?” he says, and he protests his undying love. He pleads with her to be joined in marriage to him.
Consider the desperation of so many people to find a companion. One of the new schemes introduced from America is called HurryDate. Twenty-five men and the same number of women pay 17 each to come to a large room where they are allowed three minutes to sit and speak to a member of the opposite sex. Then a whistle is blown and everyone moves to another person. The object is to sum up the other person in those minutes and see if you are prepared to spend a longer time with them. If so you give him your telephone number if he asks for it. Imagine the desperation of spending that whole evening talking to person after person not one of whom is the least interested in you at all. How fearfully depressing. You have gone there to meet someone because you are lonely, but no one wants you. But I can say tonight that Jesus Christ is interested in you, that he loves you so much he has brought you to this gathering that you might hear about him, how strong, kind and forgiving he is. He truly wants you to be his bride. He loves you. He will have you. He knows all about you and yet he is saying to you, “Come unto me!”
He also speaks inwardly to his bride to confirm the truth of the words she is hearing. He whispers his endearments to the ears of the heart, and he warms her affections to begin loving him in return. He opens her understanding and she begins to see what a wonderful bridegroom he would be to her. He overcomes every objection; she protests, “I am poor, and I have been a great sinner, and I am unworthy of such love, and I may not be able to go on loving you.” He answers all her worries and calms all her fears. He makes her willing to say “Yes, I will marry you.”
She chooses Christ and she renounces all others. She chooses a whole Christ, from that day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish. She promises and covenants to be a loving, faithful and obedient wife to Jesus Christ for ever and ever. These are the espousals she makes. The ring she puts on is baptism. She is now betrothed to Christ. But the marriage will not be consumated until glory.
Remember how it was in marriage among the Jews of Paul’s day. For example, the virgin Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but they had no physical union. Betrothal was not some informal personal relationship – what we call ‘engagement’. We are told that Jewish marriage involved “two separate ceremonies, the betrothal, and the nuptial ceremony which consummated the marriage. Usually a year elapsed between the two, but during that period the girl was regarded legally as the man’s wife, while socially she remained a virgin. The betrothal contract was binding, and could be broken only by death or a formal written divorce. Unfaithfulness or violation of a betrothed girl was regarded as adultery and punishable as such” (Colin Kruse, “2 Corinthians,” IVP, 1997, p.183).
Now I am describing the situation with all of us who are Christians right at this very moment. We believers are betrothed to the Lord Jesus in quite a legal, and gospel, and formal, and irrevocable manner. There is no possibility of the Lord Christ and his elect bride ever being divorced. The earnest has been given! The whole church is the eternal bride of Christ, but he is no longer on this earth. Our bridegroom has gone to prepare for us our eternal home, that place in heaven, from whence Jesus shall come again to take us to be with himself for ever. One day, at the second coming, there is going to be the great consummation of bride and groom at the marriage feast in heaven. What a prospect! It should create such anticipation and rejoicing. This is described in the book of Revelation: “Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the sound of rushing water and like loud peals of thunder, shouting, ‘Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.’ (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) Then the angel said to me, ‘Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ And he added, ‘These are the true words of God.'” (Rev. 19:6-9).
We see in our text that Paul tells us he has been working in Corinth as the divinely appointed matchmaker, preparing a bride for the wedding supper. He is the intercessor who spoke to God about these people. He is the priest who pleaded with God to look in love upon them and marry them to his Son.
He is the herald who announced to these lonely lost men and women in Corinth that he had an eternal bridegroom for them. “I have found a suitable husband for you,” he cried as he presented Christ to them. “Take him before it is too late!” One husband. Not any other. Christ the only groom. That is the only one Paul was determined to know. “I promised you to him alone. I gave you in marriage to him.” There he is the father of the bride giving her to her bridegroom. Then he goes on to say, “I want to present you as a pure virgin to him,” and there he speaks as the father guarding and protecting his daughter until the day of her betrothal. In other words, now that these disciples have responded to the loving proposal of Christ to become his bride Paul felt a high responsibility of shepherding them during the period of their betrothal to Christ, that is, their profession of faith, and the consumation (which will be at death or at the second coming, whichever comes first).
So the work of the preacher is to show the loveliness of the heavenly bridegroom to the people, to make them fall in love with him and take him as their husband. Then he goes on as a pastor instructing them, rebuking them, warning them, protecting them until they finally come in a pure virgin state to be joined to their husband Jesus Christ in heaven. If there is a seducer who will turn up and try to take them away and capture their hearts Paul will expose his wiles and drive him away. And the reason for this, Paul says, is his love for them: “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy” (v.2). God himself is a jealous God. He hates to see his own people leaving him to worship Baal. His heart breaks when he sees them committing adultery with false gods. The Lord has put that same spirit of God-like jealousy in the apostle’s heart. Blessed is that congregation whose pastor-preacher can say to them, “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him” (v.2). So, every Christian is betrothed to Christ.
2. THE CHRISTIAN’S MIND CAN BE TEMPTED.
“But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray” (v.3). Where does adultery start? In the mind. Long before it reaches the hormones we entertain imaginations, and dwell on them and feed them. Our minds are deceived into thinking that this is beautiful and irresistible and natural. Our minds are taught to think that self-control, and modesty, and purity are unworthy outmoded characteristics. “Surely,” men say, There would be no fun if we encouraged ourselves to esteem these virtues. They are ‘Victorian’; they are repressive; they result in frigidity and frustration. They are our enemies.” The whole world is enticing men to leave the path of obedience to God. But we yield to those temptations from within. Temptations start on the inside. Let me us this derisory illustration: some people really love rice pudding; others hate it, and that’s putting it mildly. Put a bowl of rice-pudding in front of some people, and they will devour it in a minute and ask for a second helping. Ask someone else would he prefer ice-cream for desert and you see the relief falling over his face. Why? It’s the same rice-pudding. The difference is in the different desires. The point is this: what makes temptation tempting is not so much the thing itself but instead what is going on inside men’s minds. We wouldn’t be deceived by the serpent’s cunning if there weren’t sinful thoughts already in our minds. One man falls into sin and another resists because of what is going on inside their different minds. Use your brain. God’s guidance transcends human reasoning, but it doesn’t exclude it. When God saves you, he doesn’t remove your mind, he renews it. So pray, and then put your mind to work. There will be no deliverance from temptation if you neglect to think biblically.
Some people are virtually trapped by sinful thoughts. That is where temptations begin. Wayne Mack tells the story of his son Joshua being physically trapped: “More than two decades after if happened our son, Joshua, still remembers an experience he had when playing hide and seek with some of his friends from elementary school. During the game he decided to hide in an old cedar chest. While in that cedar chest his friends discovered him and they actually sat on the lid refusing to let him out. For quite a time they kept him trapped in the box. As they sat on the lid, the walls of that wooden chest seemed to close in on Josh. He began to think he might never get out. He became irrational, imagining all sorts of unpleasant consequences. He later said he could just imagine the headlines describing his demise; “Young boy dies by suffocation while trapped in a cedar chest as he played hide and seek with his friends.”
“While he was in the chest his friends would every now and then open the lid just a bit, let a little air in, and then quickly slam the lid shut before he could push his way out. When they opened the lid just a crack, he would gain some hope that it was over. But when they closed it shut it again and jumped on it his hopes were crushed. He says that the few moments he was trapped in that chest felt like hours.
“When he finally did escape and ran down the stairs to where we were located, his body was drenched with sweat. Wayne and Carol can still remember him saying to them. “Boy, I’m glad God put skin on our bodies because if he hadn’t done that, my heart would have fallen right out on the floor of that chest.” Being trapped in that wooden box was a horrible and frightening experience for him that caused him to give up on the game of hide and seek.”
Wayne Mack’s point is that being trapped morally and spiritually in a wicked attitude is like that. People say, “I can’t get out of this sin. I can’t stop it. I’m trapped.” Perhaps your temptation is to lose your temper when you can’t get your own way. It may be your tongue runs away with you, or that you gossip and slander and speak evil of people. It may be sexual lust, or discontentment, or prayerlessness. It may be you are being tempted to reject the authority and truthfulness of the Word of God. That is what happened to Eve. Perhaps that is the root sin. Paul writes here, “Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning.” He is dealing with the introduction of another gospel into the church at Corinth and so he appeals to the third chapter of the book of Genesis. How are men delivered from the temptation trap? Not without the Scripture. We go back to the opening chapters of the Bible. You remember we recently had a missionary from the Philippines speaking to us and when asked how he dealt with homosexual men who talk to him about their lifestyles he said, “I go to the book of Genesis, and I deal with the basics of man in the image of God and his relationship with woman God created from him and for him as it is found there.” How important are those chapters. Adam and Eve were under probation, and its focus was the prohibition to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The devil comes to Eve in the form of a serpent and he challenges her about obeying what God has said. She was deceived as the serpent put God in a bad light as someone who restricts our simple pleasures. She was deceived into thinking she could trust her own judgment about God, and not go to her husband Adam, who had authority over her, and ask his loving counsels. She did it her way because she was deceived. Her mind was led astray. That is how temptation comes to us.
What is Paul saying? Two things. Firstly, that it is your mind that is led astray. It was Eve who decided to act on the serpent’s advice. It was not God’s fault. We want to blame others. The Corinthians might have pleaded the long absence of Paul from the church, and the eloquence of his opponents as an excuse for giving credence to his enemies. We want to blame our personalities or our circumstances. We play the victim, but it is our own thoughts that entertain and taste the temptation that cause the sin. We can’t blame anyone else. We are too much like the small boy who said to his teacher at the end of term as he watched her writing the form’s reports, “Mrs. Jones, I want to warn you so that you won’t get into trouble with my Dad. You see after he read last term’s report he said, ‘If you don’t get better marks on your next report someone’s going to be sorry.'” But Paul says here, “Eve was deceived,” and then he tells them, “Your minds may somehow be led astray.” He lays the responsibility firmly on them.
The second point Paul is making is this: you are not the first person to be deceived. There seems to have been a triumphalism and perfectionism in the Corinthian church. They had the Spirit, didn’t they? Paul reminds them of what happened in paradise. If the minds of our first parents while they were in Eden were led astray are we going to be exempt in a fallen world? We can expect to meet all kinds of temptations too. One of the enemy’s tricks when we are struggling with severe temptation is to get us thinking that we are unique in this fight – “No one can possibly be subject to such pressures as we have.” As a result, we become extremely discouraged, and we are more likely to give in and lose the battle. There’s a powerful scene in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim Progress where Christian is walking through the valley of the Shadow of Death. This valley is described as a Land of Drought and Desolation. Christian faces incredibly severe trials as he walks through this lonely valley. The path is so dark that “often when he picked up his foot to go forward, he had no idea where he should step next.” He experiences terrors of sight and sound. He becomes confused, desperate, and often feels like giving up. But just at the breaking point Christian experiences something that gives him strength to carry on. Bunyan explains, “After Christian had traveled this disconsolate condition for quite some time, he thought he could hear a man’s voice somewhere ahead of him. The voice was saying, ‘Even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil, for thou are with me.'” Then Christian was glad for a number of reasons:
For one thing, he gathered from this that he was not alone but that others who feared God were in the Valley as well. For another thing, he realized that God was with them even though they were in a dark and dismal place. And again, he hoped that if he could soon catch up with someone, he would then have company. So he ventured on, calling out to whoever was up ahead. There was no answer, however it was evident that the person thought he also was alone. Bunyan’s point – it’s good to know that you are not alone when facing temptations. The very first woman to be created had to meet the serpent’s cunning. The Bible is saying to all of us, “Reckon on it!” Let the minister and the elders reckon on it. Let the most godly women here reckon on it. Every Christian’s mind can somehow be led astray. The Christians in Corinth were being tempted to reject the word of God through the apostle. It was nothing new. Eve at the beginning was deceived in the same way.
In a dream one night the devil affirmed to Dr Henry Cooke, “I have more experience than you; I have seen what you never saw; I have heard what you could never hear; I have been in heaven where you never were; and I now affirm on indisputable authority – the authority of my own personal knowledge – that Jesus Christ is not God.” “And I affirm,” said Cooke, with such vehemence that he awoke from his sleep, “I affirm on the infallible testimony of God’s own Word that when the devil speaketh a lie, which this is, he speaketh of his own; for he is a liar and a father of it.” The devil is not quite as candid nowadays, but he is still trying to get Christians away from the words of the prophets and apostles which alone are the Word of God onto the sinking sands of human personalities and experiences. We overcome temptation by trusting in the word of God, and showing we trust it by doing it.
3. CHRISTIANS ARE GOING TO BE OFFERED ANOTHER JESUS, ANOTHER SPIRIT AND ANOTHER GOSPEL
The apostle says, “Someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough” (v.4). Now these may look odd to you, even stupid. They seem too explicit, too blunt a temptation. You ask, “Paul didn’t really expect the Corinthian church to meet a man telling them that he had another Jesus than the Jesus Paul had preached, or that he had a different spirit, or a different gospel, did he?” Of course the heretics weren’t saying that. What they were stressing was all the wonderful benefits that came from their insights and personal experiences. Their eyes twinkled and their faces glowed as they spoke of what had happened to them in the past months as they had gone beyond the teaching of the Old Testament Scriptures and beyond the words of the apostles. What light and what blessings had come to their lives, and they wanted the whole congregation to experience the same. But Paul cuts to the chase. The apostle tersely says, “They are preaching another Jesus, a different spirit, and a different gospel, and so easily you’ve put up with all that.”
It has happened throughout the history of the church. Look at the difference between the first century New Testament church and the second century. We begin to meet a different Jesus, a different spirit and a different gospel, and the distortion grows as the centuries pass until the time of the Reformation. Luther rediscovers in the Bible the real Jesus, the true gospel and the living spirit. The power of remaining sin is so great that people favoured even with the preaching of the apostles can easily leave it. Consider the clergy sons of such men of God as William Wilberforce and J.C.Ryle and Hugh Martin, how those boys all espoused a different gospel, another Jesus, and another spirit from their mighty fathers. That was the temptation J. Gresham Machen met a hundred years ago while studying theology in Germany, and meeting Christian intellectual mystics standing behind the podiums of lecture rooms with their faces shining as they presented a vision of their Jesus. What saved Machen was sitting alone in his room and reading the gospel of Mark at a sitting, and thinking about the uninventable Jesus revealed there, the same as the one his parents had taught him, so different from the Jesus of his professors’ imaginations.
Understand this, that the whole ministry and suffering of the apostle Paul revolved around one point, that if any man or even a glorious angel from heaven turned up bringing any other gospel to the church than the gospel Paul had preached that man or angel would be an accursed being. If he brought another Jesus or another spirit he would be an accursed being. The apostle Paul has defined what the gospel is, what the Lord Jesus has done, and the nature of the spirit of the New Testament for the whole church until the end of the world. So any party who rejected Paul might plead that it was really Paul’s lack of eloquence, or the absence of any imposing presence, or the absence of miracles and signs from his ministry that they were unhappy about, but when you peeled away all these outward skins at heart these men had another Jesus, another spirit and another gospel. Let’s look at these three:
i] Another Jesus? What a horrible phrase! Think of a woman hearing sweet talk from a seducer. She tells him that she is married to her Bill and doesn’t want to hear anything more from this man. He says that he’ll be another Bill to her. Another Bill?! She doesn’t want any other Bill. She has her Bill and she loves him alone. So too when we are offered another Jesus we are revulsed at the words. We are utterly captivated by the perfections of the Jesus we’ve come to know.
Consider the comprehensive presentation of the Lord Jesus which the apostles made. It is of a perfect man. How can that be improved? Matthew describes one whom we see to be the ideal Jew; Mark, the ideal Roman; John, the ideal Son of God; and Luke, the universal ideal who is every man’s ideal and God’s as well. Furthermore, every man who approaches Christ seems to feel the same thing – He is the ideal of that man. To the artist Christ is the One altogether lovely. To the educator He is the master teacher. To the philosopher He is the wisdom of God. To the lonely, He is a brother; to the sorrowful, a Comforter; and to the bereaved, the Resurrection and the Life. To the sinner, He is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. No one is looking for another Jesus.
The Puritan Thomas Watson has said, “You are quite amazed that He is incomparably better than you could have expected. He is tender without being weak, strong without being coarse, lowly without being servile. He has conviction without intolerance, enthusiasm without fanaticism, holiness without pharisaism, passion without prejudice. This man alone never made a false step, never struck a jarring note. His life alone moved on those high levels where local limitations are transcended and the absolute law of moral beauty prevails. It was life at its highest.”
The Jesus of the New Testament is an absolutely perfect man. It is impossible to improve on perfection. So there cannot be a Jesus other than the Jesus the apostles preached. No one needs to turn from the Jesus of the New Testament to another Jesus. There was once a man called Bronson Alcott who said to a friend, “Today I feel that I could say, as Christ did, ‘I and the Father are one!’ “Yes,” the other replied, “but the difference is this: Christ got the world to believe him.” Today we don’t know the names of the men who opposed Paul, nor what they believed, nor in what ways the Jesus they preached was different. But all over the world there are ordinary congregations of Christians studying every single Sunday what the apostles wrote of the Lord Jesus.
But there is something far more important, that without Paul’s Jesus there is no forgiveness nor eternal life. The only Saviour is the Jesus of the New Testament. The following story isn’t true, but it gets one important point across. A wicked woman murdered someone and was sentenced to life in prison. She was eager to escape, so she came up with a plan. She knew another inmate, an old man, who had the job of burying prisoners who died. Any time there was a death, he would place the body in a casket, cart it out to a burial ground outside the prison wall, lower it into a hole, and cover it with dirt. This old man was going blind and needed cataract surgery, but he didn’t have the money to pay for it. The woman, seeing this as a chance to escape, promised to give the old man lots of money if he would help her. He reluctantly agreed.
Her plan was this. The next time she heard the bell signaling the death of an inmate, she’d wait until night and then sneak over to the room where the old man worked. She would find the coffin, crawl in with the dead body, and pull the lid shut. The next morning the old man would wheel the coffin to the burial ground outside the prison, with the clever woman and the corpse inside it. Then, when nobody was looking, he would pry it open, and she could escape.
Eventually the night of opportunity came. The bell tolled. The woman slipped through the darkness and found the coffin. She lifted the lid, slipped into the box, and pulled the lid shut. A few hours later she heard hammering and felt the coffin moving. Soon she would be outside the prison walls. She would be free. She heard thumps and other muffled noises as she felt the coffin moving. She smiled. Her plan was working.
After a while, though, her smile began to fade. She waited… and waited … but nothing happened. why didn’t the old man open the lid? She tried to push it open, but couldn’t. The lid was nailed tightly shut, buried deep in the earth. Finally the woman lit a match in the darkness and stared in horror at the face of the dead body next to her. It was the old man himself who had died.
That’s what happens when you count on the wrong Jesus to save you. You can’t count on a dead person to save you from death. Only the risen Jesus of the New Testament has the power to save you. Various religious figures in history have taught men how to get to heaven, but those founders of other religions are dead. You don’t want to be stuck in the same coffin they’re in. The only one who can save you from sin and death is the one who said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” He’s the only One who rose from the dead, so he’s the only One who can raise you from the dead. Without Jesus you are doomed. With Jesus you will live forever.
ii] Another spirit? Neither can you improve on the spirit of the New Testament, a spirit of reverence and godly fear, a spirit of fervent love from pure hearts for all the people of God, a spirit of full assurance of faith, a spirit of compassion for men and women who are lost, a spirit that urges the strong to bear the burdens of the weak, a spirit that doesn’t try to get even, a spirit that doesn’t bear any grudges, a spirit that hungers and thirst for righteousness, a spirit that makes no distinctions of race or class within the church, a spirit that judges other people better than ourselves, a spirit that loves one’s neighbour as oneself. A hundred years ago a man said, “Show me a place on the face of the earth ten miles square where a man may provide for his children in decency and comfort, where infancy is protected, where age is venerated, where womanhood is honoured, and where human life is held in due regard, and I will show you a place where the gospel of Christ has gone and laid a foundation.” Many a soldier who found himself a castaway on a Pacific island during the Second World war was grateful to find himself welcomed and not butchered. When he came across a Christian church in a clearing the castaway knew that he was safe because of the spirit that the New Testament had created was there.
iii] Another gospel? Neither can you improve on the gospel that is found in the New Testament. Paul tells us of his gospel in the opening verses of I Corinthians 15, that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” Our sins – that is where it starts. The gospel begins with the cold statement that before God we are sinners. That stumbling block it lays in the path of every strutting sinner. The gospel does not make any appeal to the alleged divine within man, nor to any forces or abilities within him. It does not say, “Now be a man, not a molly coddle.” It does not say, “Hold your head, throw back your shoulders, look the world straight in the eye, and make your decision for Christ.” That is not its approach. It tells the athletic man he is sick and needs a physician. It tells the rich man he is a a debtor and God says all eternity will not be enough to pay the debt. It tells the model on the catwalk that she is clothed in filthy garments. No one who is unalarmed at the bad news will find anything but platitudes in the news that God forgives. “So what?”, says the unexercised sinner, “that’s his job.” There was once a modernist preacher explaining to his congregation how more advanced and enlightened a conception of human nature we now had than what was recorded in the Bible. He read Isaiah 1 – “From head to foot no soundness – full of wounds, bruises, putrefying sores.” He greeted an old man at the door at the end of the service and said, “How are you brother?” There was no response. The old man looked at him and then said, “Where did you get that from?” “Get what?” asked the preacher. “That! What you said this morning, about the state of man. Why, man, that was just my picture – full of wounds, bruises, putrefying sores. And see here! You’re no brother of mine.”
The gospel begins with bad news, and until you have seen that what is particularly striking in being told God loves us? “God loves everyone – so what?” says the world. It is good news only to those who are smarting at the bad news about their lives in the sight of a holy and sin-hating God. “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of man,” the Scripture says, “But the Lamb of God has died for sinners!” The gospel is about God’s grace through Christ to favoured sinners. Grace is the opposite of anger. God’s grace is his favourable attitude toward sinners, in spite of their sin, because of the achievements of the Saviour. The gospel is unique. Only Christianity is a gospel religion. There is not another gospel. Every other religion teaches self-salvation. Christianity is the religion of salvation through what Christ has done. Every other religion teaches that our works can lead to salvation. Christianity teaches that our works can only lead to damnation. All other religions tell us to try to go to heaven. The gospel tells us that God came down to lift us up to heaven.
I was recently listening to Dr. Sinclair Ferguson speaking about one of his members who had approached him last year quite excitedly. She told him she had been standing at a bus-stop waiting in a line when she got into conversation with an elderly man. The conversation got around to church and she told him that she went to St. George’s Tron and heard Dr Ferguson on Sundays. “Oh,” he exclaimed with delight, “Do you know that I taught him in Sunday School?” And then he added this remark, and she especially enjoyed passing it on to Sinclair: “That mischievous boy would have been the last person in the world I would consider to have entered the ministry.” But what impressed me was Sinclair’s comment on that exchange. He added, “She will never know how much those words encouraged me. To think that that grace of God could reach a person like the one I used to be, and save me.”
God saves sinner who trust in Jesus Christ. That is the gospel. Every other religion is a D.I.Y. religion. Christianity is the done-for-you-by-Christ religion. Every other religion teaches that salvation results from good works. Christianity teaches that salvation results in good works (I John 4:9). All other religions boil down to some theory about God plus do’s and dont’s. But the gospel is not a gospel of faith plus works for the ox of mercy and the ass of merit cannot be yoked together. Christianity emphasises the word ‘done’ – what Christ has accomplished for us in the past by his life and death and resurrection. It is news, good news, ‘gospel’! There is no more discouraging experience for the minister than having preached the gospel of grace as powerfully and clearly as he can for a man to come up to him, thank him profusely, and then say that from now on he was going to heed all he had heard, and try to live a better life…
It is not by our trying we are saved but by Christ’s achievements. God has loved us so radically, so staggeringly, that the Son of God has humbled himself to the death of the cross for our sins. He has dealt with all our guilt and our defilement. He has appeased God’s anger. In heaven is a reconciled God. A complete atonement has been made. There is nothing that God has failed to deal with. He has forgotten nothing. He has overlooked nothing. He has imputed all our culpability before him to his own beloved Son and removed it all. There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. All God requires of men and women is to entrust themselves to this Christ and all the benefits of his great accomplishment. Even this saving faith he gives you. That is the gospel. It cannot be improved upon. Think of some old advertisements for a famous original brand. They say, “Don’t put up with an inferior product.” That is what Paul is saying here. He is amazed that the Corinthians so easily abandoned Christianity by listening to the ‘super-apostles.’.
4. THE TRUE CHRISTIAN IS CHARACTERISED BY A SINCERE AND PURE DEVOTION TO CHRIST.
You see the phrase at the end of the third verse, Paul is urging them not to be led astray from their “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (v.3). That is the standard, a devotion to Christ that is transparent and blameless. True Christian people have presented themselves to God as living sacrifices. The story is told that when the people of ancient Collatia were negotiating terms of surrender to the Romans, a certain Egerius, on behalf of Rome inquired of the representatives of the city, “Do you deliver up yourselves, the people of Collatia, your city, your fields, your waters, your boundaries, your temples, your utensils, all your property, divine and human, into my power, and the power of the Roman people?” “We surrender all,” the ambassadors replied. “And so,” said Egerius, “I accept you.”
With Christ too his salvation is all or nothing. There are no negotiations on his part. We are filthy rebels. All we can plead is, “Nothing in my hand I bring. Simply to thy cross I cling.” That is the beginning of sincere and pure devotion to Christ. You cannot be like Mrs. Bettome, the founder of the Queen’s Daughters, who once accepted the invitation of a boy to go for a boat ride on a lake. He drew the boat next to the landing. She put one foot into the boat, and then hastily withdrew it as the boat slid away. He maneuvered it back and she carefully put a foot in again, but as the boat went down into the water a little she lifted her foot out with some agitation. The boy again maneuvered the boat alongside the landing stage and he said to her, “Now Mrs. Bettome, why don’t you get in – all of you!” There it is! You must get in or out of this boat. To be holy unto the Lord you must be wholly unto him.
There’s nothing halfhearted about our devotion to Christ. “For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord” ( Romans 14:7). We are living for him who gave himself for us that we might be his prized possession. Think of it – Jesus Christ prizes us. The beautiful, powerful, mighty, wise, loving Lord takes delight in us. That is the one to whom we belong.
We are devoted to the one who will never forget us. He will not forsake us. He will always watch over us. Do you see the confidence, the rock-solid strength that we as believers can and should have? God is for us! Nothing can separate us from his love for us. Are you in a difficult situation? Cleave to Christ. Are you in a lonely situation? Cleave to Christ. Does the world think you are foolish? Does the world reject you? Are you poor in the world’s sight? Are you confronted by what appears to be gigantic difficulties and problems? Cleave to this Christ who is your Sovereign Protector.
I was listening to a missionary to Mexico speaking this past week, and he was appealing to people to join them and get involved in the work. “But it’s a 24-7 situation,” he warned them. “24 hours, and seven days a week.” That is the full-time devotion to Christ we must all show. That is normative Christianity. It means that you are not your own. You and everything you have belongs to Christ. Live to please him. You don’t belong to the world, so why should you act as the world acts? Since you belong to Christ, your single aim, your single goal in life should be to live all out for his pleasure. This truth should motivate you to frame your life and your actions to the praise and glory of Jesus Christ, your master. “We have as our ambition, that whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:9): “… my earnest expectation and hope (is) that . . Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or death” (Philippians 1:20) What difference does it make if we don’t have a lot of money, or if we don’t have a prominent position at work or in the church, or if other people don’t treat us with dignity and respect? Cleave to Christ with sincere and pure devotion. It will affect all your life.
Wayne Mack’s son (also called Wayne) took a job to support himself while going through college and law school. Not long after he had started this job, his employer came to him knowing that he was a Christian and said, “If you have a brother at home who is anything like you, I want to hire him.” Well, he did have a younger brother at home, so he also got a job there because of the way his brother had been working. A little while later, his boss came back to him and said, “Do you have any other friends who are Christians and looking for jobs, because I like the way Christians work?” Here were some boys who displayed a sincere and pure devotion to Christ and it made a impact on their place of work. “Godliness is profitable in every way,” said Paul. There can be no effect on the world if the salt loses its savour.
The only motivating factor that is powerful enough to keep us going is the Gospel. Fear alone won’t do it, guilt alone won’t do it, shame alone won’t do it, the warnings and exhortations of people aren’t enough, a partial Gospel won’t do it. Nothing except a sincere and pure devotion to Christ is sufficient for this job. Nothing except an understanding of and continuous reflection on the many faceted aspects of Christ as Savior will give you the dynamic and power to face and solve your problems and live your life for God’s glory.
3 February 2002 GEOFF THOMAS