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SOUND DOCTRINE (5): Christ Came to Save Sinners


Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. – 1 Timothy 1:15-16

Elders are to hold firmly to the “trustworthy message” or pistis logos. Five times in Timothy & Titus, Paul introduces a “saying” with pistis ho logos. This is the first of them, and it is in keeping with what Paul elsewhere said is “of first importance.”

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. – 1 Corinthians 15:1-4

Christ came to save sinners by the gospel Paul preached: the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus for our sins.

The Cross: Of First Importance

This is the first of the trustworthy sayings; this is the beginning point of sound doctrine. This is of first importance – so much so that Paul had written earlier in 1 Corinthians:

I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. – 1 Corinthians 2:2

Yet, many “gospel sermons” never mention the Cross – except, maybe, in passing. Charles Spurgeon, the famous British preacher at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London for 38 years reportedly said of his preaching, “I take my text and run to the Cross.” Many still know him as “the Prince of Preachers.”

There is a popular book, published in 1876 by T. W. Brents called The Gospel Plan of Salvation that in its 662 pages barely mentions the Cross or the death of Jesus as the basis for our salvation. Printed 19 times by the mid-20th century, this is still a popular book in some schools of thought within the Churches of Christ. [See C Leonard Allen, The Cruciform Church: Becoming a Cross-Shaped People in a Secular World (Abilene: Abilene Christian University Press, 1990), p. 120.]

Is there something wrong in this picture? Shouldn’t we be running to the Cross instead of preaching a Plan of Salvation that scarcely mentions the Cross?

Allen stated, “I find such omission astounding, the sign of something deeply awry in the theology of the movement” (loc cite).

Many of those who have adopted the practice of Brents that effectively divorces the Gospel Plan of Salvation from the preaching of the Cross are often the ones who talk most frequently about sound doctrine. Yet, by “sound doctrine,” they do not mean the preaching of the cross; they mean the teachings that mark the Church of Christ as distinctive from other religious bodies. This would be doctrine such as believers’ baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, accapella singing, the weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper, and the organization of the Church in local congregations led by elders and deacons. Many go far beyond these basic teachings in what they include in “sound doctrine.”

If we do not proclaim the message of the Cross, where is our faith? Without the Cross, what draws us to repentance? Without the Cross, into what are we baptized, if not into Jesus’ death that we might rise with Him to a new life? If we neglect the preaching of the Cross, how can we understand Jesus’ call to take up our cross to follow Him?

How healthy can our message be if it is not rooted and grounded in the crucifixion of Jesus for our sins?

The Cross: The Reason Jesus Came

The sacrifice of Jesus is the center of the Christian Message. This is the reason He came:

The Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost. – Luke 19:10

The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. – Mark 10:45

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, Glorify your name!” – John 12:23-28

Jesus linked service and His giving of Himself as a ransom together. He calls us to follow him in service – but for me to follow Him, I must also take up my own Cross. This is an essential part of Christianity. The Cross is not just a means of forgiveness, but also the way to power for living with Jesus. I cannot experience Resurrection Power without first going to the Cross where I die with Him.

In talking about our being buried by baptism into His death, let us not forget what happens in baptism: the old man is crucified.

Crucified! That is a painful, deadly experience.  Jesus led the way, but each of us must follow. Paul declared,

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing. – Galatians 2:20-21

We do not gain righteousness through law, but by sharing the Cross with Jesus. Thus, the Cross and the Resurrection stand as the assurance of our hope.

Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:22-24

Those who seek righteousness by law still stumble over the Cross; the wise ones of this age still think the Cross is foolish. Nevertheless, the Cross is also still God’s power to save sinners, and that is why Christ Jesus, the divine Son of God, came into this world. Without the Cross, there can be no Christianity. All Christians recognize this, but many strip the Cross of its meaning and power by preaching an anemic, sickly, unhealthy version of the gospel.

Let’s return the preaching of the Cross to its God-given place in the message of redemption!

NEXT: SOUND DOCTRINE (6) – Our Hope Is In God

PREVIOUS: SOUND DOCTRINE (4) – Holding the Faithful Word

One Response

  1. […] NEXT: Sound Doctrine (5) – Christ Came to Save Sinners […]

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