The New Testament epistles talk a lot about the importance of "the Gospel". It used to frustrate me as a young teen that there's not a lot in Scripture that really defines what "the Gospel" actually is. Imagine my delight to find 1 Corinthians 15:1–8, where "the Gospel" is actually defined.
According to 1 Corinthians 15:3–8, there are four essential propositions in the Gospel:
- Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures (v. 3)
- he was buried (v. 4)
- he was raised the third day, according to the scriptures (v. 4)
- he appeared to several witnesses:
- Cephas (v. 5)
- the twelve (v. 5)
- above five hundred brethren at once (v. 6)
- James (v. 7)
- all the apostles (v. 7)
- Paul (v. 8)
As surprising as it might seem, each of these points is necessary for "the Gospel". Equally surprising, people who claim to be "Christian" are quite willing to deny each one of them.
1 Corinthians 15:1 & 2 say some interesting things about the Gospel defined in vv. 3–8:
- it was what Paul preached (v. 1)
- the Corinthians received this gospel (v. 1)
- the Corinthians stood in this gospel (v. 1)
- the Corinthians were saved by this gospel (v. 2)
I have sat in "Gospel meetings" that omitted three of the four points Scripture says form the Gospel. (Let's be honest, I've preached "Gospel messages" that omitted three of the four points of the Gospel.) I can't recall any of those meetings ending after only a quarter of the scheduled meeting time...
Perhaps the most surprising fundamental truth of the Gospel is that Christ was buried. I've heard one or two talks about the burial of Christ, and I've given one myself; but it doesn't seem to be in the top ten. I suspect there have been many, many more talks given on the cleansing of the leper than on the burial of Christ; but the burial of Christ is listed as a fundamental, non-negotiable tenet of the Christian faith in 1 Corinthians 15:4.
As an aside, C. A. Coates wrote a short paper called "The Son of Man lifted up and buried". Well worth a read if you can find it. I think it was published in The Food of Life.
The fourth of the fundamental points of the Gospel is that Christ was seen by several witnesses after the Resurrection. There are several implications to this, I'll only mention one in any detail. After the Lord Jesus was raised from the dead, several people spoke to Him. They talked with Him, ate with Him, and touched Him. What Paul is pointing out here, is that the Resurrection wasn't some sort of spiritual or transcendent reality. The Resurrection was physical: it happened in the real world. A Man was dead, then He got up and walked. We don't believe in some sort of mystical resurrection; we believe that it was a real event in the real world. As Francis Schaeffer might say, it was an historical event in space and time.
So that's it: that's what defines a Christian according to 1 Corinthians. A Christian is one who has received and stands in those four points. If you don't believe that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He rose again according to the Scriptures, and that it was a real event in the physical world with verifiable witnesses... then 1 Corinthians 15 says you're no Christian.