Responses to the Gospel

I Corinthians 1:18-31

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
July 2010

We have been studying the Book of Corinthians. Today, I want to read I Corinthians 1:18-25. Paul says that there are two groups of people in 1:18. There are those that are perishing and there are those that are being saved. Paul also mentions in I Corinthians 1 three different responses to the gospel. Even today when the gospel is preached, people respond in one of these three ways when the gospel is preached. What are the three responses to the gospel?

First Response – The Gospel is Ridiculous (1:18)

We learn in 1:23 that this was the response of Gentiles in Paul’s day. To the Gentiles, the message of the cross was irrational. It is just plain stupid. The Greek word for “foolish” is μωρός. We get the word “moron” from this Greek word.

Ancient Greece was well known for its great thinkers (Aristotle, Plato, Socrates) and the Greeks took great pride in their famous philosophers and their schools of philosophy. The Greeks were but for a philosopher. They rejected the gospel because it did not meet their standard of human wisdom.

What is interesting is that even today people still consider the gospel to be foolish. Why? What seems so foolish about the message of the cross to some people?

They would say the whole idea of the incarnation (God becoming a Man) is foolishness.

They would say that it is foolish to worship a man who died on a Roman cross as an executed criminal. They would say that it is foolish to believe that a Galilean peasant who was executed by the political authorities in a small Middle Eastern country is the Savior of the world. Jesus did die as a condemned criminal but the Bible also says that he was completely innocent of the charges. He was falsely accused of things and did nothing worthy of death.

They would say that it is foolish to believe that Jesus could save you when he couldn’t even save himself. The Bible says that he could have saved himself but chose not to. If he saved himself, he could not have saved us at the same time.

Some would say that it is foolish to believe that salvation could come by the death of another. One person said, “One sacrifice however great is insufficient to pay the debt of sin. The atonement of sin requires constant self humiliation on the sinner’s part. That God’s wrath should be vented upon his beloved son is divinely unnatural. Such a theory is man made.”

Many would say that the whole idea of subsitutionary atonement is ridiculous. It is simply not fair to transfer the penalty of sin from a guilty person to an innocent person. God did not transfer the penalty from a guilty to an innocent person. Her bore it himself voluntarily at cost to himself, not at cost to anyone else. Jesus is God; He isn’t just an innocent third party. He is the judge himself.

Second Response – The Gospel is Offensive (1:22-23)

The Jews had a different reaction to the gospel than the Gentiles. To the Jews, the gospel was a stumbling block (Romans 9:30-33). The Jews rejected the gospel message because it was offensive. The gospel by its very nature has an offensive message.

Some pastors and preachers try to get rid of the offense of the cross. Does anyone know the largest church in America? It is not Willow Creek . One hint is that it is located in Houston, Texas. It is Lakewood Church. Does anyone know how big it is? The church has a seating capacity of about 17,000 people.

Attendance of the three weekend services totals over 43,000 people. Joel Osteen is the pastor of the church who week after week preaches a feel-good message that is positive and non-offensive but the gospel message is offensive. It is not popular. Paul speaks of “the offense of the cross” (Galatians 5:11). It is not politically correct.

What Is So Offensive About the Gospel?

1. The Gospel Says that Everyone is a Sinner.

We are all full of sin on the inside and on the outside, what we do, what we think, what we say. That is offensive to people who believe that people are basically good. It offends human pride. If you live a moral life and are religious, you might be offended by this, because you don’t see yourself as a sinner.

2. The Gospel Says that God is going to Judge Everyone’s Sin One Day.

That is offensive to people because they have to admit that they have a problem (sin problem). People don’t like talk of a fiery hell.

3. The Gospel Says that you Cannot Save Yourself.

There is nothing you can do to earn your salvation. That is offensive to people who are very self sufficient. No doctrine is harder to accept that the doctrine of human inability.

4. The Gospel Says that there is Only One Way to God.

Jesus is the only way. That is offensive to people. It is exclusive, narrow minded and intolerant. It says that all religions are not equal. That is offensive to the pluralistic world in which we live. Pluralism says that one religion is as good as another. There are just different roads toward God.

Why were the Jews offended by the message of the gospel? What was so offensive to the Jews about the message of the cross? Why didn’t it appeal to the Jews?

It made Jesus seem weak (if you stop and the crucifixion and do not see the resurrection). Jesus died at the hands of his enemies. Crucifixion was the ultimate sign of defeat. If he was strong, he would have conquered his enemies.

The idea of a crucified or suffering Messiah was a contradiction in terms. It was an oxymoron to the Jews. The Jews expected a military leader, a conquering Messiah. The Gentiles wanted a philosopher. The Jews wanted a politician, a political leader, not a martyr.

It seemed to be contrary to everything that the Jews thought the Messiah would be. What’s the problem? The OT does predict that the Messiah will one day come and defeat his enemies and establish a kingdom of God on the earth reign on the earth but it also predicts that the Messiah will suffer and die. The Jews focused on only the first group of passages. They read the Bible only selectively. There is a danger in only reading half of the Bible.

We see this in the two men who walked seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus on the first Easter (Luke 24:13-27). They thought Jesus was the Messiah until he died but then their hopes were dashed and they were both devastated. Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t just say, “You are wrong. You have the wrong interpretation”.

He calls them “fools” (24:25) because they did not believe ALL that the prophets had spoken. Now these men believed some of the Bible. They just didn’t believe all of it. They didn’t believe the whole Bible. They only believed part of it.

Many critics have said that Christianity a religion for weaklings – all this talk about loving your enemies and turning the other cheek. Yasser Arafat, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said, “We do not turn the other cheek, “We slap back twice as hard.”

The Jews wanted a sign (1:22). The Gentiles weren’t looking for signs but the Jews were. They demanded a demonstration of power, not weakness. Now there is nothing wrong with miracles and there is nothing wrong with signs.

Jesus actually performed all kinds of miraculous signs (Acts 2:22), as did the Christians (Acts 2:43; 5:12; 6:8) and many still did not believe. God performed miracles, signs and wonders and Pharaoh still did not believe (Exodus 7:3-4). It is a form of unbelief to say that you will believe unless you see a sign. It was just an excuse.

Jesus said, “A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign” (cf. Matthew 16:1-4; John 2:18-25). You don’t want to put too much stock in signs and wonders because Satan can also perform them (II Thessalonians 2:9; Revelation 13:13-14; 16:14; 19:20; Matthew 24:24).

Third Response – The Gospel is the Wisdom and Power of God (1:24)

The gospel is the power of God (1:18). Let’s think about that for a minute. There is incredible power in the gospel message. The Greek word for power is δύναμις. We get our word “dynamite” from that Greek word. The gospel is God’s dynamite. It is like spiritual dynamite. Dynamite shows power but is a little misleading.

Dynamite is destructive. It blows things up. It is explosive but when we are talking to people, we need to realize the power that we have at our disposal, the power to save the worst possible sinner from the wrath of God, the power to transform lives that are completely messed up, the power to deliver people from dangerous addictions.

Paul doesn’t just say that the gospel is the power of God to some people. He doesn’t say that it works for a lot of people. He says that it is the power of God to EVERYONE who believes (Romans 1:16).

People that preach a different message than the gospel may have a lot of things but the one thing they don’t have is POWER (II Timothy 3:5). That is why when you go into some churches you can see the incredible power of God at work. It is undeniable.

Lives are radically changed. You go into some liberal churches and nothing is happening. They are spiritually dead but they have a form of godliness. They have a nice building, sing some hymns, have churches services and perform some outward rituals (baptism, communion).

When the Sadducees came to Jesus and tried to trip him up with a really hard question, Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power (δύναμις) of God” (Matthew 22:29). You don’t know what God’s Word says and you don’t know what God can do. That is the problem with the theory of evolution. The problem with evolutionists is that they do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.

That is a powerful rebuke and he would say the same thing to people today. The real question is, What about us? Forget the Sadducees. They are all gone. Do WE know the Scriptures and the power of God? This leads us to two questions for personal application.


1. Do we really know the Word?

How well do we know the Scriptures? If we don’t know the Scriptures that well, what are we doing about it? Are we spending time reading and studying and trying to learn them? The reason we believe so many things that are wacked is that we don’t know the Word.

One of the reasons we have so many questions about the things is that we don’t know what the Bible teaches. All of our questions are answered in the book. How well do we really know it? Do we just have a shallow superficial understanding of the Scriptures?

2. Do we know the power of God?

Have we seen the power of God in our own life or have we just seen it in the life of other people? God has done phenomenal things in the lives of other people. What has he done in your life? Do we really believe what God is capable of doing what he says He can do and what he will do for us?

Do we really believe that we have the Holy Spirit indwelling in us? If we do, we have POWER (Acts 1:8; I John 4:4; Ephesians 3:20). Unfortunately, sometimes we doubt God’s power. Sometimes I doubt God’s power. Do we live like we have the Holy Spirit living inside us? Do we live like we are even aware that there is any supernatural power at work within us.

The gospel is also the wisdom of God (1:24). The gospel that we preach does not only show God’s power to save sinners, it shows God’s wisdom (to be able to save wicked sinners and be perfectly just and righteous at the same time). What are some characteristics of this wisdom?

Characteristics of the Wisdom of the Gospel

1. It is a simple message.

The gospel message is very simple (1:17; 2:1-4). When Paul was with the Corinthians, he focused on one thing – Christ’s death for our sins. Now this wasn’t the only thing Paul ever preached. He was with the Church at Ephesus for three years and at the end of that time said, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27 ESV) but it was the focus of his message and he did not change the message to fit his audience. He preached Christ crucified to Jews and he preached Christ crucified to Gentiles.

2. It seems foolish to the world (1:18; 2:14).

The gospel is a direct contradiction of human ideas of wisdom and power. It completely goes against human ways of thinking. God’s thought are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). What God thinks is wise, the world things is foolish. What the world thinks is wise, God thinks is foolish.

3. It came from God, not man.

No human mind ever came up with the notion of salvation by grace. Man-made methods of salvation and other religions all taught some kind of a works salvation. They all taught some kind of merit theology. The greatest minds on the planet never came up with the gospel. It was God’s idea from the start.

In 1:19-21 we find what God thinks of human wisdom. Is God against people who are really smart? Is God against people who get college degrees? No. God is NOT against reason or logic. He created us with a brain and it is not wrong for us to use it. He is NOT against education. Paul was very well educated. He studied under the top rabbi of his day (Gamaliel). God is not against wisdom or even knowledge.

In fact, the Bible says that we are supposed to love God with our mind (Matthew 22:37). It is not enough to love God with all your heart. We are to love God with all of our mind. That is not just a commandment. Jesus said that it was the first and great commandment (Matthew 22:38).

God is not against knowledge. Paul thanked God that the Corinthians were “enriched in all speech and all knowledge” (1:4-5). In fact, knowledge is a spiritual gift (12:8) that God gives to people. We are to add knowledge to our faith (II Peter 1:5) and to grow in knowledge (II Peter 3:18).

If God is not against this, then why does he say that he will “destroy the wisdom of the wise”? Why does he say that he will thwart or frustrate the intelligence of the intelligent? (I Corinthians 1:19). There are two reasons.

He is saying that human wisdom has a limitation. He didn’t say that you can’t learn anything through human wisdom or that human wisdom has no value. Human wisdom has its place. Man has made incredible strides in science in the last two thousand years that have dramatically improved the quality of our life with inventions (cars, planes, internet, cell phones, space travel, etc.) and the curing of diseases.

Human wisdom, no matter how great or brilliant it is, will not lead anyone to a knowledge of God. As Paul said, “the world through its wisdom did not know God” (1:21). Salvation does not come through human wisdom.

Why Salvation Does Not Come Through Human Wisdom

Human wisdom can keep people away from God (Colossians 2:8). Education can actually be a hindrance to the kingdom, even though it is not wrong in itself. How is this possible?

1. Highly Educated People are often Skeptics.

They are taught to questions things and not to accept things at face value.  They question everything.

2. Highly Educated People are often Rationalists.

They rely on reason, rather than revelation to find truth. This is revealed, not acquired knowledge (2:13-15). This is a hard concept for many of us to grasp. We are supposed to preach the message to everyone but everyone will not accept it. There is a reason for that.

In order to accept this message, God has to reveal it to you. The Holy Spirit has to reveal this to you. It is acquired supernaturally (Matthew 16:13-18). God does not reveal this to everyone. It is selectively given. God reveals it to some people, not to all people. Jesus said the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom were given to some people but not to others (Matthew 13:11).

3. Highly Educated People are often Naturalists.

That is why they like the theory of evolution. It explains how we got here without God. They believe that nature is all that exists – the material world is all that exists. Carl Sagan said it best in the introduction to his Cosmos series: “The universe is all that is or ever was or ever will be.”

They reject anything supernatural (God, Satan, demons, angels, heaven, hell, miracles). Anything that they cannot see or test scientifically or requires any kind of faith is rejected.

4. Highly Educated People are often Relativists.

Truth is relative. There are no absolutes. Humans have to make up their own rules and what is right for you may not be right for me.

5. Highly Educated People tend to be Humanists.

They focus on man and exalt man, instead of exalting God. It makes man the measure of all things, as Protagoras said.

This message was not revealed to certain groups of people as a whole. Certain groups of people were not called by God? What are the three groups of people? (cf. 1:26-28) The powerful and influential people of the world, the rich and wealthy people of the world, and the wise and highly intelligent people of the world.

The gospel goes out to everyone but these three groups of people have trouble accepting the message because God did not call them. Paul does not say: “Not any,” but: “Not many.”

Incidentally, What Paul; says here is very insulting. He calls Christians “God’s foolish things”. Most Christians are not very sophisticated compared to worldly standards. That may be why Jesus calls us sheep. Sheep are not very smart. Most Christians are a little dull. Jesus said that in many ways Christians are not as shrewd as non-Christians (Luke 16:8).

What is the reason that the rich, powerful and wise were not chosen by God? The reason God that God did not chose them is so that He and He alone might be glorified (1:29-31). We have a tendency to boast and brag about things.

We boast about how smart we are or how well educated we are or how rich we are or what we have accomplished in life or what important people we know but when it comes to salvation, we contribute nothing.

God offers the gift of eternal life and all we do is take it. We accept it. That is why salvation is not by works so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9)

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