For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
Although there is of course more to the fullness of Christian teaching than the brief creed the apostle Paul shares here, this what comes “of first importance”; this is the heart of the Christian gospel, the essential truths that separate Christians from non-Christians.
You are not a Christian, according to Paul, if you have not heard, received, and believed these basic tenets of the Christian gospel.
If You Are Not a Christian
By the way, if you are not a Christian yourself yet, here is a wonderful opportunity to get the Christian message in a nutshell. This is the apostle Paul speaking, perhaps the most famous Christian ever, and he says this is the gospel I teach, and this is the gospel that the Christians I am writing to have received and are standing for. So this passage is a great place to get a definition of the Christian gospel.
God has forever dealt with our sins by placing the punishment for them on his perfect Son Jesus Christ, on the cross.
In addition, because Paul states that this gospel summary was passed on to him by others (“I also received”), apparently as an early oral creed, it is earlier than its usage in 1 Corinthians (itself dated no later than 55 AD). That firmly plants this summary of the gospel within a decade or two of Jesus himself, meaning this is a reliable account of early Christian beliefs.
Paul says that the core of the Christian gospel is this truth: Christ died for our sins!
None of us would pretend that we are perfectly good, yet all of us would hope that the Creator who made us is perfectly good (not malicious or mischievous). And the Christian gospel affirms both of these realities, while also pointing to the single divine answer to this cosmic problem. Imperfect, sinful-hearted people can be received by, and have fellowship with, our perfectly good Creator — not because he is willing to lower his standards or sweep sins under the rug, but because he has forever dealt with our sins by placing the punishment for them on his perfect Son Jesus Christ, on the cross.
God’s Plan: Jesus’ Cross
The cross of Jesus marks the greatest treasure in the universe. To discover the cross, and the salvation accomplished there, is to unearth God’s greatest gift: eternal life, in his Son.
Christ died for our sins. But Jesus did not only die for our sins, Paul reminds us: Jesus also rose again from the dead. After being executed on the cross and then buried, the resurrected Jesus (Paul goes on to say in the following verses) was seen by, spoke with, and touched by his closest disciples — who knew him well — and also by crowds of hundreds of people at once. These people would later go on, history tells us, to give their lives to attest to the fact they had seen the resurrected Jesus, a claim they knew full well was either true or not.
You are guiltless before God if you are in Christ by faith!
When Paul says all this happened “in accordance with the Scriptures”, he does not merely mean according to some private interpretation of the Scriptures. Paul means all this happened to Christ as it was already plainly prophesied in detail, over the course of hundreds of years, throughout the Old Testament. Jesus is not the great Jack-in-the-box of history, popping up out of nowhere. God laid out over and over again his plan of redemption through his chosen Messiah.
This was no accident, no mere human movement following some new teacher; Jesus is the Christ foretold and looked toward for hundreds of years!
So here Paul explicitly lays out, not only some Christian beliefs, but the Christian truths which he explicitly states are primary, are “of first importance” among all Christian beliefs. Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again! Has this wonderful truth of the gospel sunk into your soul? Although you could never save yourself, God does justify those who come to him through Jesus, because Christ died for our sins. You are guiltless before God if you are in Christ by faith!
If you are a Christian, rejoice anew at the wonderful news of salvation through Jesus. If you are not yet a Christian, consider this claim from the apostle Paul himself… and realize that the best-case-scenario for imperfect people has come true in Jesus. There is a good Creator God, and we are accepted by him because of Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins.