Salvation through Belief?

Salvation through Belief? February 5, 2016

Discussing 1 Corinthians 15 in my Sunday school class a while back, I was struck by another way of understanding what Paul is saying in v17. Many have treated it as though Paul is saying that it is essential for salvation to believe in the resurrection. But it sounds to me that he is talking about the Corinthian believers’ faith in God, and saying that unless the resurrection is a reality, then their faith in God is in vain. One may debate whether that is true, but it seems that either way, it is crucial to not misunderstand what Paul’s point actually is. I have often seen him interpreted as meaning that belief in the resurrection is essential if one is to be saved, i.e. that one is saved on the basis of whether or not one believes in the resurrection. But is he not rather talking about faith in God rather than assent to belief as what saves, and that unless the resurrection is a reality, then the salvation beyond death that he proclaimed as coming to those with faith in God is not a reality, and so their faith in God ceases to make sense in that case?

Is that distinction clear? Is it important? Do you think I am correct about what Paul means here?

If I am on the right track, this same insight might apply to a number of other famous verses. Think for instance of the use of Joel 3:23 in Romans 10:13 – “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Many treat it as indicative of calling (an expression of belief) being what saves a person. But would it not be as natural, if not more natural, to understand that text to be emphasizing that it is the Lord who saves, and that such salvation is thus readily accessible, and far from it being the act of calling that saves, the act of calling illustrates precisely that one cannot save oneself, whether by calling or by believing or by any other means. It reflect, not the act that saves, but a recognition that no act one could do could save.

Again, do you think that distinction is right in relation to what Paul means?

See also Daniel Kirk’s post in which he emphatically says “thinking the right things does not save anyone,” as well as Fred Clark’s post on 1 Corinthians 13, which touches on these and related points.

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  • Johannes Richter

    I have certainly been reading Jesus’ words, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”, this way: as stating the reality itself, not referring to the belief in that reality. It’s one of those things that once you’ve seen it that way, it’s hard to unsee it. How can the content of my mind determine what God has done or is doing?

    In fact, it is “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” that God has done and which had been revealed (once again, the reality is not limited to those to whom it was revealed).

    This is something that has changed my questions from “what should I believe?” to “how does believing that this is true, change everything?”

  • Phil Ledgerwood

    So, Jesus dies for Israel to avert the judgment for their breaking of the covenant. God demonstrates (among other things) that this has been accomplished by raising Christ from the dead.

    This is why, if Christ hasn’t been raised from the dead, then we (Israel) are “still in our sins.” They will still fall under the coming wrath. But because Christ has been raised from the dead, Israel can trust God that He will carry them safely through the judgment.

    The Resurrection means a lot more than that, but I think in this particular spot, that’s Paul’s main point. It’s not assent to the fact of the Resurrection that saves, but believing that God has acted and is about to act dramatically in history to rescue his people. This is at least one way the Resurrection provides a hope for salvation. If God did not see fit to vindicate Jesus and instead allowed him to be destroyed under the wrath of the Roman Empire, guess what will happen to Paul’s audience?

  • John MacDonald

    The analysis should take into account 1 Cor 2:2, “I resolved to know NOTHING among you BUT Jesus Christ and him crucified.”