1 Corinthians 15:2
By which also you are saved, if you keep in memory what I preached to you, unless you have believed in vain.
1. A terrible peradventure to have believed in vain. To have spent a week, to have risked money, to have loved or chosen a profession in vain, is dreadful, and has driven many to despair, crime, and suicide. What shall we say, then, of having believed in vain; of having staked eternity on a delusion and a lie?
2. There are four phrases in the Greek thus rendered in A.V.
(1) "In vain do they worship Me," — i.e., idly, foolishly, falsely — "because their heart is far from Me."(2) "Then Christ is dead in vain," i.e., gratuitously, wantonly, without return.
(3) "That ye receive not the grace of God in vain" — unto emptiness.
(4) "Have ye suffered so many things in vain" — are all your endurances for Christ to be forfeited or stultified by departure from the truth?" "Lest I should have bestowed upon you labour in vain."
3. The word may have had in it, originally, the idea of seeming, as opposed to reality. But in its use it carries the sense of a thing done by chance, at haphazard, not deliberately. Here are two possibilities in one.
I. A DEFECT IN THE THING BELIEVED.
1. To believe in vain may be to believe a lie. There are those who say that sincerity is everything. If a man be but sincere he must be in the right. His opinion may be false, his hope a dream, his faith a fable, yet if he is sincere he cannot have believed in vain. St. Paul was of another mind. Truth as well as sincerity went with his religion. With him the text meant primarily, "Unless the object of your faith be a nullity." I transmitted to you, he says, a definite body of doctrine based on a series of fact — is it true? Some parts no one doubts — the death and burial. The miraculous part is the resurrection, which can only be proved by evidence — the evidence of eye-witnesses. Those who knew Christ saw Him alive after certain proof of His death.
2. Those who reject this evidence tell us to be of good cheer, for there is nothing lost. The resurrection is spiritual, and Christ risen means Christ immortal, successful, progressive, influencing the world by His pure ethics or bright example. But Paul is not satisfied with these airy nothings, and says that if the resurrection of Christ be not true those who believe in Him have believed in vain. Their faith is a random faith — they have not waited to see that its foundation is strong (vers. 12-15).
II. A DEFECT IN THE BELIEVER. The faith may be true and yet the belief of it unsound.
1. You may have taken for granted the faith of your family or your country, like the Samaritans, who "believed because of the saying of" another. If you had been born amongst Hindoos for the same reason you would have been such still. There is nothing of conviction, will, soul in your belief. It is no tribute to the truth. There needs in you just that step which was expressed in the Samaritans who said, "Now we believe... . for we have heard Him ourselves."
2. You may have believed in vain because you have walked carelessly and never sought to, reproduce the mind of Christ in your lives. "Why call ye Me Lord, and do not the things which I say?" How foolish that invention of our times which would apply the microscope to the feeling and the telescope to the life! which would hang all the hope on the warmth with which we can say, "Jesus is all," and divert every anxiety from consistency of conduct! There is a random believing which has made haste after safety, and has forgotten to fight. Take seriously your besetting sin, and count nothing done till in the name of the risen Jesus you are victorious over that.
Parallel VersesKJV: By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.