The Power of the Cross: 37th Edition, June 24, 2018

Mike Cleveland

Hello friend,
Welcome to the new subscribers just joining our newsletter. We publish once per week on Sunday. The newsletter alternates a gospel teaching on one week with testimonies from Setting Captives Free students on the following week. We hope you will find the newsletter helpful and encouraging. 

Just one announcement this week: we have made a new course live at Setting Captives Free called “Faith Building Studies” which are short (20 minutes) studies on the Book of Joshua. These studies are open to anyone.

This week’s teaching is the second lesson of our new group study, which will hopefully be available within the next year. The following is designed to be done over the course of one week, in preparation for meeting with your group to discuss and pray together. At the suggestion of one of our members, we have made each lesson contain 7 questions; now you can do the study answering just 1 question per day.

Here it is:

Setting Captives Free - Lesson 2: The Power of the Gospel and the Spirit

Welcome to Lesson 2 of the Setting Captives Free study.

Have you ever experienced frustration and exhaustion over trying to win your battles against sin, only to find that your issues or problems keep getting the best of you? I have, and I know from experience how tiresome and discouraging this can be.

I remember watching a professional boxing match a few years ago with two highly accomplished boxers facing each other in the ring. It was clear early on that one boxer was getting the better of the other. I watched the one who was taking all the punches get weaker with each blow, but he made a valiant effort to stay in the fight. He would be knocked down and weakened, but he kept getting back up for more. This happened over and over, and the poor guy kept trying to summon up strength to land some blows but to no avail. Eventually the losing fighter was weak and bloody, and seeing his condition, his coach threw in the towel.

Some of us have felt that way with our life issues. Like no matter what we tried, nor how hard we fought, we just kept getting hit. Each blow we received weakened us until we ended up feeling powerless and ready to throw in the towel.

The reason we ended last week’s lesson showing the “dynamite” power of the gospel (Romans 1:16) is so that you would know there is a source of supernatural power available to you, directly from God. One of the wonderful things about the power of God in the gospel is that it not only changes our hearts, as we saw in the last lesson, but it can also turn our weakness into strength. That would be like the boxer above who was getting knocked down suddenly receiving strength to get up and knock out his opponent!  

As an example of this amazing spiritual power, please read through this passage, and just notice something very interesting that happens to the people in it:

Hebrews 11:32-34 (NIV) And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.

Question 1. Please write out Hebrews 11:34 here:

Did you notice from Hebrews 11:34 that their “weakness was turned to strength”? Stop and think about whatever area you consider to be your weakness, and realize an amazing truth: by believing the gospel that area of weakness can literally become your strength! I’ve experienced this myself, and I’ve seen it happen in the lives of many people all around the world.

Our main goal now is to begin looking at the gospel and discovering how to experience that “weakness turned to strength” power.

A survey that was taken a while back asked people coming out of a church one afternoon this question: “What is the gospel?”  Some answers given were: “Jesus’ love for us”, “All the good things God has done for us”, “God’s wonderful plan for my life”, “putting others first”, “what Jesus has done in my heart and my life”, and even “Doing things God’s way instead of my way.” And while these are all good thoughts, they are not the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is very important to be able to define the gospel, to know clearly what it is so as to be able to believe it and experience its power.

I’ve made my living as a pilot. When I was in ground school to become a private pilot my instructor said this, “there are two things that are most important in flying, get these two right and you will be safe. The two most important things are altitude and airspeed! You must have enough altitude to clear all obstacles and you must have enough airspeed to keep flying.” I’ve tried to remember those two things that are most important on every flight, all through my life.

Similarly, according to the Scriptures the gospel is that which is “most important” (1 Corinthians 15:3), and it has two parts to it. To know and embrace the gospel is to be safe throughout eternity! Let’s look at it together so that we can be able to define the gospel:

Please examine the following passage of Scripture and look for the two parts of the gospel:

1 Corinthians 15:1-6 (NIV) Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.

Question 2. Looking at 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, what are the two parts of the gospel?

Gospel means “good news”, it is that which is “most important”, and, like “altitude and airspeed” in flying, the gospel has two parts:

Gospel Part 1: Christ died for our sins.

This is wonderful news for us because all sin is deserving of death (Romans 6:23), and we have all sinned (Romans 3:23). When Christ died for our sins He was paying the penalty God requires for our sin (death) and now we have been set free from that death sentence.

This first part of the gospel has a confirming proof: “He was buried” (1 Corinthians 15:4). The fact that Jesus Christ died is confirmed by the fact that He was buried in a tomb.

As we will see later in this course, both the fact that Jesus died for our sins and that He was buried are very good news for those who put their faith in Jesus. We will see the impact of these truths as they directly relate to our freedom.

Further, 1 Corinthians 15:1-6 tells us that the gospel has been God’s plan from the beginning. God’s plan was to help, heal, save, rescue, deliver human beings through the gospel. This “plan from the beginning” is stated in 1 Corinthians 15:3 where it says that “Christ died for our sins...according to the Scriptures”.

The only “Scriptures” that were available at the time 1 Corinthians was written were the Old Testament scriptures which were written hundreds of years before the time of Christ. So before Jesus was born, the Scriptures were written to tell of His death for our sins. It was God’s plan from the beginning. Jesus is called “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8) meaning the gospel was God’s plan from before time began.

Now let’s look at the second part of the gospel of Jesus Christ:

Question 3. According to 1 Corinthians 15:4, what is the second part of the gospel?

Gospel Part 2: Christ “was raised on the third day”.

This is wonderful news because the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day means:

  1. His payment for our sin was accepted by God. If Jesus’ payment of our sins was not accepted He would still be in the grave paying. After all, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

  1. All believers are now justified before God. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25).

  1. God has tremendous power for us. If God raised a dead person to life He can certainly work powerfully in our hearts and lives and raise us up from whatever is holding us down, and set us free. We will see how this applies to our freedom in the upcoming lessons.  “That you may know...his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead” (Ephesians 1:18-20).

The second part of the gospel has a confirming proof just like the first part had:

After Jesus was raised from the dead He was seen by many people. Paul (the author of 1 Corinthians) made sure to include “most of whom are still living”; the implication being that since these witnesses were still alive they could confirm Paul’s statement about Jesus being raised from the dead, if anyone had any doubts. In essence, Paul said, “Jesus was raised on the third day, all these people saw him, and they can tell you about it.”

And finally, did you notice that Jesus being raised on the third day was also “according to the Scriptures” (verse 4)? Not only the death, but also the resurrection of Jesus Christ was God’s plan from the very beginning.

So to be clear, the gospel of Jesus Christ is made up of two parts: Jesus Christ died for our sins (according to the Scriptures) and Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day (according to the Scriptures).

Now, let’s address a question that might be surfacing in some minds about now; it might go like this: “I don’t understand. Jesus died and came back to life over 2,000 years ago and that is supposed to help me become sober after 40 years of getting drunk on alcohol? Set me free from lust and sexual impurity? Help me lose weight? How?” Yeah, it sounds unlikely, right?

Or maybe the discussion is more religious in nature: “Oh, I know the gospel, it’s the ‘salvation message.’ Well, I accepted Jesus when I was four years old, but now I have real problems, serious life issues that I need real help with not merely the basics of Christianity. I mean, I have hard things I have to face every day, how is what Jesus did thousands of years ago supposed to help me today?”

The above are legitimate concerns and thoughts and not to be taken lightly, but they betray a lack of understanding of the power of the gospel. Let me share two quick thoughts that might encourage a different perspective:

First, if you believe the Bible you know that everything was absolutely perfect in the Garden of Eden. There was no sickness or suffering, no sorrow or sin and therefore no death. But all that changed when Adam and Eve sinned. When sin entered the picture everything became broken. Sickness entered the world, as did sorrow and suffering and every problem humans face including death. Every problem we have in life can be traced to the fall of man in the garden of Eden.

When Jesus came to this earth He came to remove sin and destroy the works of the devil (see 1 John 3:8). Jesus dealt fully with all our sin at the cross, and He rose from the dead having secured our eternal life. He took the wages of sin, which is death, and gave us the gift of God, which is eternal life. In other words, Jesus came to deal specifically with the issue of sin (see Isaiah 61:1-3 and John 8:36).

Second, the Spirit of God, a real Person, comes to us to apply the gospel of Jesus Christ to our hearts, to make it real, to make it personal, and to actually provide the power needed for a heart change. In other words, the Spirit of God makes the gospel personal and powerful to us, changing our weakness into strength! Without the Spirit, the gospel is just a story, a powerless teaching that is “basic” and won’t change anyone’s heart or life.  

It is my objective in this course to show how the Holy Spirit comes to you individually; how you can personally experience the “dynamite” power of the gospel and receive cleansing and healing, a new heart, a new spirit, and one day a new and healthy body. The Holy Spirit applies the gospel to your heart and life, intending it for the exact issue you are facing, and as He does you are set free, and your weakness is turned to strength!

Jesus Christ, through the gospel, frees us from guilt and shame; and the Holy Spirit, through the gospel fills us with love and joy. Together, the gospel and the Spirit of God change us at the root level of our hearts, turn our weakness into strength and assure us that we will indeed live forever. It is life-changing to experience the power of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit, together!

Question 4. From what you’ve seen in this lesson so far, do you see the importance of the combination of the gospel and the Holy Spirit’s application of it to our lives? Please share your thoughts:

Let’s finish the lesson today by once again looking at 1 Corinthians 15:1-6.

Question 5. According to 1 Corinthians 15:1-2, how had the Corinthians responded to the gospel when Paul preached it to them? Name every way that you can spot in these two verses:

From verses 1 and 2, we see that the Corinthians believed the gospel, received the gospel and took their stand on the gospel.

  1. The Corinthians believed the gospel. Now, this is no small thing. To believe that Jesus paid for our wrongs, died for our sins and removed every bit of our guilt and set us free isn’t easy. To believe that Jesus was buried and three days later rose again, and in so doing He made us right with God can seem too difficult to believe. Further, it might seem like it has no bearing on how we get free from captivity to wrong attitudes and actions.

And, it is true, the gospel would be unthinkable and unbelievable if left to our own human thinking.  But there is an actual miracle that happens when you hear the gospel and believe it: the Holy Spirit comes to you and applies that message as if it were written personally to you, as if it were typed and emailed with your name in the “To” field.

  1. The Corinthians received the gospel. This word “received” means they embraced the gospel, brought it to themselves and took it home with them, so to speak; that is, they received the gospel as their very own. The Holy Spirit had made it personal to them, put it right in their hearts.

  1. The Corinthians took a stand on the gospel. The gospel became their message, they were unashamed of it and were glad to embrace it and stand up for it and defend it.

Notice that believers take a stand on the gospel, not on a particular denomination or a certain church, or a method of baptism or the rules and lists of the Bible, or end time events, or a sports team, or a particular music genre, or an activist message from our culture. When we believe and receive the gospel, we take a stand on it and everything else becomes of less importance.

Friend, the gospel is something to take a stand on, to live for, to be consumed in and to die for if necessary. It is bigger than us, it is more important than anything else, the whole world is being won by the gospel, and when the Holy Spirit makes it personal you will come to see it as your life’s purpose. It’s that important and life-changing!

We know that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the most important thing in all of the Word of God and in all of the history of the world. Paul said, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance!” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

When the Holy Spirit brings the gospel to our hearts, it is as if we purposely plant our feet in gospel cement, and we don’t move from there. It’s of first importance! We hold fast to it and we don’t move from it. We’ve taken a stand, planted our flag, and are willing to go to the wall for it. We’ve found something worth living for and dying for and this makes all the other matters of life fade into the background. God has shown us what is of first importance.

Question 6. Please share where you are at currently with the gospel. Have you believed it? Received it? Taken a stand on it? Please share your thoughts here, and remember to be thorough in your response; ask questions if you would like.

The gospel! The personal, powerful gospel! The sin-crushing, heart-changing, life-changing, astounding, awe-inspiring, problem solving gospel! In this course, we will see why it is far more than “the basics of Christianity”, and how, if applied by the Holy Spirit, has the power to set us free!

Please remember the two parts of the gospel: the death of Jesus for our sins, and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. These are the “altitude and airspeed” of how God sets captives free, and you will see these repeated over and over.

Next lesson: practical help for our struggles.

Lesson 2 Testimony: Mick

Mick writes, "I grew up in a non-Christian home and was exposed to porn by my brother when I was 7 or 8. I was both disturbed and excited. Later, I  discovered my dad's stash of soft porn and would watch it regularly. My teen years were a pursuit of sexual encounters with girls. In my 20's, my friend got internet access and porn became very available. I was lost and dead in sin.

Yet, I encountered the Bible in my workplace and God radically transformed my life by grace and gave me a new life. I left behind a life of drugs and alcohol, but I couldn't quite stop porn. I would watch it sporadically and after getting married for a couple of years things were ok. Then I changed work and I was at home more with time on my hands and internet access. For the last 7 years, I've been binging on porn every 2-3 months.

I heard a friend talking about a course and I searched it out and discovered Setting Captives Free. For the first time in about 10 years the Gospel has become real and fresh. I've understood how to apply the gospel to my life, and I'm tremendously thankful.

I am no longer relying on myself to stay free from porn. It is only by continually gazing at the cross of Christ can I be free. It's not that I'm now trying to stay free from porn, rather I'm getting deeper into the gospel. I'm set in a new direction - towards Christ. Thank you."

Question 7. What are your thoughts on this testimony? Please share your comments here:


Mike Cleveland
Volunteer for Setting Captives Free