WHAT DOES “SAVED, IF YE KEEP IN MEMORY” MEAN IN 1 CORINTHIANS 15:2? COULD YOU ALSO EXPLAIN “BELIEVING IN VAIN?”
by Shawn Brasseaux
In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, when the Apostle Paul penned the Gospel of the Grace of God that he preached, he included the phrase, “By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.” This verse is quite a stumbling block to many, and it is such a burdensome verse to most. However, such an expression is not difficult to understand when we study and consider the context. Context! Context! Context! (Who would ever guess that a verse that appears confusing is quite liberating when you let it speak for itself?!)
Dearly beloved, whenever we are attempting to understand a puzzling Bible verse or passage, it is always critical to first examine the context for enlightenment. Think of the human writer of the specific Bible book. Notice the audience of the particular Bible book. Consider the overall theme of the certain Bible book. Had the Church the Body of Christ strictly observed these basic keys to Bible study from the day the Bible canon was completed almost 20 centuries ago, we would have saved ourselves from myriads upon myriads of headaches and heartaches, prevented tens of thousands of denominations from forming, and avoided millions upon millions upon millions of thoroughly confused church members. Many mouths in religion need to be stopped, and this is especially true of those who abuse 1 Corinthians 15:2 and confuse Bible readers.
Can our soul salvation unto eternal life be lost? Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:2 are often used to deny the “once saved, always saved” position because it reads: “[we] are saved, if [we] keep in memory what [Paul] preached unto [us], unless [we] have believed in vain.” Does that mean we will go to hell if we forget Paul’s Gospel? Additionally, what does it mean to “believe in vain?”
Let us look at 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 first, as it is found in our King James Bible: “ Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;  By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.  For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;  And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”
Interestingly, the (Roman Catholic) New American Bible reads in 1 Corinthians 15:2: “Through it you are also being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you have believed in vain.” The NIV agrees: “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” The NKJV affirms: “by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.” These perversions do not make the Bible easier to understand; contrariwise, they intensify the confusion surrounding 1 Corinthians 15:2. Must we “hold firmly/fast,” lest we lose our salvation, as these modern translations suggest?
If not approached properly, you can see how 1 Corinthians 15:2 can be very confusing and troubling. In fact, some modern Bible translators, misled by denominational thinking, end up distorting the wording of 1 Corinthians 15:2 (see above), thereby giving credence to the Calvinistic doctrine of “the perseverance of the saints,” the idea that we Christians must do our best to hold firm to Christian morality and behavior so we can be saved from hellfire and go to heaven. (Perhaps there were some modern version translators of the Calvinistic persuasion who gave us such a corrupted verse?!) Calvinists deny the Christian’s eternal security, and thus greatly emphasize our performance, which frustrates/hinders the grace of God (Galatians 2:21). Matthew 24:13, Hebrews 6:4-6, Hebrews 12:13-17, and 2 Peter 2:20-22 are some of “proof texts” of the Calvinist’s “perseverance of the saints.” 1 Corinthians 15:2 is another misused verse in that regard, so it behooves us to settle the matter concerning 1 Corinthians 15:2.
Over the last 2,000 years, Christendom has made countless false assumptions that have caused literally billions of people to completely miss profound teachings of the Scriptures. For example, Matthew 24:13—“He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved”—is explained in verse 22 as physical salvation (“except those days be shortened, there should no flesh be saved”). This “salvation” is people physically surviving the horrors of the entire seven-year Tribulation period, and has nothing to do with us Christians in the Dispensation of Grace—Matthew 24:13 is not even discussing anyone’s soul salvation from hell anyway!
With that in mind, we now proceed to examining 1 Corinthians 15:2 within its context. The common assumption is that the “salvation” referenced in 1 Corinthians 15:2 is salvation from hellfire and salvation unto eternal life. Is this assumption valid? As we will see, nay, it is not a valid assumption.
To repeat, one of Christendom’s costliest mistakes is its assumption that there is only one type of salvation taught in the Scriptures. Whenever the Bible uses the terms “saved” or “salvation,” it is imperative to read the context to see what type of salvation it is. The Bible does not only speak of salvation from hell and sins, unto eternal life. This false assumption of only one type of salvation in Scripture, coupled with the conditional statement in 1 Corinthians 15:2 (“ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you”), only confuses the average Bible reader… and translator!
Forget idle speculation—the context of 1 Corinthians 15:2 interprets the verse for us! Verses 12-17 provide insight into the meaning of the mysterious verse: “ Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?  But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:  And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.  Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.  For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:  And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.”
One of the 10 major problems in Corinth was a denial of Jesus Christ’s bodily resurrection (hence, Paul devoted all of 1 Corinthians chapter 15 to the doctrine of physical resurrection). The general context of the puzzling verse is the heresies and carnality prevailing in the spiritually immature church at Corinth; the immediate context is the denial of bodily resurrection. This is how we should view 1 Corinthians 15:2. The verse is made astonishingly clear.
According to the above verses, to “believe in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:2) is to believe to no purpose. Stated another way, it is to believe a gospel that is not true. Paul is saying that if Jesus Christ did not resurrect, then it is pointless to believe the Gospel of the Grace of God that teaches that He was in fact raised again the third day (verse 4). By clarifying the matter of “believing in vain” of 1 Corinthians 15:2, the issue of “saved, if ye keep in memory” becomes astoundingly clearer, too.
Again, verses 12, 14, and 17 explain that to “believe in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:2) is to believe to no purpose, to believe a gospel that is not true. It has nothing to do with not having “enough faith,” not having the “right kind of faith,” et cetera. These are theological gimmicks invented because people do not understand how to handle the passage. All the nonsense aside, Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 15:2 that if Jesus Christ never resurrected, then it is pointless to believe that Gospel of the Grace of God that teaches that He did resurrect bodily. We will proceed to the “salvation” issue.
Now, notice the “by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you” portion of 1 Corinthians 15:2. The word “saved” is to be defined according to the context. Verse 19 is very clear: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” The salvation of 1 Corinthians 15:2 is salvation from misery and hopelessness! 1 Corinthians 15:2 has nothing to do with salvation from sin, hell, et cetera.
Some of the Corinthians failed to remember what the Apostle Paul had preached to them regarding Jesus Christ’s bodily resurrection (verse 12). They erred in this regard, probably influenced by the pagan mythology (the culture of Corinth) that denied bodily resurrection. These Corinthians had not “kept in memory what [Paul] preached unto [them],” so they “believed in vain.” By abandoning the doctrine of bodily resurrection, the Corinthians were setting themselves up for disappointment. If we fail to keep foremost in our minds Jesus Christ’s literal, physical, visible resurrection, then we will not be saved from despair and misery on a daily basis.
So, in conclusion, if we fail to keep foremost in our minds Jesus Christ’s literal, physical, visible resurrection (like the Corinthians referenced in 1 Corinthians 15:2), then we will not be saved from despair and misery (verses 12,14,17,19). If He did not resurrect, then we have no hope of seeing our deceased Christian loved ones (verse 18). All of our ministry work such as preaching and teaching would be for nothing and our believing would also be pointless (verses 14,17). In short, without the reality of bodily resurrection, our Christian service would be a waste of time!
“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (verse 19). However, by constantly reminding ourselves of the reality of Jesus Christ’s bodily resurrection, we are saved from all that misery listed above. We do not simply have “hope in Christ” now in this present life, but we have “hope in Christ” after death because we will be bodily resurrected just like Jesus Christ was (verses 20-23,35-58). This mentality saves us from the despair that results from denying bodily resurrection.
Verse 58, the concluding verse of the Apostle Paul’s exhaustive resurrection chapter, summarizes: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” Our Christian service—that is, Jesus Christ living His life in and through us—is not in vain, for we will be resurrected bodily to receive a reward, enabling us to function in the heavenly places forever for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 3:9-15; 2 Corinthians 5:9-10; Ephesians 2:6-7; Colossians 3:23-25).
May we always keep Jesus Christ’s bodily resurrection in mind, thereby remembering we too will be resurrected, so our Christian service is not in vain in the Lord! 🙂
» Can Christians lose their salvation?
» We are saved by faith, but are we blessed by works?
» Is Calvinism a sound theological position? (LINK TEMPORARILY UNAVAILABLE)