“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.” (1 Corinthians 15:1–2, KJV)
I only ever ran out of gas when driving one time. It was when I was stationed in the Army in Germany. I believe it was a Saturday and we were driving near the post where I was stationed. Yes, I saw the fuel gauge was near empty, but I believed that I had enough gas in the tank to get me to a gas station. Fortunately, I was not on the Autobahn, for to run out of gas there meant a huge fine. No, I was on a back road. I discovered that my belief was in vain. It was empty.
Here Paul reminds the Corinthian church of the gospel that he preached to them. It is the gospel message by which they were saved. The verb “saved” in the verse is a present tense passive voice, which implies both an initial salvation experience and the continuous working of salvation in the life of a true believer. Other translations render the phrase, “ye are saved” in the KJV as “you are being saved,” as seen in the ESV and others.
Yet, Paul calls them to a very serious consideration. “if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.” Here to the ESV translates the phrase more accurately “if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:2, ESV) The point is that true believers will hold fast to the truth of the gospel.
Paul presented a serious thought. There is a faith that one may have that is in vain. The word, “vain,” eike, refers to without reason or effect, in vain (Strong G1500). There is a such thing as ineffectual faith. It is an impostor to true saving faith. Jesus gave an example of this type of faith which is an impostor.
“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:22–23, KJV)
So, what is the difference? True saving faith is trusting in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Paul outlines the gospel in the subsequent verses in 1 Corinthians.
“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:” (1 Corinthians 15:3–4, KJV)
True saving faith requires that one believes this gospel message. It is that Christ died on the cross to pay the penalty of sin, that He was buried, and that He rose again from the grave. Those that hold on to this truth to the end are the true believers. The writer of Hebrews echoed this thought, “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” (Hebrews 3:14, ESV)
True believers will stand firm in this truth. Those who do not have believed in some way, but it was an empty faith. Understand this, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ today, you will be found standing firm in the truth of the gospel “to the end.”