"Unless you believed in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:2)
In 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 we find Paul saying the following to the Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 15:1-2
"Moreover, brethren I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand by which also you are saved if you hold fast that word which I preached to you - unless you believed in vain"
Many Christians have been troubled about what this "believing in vain" means. We know from other scriptures that when you believe with your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead and you confess Him as Lord, you are saved (see for example Romans 10:9 and Ephesians 2:1-10). Also, as it can be seen from the above verses, the Corinthians had accepted the gospel that Paul preached to them. Therefore, they had believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and in his resurrection from the dead and according to the corresponding scriptures they were saved. What is this "believing in vain" then? One thing that you must be very careful when you study the Bible is not to take things out of their context nor to ignore other references on the same topic. So in our case let's continue to examine the context of our passage. Verses 3 to 8 gives us a small summary of what Paul preached to the Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 15:3-8
"For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that he was buried, and that he was raised the third day according to the Scriptures and that he was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that he was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that he was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all he was seen by me also..."
See in this passage, the importance that Paul, by revelation, puts on the resurrection of Christ. He states specifically the eyewitnesses of the resurrection. We will see in a minute why he does that. In the second half of verse eight a parenthesis is opened where Paul speaks about himself. This parenthesis closes in verse 10. Then verse 11 brings us back to our topic:
1 Corinthians 15:11
"Therefore , whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed."
The Corinthians had believed what Paul and the others preached. However this did not happen for all. For it says:
1 Corinthians 15:12-17
"Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And IF Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise IF it is true that the dead are not raised. For IF the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain and you are still in your sins."
Only in one hypothetical case could someone believe in Jesus Christ and his believing be in vain. This would happen IF Jesus Christ hadn't been raised from the dead. In that case your most honest believing would really not be able to save you. Without the resurrection of the Lord Jesus there would be no salvation. Without His resurrection, our believing would be in vain, empty, futile. Look what else would have happened, if Christ had not risen:
1 Corinthians 15:17-18
"And if Christ is not risen.......then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished."
If Christ was not risen, then all those believers that died believing in him they would perish. For what would they have to expect if there is no resurrection? However, all this would have happened only if Christ had not risen from the dead, which is only a hypothetical situation. For here is the reality:
1 Corinthians 15:20
"But now Christ is risen from the dead.”
The phrase "but now" makes a contrast between what precedes this word (the hypothetical case of verses 17 and 18) and what follows it (the reality): "but now Christ is risen from the dead". This is the reality. Our believing is not in vain. It would have been in vain, IF (and only if) Christ was not risen. But now "HE IS RISEN". We are no longer in our sins. Those who died believing in Christ and putting their hope in His return they will not perish. For as verses 20-22 continue:
1 Corinthians 15:20-22
"But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive."
See this "shall" there. It does not say that they are alive but that they shall be made alive. When? Verse 23 gives us the answer:
1 Corinthians 15:23
"But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at his coming"
Jesus Christ will come back and then all those who have died believing in him will live again.
To conclude therefore: can our believing be in vain? The answer is NO! It would have been in vain if Christ was not risen from the dead. But, praise the Lord, He is indeed risen, and at His coming, those who are Christ’s, the true Christians, will also be raised too!