By Matthew Barrett:
Does the resurrection of Christ matter? Does it truly make a difference? The apostle Paul sure thought so. In writing to the Corinthians, Paul was faced with the startling news that some in Corinth denied the future resurrection of the body. Such a view was adopted by many in the Greco-Roman world. Death was the end. Actually, not much has changed since the first century. Today, the same view is held by skeptics of the faith.
What was so shocking, however, is that in Paul’s day, some Christians, who affirmed the bodily resurrection of Jesus, nonetheless denied the future resurrection of the body. Paul responds with boldness, arguing that you cannot have one without the other. If there is no future resurrection for believers, then Christ himself has not been raised! And if Christ has not been raised, then everything changes. Let’s explore the consequences of the resurrection of Christ for the Christian life.
1. The resurrection of Christ is inseparable from the gospel of Christ.
In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul begins by reminding his brothers of the “gospel I preached to you . . . by which you are being saved” (15:2). This gospel, Paul says, revolves around the death of Christ, who “died for our sins in accordance with the Scripture” (15:3). But notice, Paul does not end there. Christ did not remain dead, but he was also “raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (15:4), before appearing to his disciples.
Have we, as gospel-centered, gospel-saturated believers, left the resurrection out of our gospel message? I know I am guilty. After reflecting on an opportunity I had to share the gospel with an unbeliever, I suddenly realized that not once had I mentioned, at least in any depth, the resurrection of Christ. I fear that my experience is not my own, but that of evangelicals everywhere. But Paul teaches us that we must come to grips with the biblical reality that the resurrection of Christ cannot be divorced from the death of Christ when we speak about the gospel. Should we separate the two, we will seriously miss the significance of the resurrection for our salvation. As Thomas Schreiner states, “Christ’s death and resurrection are inseparable in effecting salvation.”
2. The resurrection of Christ is the fuel that ignites our preaching to a lost world.
Ask yourself this: Would your preaching look any different if Christ had not risen from the dead? If your answer to that question is no, then there is a serious problem. For Paul, the resurrection of Christ made all the difference in the world when it came to preaching. If Christ has not been raised, Paul says, “then our preaching is in vain” (15:14).
The reason is simple: you are misrepresenting God, for you are preaching that he raised Christ when he did no such thing (15:15). In short, if Christ did not rise from the grave, we have no good news.
3. The resurrection of Christ saves.
Perhaps the most sobering statement Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 15 is that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (15:17). So often we limit our understanding of salvation to the death of Christ. And certainly the death of Christ, as Paul says in Romans 3:25-26, is the very basis of our justification. It is through his “one act of righteousness” (Rom. 5:18), the “propitiation by his blood” (Rom. 3:25-26), that sinners are declared righteous in God’s sight. But there is more, much more, to be said. Not only does the substitutionary death of Christ save, but so also does his resurrection. For example, Paul states in Romans 4:24-25 that like Abraham we are counted righteous for we believe in him “who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
By raising Jesus from the dead, God declared his satisfaction and approval of the payment Christ made on our behalf, for our sins, on the cross. And as those who are in Christ (Rom. 6:6-11; Eph. 2:6; Col. 2:12; 3:1), God’s approval of Christ’s substitutionary death, demonstrated in raising Jesus from the dead, is likewise directed towards us, so that when we believe we receive the favor of God. Therefore, our justification is a real consequence of Christ’s resurrection. No wonder Paul can say that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). And if we are still in our sins, we have no confidence, no assurance of our salvation whatsoever. It is no overstatement to say, then, that the resurrection of Christ saves.
4. The resurrection of Christ is the basis for future hope.
How practical Christ’s resurrection is—precisely because Christ has been raised, we can tell those looking into the casket of their loved ones that this is not the end of the story.
If your loved ones believe in Christ then even though they have “fallen asleep” they have fallen asleep “in Christ” (1 Cor. 15:18). And since they are united to this resurrected Christ, they have not perished but their soul has gone to be with Christ (Phil. 1:23), and they await that day when they will receive their resurrected body. As Paul tells the Corinthians, Christ’s resurrection is the firstfruits of that great harvest to come. Though death came by the first Adam, in the second Adam “shall all be made alive” (15:22).
Apart from the resurrection of Christ, we have no future hope. As Paul says in no uncertain terms, if Christ has not been raised then we, out of all people, are to be “pitied,” for our hope in Christ fails to extend beyond this present life (1 Cor. 15:19). But since Christ has been raised, we are those who can look death in the face knowing that it has no final victory, no lasting sting (1 Cor. 15:54-55).
I love how Paul ends 1 Corinthians 15. “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (15:58). Because Christ is risen, we, as those who are in Christ, have every assurance that our labor in sharing this gospel of the risen Christ is not pointless or without purpose, but will matter for all eternity. Therefore, do not forget this Easter that the resurrection of Christ changes everything. Without it, we have no gospel, no salvation, no saving message, and certainly no future hope.