Philosophies and religions in our world cannot explain what happens to the human soul when the death of the body occurs. They guess. Some speak of reincarnation. Others imagine a bodiless, ethereal existence. Still others speak of a circle of life. Scientists posit that matter might be eternal while denying that the eternal God exists.
Christianity is unique. A future, bodily resurrection of people to be judged for their works or according to their works is the clear teaching of Scripture. The former are judged for their works because Christ paid for their sin debt. The latter are judged according to their works because this is what they choose. They won’t come to Christ on the basis of His work; they come defiantly in their own self-righteous works.
Most in our world cannot imagine that our current bodily forms would ever undergo a resurrection event. We are so well acquainted with death, and decay. Most people think it absurd that graves would empty and resurrected, physical bodies will be reunited with the souls which once inhabited them.
The Corinthian believers had believed in the gospel that included the resurrection of Christ, but they were now preaching a “resurrection-less” gospel. The resurrection was becoming a metaphor. Perhaps it was an event that had already taken place. Paul said that the certainty of Christ’s resurrection leads to the conclusion that Christians will rise in like manner. The resurrection of Christ is a pattern for the future resurrection of all believers. If not, our faith is empty, we are still in our sins, and those who precede us in death have perished eternally. Let’s think through an unthinkable hypothetical with Paul. Let’s examine three consequences of a “resurrection-less” gospel:
- Our faith is futile.
- Our sins remain.
- The dead have perished.
Your Faith is Futile.
We walk by faith and not by sight. To the best of my knowledge, I have never seen a physical manifestation of God or the Lord Jesus. Still, I do not doubt that God the Father supplies my every need through Christ alone. There are three important conclusions I’ve reached by faith alone.
- Conclusion #1: Jesus satisfies my debt for sin. By faith Jesus died for me and paid my debt for sin in full. His death paid for my sins. But if Jesus is not risen, what evidence remains that the debt is paid? An unthinkable hypothetical to be sure. He may have shed His blood for my sins, but are the demands of the Law met? Is the justice of God fully satisfied? If Jesus remains in a grave, how can we affirm He has victory over sin and death? If Jesus remains in the grave and I continue to maintain faith in Him, I am deluded.
- Conclusion #2: Jesus intercedes for me at the right hand of God. By faith Jesus pleads my case to the Father. I still sin each day in many ways. But the Bible promises that I am reconciled with God through Jesus Christ. I have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is right now interceding for me at the right hand of God. He is in Heaven at God’s right hand and not in the grave. He is advocating for me. He is not an inanimate corpse outside of Jerusalem somewhere. My hope rests in the resurrected Christ.
- Conclusion#3: Jesus is Head over His church right now. By faith, Jesus is working through the Church as its Head. He is the Head; we are the Body of Christ. Jesus opens the way for the flow of grace and peace daily. He is the Vine; we are the branches. We are nothing without him. So, if Christ is not risen, where is the eternal quality of my life? What can I receive from a dead savior? This would be an unthinkable hypothetical.
Transition: Jesus justifies us, intercedes for us, and moves us forward as the Head of His Body, the Church. Our faith is in a living Savior, a living Advocate, and a living Head. So, if Christ is not risen, our faith is futile. But, also,…
Our sins remain.
I am free from sin. I have the privilege of coming before the Father in prayer. I enjoy His favor and presence. I am accepted in the Beloved One. All of this is possible through the resurrection of Christ. How so?
- Jesus taught that His resurrection would attest to the truth of what He came to do for us. The resurrection would verify that He spoke the truth. This is why His enemies wanted to do anything possible to prevent news of His resurrection from spreading. They knew that if the resurrection were true, His authority would be fully established. His Word would be true. If Christ is not risen, then He deceived those who followed Him. Our guilt is still with us. We are yet in our sins – an unthinkable hypothetical.
- Jesus taught that sins are removed when we trust in His sacrifice. We have eternal life because we accepted this sacrificial work of Christ which the Father received as a sweet-smelling offering. If the Father has not accepted Christ’s offering, we are without hope. How do we know that the Father accepts the work of Christ? Jesus cried out on the cross, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken Me?” We cannot imagine that the Father was satisfied merely with the death of Christ. No, the Father was satisfied with the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of His Son. We would not have proof of the Father’s acceptance of the Son’s sacrifice apart from His resurrection. The resurrection is necessary for the removal of our sins.
- Jesus is Prophet, Priest, and King. As prophet, He taught us the will and way of the Father. He gave us His Spirit to enlighten or give us knowledge. The Spirit also enables us with the truth of His words. As priest, Jesus opened the way to the Father through His blood. The blood of Christ carries with it the life of Christ. It is based on His life’s blood that He continually makes intercession for us as the Great High Priest. As King, He is sovereign and has all authority from the Father. He had authority over death to ascend to the right hand of power. As prophet, priest, and king, Jesus has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west so that they will be remembered no more. But if He is not the risen prophet, priest, and king, we are still in our sins – an unthinkable hypothetical.
Transition: We have thought through two consequences of a resurrection-less gospel: 1) Our faith is futile and 2) we remain in our sins. There is a third consequence in our text:
The dead have perished.
Paul writes that those who believe and yet have died have “fallen asleep in Christ” (v. 18). Why is death called sleep for believers? It is because death has lost its sting. That is, it is not permanent for a believer. God is protecting us and our physical bodies. I may fall asleep tonight and my spirit may go to be with my Savior. Those left behind will put my body in the ground or even cremate it. Dust or ash, it matters not. My spirit is with Christ. But if Christ is not risen, I perish after my death.
Why would I say that? Because I have lived my whole life trusting in the resurrection of Christ. If He is not risen, my foundation is built upon sand. Everything in Christianity falls without the resurrection of Christ. If Christ is not risen, I take my last breath commending myself to a savior who cannot lead the way through the valley of the shadow of death.
If Christ is not risen, the dead have perished. It will not matter how good we were or how much good we did. Our works cannot justify us before God. Abraham left everything behind for nothing. David praised God for nothing. Stephen died as the first martyr of the church for nothing. If Christ is not risen, then all of these people have perished. They are still transgressors. They are still under the curse and condemnation of the Law. Past believers prayed in vain through the years. They labored and fought in vain. They vainly attempted to do the inaccessible and impossible will of God. They vainly put themselves in harm’s way for Christ’s sake. Christ is not their Savior if He be not risen. Therefore, every dead believer has perished without exception – an unthinkable hypothetical.
- Salvation is not by works of righteousness which we have done. It all boils down to two words: do or done. Most people in our world today believe much remains to be done and they intend to do it. They belittle those of us who believe that salvation comes to us only by grace through faith alone. Works-oriented people consider themselves to be wiser than even martyrs who gave their very bodies to be burned for Christ but never thought such acts would earn them Heaven. All true believers know they need the blood of Christ to cleanse them from sin. They need the crucified and resurrected Savior of mankind. You cannot justify yourself before God. Renounce self-righteous, works-oriented religion. Place your hope in the crucified and resurrected Savior, Jesus Christ.
- Unbelieving people face inevitable and eternal misery. Who are unbelieving people? They are people who reject the work of Christ for sin. This is true. But there are also people who never think of Christ. For such people, it is as if He is not risen. You might call yourself a person of faith, but the object of that faith is what is important. It cannot be your understanding of who Jesus is but who Jesus is as revealed in the Word of God. Those most miserable are those who have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof. Where is that power? It is in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I know whom I have believed. Do you?
- Believing people have eternal life. The resurrection of Christ is the hope of my own resurrection. There is no disputing His resurrection – at least no serious disputation. Since He lives, my life has eternal value. Since He lives, I will live forevermore. Jesus once said to Mary just before He raised her brother Lazarus from the dead: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Do you?