Robert Y. Eckardt
Have you ever gotten the impression that the resurrection of Christ is sort of an afterthought? We know that the death of Christ is the center and focus of God's salvation for us, but do we think about his resurrection only around "Easter"?
In addition, we often think of Christ's resurrection as an historical fact, but forget the implications of that fact for our lives. I am convinced that Christ's resurrection is central to the Christian life. I believe that it is indispensable to every aspect of our salvation. It is not only a fact, but also a factor in all that we experience as Christians.
Christ's resurrection must be a fact in order to be a factor. We live in an age in which religion is regarded as a subjective, relative matter. It is supposedly "true" for us as individuals, whether it is true in history or not. But for Christians, Christ's resurrection is true. It really happened in history. If someone had a camera near the tomb, he would have been able to photograph the risen Christ. We might not have photographs, but we do have eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus. In the Bible, these eyewitnesses, the apostles, testify to what they have seen and heard (1 John 1:1).
Most unbelievers admit that Christ lived and died, but they have a hard time admitting that he was raised from the dead. We might be tempted to tone down the importance of the Resurrection in reaction to the world's unbelief. And yet it is upon the Resurrection that Christianity stands or falls. The apostle Paul says, "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith" (1 Cor. 15:14).
The apostles preached the death and resurrection of Christ, so that as every new believer turned to him in faith, his life became a living witness to resurrection power. You might be startled to realize that the earliest Christian confession focused on his resurrection and his lordship, but it did. As Paul says, "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Rom. 10:9).
So it is indeed appropriate that we shout with the church of all ages, "He is risen, as he said!"
But Christ's resurrection is not only a fact. It is also a factor. In other words, the Resurrection, by the power of the Holy Spirit, does something in us because of the union that we have with Christ. In mathematics, a factor is a component of a multiplication problem. It has a part in making the answer what it is. The resurrection of Christ, with its power, makes us into what the Lord has planned for us to be in Christ. It guarantees the power of Christ to vivify, to justify, to unify, to nullify, and to glorify.
After his work upon the cross was completed, Christ was given the power of life, so that he was raised from the dead. "God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him" (Acts 2:24).
The same resurrection life is given to us in our regeneration, as Paul says in Ephesians: "But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressionsit is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:4-6). Now that is powerthe power to make someone alive who was dead. Since it happened to Christ, it has happened to us.
On the cross, God made Christ a curse for us, so that the sentence of condemnation was executed upon him on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21). He was under the wrath and curse of God, though innocent.
But how do we know that he was in fact innocent, and able therefore to remove that curse for us? The Bible says that Christ, at his resurrection, was declared to be the Son of God with power. "Through the Spirit of holiness," he "was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 1:4). In other words, Jesus himself was justified, or declared righteous, even though he had been under the curse, by his resurrection.
Now we are sinners. We are under the wrath and curse of God, due to our sins. In order for us to be justified and to be declared righteous on the basis of the merits of Christ, we must be counted righteous by our union with him in his justification. Jesus' power to forgive us truly comes from the resurrection that crowned his redeeming work, as well as from his merits on the cross. That is why Paul says, "He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification" (Rom. 4:25). On the cross, Jesus paid the price for our sins. His resurrection gives objective proof that Christ has been declared righteous on the basis of his completed workand that we are declared righteous, too.
Since we are united to him, Christ binds us together, by his Holy Spirit, in communion with each other. In the same passage in which we are told that we may know him and the power of his resurrection, we are told that we may also know the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings. "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death" (Phil. 3:10).
What power can truly unify the people of God in their diverse sufferings on this earth, and in the imperfections of the church that Christ is in the midst of perfecting? By the Holy Spirit poured out upon his church by the risen Christ from heaven, we have "the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3).
Although Jesus never sinned, the Bible says that he himself "learned obedience from what he suffered" (Heb. 5:8). At every opportunity to sin, he successfully resisted that temptation, so that the power of the Evil One was nullified in his lifedespite and even through the struggle of that temptation.
The temptations that are too much for us in our weakness, were not too much for Christ. He won the victory! So, in union with Christ, we have been raised to a new life that we might no longer be slaves to sin. "Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life" (Rom. 6:3-4).
So we are to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive in Christ, because Christ was raised to nullify the works of the devil in our lives.
When Christ was raised, he received a glorified body, so that we might also receive glorified bodies that have been delivered from all the effects of sin. This aspect of our salvation is what we usually think of as the power of the resurrection in us. However, it is actually the culmination of a lifelong personal and cosmic process that flows forth from the resurrection of Christ. "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself" (Phil. 3:20-21 NASB).
It is certainly true that we cannot be saved without the cross of Christ. But the cross cannot be disconnected from the empty tomb. Without the resurrection of Christ, there is no salvation at all. Christ's resurrection is a fact. As such, it is a factor in every dimension of our salvation. Rejoice in his work for you.
The author is the pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Chattanooga, Tenn. Reprinted from New Horizons, April 2001.