How does Jesus’ death and resurrection save you?
Most Christians could answer this question pretty easily as it relates to the death of Jesus. Jesus died as a substitute for our sins. The record of our wrongs was put on Jesus, he received our punishment, and we are forgiven. But as I wrote in the post on The Gospel Ellipse, it is both the death and resurrection of Jesus that save us.
So, what part does the resurrection play in our salvation? The New Testament is quite clear that the resurrection is not just some big final miracle. It’s not just the cherry on top of a “salvation-sundae.” The resurrection itself is a crucial saving work. I never understood the significance of this until a dear professor named Richard Gaffin taught me about the fullness of Jesus’ resurrection in seminary. In this essay Dr. Gaffin says, “Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the ground of the believer’s standing before God and the hinge of the transformed life.”
So, let’s look now at four ways the resurrection accomplishes our salvation:
1- The resurrection validates Jesus’ identity and his sacrifice.
The resurrection proves that Jesus is who he claims: the Son of God, Savior of the world. Without the resurrection, Jesus would just be a dead rabbi with some helpful teachings. The resurrection demonstrated that the Heavenly Father was satisfied with the atoning sacrifice of his Son. On the cross, God poured out judgment on Jesus in our place – his resurrection shows us that this sacrifice was accepted. The punishment was paid, and so Jesus was raised back to life. 1 Corinthians 15:17 says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”
Martyn Lloyd-Jones explained it like this: “If it is not a fact that Christ literally rose from the grave, then you are still guilty before God. Your punishment has not been borne, yours sins have not been dealt with…It matters that much: without the Resurrection you have no standing at all.”
The resurrection validates Jesus as the Savior because the resurrection is his victory. It indicates his triumph over sin, death, and Satan. The resurrection is a public, universal display that death has been swallowed up in victory (1 Cor. 15:54). After the Spirit came to dwell in the believers at Pentecost, Peter preached in Jerusalem about the resurrection declaring, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).”
If you are someone who struggles with your faith, struggles to know that Jesus truly is the way to eternal life – let the resurrection assure you. The resurrection proves that Jesus is the Son of God. It assures us that Jesus’ sacrifice was acceptable to God and that death has been defeated.
2- The resurrection achieves our new birth into righteousness.
It is the total work of Christ that achieves our salvation – his birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return. Jesus died to atone for our sin, to cancel our record of wrong, so that we could be forgiven. Through his death our old life is taken away, and through his resurrection we are given a new life, born again into righteousness. We are spiritually united with Jesus by our faith, and so we are made alive together with him, raised with him to new life (Eph. 2:5, Col. 2:12-13)!
1 Peter 1:3-4 – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…”
Jesus’ resurrection is the means of our new birth. Jesus said, “Because I live, you also will live” (Jn. 14:19). Like the spring rain falling onto dry, lifeless flowerbeds, it is the resurrection of Jesus that brings life to our dead souls!
And this new life is a birth into righteousness. When we believe in Jesus, we are given his life – his righteous life counted as our own. Romans 4:24-25 says, “[Righteousness] will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” The word justification means that we are declared right in God’s eyes.
Think of all the ways you have disobeyed and rebelled against God. Jesus died for those trespasses and raised up from the tomb for your justification. Through the resurrection, the perfect record of Jesus is imputed, attributed to you.
3- The resurrection empowers us to live the Christian life.
The resurrection not only brings us to life, but it is the power that carries us in the Christian life. The resurrection achieves our regeneration into life with God and also empowers our sanctification into maturity with God. This was a central part of the Apostle Paul’s theology. Each moment we live is because Christ lives in us. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Paul explains further in Romans how through faith, we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection.
Romans 6:4-5 – “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
Later in Romans, the Apostle Paul directly connects the resurrection to our present Christian life.
Romans 8:11 – “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”
Dr. Richard Gaffin says this verse teaches that not only will we have a bodily resurrection some day in the future, but also that “the Spirit of resurrection is the indwelling Spirit; he is already present in believers. This points us to a fundamental truth about the Christian life: life in the Spirit is sharing in the resurrection life of Christ.”
Because the Holy Spirit lives in you, the “immeasurable greatness” of God’s power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in you (Eph. 1:19-20). And so, through the resurrection “our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16).
Whether you are facing sin, sickness, broken relationships, persecution, war, or famine – Jesus rising from the dead is what empowers you to live the Christian life through his Spirit living in you!
4- The resurrection secures our future resurrection into eternal life.
Through our faith, we are united with Christ – we are in him, and he is in us. What is true for him is now true for us. And so, we are born again, we live in righteousness, and we are empowered to walk with God.
And furthermore, just as he rose up from the grave with a new resurrection body for eternal life – so will we. The Scriptures say, “God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power,” and “We will live with him by the power of God.” (1 Cor. 6:14, 2 Cor. 13:4). So the resurrection doesn’t just mean a new spiritual life now – it means a new physical life in the future – an eternal life with God in the heavens and new earth.
We see this idea in the New Testament whenever Jesus is referred to as the “firstborn from the dead.” This means that Jesus has led the way for us. He inaugurated our future resurrection into eternal life that will happen at the end of the age. He is the firstborn from the dead, and so all those who trust in him will one day rise up to eternal life with him (1 Thes. 4:16-17).
1 Corinthians 15 is an entire chapter dedicated to the necessity and impact of the resurrection for the followers of Jesus. God’s Word says that if Christ hasn’t been raised than everything else is a waste and there is no salvation (vv. 14, 17). But since Christ definitely has been raised, all those that belong to him will be made alive with him after death (vv. 22-23).
I have often observed that when mature, older Christians face the threat of death – whether a looming pandemic or a cancer diagnosis – they remain full of faith and peace. Godly Christians are at peace with life and with death. This doesn’t mean they have a death wish, but it does means they are not afraid of death. When your faith is in Christ and his Spirit fills you, you have the peace and assurance that death is not the end.
You know that death is just a transition into eternal life in God’s Kingdom. Just as surely as Christ rose, so will we.
The resurrection of Jesus is for us because, in partnership with his atoning death, it accomplishes our salvation. This glorious resurrection has past, present and future implications for us:
- You have been raised with Christ. This is your regeneration to new life and justification in righteousness when God first saved you in the past.
- You are being raised with Christ. This is your present, ongoing sanctification and obedience as the Holy Spirit matures you and empowers you to walk in newness of life each day.
- You will be raised with Christ. This is your future glorification when God will one day raise you up with Christ to an eternal life with a resurrected body.
Jesus said in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”