The Resurrection is Absolutely Essential

The Resurrection is Absolutely Essential

All Christians believe in the resurrection, but it doesn’t always seem essential.  At Easter, or when it comes up in certain passages, we focus on it; but I want to urge us to stay focused on the resurrection because it is an utterly essential and necessary part of our faith.  We need the power of the resurrection.

I spent the early years of my Christian life with a deficient understanding of the Gospel.  My perspective was almost singularly focused on the reality that Jesus died for my sins and my transgressions were forgiven.  My Christian faith, identity, and life was all about the old life of sin Jesus redeemed me from through his death on the cross.  Praise God–that is true!  But no matter how true, that perspective is incomplete.  

Sadly, this misunderstanding is far too common in our churches. In my experience, in an effort to rightly highlight the death of Jesus, we can slip into wrongly neglecting the full meaning and necessity of the resurrection.  

Why the resurrection is essential

Yes, Jesus died to remove our old life and forgive our sins, but what about his resurrection?  Is the resurrection just Jesus’ miraculous curtain call to prove that he is the Savior?  Is the resurrection just the cherry on top of an atonement-sundae?  This view would be desperately short-sighted!  The victorious resurrection works in conjunction with the atoning death of Christ to accomplish our full salvation.  

1 Corinthians 15:3-4 makes it clear that what is of first importance is “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”  The complete Gospel is that through the death of Christ we have been delivered out of our old life in the domain of darkness and through the resurrection we have been transferred into our new life in God’s kingdom of light(Colossians 1:13).

I never understood the full significance of this until a dear seminary professor, Dr. Richard Gaffin, showed me the full glory of resurrection.  In the essay The Resurrection of Christ and Salvation, he says “Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the ground of the believer’s standing before God and the hinge of the transformed life.”

The beautiful Christian Gospel is that our old life has died with Christ and we have been raised up, born again, to a new life by his resurrection.  It is crucial that we appreciate, celebrate, and live in the complete reality of Christ’s work – his death and his resurrection is what saves us. 

In light of this, it’s helpful to think about the Gospel as an ellipse, not a circle.  When you want to draw a circle, you start with one center point.  A circle has one focus and everything extends out from that.   However, an ellipse has two foci.  To draw an ellipse, you begin with two central points and everything depends upon and extends out from those two points.  The good news of Christ saving work is an ellipse with the foci of Jesus’ death and resurrection. 

The French reformer John Calvin said it this way: 

“Although in his death we have an effectual completion of salvation, because by it we are reconciled to God, satisfaction is given to his justice, the curse is removed, and the penalty paid – still it is not by his death, but by his resurrection, that we are said to be begotten again to a living hope (I Peter 1:3) – because, as he, by rising again, became victorious over death, so the victory of our faith consists only in his resurrection…By his death sin was taken away, by his resurrection righteousness was renewed and restored…Our salvation may be thus divided between the death and the resurrection of Christ; by the former sin was abolished and death annihilated; by the latter righteousness was restored and life revived” (Institutes II:16:13).

While it is essential to highlight both aspects of Christ’s saving work, we should not make an unwarranted division between the death and resurrection of Christ.  The two are so inseparably interrelated that they constitute one work of salvation.  Even when the New Testament authors mention only either the death or resurrection of Christ, they are not thinking of either in isolation.  When Paul tells his readers, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1Cor. 2:2), he is certainly not thinking of a just a crucified Savior, but a crucified-risen Savior. 

In the excellent book “Raised with Christ,” Adrian Warnock (pulling from the work of Dutch theologian Herman Ridderbos) says, 

“The perfect life, obedient death, and life-giving resurrection of Jesus should be thought of as one saving work – a combined and inseparable act of God.  It is only through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that salvation is possible.  There is a single complete arc of movement down through incarnation, death, and burial and then up through resurrection, ascension, and enthronement.  Christ Jesus himself is our salvation” (p. 77).  

What a beautiful Gospel!  We have been crucified with Christ – our old life is gone and our sins are forgiven.  We are no longer bound for hell.  And, we have been raised up with Christ – Christ now lives in us, we have new life in him.  We are bound for heaven!  This is the Gospel we believe, ground our lives on, and proclaim to the world.  

See, this Gospel is not just good news for unbelievers, but for believers as well.  This is not just a Gospel you believe to get saved and then forget.  We need a Savior the first day we believe, the day we die, and every day in between.  We declare for ourselves Paul’s personal confession, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

It is crucial we build our lives, our families, and our churches on the salvation that comes through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  So let’s dig a little deeper into how the resurrection saves us.    

How the resurrection accomplishes our salvation   

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 how does Christ’s resurrection also achieve our salvation?  Let’s look at four ways the resurrection accomplishes our salvation: 

1- The resurrection validates Jesus as the Savior of the world.   

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the turning point of history and redemption.  The resurrection proves that Jesus is who he claimed to be, the Son of God, Savior of the world.  Without the resurrection, Jesus would just be a dead rabbi with some interesting teachings.  The resurrection demonstrated that the Heavenly Father was satisfied with the atoning sacrifice of his Son.  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.”  In the article The Neglected Resurrection, the author quotes Martyn Lloyd-Jones saying,  

“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 it demonstrates that Jesus has triumphed over sin, death, and the devil.  The resurrection is a public, universal display that death has been swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54).  It is God’s open declaration and confirmation that his redemptive work has been accomplished, and Jesus now has the full right and legitimate authority to take on the messianic title of Lord and Christ.

In the book of Acts, we see that the resurrection of Christ was the cornerstone of the  Apostles’ Gospel and the foundation of the early church.  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, see also 13:32-33, 17:31).

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 death has been defeated.  Jesus was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4).

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.  Through our faith, we are united with Jesus in his death and resurrection, and so God “made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5, see also Colossians 2:12-13).

Jesus’ resurrection is the means by which we are born again into a righteous life.  Jesus said, “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19).  Like the spring rain falling onto dry, lifeless fields, it is the resurrection of Jesus that brings life to our dead souls! 

“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.” (1 Peter 1:3-4).

When we believe in Jesus, we are given his life – his righteous life is counted as our own.  Romans 4:24-25 says, “It [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.”  To have justification means we are declared just, right in God’s eyes.  

Think of all the ways you have disobeyed and rebelled against God.  Jesus was delivered up for those trespasses – dying on the cross for your sins – 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.  In Romans, Paul explains how through faith, we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection, so we have died and now live a new life.  

“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.” | Romans 6:4-5

Later in Romans, the Apostle Paul connects the resurrection to the indwelling, life-giving presence of the Spirit.  

“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.” | Romans 8:11

Reflecting on this verse, Richard Gaffin says: 

“Romans 8:11, as it highlights this resurrection unity, brings into view the activity of the Holy Spirit. God will resurrect us bodily, as he did Jesus, through the enlivening action of the Spirit. But more is said here than what will be true in the future. 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.”

Christian, you share in the resurrected life of Christ!  Because the Holy Spirit lives in you, we now walk in the “immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (Ephesians 1:19-20).  

So, 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!  No matter what we face, because of the resurrection “though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).

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 eternity – 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 Corinthians 6:14, 2 Corinthians 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 new 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 led the way for us.  He inaugurated our future resurrection into eternal life 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 Thessalonians 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 (vs. 14, 17).  But since Christ definitely has been raised, all those who belong to him will be made alive with him after death (vs. 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 mean they are not afraid to die.  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.  

Stay focused on the resurrection 

The resurrection of Jesus is for us because, in partnership with his atoning death, it accomplishes our salvation.  The glorious resurrection of Jesus has a direct impact on our past, present, and future reality.  

  • You have been raised with Christ.  This is your regeneration into new life and justification in righteousness when God first saved you. 
  • 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, “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?”  (John 11:25-26)

Do you believe this?  Are you relying on Christ’s resurrection victory to live every day? Are we relying on the indwelling Spirit to empower us to walk in obedience, love our families, serve in the church, and proclaim the Gospel to the lost?  Let’s stay focused on the resurrection – it is absolutely essential. 


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