by Mike Ratliff
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1Thessalonians 4:13-18 ESV)
Unbelief is a deceitful thing. Those who are in unbelief do not actually comprehend that they are. This is due to their spiritual blindness and hardness of heart. Christians are not immune form being in unbelief, but Spirit-filled believers, by definition, are not because they are tender of heart and have had the scales of spiritual blindness removed from their hearts. They believe God and their new nature takes precedence over their flesh. On the other hand, believers who are enslaved to their flesh may very well resent the truth being proclaimed to them because they see themselves with muted vision. Since their flesh controls them, they have no spiritual discernment. They resent the truth because their muted vision of themselves causes them to see themselves from the viewpoint of the Natural Man.
This viewpoint judges everything and everyone from the flesh’s perspective that worships at the altar before the idol of Human Reason. God made the key to Man’s Heart the mind. Therefore, reason is not, in of itself, wrong or evil. However, Human Reason sans regeneration is not complete. It views God and His ways as unjust or unfair even incomprehensible. Unregenerate Human Reason demands that God be fair based upon the sliding scale of Natural Man’s perception of equity. It also is skeptical that our salvation is anything more than a decision or an exercise of the will.
In this belief system, which is unbelief, the promises in scripture to God’s people of the Resurrection, for example, are not seen as concrete, but, instead, are nebulous, faint hopes that “maybe” or “perhaps” are true. Some also care very little for the doctrine of the Resurrection. They simply want to “go to Heaven” when they die. To them the Resurrection seems like an unnecessary “add-on” to their “religion” that they don’t understand nor do they see the purpose of it.
The Corinthian Church had many problems. Paul wrote the epistle we call 1 Corinthians to address these problems. One of these serious problems had to do with the doctrine of the Resurrection.
“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1Corinthians 15:12-19 ESV)
No one can be saved unless they believe in Christ’s resurrection. However, some in this church were teaching against the doctrine of the Resurrection. They were having a problem accepting that their bodies would be resurrected. Dualism was prevalent then as it is now. This belief system comes from Greek philosophy which taught that everything physical was evil to some degree while the spiritual was seen as intrinsically good. Therefore, the idea that eternity would be spent in physical, resurrected bodies was disgusting or repulsive to them. Some have even speculated that perhaps some Sadducees had influenced them. These Jews did not believe in the Resurrection even though it is taught in the Old Testament. (Job 19:26; Psalm 16:8-11; Psalm 17:15; Daniel 12:2) The Apostles’ teachings were marked by the theme of the Resurrection. However, the Corinthian church was have problems accepting those teachings.
Paul lists 6 consequences in vv13-19 that would be true if there was no resurrection from the dead.
- preaching Christ would make no sense (v14)
- faith in Christ would be useless (v14)
- all the witnesses and preachers of the resurrection would be liars (v15)
- no one would be redeemed from sin (v17)
- all former believers would have perished (v18)
- Christians would be the most pitiable people on earth (v19)
The point the Corinthians and all others who doubt the Resurrection miss is that our Lord’s resurrection and the Christian’s resurrection stand or fall together.
“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last,and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:17-18 ESV)
If there is no resurrection then our Lord is dead and that would make Him a liar and our faith to be null and void.
What does it mean that if there is no resurrection then all Christians are still in their sins?
“That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It 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.” (Romans 4:16-25 ESV)
To those who are saved by grace through faith, (all genuine believers) the Resurrection of our Lord provides the proof that God had accepted the sacrifice of His Son and would be able to be just and yet justify the ungodly. Those who are not still in their sins have had them paid for in the sacrifice of Christ. They are justified and Christ’s Resurrection is proof that those who believe in Him and receive Him as Lord and Saviour are righteous in God’s eyes because Jesus’ righteousness has been imputed to them while their unrighteousness was imputed to Him on the Cross.
If there is no resurrection then all Christians who have died before us are simply dead. There is no eternal hope then. Also, the genuine Christian walk is marked by sacrifice, suffering, and self-denial so if there is no eternal hope of the Resurrection then we would be better off living in such a way as to “die from fun.”
No, the regenerate heart exists in New Creations, the Born Again, who have saving faith that believes God. The Holy Spirit has placed God’s truth in them. They may have doubts about God’s promises when they become self-oriented and flesh driven, but if they will draw near unto God, become living sacrifices who are having their minds renewed, their faith will grow and become strong. It will believe in the promises of God we find in His Word and will live and walk accordingly. This faith believes in the Resurrection and has its hope in the Risen Christ.