Christianity is Resurrection

Declaring Himself to be "the resurrection and the life" (Jn. 11:25), Jesus indicated that
the continuing reality of His presence was by His risen and resurrected life.

©1999 by James A. Fowler. All rights reserved.
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Christianity is Resurrection

    The gospel is the message of the resurrection. The Gospel IS resurrection. Christianity is the expression of the resurrection. Christianity IS resurrection. Someone might say: "But Christianity is Christ!" That is true, but Jesus Christ said, "I AM the Resurrection and the life" (John 11:25). Jesus Christ is the content, the essence of resurrection-life. Jesus never said, "I AM the Cross", but He did say, "I AM the resurrection". The resurrection is the expression of the dynamic of all that Jesus IS. In fact, the resurrection is the reality of all that Christianity IS. The vital understanding of everything that is Christian is in the resurrection. Resurrection-life is the focal point of all Christian teaching ­ the starting point from which everything must be appraised, evaluated and interpreted ­ EVERYTHING! Everything prior in time, time itself, and everything that follows chronologically, logically and theologically can only correctly be understood in light of the resurrection; all human history, all human thought.

    Many have expressed this centrality of Christian teaching in the resurrection:

"One's whole theology is determined by one's view of the resurrection."1

"All Christian doctrines do nothing more or less than manifest some facet of the basic affirmation of the resurrection.2

"Justification, adoption, sanctification and glorification, as applied to believers, are derived from the significance of the resurrection.3

"The resurrection is the first and last and dominating element in the Christian consciousness of the New Testament."4

"All New Testament facts have to be broached from the key position of the resurrection. Paul's thinking in all his utterances rotates around one unifying centre, and that centre is the raising of Christ from the dead."5

"The raising of Christ is THE act of God, whose significance is not to be compared with any event before or after. It is the primal datum of theology, from which there can be no abstracting, and the normative presupposition for every valid dogmatic judgment and for the meaningful construction of a Christian theology. Thus the resurrection of Jesus becomes the Archimedean point for theology. All theological statements are oriented in one way or another toward this focal point. There is no Christian knowledge of God which does not acquire its ultimate fullness and depth from a revelation of God in the Risen One."6

    All of history, and especially Biblical history, must be interpreted by the resurrection. Those who preceeded the resurrection were who they were, and did what they did, because of what was, Who was, to happen in the resurrection.

    But the resurrection is so totally different from any other historical fact, that it cannot be considered by the same guidelines or criteria of circumstantial evidence. It is beyond historical categories. All else must be considered in the light of, in the context of, the resurrection. If the resurrection of Jesus were just another historical miracle, then Christianity is but a dead religion! In the resurrection God breaks into history; eternity breaks into time; God re-creates humanity; God establishes the social order He intended.

    Christianity IS resurrection. At Easter time we do not just celebrate another event in history ­ even if it be regarded as the greatest event in history. Resurrection is not just an historical event; it is an on-going dynamic of the life of God in Jesus Christ. We do not just assent to the historicity or theological accuracy of the resurrection of Jesus Christ; we encounter resurrection. We encounter and have personal relationship with the One who is "the resurrection and the life." (John 11:25). One cannot count themselves a "Christian" unless they have encountered, received, and are participating in the resurrection life of Jesus Christ.

    In order to demonstrate that resurrection is that which constitutes all of that which is called "Christian", I want to consider several categories, both chronological and theological, that can only be properly understood by the reality of the resurrection:

Chronological Categories

    (1) CREATION. To attempt to understand creation ­ God's bringing into being of the world ­ apart from the resurrection of Jesus Christ, may cause one to arrive at Shakespeare's conclusion: "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players...; "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more; It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Creation has no direction apart from the resurrection. To view creation apart from resurrection is to arrive at either evolutionary hodge-podge or at the rigid formulas of "creationism," and both are just as meaningless. Man as mere potentiality is not an exalted view of his createdness.

    Creation is invested with meaning only when we look back at it from the perspective of resurrection. Jesus Christ was active in creation as Creator (John 1:3: Col. 1:16); as the indwelling presence of the Divine character that was to be visibly expressed, i.e. imaged, in man (Gen. 1:26,27). The initial Genesis creation "set the stage" for the "new creation" brought into being in Jesus Christ (Gal. 6:16). By the resurrection of Jesus Christ we have the fulfillment of creation, the re-creation of a new functional humanity (Eph. 2:15), wherein the "image" is restored so that the Divine character might be expressed in righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24).

    A Christian understanding of creation must take into account the resurrection.

    (2) FALL OF MAN. If the Fall of man is taken as the starting point of one's theological understanding, then righting the wrong of sin becomes the end-objective. If our theology begins in Genesis chapter 3, then it will conclude at the cross, and be nothing more than a "Mr. Fix-It Theology."

    Only when we consider the Fall of man from the perspective of the resurrection, do we understand the active energizing of death by the devil (Heb. 2:14), the extent to which the unregenerate are "slaves of sin" (John 8:34), and the radical spiritual exchange of conversion when men turn from the dominion of satan to God (Acts 26:18).

    The Fall of man can only be understood from a Christian point of view by looking backwards from the resurrection and the restoration of life therein.

    (3) ISRAEL. Apart from the resurrection we might conclude with Ogden Nash, "How odd of God, to choose the Jews." The Jewish people, the nation of Israel; they were not faithful and obedient. They were selfish, idolatrous, nationalistic and racist. If they are to be regarded, unconditionally, as "God's chosen people", then God might well be represented as a racist God, a God who is a "respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34).

    Looking back at Israel in the Old Testament from a resurrection perspective, we understand that they were a "picture-people" intended to illustrate what God was to do in the resurrection in raising up a people for His own possession, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (I Peter 2:9). The physical Israel of the Old Testament represented a people "set apart" to function as intended, but they failed to thus function because of unbelief and disobedience (Heb. 3:16-4:6). By the resurrection of Jesus all Christians become the "Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16; Rom. 9:6); people "set apart" to function as intended; people who can collectively be called "Israel" because we have fought with God, surrendered to God and been conquered by God, spiritually.

    The resurrection gives us an eternal perspective of who the people of Israel really are.

    (4) PROPHETS. If the prophets of the Old Testament are considered apart from the resurrection of Jesus, they might indeed appear to be "blowing in the wind," as Bob Dylan sang. Apart from the spiritual implications of the resurrection they would be rambling rabble-rousers, mere doomsday sayers; and much of what they said would not have come true --- they would be false-prophets!

    Much of what the prophets said requires the resurrection to make any sense. The prophets of the Old Testament saw glimpses, both of the resurrection itself (Acts 2:31) and the many implications thereof: that He would be king on the throne of David (Ezekiel 37:24,25; Luke 1:32,33), that He would be a light to the Gentiles (Acts 13:47,48), etc.

    The prophets of the Old Testament cannot be properly understood except from a resurrection perspective.

    (5) INCARNATION. To attempt to contemplate the incarnation of Jesus Christ apart from the resurrection will simply boggle the human mind. Discussion of hypostatic union and kenotic theories are but "dead ends" if the incarnation does not lead to something more than an unexplainable historical phenomena of One who is inexplicably both God and man in one person. The apologist's alternatives of regarding the historical Jesus as either a "liar" or a "lunatic" would be the only logical choices.

    The resurrection invests the incarnation with a fullness of meaning that points to the incarnation of God in all mankind. "God was in Christ" (II Cor. 5:19), and by the resurrected-life of Jesus can dwell in every man. "The Word became flesh" (John 1:14) in Jesus, and God wants to be manifested in the flesh of all Christians (II Cor. 4:11). Jesus was "Emmanuel" (Matt. 1:23), and God intended to be with and in everyone who would receive the resurrection dynamic of Christ by faith.

    The incarnation becomes a prototype of deity functioning within humanity when viewed through its universal fulfillment in the resurrection.

    (6) LIFE OF JESUS. From an historical perspective that fails to account for the resurrection, the life of Jesus here on earth was but an incomparable ideal and an impossible example. If Jesus lived the life that He lived simply because He was God, deity, something that no mortal man can be, then His matchless moral example simply condemns us all the more.

    By the resurrection we come to appreciate the dynamic that made the life of Jesus what it was. He lived by the Life of Another - He let God be God in Him for every moment in time for thirty-three years. "I do nothing of My own initiative," He said, "The Father abiding in Me does His works" (John 14:10). Even His miracles were but what God did through Him (Acts 2:22). Thus He modeled the life of a man, normal humanity, a man who let God be God in a man, man as God intended. By resurrection He makes that same dynamic of life available to Christians.

    The behavioral expression of the life of Jesus here on earth is only encouraging to us today because of the resurrection. The life lived once in Christ can be lived in us.

    (7) CRUCIFIXION. The emphasis on the Cross has often been allowed to usurp the centrality of the resurrection in Christian teaching. To divorce the cross from the resurrection is to develop a "gospel of gore", a bloody religion that is ghastly and grotesque. The death emphasis of the cross leads to masochistic forms of flagellation, be they physical or psychological ("death to self"). To consider the Cross apart from the resurrection is the springboard for innumerable theories of the atonement, but it creates a most negative and sin-conscious religion. In fact the detachment of the crucifixion from the resurrection diminishes the vicarious and sacrificial elements of the Lamb slain for the sins of the world.

    The crucifixion of Christ on the cross of Calvary is not an end in itself. It was but a remedial action, to remedy the problem of the death consequences of man's sin. The problems of sin and death and satan's dominion were remedied at the cross. God then made His Life available to mankind by the resurrection. On the cross, Jesus exclaimed, "It is Finished!" (John 19:30); He saw ahead to the completed work of God in the resurrection. Whenever Paul refers to "the word of the cross" (I Cor. 1:18; Gal. 6:14), and preaching "Christ crucified" (I Cor. 2:2), He always does so from the perspective of the "finished work" of the resurrection.

    The crucifixion postulates but a popular martyr-hero unless it is invested with meaning by the resurrection, wherein the crucifixion becomes God's "No" to death and sin, and the resurrection becomes God's "Yes" to Life for all mankind.

    (8) PENTECOST. Apart from the full import of the resurrection, the Pentecost experience recorded in Acts chapter two becomes but an initiation demonstration at the commencement of the church. Many mistakenly look back to Pentecost as the necessary expression of ecstatic utterances and glossalalia that is to be indicative of all genuine Christian experience. Pentecost becomes the event when God distributed His gifts, trophies and "power-toys."

    Only by an understanding of the resurrection can Pentecost be properly understood as the out-pouring of the Spirit of the resurrected Jesus. The Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9) was made available to indwell all mankind who would receive Him by faith. The risen Lord Jesus in spiritual form came to empower Christian people (Rom. 1:4; Eph. 1:19,20) at Pentecost. This is what accounts for the impact of the early church on the world around it: they lived like they did, and did what they did, by the resurrection-power of the Spirit of Christ within them.

    Pentecost must be viewed as a demonstration of the availability of resurrection.

    (9) SECOND COMING. The Second Coming of Jesus to earth is so often interpreted apart from the resurrection implications. By the resurrection, Jesus was raised to reign on the spiritual throne of David over the spiritual kingdom of God. Many deny these resurrection realities and believe that Jesus will come again to establish a physical kingdom, having failed to become a priest-king the first time He came. They have sacrificed the resurrection to crass materialistic, nationalistic and racial expectations.

    When viewed in the light of the resurrection, the second coming of Jesus becomes the glorious consummation of God's spiritual kingdom. Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus.

    (10) END OF TIME. The end of time when considered apart from the resurrection, will indeed be meaningless and purposeless. That is why "nihilism" has become such a prominent idea -- the philosophy of "nothingness" -- that nothing makes sense, it all amounts to nothing. Others look to the end of time as but the opportunity to break the cycle of meaningless life, to get "off the wheel" and to be obliterated into the nothingness of Nirvana. Such viewpoints are devoid of the hope that is in the resurrection alone.

    From the perspective of Christ's resurrection, the end of time is the consummation of time when Christians glory in the eternality of the new heaven and the new earth, and the unhindered enjoyment of the eternal life that is ours already in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Theological Categories

    Now let us consider the resurrection implications in various theological categories:

    (1) REDEMPTION. To consider the redemption of God in Jesus Christ apart from the resurrection is to sell it short of the price paid. Redemption means to "buy back" with the payment of a price. It was the terminology of the slave market in Biblical times. But to be bought out of slavery with a ransom payment, is not enough if we are not emancipated, set free, liberated. Redemption without resurrection is to be "bought with a price" (I Cor. 6:20) -- the ransom price of Christ's death on the cross -- but to disregard the emancipation.

    It is by the resurrection that we are "set free, so as not to be subject again to a yoke of slavery" (Gal. 5:1). The resurrection establishes the glorious objective of redemption. We are bought with a price in order to be all that God intended man to be; redeemed for God's use and expression of His glorious character in functional humanity.

    The resurrection invests redemption with the full content of its purchase price.

    (2) REGENERATION. There is so much talk about being "born again" in religious circles today, but much of it is bankrupt because it does not incorporate the resurrection. For some, being "born again" is a renaissance of one's thinking, a re-orientation of one's life, or a subjective experience of heart-felt rejuvenation. Apart from the resurrection, regeneration is as absurd a concept as it was to Nicodemus in John chapter three, where Jesus' mention of "born again" conjured up mental images of an obstetric return to the womb of his mother.

    The resurrection is the reality that invests regeneration with meaning. Jesus was raised from the dead, life out of death, in order that we might be "raised to newness of life" (Rom. 6:4) in Christ Jesus. Jesus IS the resurrection and the life (John 11:25) with which (Whom) we are re-lifed spiritually in regeneration. (John 14:6; Col. 3:4). Regeneration is not facilitated by the cross, but rather by the resurrection. I Peter 1:3 - "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."

    Regeneration is a re-genesis, bringing man into being again spiritually, rebreathing into man the "breath of life" (Genesis 2:7). Thus we become a new creature in Christ (II Cor 5:17), a "new man" (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10) with the image of God restored in man. Regeneration is the resurrection-life of Jesus brought into being in the Christian.

    (3) JUSTIFICATION. "Justification" is a Biblical word that has been much confused and misunderstood by Christians because it has been defined apart from the resurrection. The popular explanation is that God, the heavenly Judge sits in His heavenly courtroom, and when a person believes in His Son, Jesus Christ, the Judge bangs down His gavel, saying, "Declared righteous!" Thus justification becomes a legal acquittal, a word of pardon, the non-imputation of sin, "just-as-if-I'd" never sinned. But the declaration is regarded as a legal fiction which is on the heavenly accounting books, having no practical effect in terms of behavioral righteousness in one's life today.

    The resurrection invests justification with practical implications for Christian behavior today. The Risen One is the Righteous One - Jesus Christ. Paul indicates in Romans 4:25 that Jesus "was raised for our justification." The resurrection-life of Jesus that comes to dwell in us when the Spirit of Christ is in our spirit (Rom. 8:16), is righteous-life. We are "made righteous" (Rom. 5:19); we become the "righteousness of God in Christ" (II Cor 5:21); Christ Jesus becomes to us righteousness (I Cor. 1:30). The righteous character of the Righteous God is actualized in us by the resurrection-life of Jesus.

    Justification requires the living content of resurrection in order to be properly understood.

    (4) SALVATION. Salvation has been trivialized by its separation from the resurrection in contemporary evangelical theology. Salvation separated from the resurrection is conceived of as but a rescue from the results of sin or a "fire insurance policy" from the effects of hell. Likewise, salvation apart from the resurrection dynamic is regarded as but a commodity of "eternal life" which one can "possess" by reason of one's attestation of the historicity and doctrine of Jesus Christ; a spiritual benefit dispensed by a benefactor. Salvation apart from resurrection is merely preventative or beneficient.

    Only when salvation is understood in the on-going continuity of the resurrection-life of Jesus Christ, only then does salvation remain connected with the work of the eternal Savior. Salvation does "make safe" from the dysfunctional humanity enslaved to sin, but Christians are saved unto the functional humanity of the Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ living through us. We are "saved by His life" (Rom. 5:10), as the resurrection-life of Jesus, the "saving life of Christ" is operative in our behavior.

    The resurrection gives salvation a positive vitality, which is far more than escapism.

    (5) GRACE. Because resurrection has been absent from evangelical conceptions of grace, the grace of God has been relegated to merely "redemptive grace" (God's Redemption At Christ's Expense) or the threshold factor of "saving grace." When grace is thus interpreted as static event or experience, it is then dispensed with for any practical purpose, and gives way to law, legalism and the performance of self-effort. The Christian life is regarded by many Christians as a life of performance, commitment and involvement.

    The Grace-life of Christianity can only be understood in the context of the resurrection. The free-flow of God's activity is made operative in Christian lives by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Christian life is the resurrection-grace-life. Paul says, "I am who I am by the grace of God" (I Cor. 15:10). The Christian life is all of grace or it is not Christian life.

    (6) FAITH. Faith, apart from resurrection becomes but mental assent to a belief system, or dogmatic assertions of the veracity of propositional truth from the Book. Worse yet, faith may be regarded as superstitious expectations which are no more than "faith in faith."

    Biblical faith can only be understood and exercised in the context of resurrection-grace. Faith is the response of reliance on the resurrection dynamic of God in Christ. Faith is our receptivity to His resurrection activity.

    (7) SANCTIFICATION. Sanctification, apart from resurrection, will inevitably be conceived in terms of externals. It may be the externals of attire and possessions, avoiding what appears "worldly" and utilizing the out-dated which appears more "spiritual." Sanctification is sometimes regarded as the impossible ideal of a perfect life to be lived by imitating the life of Jesus Christ. Sanctification is most often conceived of as behavior governed by morality and ethics, the codification of behavior into rules and regulations, techniques and formulas, how-tos; the legalistic conformity to which is regarded as holiness.

    Sanctification can only be understood and experienced by the resurrection-life of Jesus. It is the process of allowing the holy character of God to be lived out in our behavior as the Risen Lord Jesus lives out His life through us. It is the "life of Jesus manifested in our mortal bodies" (II Cor 4:10). Sanctification is resurrection-living!

    (8) HOLY SPIRIT. Considerations of the Holy Spirit apart from the resurrection either "box" Him into a theological box as "the third person of the Godhead," or set Him up as a spiritual "stimulant", a power-force, that is available as a super-spiritual experience, subsequent to receiving Jesus Christ in regeneration.

    The Holy Spirit cannot be properly understood in the life of the Christian apart from the resurrection. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of the Risen Lord Jesus. Paul writes in II Cor. 3:17, "Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." The Holy Spirit is present in the spirit of every genuine Christian (Rom. 8:16), to express the resurrection-life of Jesus Christ in character and activity.

    (9) CHURCH. Apart from the resurrection-dynamic of Jesus Christ, the Church becomes a mere historical or theological society for further discussion of the same. Sometimes it becomes a fellowship of like-minded believers, gathering for subjective "worship" experiences. When the church becomes a social organization or religious institution it binds people up in the absolutism, authoritarianism and activism of religion.

    Only on the basis of the resurrection does the Church become the collective Body of the life of the Risen Lord Jesus. The church is intended to be the collective expression and interactions of those "called-out" to function in resurrection-life; Jesus Christ living in resurrection community, the inaugurated kingdom of God, the fulfillment of the Israel of God (Gal. 6:16; Rom. 9:6).

    (10) ESCHATOLOGY. When the resurrection-dynamic of Jesus Christ is misunderstood, then the consideration of "last things" often degenerates into mere speculative "futurism," with their voluminous linear time-lines and charts. On the other hand it may become a campaign of social reform to create a "new world order."

    When Christians understand the resurrection, then the consideration of "last things", i.e. eschatology, is not "utopianism." By the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has established the "last things", the "last days". Jesus Christ is the "first and the last", the "alpha and the omega", the Creator and the End. All that God has designed for man is inaugurated and realized in Jesus Christ, and that by the resurrection.

    Christianity IS resurrection, the resurrection dynamic and Life of Jesus Christ operative in everything. The resurrection is not just an historical or theological fact to be believed; He is a living Person to be received by faith, moment by moment in every situation of our existence. Jesus said, "I AM the Resurrection and the Life" (John 11:25), and the implications of that are beyond the abilities of human contemplation.

    Christianity IS Resurrection, because Jesus IS Resurrection and Life. Oh, that those who call themselves "Christians" today might understand what it meant for Jesus to be raised from the dead on that first Easter morning. It was Eternity intersecting into time with "eternal life." It was God re-creating humanity and society. It was God interpreting all of history. It was God in Christ bringing Life to a world dead in sin.

    Christianity IS Resurrection. Have you received resurrection? Are you enjoying resurrection?


1    Runia, Klaas, Christianity Today, March 17, 1967., article entitled "The Third Day He Rose Again...,", pg. 3.
2    Chirico, P. F., (source unknown)
3    Gaffin, Richard P., Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul's Soteriology. Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1987.
4    Denney, James, Jesus and the Gospel.
5    Kunneth, Walter, The Theology of the Resurrection. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House. 1965.
6    Torrance, T.F., Space, Time and Resurrection. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976. pg, 74.