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Christian Resurrection

Christian Resurrection

It might seem like a silly double statement to name a post "Christian Resurrection." But the truth is that resurrection is not the sole intellectual property of Christians. However, on this particular week, the entire church catholic focuses in on the passion of Jesus Christ and His resurrection. I was not planning on writing about the resurrection but felt compelled after stumbling through the book of Romans while studying for something else.

Let me state up front, Paul's integration of resurrection into every facet of theology is awe inspiring. It is this generic "infuse all theology with resurrection" motif that I am referring to with the blog title "Christian Resurrection." Now to start with Paul on the justification of Abraham in Romans 4:

17 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...22 That is why his [Abraham's] faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. - Romans 4:22-25

It might be a new thought for some but Paul's emphasis on the faith of Abraham actual centers around the resurrection. In Abraham's historical context it was God's ability to generate life where there is no life. The author of Hebrews even highlights that Abraham had a primitive theology of the resurrection (Heb 11:17-19). In two different historical events then Isaac is actually a foreshadowing of Christ's resurrection. Abraham's conviction and belief through these events are what justified Him. Paul concludes this is a belief in a God who "gives life to the dead" and this is relevant to us today. For us now this belief is particularly in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Why is a belief in the resurrection so important? Because for Paul, Christ was raised (not died) for the justification of humanity. Justification is centered around resurrected life in the risen Savior. It was not merely that the Son of God was raised but that the Son of man was raised. Human flesh endured death and was victorious in Jesus Christ.

The resurrection is the deceleration by God of vindication after the deceleration of judgment on the cross. It is with this rather large concept of justification and resurrection that Paul then allows himself to focus on Christ's death as reconciliation (Rom 5:6-11) before his epic Adam and Jesus discourse. Adam's sin while alive brought death into the world. Christ's death for sin brings life into the world. 

Lest we get stuck in Romans 5 it is important to fast forward to Paul in Romans 6 as he picks back up the foundation of Christ being raised. When Paul returns to this theme, sanctification is on His mind (Rom 6:1-4). The result of Christ's death is that the sin propagated by Adam in Romans 5 is overturned. Throughout Romans 6 there is duality in the historical reality of Christ's resurrection and our future resurrection. The Christian life exists in this duality that many refer to systemically as "already and not yet." Knowing these two truths, it comes with a fierceness that Paul says:

10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. - Romans 6:10-11

There is a unique little play on words here from Paul. The Greek for "consider" is what Paul has used so far in Romans as "imputed." There is a reality here. This is no legal fiction. The realness of our justification is equal with the realness of our death to sin. Because of Christ's death and subsequent life we are dead to sin (justification) and alive to God (sanctification). These are realities that come together. Christ's resurrection glues together these elements of soteriology that systematic explanations repeatedly try to tear apart. Christ's resurrection has so fused these concepts together that the only place they can be safely separated is in systematic theology. Everywhere else they must remain joined together in Christ's resurrection. This fusion sheds light on the familiar conclusion of the chapter:

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 6:20-23

This passage is often read through as if Romans 6:23 is a standalone summary:

"You're a sinner. Don't be a sinner without God. Open your heart and accept His free gift. Now you're a sinner with God."

In some ways I exaggerate but in some places this isn't far from the evangelic shtick. But this overemphasizes the verse as summary without seeing it primarily as a logical conclusion. The argument is fairly straight forward. The "end" of being "slaves to sin" is "death" (part A of v. 23). A life full of sin leads to one being paid by God their due wage—eternal death. The "fruit" of being "set free from sin" is "sanctification" which has for its end "eternal life" (part B of v. 23). This is not a "wage" but the product of God's free gift. Hence Paul calls it a "fruit." It truly does originate in us but it is not from us. Classify it as "infused sanctification" if you like.

So Romans 6:23 brings everything into a knot and reintroduces Jesus Christ and His resurrection. There is enslavement to sin which earns us the final wage of death. Or in the free gift of Christ's resurrection there is sanctification and eternal life. It is only through understanding Christ's death and resurrection in this sense that we can understand why and how Paul approaches the law in Romans 7. For there Paul takes Christ's death and resurrection to show the conquest of turmoil the law produces. His ultimate conclusion is:

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. - Romans 8:1-2

A new law has taken over for Christians in our death to the first (just as the death of one spouse allows marriage to another in Romans 7:1-6). It is with this in mind that Paul lays out a flesh vs spirit dialogue that gives John's first epistle a run for its money in the conviction department. And in the beauty of Romans 8, Paul inserts these strong words:

8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. - Romans 8:8-9

The beauty of the resurrection is we have been so justified in Christ that our lives may now be pleasing to God. The vindication of the God-man actually vindicates man. Man has died on the cross and Man has come back from the dead. This is a historical reality. The Spirit has been given to us and we await the fullness of our bodies resurrected. Until our resurrection, we experience the blessing of justification and sanctification in the historical event of Christ's resurrection.

Paul is more clear (or one-sided) in his epistle to the Ephesians. There Christ's resurrection is evidence of the outworking of God (1:20-23). This very same resurrection language is applied to the church in the present experience of their salvation (2:5-6). Easter Sunday is a magnificent day. It is a time of celebration that death has been conquered. And the one who rules over death has been defeated (Heb 2:14). The true beauty of Easter Sunday is that on Monday we through Christ remain resurrected unto newness of life.

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