The symbol of Christianity is the cross. It’s everywhere. It stands tall on the roofs of churches, overlooks congregations in sanctuaries, and dangles from the necklaces of many ardent believers. Christians everywhere want to be reminded of the cross, and for good reason. For on the cross, Jesus suffered and died paying the penalty for the sins of the whole world. The whole of Christianity is dependent on the cross for it represents Christ’s death. Christians acknowledge Christ as their only hope for salvation, because only He could completely pay the penalty for our sins.
But if we look at Scripture, we see that Christ’s death is not the only event Christianity depends on. I Corinthians 15:17 says, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” If Christ’s resurrection didn’t happen, then all of Christianity is futile. Why?
When I came upon this question, I didn’t have a straight answer which made me realize I didn’t fully understand my own beliefs! I was sidelining an essential part of Christianity. It makes me wonder if, in our focus on the cross, we’re relegating the resurrection. I believe many Christians are doing just that, not out of spite, but because they don’t understand the necessity of the resurrection. So let’s find out why the resurrection is so necessary to Christianity.
There are many reasons for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but, from what I’ve seen, there are only two reasons why the resurrection is necessary to Christianity. Two reasons why the resurrection is necessary for our salvation.
The resurrection was proof that our sins were truly forgiven.
At his death, Jesus cried, “It is finished” (John 19:30). The payment for our sins was complete. However, if Jesus was a sinner like us, then His words would be a lie. He couldn’t have paid the price for guilty sinners if He was guilty too. How does the resurrection prove that Jesus wasn’t a guilty sinner?
Jesus Christ “was declared to be the Son of God . . . by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). But haven’t other people been raised from the dead? Why aren’t they declared to be the Son of God? Because only Jesus foretold His resurrection, and only Jesus never died after He was resurrected. Jesus Christ said He came to save sinners (Luke 19:10), claimed to be the Son of God (John 5:18), and prophesied that He would die and rise again (Luke 9:22). The fulfillment of his prophecy of death & resurrection and the eternal life that He lived after He was resurrected both testify to the truth of Jesus’ deity and sinlessness. He was who He said He was.
Also, Romans 1:4 proves that God forgave the sins put on Christ. Christ had taken upon himself the sins of the whole world. He was so full of sin that God could not look upon His Son (Mark 15:34). The resurrection, however, showed that fellowship between God and Christ had been restored. Christ’s deity was declared showing that God had forgiven the sins of the world.
Add to that the truth in Acts 2:24, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” It was impossible for Christ to stay dead, because He wasn’t under the penalty of sin. He wasn’t a sinner. He was the Savior. He could not stay dead, because Satan, the one who holds the power of death (Hebrews 2:14), has no power of Christ. Jesus publicly defeated death and Satan through the resurrection. He is the Author of Life (Acts 3:15). This is true not only physically but also spiritually. And that brings us to the second reason for the necessity of the resurrection.
The resurrection brought us to new life in Christ.
Romans can be thought of as a book of contrasts. Saved & unsaved, Jew & Gentile, death & life, Spirit & flesh, old man & new man. Romans chapter 6 contrasts the old man and the new man. You don’t have to follow the flesh (the old man) by sinning, because that part of you was “crucified with Christ” (Romans 6:6). This is the power of the cross. Christ has paid the penalty, and you are free from sin.
However, if you think about it, that isn’t enough. It isn’t enough to be free from sin, because we still have a sin nature which causes us to lean towards sin. Let’s hypothetically say that we don’t even have a sin nature. Then we’re like pre-Fall Adam, and we’re still prone to go back to our sin.
It’s like the story of the slaves in the US after the Civil War. They were free from their masters, but, because they’d been slaves their entire lives, they still thought, spoke, and acted like slaves. They struggled as free men hoping that their children who were born free would have a better life than they. But many went back to their former masters. They couldn’t handle freedom. If they wanted to live as free men, they needed to begin thinking, speaking, and acting like free men.
In the same way, we need to be completely renewed. With the cross, we are free from sin, but we would still lean towards sin. In order for us to be truly free, we need to have an internal change. We need to be regenerated.
This regeneration—this new life is enacted through the dwelling of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11), but was made real through the resurrection. Romans 6:4 talks of walking in a new life “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father.” We are “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Because we believe in Jesus Christ, “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25), we are resurrected from our deadness to sin.
The forgiveness of sins was done, because Christ paid the penalty on the cross. The regeneration of our life was done through our justification. Through Christ’s resurrection, we are seen as just by God. We aren’t just, let me make that clear (Romans 3:10). But through the resurrection, because we have been raised with Christ and given a new life, we are seen as just despite our sinful nature (Romans 4:23-25). “God made [us] alive together with him” (Colossians 2:13). We are truly “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11).
The resurrection is necessary. It proved the forgiveness of sins and raised us into eternal life. The juxtaposition of this is evident in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The wages of sin, which is death, has been paid through Christ’s death on the cross. And Christ’s payment through his death was verified in the resurrection. The free gift of God, which is eternal life, was given to us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Wages and free gift. Death and eternal life. Cross and resurrection. Romans 6:23 is the gospel in a nutshell. It’s a microcosm of all the specifics, tangents, and complexities of salvation, but it also shows the believer the necessity of the resurrection.