If there is no bodily resurrection, sin wins and God loses. God did not design human beings to die. All through scripture death is the consequence of sin. From Genesis 2:17, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall die,” to Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death.” We are bound to decay and death because of sin. So we can infer that if God intended human beings obey the command to not sin, then God did not design human beings to die. That was not his intent. It was not the plan. Sin and death are the twin enemies of God, his people, and creation as a whole.
I wrote earlier this week on why dying and going to heaven is not enough. And this reflection reinforces that point. If the body dies and we find ourselves conscious in heaven (as scripture teaches), and if that’s the climax of salvation (which scripture does not teach), then sin wins and God loses. Why? Because going to heaven is another way of saying the body is dead. An essential part of our human existence remains in the grave. Dying and going to heaven does not mean we are more alive than ever – despite what D.L. Moody may have thought. Dying and going to heaven means we are dead. Now let me be clear: I am not denying that believers enter the presence of Jesus when they die. I affirm that wholeheartedly. What I am saying is that heaven should be seen the way scripture portrays it: as a period of waiting for bodily resurrection. Only when the body is raised will any of us be more alive – and more fully human – than ever before.
That’s why there’s no redemption without resurrection. Sin is our enemy. Death is the consequence of sin. If we die and remain dead, the enemy wins and God loses. That’s why scripture spends so much time on the past resurrection of Jesus and the future resurrection of believers. That’s why Paul says, “the last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:26). And that enemy is destroyed when Christ returns to raise the dead. Only “then will the saying that is written be fulfilled, ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory'” (1 Cor 15:54). Note the future tense verb. The dead in Christ are still dead. The saying has not yet been fulfilled. We’re still waiting on that, because (like the saints in heaven) we are still waiting to be raised from the dead.
More than forgiveness
Sometimes (not always) the way we do evangelism suggests that we only need forgiveness from sin. Think about it. How often are people invited to pray and ask forgiveness so they can go to heaven? The focus there is on what the individual must do to avoid the consequence of their sin. You’ve heard the cliché about salvation as fire insurance; this sort of evangelism is what it’s talking about.
Again, let me be clear. I’m not saying that we don’t need forgiveness. Of course, we do. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do evangelism. Of course, we should. What I’m saying is that we need more than forgiveness. We need new life. The one is a means to the other. Forgiveness is a means. New life is the end. That new life looks like growth in holiness now and bodily resurrection later. That’s what God wants. Of course, God has to forgive our sins. He can’t fill a bunch of unforgiven sinners with the beauty of his holy love. But forgiveness is not the goal. Holiness leading to resurrection life is.
Think about the death and resurrection of Jesus this way. Christ died and his blood was shed to forgive our sin. He was raised from the dead to launch God’s new creation and give us new life. The death and resurrection of Jesus are two parts of one complete redemptive event. The cross is not enough. That’s why Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 that if Christ hasn’t been raised, faith is a waste of time. We need the new life that comes out of the tomb on Easter morning.
And our evangelism should reflect that need. Forgiveness is not the goal of evangelism, and we shouldn’t evangelize as if it were. Our proclamation of the gospel – our Lord Jesus Christ has died and was raised – should present forgiveness of sin as a step that enables us to experience new transformed life in the present and resurrection of the body in the future. There’s no redemption without resurrection because we need more than forgiveness of sin.
For more on holiness now and resurrection later, watch this Seven Minute Seminary.
Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of St. Mark Church in Mobile, Alabama, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and an adjunct member of the faculties of Asbury Theological Seminary and Wesley Biblical Seminary. Hear him on the So What? Podcast, connect on Facebook, or follow @mporeilly.