I've always had something of an aversion to the "if Christianity is not true what do you lose" sort of apologetical approach--precisely because Scripture is
God's word and because it is
perfect in all that God reveals in it. To raise the question almost seems to inadvertantly jeopardize the veracity of it. Nevertheless, that is precisely the kind of reasoning that the Apostle Paul utilized in 1 Corinthians 15 after he appealed to the clear teaching of Scripture about Jesus' death and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1-3). Writing to a church that was in danger of allowing false teaching to creep in, the Apostle tackled the issue of what was at stake if we deny the resurrection. Beginning in verse 12, Paul raises eight "ifs" (following them up with some of the weightiest of all theology) in order to explain the significance of the resurrection for the life of the believers. Consider the following eight "ifs" about the implications of denying the resurrection:
- If Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? (v. 12)
- If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen...If the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. (vv. 13, 16)
- If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. (v. 14)
- We are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up--if in fact the dead do not rise. (v. 15)
- If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. (vv. 17-18)
- If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. (v. 19)
- If the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead? (v. 29)
- If the dead do not rise, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!" (v. 32)
According to the Apostle's argument, one can categorize all that is lost--if the resurrection never occurred--under the following heads:
1. The Apostolic Message. The first thing that is lost, if we deny the resurrection, is the centrality of the death and resurrection of Jesus in the Apostolic message. That is the central message of Christianity. How can some profess to be Christians and deny the central message of Christianity? The resurrection cannot be said to be a mythological or analogical story. It was an historical event that turned the world upside down. This, Paul, said--at the outset of the chapter--was an essential part of what was "of first importance." In essence, Paul is saying, "If there is no resurrection, we have nothing left to preach because our message centers on Christ having been raised from the dead."
2. A Living Redeemer. Next, the Apostle heightens the argument by insinuating that if there is no resurrection from the dead then "Christ is not risen." We not only lose the central message of Christianity, if there is no resurrection--we lose the central figure of Christianity, namely, the living, reigning and returning Lord Jesus Christ.
3. The Efficacy of the Apostolic Word. As Paul proceeds with his argument, he told the Corinthians that the resurrection ensures the efficacy of the word of God. If Christ is not risen, there is no power behind the message proclaimed and there is no power in the life of those who receive the preaching of the Gospel. Paul uses a form of the word κενος in verse 10, 14 and 58 in order to bolster this argument. He tells his readers in verse 10, "God's grace to me was not in vain." Then in verse 58, he reminds them that the resurrection of Christ ensures that their "labor is not in vain in the Lord." Couched in between these bookends, Paul emphasizes that if Christ is not risen then his preaching and their faith is in vain (i.e. empty and powerless).
4. Apostolic Trustworthiness. Moving on to another aspect of the resurrection, Paul explains that if Christ is not risen from the dead then he and the other apostles are false witnesses. He goes so far as to say that they would then be "false witnesses of God," because they "bore witness of God." There is an inseparability between the apostolic testimony and the testimony of God. Not only would the apostles be found untrustworthy--God would be found to be untrustworthy. The resurrection of Jesus secures the covenant faithfulness and absolute trustworthiness of God and His appointed witnesses.
5. The Forgiveness of Sins. Perhaps the greatest of Paul's arguments is that which he sets out in verses 17-18. If Jesus is not raised then no one has their sins forgiven. The logical implication of this is that those who have professed faith in Christ but who have already died have perished because they would not have had their sins forgiven. The forgiveness of sin is the greatest of all needs that we have. If Jesus was not raised from the dead then we would have to conclude that His sacrifice was insufficient to atone for the sins of God's people and propitiate the wrath of God that we deserve for our sin. The writer to the Hebrews captures the connection between the atonement and the resurrection so well when he writes, "The God of peace brought again from the dead the Lord Jesus...through the blood of the everlasting Covenant" (Heb. 13:20). The blood of Jesus is the efficacious cause of the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus is the validation that His blood was sufficient to atone for the sins of His people.
6. An Everlasting Hope. The Apostle began to introduce the idea of eternal hope when he claimed that those who have "fallen asleep in Jesus" have perished if He has not been raised from the dead. Now, Paul shows another side. He focuses on the hope that believers have in this life. He speaks of this hope elsewhere, when, speaking of the death of beloved Christians, he tells believers that we do not sorrow "as others who have no hope" (1 Thess. 4:13).
7. Union with Christ.
Everything in 1 Cor. 15 centers on the believer's union with Christ in His death and resurrection. Our resurrection from the dead is guaranteed on the basis of our faith-union with Christ. When the Apostle asks the incredibly confusing question, "Why then are they baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise," he appears to be speaking of the union that believers have with Christ (represented by their baptism into Christ). If this is correct, the argument would run thus: "If the dead do not rise--and Christ then belongs in the category of the dead--
why then are you baptized into union with the dead
." Interestingly, Jonathan Edwards espouse this particular way of explaining the Apostle's argument
8. Joy in Tribulation. Finally, Paul argues that if there is no resurrection then he and the other apostles suffered for nothing. It was joy in the truth about the risen Christ--and the hope of the resurrection of believers--that drove the Apostles forward to endure all of the persecution that they bore for the sake of the Gospel and the building up of the people of God. Paul reasons that, if there is no resurrection, we should give ourselves entire to hedonistic living--because that would be all there would be in which to find joy in this empty, futile and passing world.
There is so much more that Paul brings forward in this chapter to show the significance of and inevitable consequences of the resurrection; however, these are the explicit arguments that he puts forth to establish in the minds and hearts of believers what we lose if we do not hold firmly to the biblical truth about the resurrection from the dead. In short, we have everything to lose if we don't preserve the truth of the resurrection and everything to gain by constantly abiding in it.