Updated: May 13, 2019
“And if the Messiah wasn’t raised, your faith is pointless, and you are still in your sins.”
1 Corinthians 15:17
What does the resurrection have to do with setting us free from sin? Just yesterday, someone was complaining to me about a Christian teacher whom they thought was going soft on the doctrine of Hell and they exclaimed “if you don’t believe in Hell, what was the cross about?!” For most of us Westerners, like my friend, forgiveness is something that we get through the cross, not the resurrection. For many Western Christians, the resurrection is important only because it “proves that Jesus is God,” not because the event itself brought about forgiveness or salvation. For us Westerners, the hinge pin of the good news of Easter is the crucifixion because that is when, as we typically understand it, Jesus took on Himself the wrath of God, so that we do not have to. In our Western narrative, God was going to send us to Hell because of our wickedness but Jesus got killed instead and so we are forgiven. But that is not how it works in the mind of Paul.
For Paul, it is the resurrection that produces forgiveness of sins. Because for Paul, forgiveness meant freedom from slavery. For a Jew living within the Jewish story, which started with election when God chose to set things right in the world through Abraham’s family, and which continued into exile when Abraham’s family fell under pagan domination because of idolatry, what mattered was not escaping post-Mortem Hell but escaping pagan domination i.e. “slavery”. Pagan domination equaled punishment for Israel’s idolatry in Paul’s mind and world. Slavery was the result of sin which was the direct result of idolatry. When Israel was forgiven of her sin, this would result in freedom from pagan domination. For Paul, this freedom begins in the resurrection of Jesus. That is the moment when the ultimate weapon of the oppressive pagan powers is sapped of its’ power. Jesus died as a failed Messiah, a failed Israel. Jesus died for the sins of Israel. Though He was not guilty of idolatry, He took on the form of a guilty, idolatrous Israel. And the pagans did to Jesus what pagans have always been able to do to compromised children of God, oppressing and killing Him. Jesus died as an embodiment of the sin of Israel. Paul says it like this: ”He made Him who knew no sin, to be sin on our behalf...” 2 Corinthians 5:21a The crucifixion of Jesus did not produce forgiveness of sins in itself. By itself, the crucifixion only said to Israel that Jesus was a failure too and God was not pleased to vindicate Him. But the resurrection changed all that. With the resurrection, the last weapon of the pagan overlords is rendered useless. If the resurrection has taken place, then the rulers and powers that had dominated Israel for so long, no longer had the power to do so. Israel is now free to worship God “without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days” as Zacharias declared in Luke 1:74. This has been the goal all along. At the first return from exile in Egypt, Moses requested liberty for the people of God to go into the desert to worship their God properly and now at last, that permission has been granted fully and finally, not by Pharaoh, but by God Himself who has taken up His great power and has begun to reign in and through and as Jesus Himself. If Jesus has been raised from the dead, then what or who can stop or hinder God’s people from worshipping Him fully and freely? If God has vindicated Jesus in the Resurrection, will not God also vindicate all those who put their faith in Jesus as the Messiah, as the one who represents Israel as she was always meant to be? And if God will vindicate the followers of Jesus, then what can separate us from the love of God? But if the dead are not raised, then we are still enslaved to pagan domination. We are still as good as dead in our sin. Faith in Jesus would then be useless because it would mean that Jesus was overwhelmed by the powers that seem to be in charge of this world.
The forgiveness of sins was brought about then, not by the crucifixion alone but by the crucifixion followed by the resurrection. So, if Christ HAS been raised from the dead, then we can be forgiven and set free from the power of sin! And if the Son has set us free, we are free indeed! #Forgiveness #Paul