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.
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).