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 is in which to find joy in this empty, futile and passing world.
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 inadvertently 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).
What is at stake if we deny the resurrection?
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:
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? (1 Cor. 15:12)
And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. (1 Cor. 15:14)
We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. (1 Cor. 15:15)
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. (1 Cor. 15:17-18)
If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Cor. 15:19)
If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? (1 Cor. 15:29)
If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Cor. 15:32)
According to the apostle’s argument, if the resurrection never occurred one can categorize all that is lost under the following eight 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.