“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is empty; you are still in your sins. Those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor. 15:17-19)
Paul’s discussion of the resurrection with the Christian community at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 15 is a common text at Easter. Even though I have written a book on this letter, I still have difficulty with this chapter. However, Paul challenges us to see the resurrection of Jesus as a renewal and transformation of life.
First, Paul suggested that our faith, Christian life, and reason for being is based on the conviction that Jesus rose from the dead. While believing in the resurrection is incredible, it is who we are. Over the years I have met and become friends with many “secular religion scholars” (their words, not mine) who teach and speak about religion but do not believe much of Christian claims about Jesus. I live and have preached in a city with one of the highest Religiously Unaffiliated rates in the United States. If you visit this link you may also find your city on the list.
In the US we are experiencing a growth in a faith that does not see the need to be attached to a practicing faith community. In addition to this, Christianity continues to hold a unique position among world religions in that we proclaim Jesus’ resurrection. However, does this conviction still hold true? Is it common to hold to a Christian/religious belief without embracing the incredible claim that Jesus rose from the dead for our lives? Paul suggested that the Christian life, existence, and worldview hinged on the acceptance of this claim.
“Just as we have borne the image of the earthly man [Adam], so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man [Jesus]. I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” (1 Cor. 15:49-50)
Paul wrote in this section that there were two “bodies” or “lives.” One was fleshly, the other spiritual. This theme ran through the entire letter to these Corinthian Christians who struggled to live differently than their world. Jesus (and Paul) had introduced a new system, empire, and way of life--the way of Agape (love), mercy, support, and faithfulness. The Roman Empire introduced a system of power and violence that Paul indicated was “passing away,” “fading,” and “being abolished.” The Empire of Jesus was going to endure with faithfulness, hope, and love. The resurrection of Jesus was also a resurrection of his people. We would no longer live according to our corrupt system but with loyalty, honor, love, and integrity—which were fruits of faithfulness.
These two themes of the chapter suggest that Christians have a great opportunity not only at Easter, but in our daily walk with Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus is incredible—however it is believable when people see the resurrection among Jesus’ followers. The Empire of Jesus brings renewal and transformation. We accept people but also guide them to growth and living in the new life. We witness the resurrection verbally and behaviorally.
People will not believe in the risen Jesus until they see it in us. In our renewal of faith and discipleship we can transform and offer that transformation to others.
Transformation is not judgment. Judgment says, “You are hopeless—here is your sentence.” Transformation says, “Come as you are but don’t stay that way.”
Transformation is not neglect. Neglect says, “We accept you and will do little to help you get better—because we don’t want to butt into your business.” Transformation says, “Flesh and blood cannot enter Jesus’ Empire—how can we help you get there?”
Transformation is not manipulation or exploitation. Exploitation says, “Let’s get you to do this so that we can look better.” Transformation says, “How can we help you get to where Jesus’ wants you to be?”
Transformation is not observation. Observation says, “Let’s adore Jesus from afar.” Transformation says, “Let’s do what Jesus did so that we can become like him.”
Happy Easter, Renewal, and Transformation Sunday,