A few months ago, I was speaking to a friend of mine, a Muslim woman, who sells jewelry. As I shared the gospel with her, she pointed out the crucifixes sitting in the glass counter and explained how she felt.
She couldn’t understand why we Christians worship a dead God.
For me, my heart within me cried, “We don’t! He’s not hanging there anymore!”
But when I look at my own life and at the church, did she have a point? Do we not hold the limp, lifeless Christ on the crucifix in higher regard than the reigning, living Lord?
If Easter wasn’t on the calendar, would it cross our minds? Would we ever greet one another, “He is risen (He is risen indeed)”? Would we even have a place for the Resurrection in our theology?
I live in the Bible Belt. And here, where most people are cultural Christians, I’ve made a terrifying discovery: People worship a dead Christ. Yes, they may affirm that they believe Jesus rose from the dead—but that’s not the Jesus they ground their lives in.
There are a lot of long, complicated theological reasons why Resurrection Day is important. And we need to know them—not intellectually, but intimately, through our experience.
Here are some dangerous signs that you might be worshipping a dead Christ:
1. You’re Afraid of Pain
It is human nature to avoid pain, suffering and death.
“I’m not afraid to die,” you say. “I’m not afraid to die for Christ,” you might even say. And sure, the heathens among us who are bold enough to admit to reading Harry Potter might boast that the young wizard Harry himself also “greeted death,” but as for us—it’s clear that suffering isn’t our top priority.
Christians and non-Christians alike talk a big game about their willingness to suffer or die, but look at our actions: We still buckle our seatbelts, shoot for three square meals a day, and lock our doors at night. We genuinely fear pain and death.
Even the Christian who claims to follow the One who defeated death still doesn’t quite live like it.
But if Christ is raised, then when we believe in Him, we too will be resurrected.
If that’s true, it doesn’t matter what you do to my body. It doesn’t matter whether you starve it, beat it or even kill it—the Christ we serve is far more powerful than death.
We’re supposed to be undefeatable.
We have the antidote to the universal, terminal disease: death itself. Why don’t we spread the cure?
But the problem isn’t just in the way we live; it’s in the very way we talk about Christ Himself. Consider the second dangerous sign …
2. Your Gospel Stops at the Cross
My version of the gospel ended at the cross until very recently (by God’s grace). What do I mean?
Think of how you normally hear the gospel being presented to nonbelievers:
You’ve lied, which makes you a liar. You’ve stolen, which makes you a thief. You’ve lusted, which makes you an adulterer, according to Jesus’ own words in Matthew 5. You’ve put other things in your life above God, making you a worshipper of false gods. That’s just four out of the 10 commandments. And if you were to die today and God judged you by that standard, He would have to find you guilty as charged. Your punishment, rightly deserved, would be hell.
So, God became a perfect man, Jesus Christ, and came and died on the earth, in His body absorbing all the wrath of God that you deserve. He took the punishment you owed so that God can legally declare your sins “paid for” and make you innocent.
Turn away from your sin and trust in the punishment that Christ paid on the cross, and you will be forgiven—accepted by God for all eternity in heaven.
All this information 100 percent true. In fact, it is my not-so-secret hope that anyone reading the article who doesn’t know God personally would take a moment to re-read that message above and choose, right now, to pray to God and accept the forgiveness of God through Christ’s death.
But the message doesn’t doesn’t end there.
Even in the Bible Belt, when speaking with the younger generation, I often ask, “After Christ died, do you know what He did next?”
“No,” is the typical reply.
It’s at that point where I’d usually reply, “Jesus rose from the dead three days later.” It’s a fact we can never leave out. But why can’t we leave it out? Doesn’t the whole forgiveness thing work without it?
Earlier in my life, if I wanted to explain why, I might add, “… to prove who He was!” or, “… to prove that God had accepted His sacrifice!” or even, “… to conquer death!”
Each of these explanations feels like a footnote to the gospel. The gospel presentation I wrote out above, for the most part, sounds complete and logical by itself—without mentioning the Resurrection.
It’s my unfortunate conviction that while these answers are all true, they whoosh overtop the head of the unchurched listener, leaving out the most obvious truth.
The problem is, the gospel isn’t complete at the cross.
If it were, the apostles would have spent Good Friday and Holy Saturday preaching the gospel—after all, Jesus had already died for sins. The Holy Spirit would have come as soon as Jesus gave up His spirit to the Father, the disciples would have understood the sin-atoning sacrificial death of Christ, and they would have rushed into the mournful streets preaching the message of forgiveness during Passover.
But instead, they ran away from Golgotha sulking.
And after Jesus was raised, Paul and Peter didn’t just say, “Accept Jesus into your heart and be forgiven!” Instead, whenever they had those “altar call” opportunities, they said some weird things about the Resurrection:
- “God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness” (Acts 3:26, ESV).
- “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).
It is not that the content of their gospel was any different from ours; they believed and taught repentance and belief, forgiveness and salvation through Christ.
But put yourself in the shoes of the apostles. What is more newsworthy during the time of imperial Rome: (a) “Men and women of all ages, there was a Jewish Man who was crucified!” or (b) “Men and women of all ages, there was a Man who was raised from the dead! Here’s who He is and why He matters to you now (and here’s a miracle to prove He’s still alive)”?
To that first audience of the gospel, news of a crucified Man meant little. But the Resurrection casts everything in a much more meaningful light. And for Paul, the Resurrection was a sign that God had given Christ all authority to judge us someday (Acts 17:31).
For us, the Resurrection is treated like an exclamation point at the end of our gospel presentation. For the apostles, it was the basis of the entire gospel. If the apostles had found out the Resurrection was a myth, their lives would have made a complete 180-degree turn. Everything they were doing beforehand would have been senseless. There is no gospel, no church, no reason to suffer or die for Christ if He remained dead.
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 that if Christ was not raised from the dead, then when you die—even as a Christian—you’re dead. Done. That’s it. And “if only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (v. 19, NIV).
So how do we share the gospel in such a way as to make the resurrection necessary, in the same way that the cross is necessary?
The answer is that when Christ died, you died; and when Christ rose, you rose (2 Cor. 5:14-15). Not only does Christ offer you a clean slate—He writes on it a new life, lived for God, which begins now.
Now that you’ve been cleansed of sin, someday you’ll be freed from its wage—not only hell, but also death itself (Rom. 6:23).
You will be raised from the dead.
That’s the short and skinny. This truth is shallow for a child to splash around in yet deep enough for theologians to spend two millennia swimming in. The Resurrection is what grants us the ability to receive the Holy Spirit, the ability to live a new life and the ability to be reborn.
(Do the words eternal life sound familiar?)
But God forbid that we forget: It also means we will be resurrected and live forever, just like Christ. In fact, everyone will be raised from the dead; but for those who weren’t forgiven through Christ’s death in the first place, it’ll be an eternal life of pain and torment. For those already identified with Christ, it will be a perfect eternal life of joy, reward and fellowship with God.
In my experience, we’re not used to thinking in these terms. We’re so accustomed to explaining the crime (sin) and the punishment (hell) that we forget the court summons (death). The three form an unbreakable chain of cause and effect.
3. You Don’t Know Why You’re Here
By “here,” I don’t mean your couch, desk or wherever you’re sitting right now. I mean Earth.
Over the last two years, I’ve had the privilege of teaching apologetics/evangelism classes for a large evangelical university online. In one assignment, we ask students several core questions about life and ask them to answer from Scripture. One of those questions is, “What is the purpose of life?”
One of the most common answers I received, condensed into its true meaning, is essentially: The purpose of life is to get saved and go to heaven.
The problem is, this would mean Adam and Eve had no purpose on Earth before sin entered the world, other than to be glorified landscapers. But that isn’t the case.
Man was created to walk the earth, glorifying God and living for Him. In the words of the Westminster Catechism: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
Your life isn’t complete when you are saved; in a very practical sense, it begins when you are saved.
See, if we’re going to be raised from the dead (1 Cor. 15:52), then that means heaven isn’t the only thing God has in store for us. Just like in Eden, God plans for us to walk on a New Earth, in new bodies, in perfect relationship with Him for all eternity.
The Resurrection restores us to the life God originally made man for—only infinitely better, freed from the possibility of sin and given pure intimacy with God forever.
And even though we haven’t been raised yet, that life begins now. Our lives don’t belong to us anymore; they belong to Christ. We have to live for Him. Check out Romans 12:1-2 or Colossians 3:1-3.
Why’s it matter?
Why does the Resurrection matter to how I live now? Can’t I live for Christ even if He didn’t rise from the dead?
Consider this a parable. About 1,000 years before Christ, a very wise king of Israel who simply called himself “the Preacher” (most think it was Solomon) wrote a little book called Ecclesiastes. Solomon said a lot of things that seemed depressing—most of which can be basically summed up in saying that life is fleeting. Life seems pointless because we die, and all our work and morality won’t matter at all once we’re six feet under. We cling to find meaning in this short life, but we really can’t find any meaning that will live on beyond us.
That’s the curse on this sinful world.
Solomon never figured out how reverse the curse. He tried to squeeze a net profit out of life, but no matter where he looked, once he added the factor of death into the equation, he ended in the red. The bottom line at the end of the book: “Fear God and keep his commandments” (Eccl. 12:13).
Solomon knew that somewhere, somehow, there had to be profit in this life. Man wants to find ultimate meaning, because God has planted the hunger for eternity inside man’s heart (Eccl. 3:11). Man had that kind of meaning once before, in Eden. So there must be a way to get it back, right?
When Christ came, He undid the curse. He undoes death. Even in Romans 8, we find out that all of creation itself will be reborn, just like we are.
But in between Christ and Solomon, about 500 years after Ecclesiastes was written, another famous philosopher came along. Like Solomon, he was royalty turned thinker. Like Solomon, he realized that the suffering of life was real and that life was basically meaningless, and he wanted to live a good, moral life.
But he didn’t have the background knowledge Solomon had—knowledge of God, sin, judgment and the original perfection in Eden. He didn’t quite realize all that God had originally meant for man. He didn’t even know there was a God. All he knew was that man exists, life stinks, and there’s no ultimately satisfying solution.
So all he could look forward to was that maybe someday, if he was good enough, he could just stop existing. Vanish. Be extinguished. Gone. Forever.
His name? Buddha.
His goal? Nonexistence. It’s called nirvana, and it has nothing to do with heaven.
Back to today.
For most Christians, the ideas of nirvana and heaven don’t sound that different. They’re both about eternal bliss, right?
But the idea of nonexistence in nirvana is man’s philosophical escape pod to the problem of life. The Bible doesn’t speak of heaven in such terms; God’s destiny for man isn’t for him to just escape but for him and the earth to be restored.
Shutting off the power on a computer doesn’t fix a thing without a reboot.
Christ’s death shut your sinful life off and saved you from hell, but His life restores you for now and eternity.
And finally …
4. Your Daily Relationship With Christ Is Shallow
If Christ died and stayed dead, perhaps we’d still be forgiven through the cross—but Jesus wouldn’t have quite the same authority over us as He does now. For certain, He’s still God. But a limp, lifeless Savior can’t command authority over my life and call me to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth; that’s the job of a living, breathing, exalted King.
Jesus is Lord already. If He demonstrated power over death, that means He has power over you.
The problem is, we’ve been inundated with a message of hypergrace: Jesus died to forgive you; therefore, you are completely free from everything and can just relax and be yourself. The problem with this message is that we are not merely freed from sin; we are bound to Christ in His life.
A dead Jesus can forgive me and even make me feel pretty good about myself, but He doesn’t do much more. However, a dead and raised Jesus will not only forgive me but demand my obedience.
I owe my life to Him, and I have the opportunity and obligation to make good on that debt by living for Him.
Do you worship a dead Savior or a living Lord?
If you found out Christ hadn’t been raised, would your life look any different?
Image credit: Flickr/amanderson2 (CC 2.0)
This article is cross-posted on Christian Life News.