( From Chapter Five: The Path to Immortality from Life, Death and Destiny)
LIFE ONLY IN CHRIST
(a) Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead. Therefore death, though real, is not the last word. There really is a final, eternal Kingdom of God. It is a huge and tragic mistake to live only for this present world. Rather, what we decide and do now really does have eternal consequences. This gives our lives truly Godlike potential. But it also means that we are finally accountable to God for how we live.
It also means that Jesus truly is uniquely of God and that all God’s dealings with the world are in relation to Him and through Him, as He claimed. He “was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 1:4).
(b) This same Jesus died for our sins. It is not death that is our essential problem, but sin, which both destroys our lives now and makes us liable to God’s ultimate condemnation. “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law [of God]” (I Cor. 15:56). Since our destiny is in God’s hands, our relationship with God is the key issue. Yet because of our resistance to God and His righteousness, His law decrees our death. Because of our heart-refusal to live for God, and of all of the outward acts of pride, greed, destruction and shame that result, death is not just a fact of life: it is our just desert (Rom. 1:32). That is death’s sting.
The resurrection of Jesus reveals, however, that His death was not deserved. He died, not for His own sin but for ours, giving Himself freely, in accordance with His Father’s will, for our sake. Certainly the fact that we crucified Christ, the Righteous One, is itself enough to prove the sinfulness of all humanity. Yet He “suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God” (I Peter 3:18).
(c) By resurrection, Jesus is the life-giving Lord: “a life-giving spirit” (I Cor. 15:45), “the man from heaven” (I Cor. 15:48), “the Lord of both the dead and the living” (Rom. 14:9), the Head of God’s new creation (Col. 1:18) . The “first Adam” has given us all his physical life: the “last Adam”, the new Man Jesus Christ, can give us all His resurrection life, by God’s own Spirit. This He will do finally, decisively, for all who belong to Him, “at his coming” (I Cor. 15:23).
(d) Jesus Christ will come again (I Cor. 15:23), “to judge the living and the dead” (II Tim. 4:1). All the dead will be raised before Him (John 5:28-29, Rev. 20:11-13) and those who, in His judgment, belong to Him, will be made immortal. Where are the dead meantime? They are stored in the heart and mind of God, “asleep” (I Cor. 15:18, 20 RSV), awaiting His voice (John 5:28-29) .
Although we have been stressing that we all must die, actually there will be a generation alive when Christ returns (I Cor. 15:51-53). For though it will be God’s own transcendent and unrepeatable act of glory, Christ’s return will not occur in some other time and space than ours, but will interrupt, consummate, judge and transform our own history. However, whether we are alive or dead then, if we are His “we will all be changed” (I Cor. 15:51), through the same Spirit of God Who raised up Jesus and even now works righteousness in His people (Rom. 8:11). Then, but only then, will it be, that this present nature, which is perishable and mortal, will “put on” immortality. And then it will be, that death “has been swallowed up in victory” (I Cor. 15:54). God will then be “all in all” (I Cor. 15:28), in “new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home” (II Peter 3:13).
Not all will share that victory, however. All will be raised to trial, but only “those who belong to Christ” will be changed (I Cor. 15:23). For the rest, there is “the second death” (Rev. 20:14) , embittered by the express rejection of God through Christ (Matt. 7:23). To this second death there is no answer: it is both deserved and everlasting.
Yet, so unnecessary. For Christ, our Judge, has already died for us. By God’s mercy, then, we can choose life. Instead of living for ourselves and for our stake in this world, effectively denying both God and our own God-given destiny, we can choose to live by faith in Christ and His Kingdom, receiving His forgiveness by faith, while surrendering our will to His, to live and die His way in this world, that we may receive His eternal life. “For if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.”1
- Romans 6:8.