Evangelicals have much to be thankful for in 2015. In the Southern Baptist Convention, the tribe to which I belong, we have seen a resurgence in fidelity to the inerrancy of the Bible which in turn has led to more robust theological understandings of ministry and the overall work of the church. One of the ways we have seen such a renewal is through a recovery of the true meaning of the gospel. From organizations like the Gospel Coalition to Together for the Gospel or even Gospel-Centered Discipleship, we hear a lot about the gospel.
While I'm very appreciative of this gospel-centeredness, one of my concerns is a primary component absent from many explanations and presentations of the gospel- the resurrection. On numerous occasions, when I've heard prominent evangelical leaders answer the question, "What is the gospel?" they do not mention the resurrection. I find this highly problematic.
Theological Reasons for the Importance of the Resurrection
From 1 Corinthians, Paul tells us that:
1. Without the resurrection, we shouldn’t bother talking about Jesus.
This is the Apostle Paul's basic logic when he calls preaching vain (1 Cor. 15:14). The resurrection is the validation that Jesus is Lord. It proves beyond doubt that Jesus is exclusive and king. This is especially important in a culture of pluralism that claims many ways to God. The resurrection stands as the living proof that Jesus is the only way to be reconciled with God.
2. Without the resurrection, we lie about God's character.
Paul calls this misrepresenting God (1 Cor. 15:15) because we say God either can't or won't raise Jesus from the dead. We portray God at best to be powerful enough but unwilling to raise Jesus or at worst unable to raise Jesus. Thankfully, the resurrection displays God victorious power and steadfast loving-kindness.
3. Without the resurrection, we have no way to be forgiven of our sins.
Paul describes our faith in vain because we are still in our sins without the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:17). The resurrection is essential to the gospel because it presents a living savior we can trust. Without the resurrection, we place our hope in a dead martyr. Because Jesus is alive, He is able to forgive us of our sin through our union with Him.
But you might be saying, "Yes, the resurrection is important, but what should be emphasized is substitution." To that I would say a hearty Amen! However, given these three theological points, I believe we should include the resurrection every time we present the gospel. In case these theological reasons are unconvincing, let me add three pastoral reasons why I believe the resurrection should be included every time we share the gospel.
Pastoral Reasons for the Inclusion of the Resurrection in Gospel Presentations
1. You need to present Jesus as victorious.
When you present the resurrection in your explanation of the gospel, you say to your listeners, "Jesus not only took your penalty on the cross, but also he defeated your penalty!" The resurrection, as Paul applies it in Romans 6, also has serious implications for the nature of the Christian life as not characterized by defeat but victory.
2. You need to present Jesus as exclusive.
As mentioned above, the resurrection sets Jesus a part from every other religious system in the world. As pluralism becomes more and more the assumed position of our culture, weekly presenting the resurrection as a part of the gospel provides a needed apologetic to the pluralistic conditioning people receive daily.
3. You need to call people to trust a risen savior.
Conversion comes through repentance of sin and faith in Christ alone. This is the response we call people to as we present the gospel. However, we are not calling people to place their faith in a dead martyr but a risen, victorious savior! Jesus is able to forgive because he defeated sin through the cross and the resurrection.
In light of this, let's work hard to present the gospel as the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ for our sins which culminated in his glorious, victorious resurrection.