As we search the Scriptures for insight into Jesus, we must never forget the primary reason why the biblical testimonies exist.
Look at what John asserts as the thesis statement for his gospel: “[B]ut these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:31). He didn’t write his gospel just so you will understand, be convinced, or be informed; he writes so that you will believe with a life-giving effect, so that you will take in the power of the cross and be born again with a life with the quality of resurrection.
It is not enough to simply be convinced that Jesus died on the cross for your sins. You must be convicted of it. Your convincing has to lead to a conviction and a commitment. The influence of the work of the cross on your life must come full with the power of the resurrection, and that is not a power that will be content to settle in your mind. It is a power that gives new life. Just like the disciples mourning the death of Jesus believed his death had some meaning for forgiveness in their lives were set afire by the reality that Jesus lives, we must move beyond belief into a life—into a kingdom life—that buzzes and hums with the eternal quality of resurrection.
A resurrection gospel is a full gospel. What we are accustomed to is a simplistic, stripped down gospel, a gospel that suggests, “You have issues, but Jesus died for you; now be a good person.” The full gospel says, “The problem is a radical one no less serious than death and it requires a radical intervention no less powerful than resurrection.” The full gospel says the level and quality of your messed-up-ness is complete, exhaustive, irreconcilable, but the gift of God’s grace extends infinitely, eternally, covering it all. It reconciles us fully to God in a way that can only be described as bringing a dead person back to life.
As a matter of truly living out a resurrection life, we followers of Jesus have to re-focus our understanding of salvation from what we’re being saved from and place it on what we’re being saved to. That is the difference between the occupied cross and the empty tomb.
Look at the way Paul describes the fullness of salvation:
[E]ven as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ . . . (Eph. 1:4-9)
There is a richness here, a full fledged act of rescue and reinstatement that goes so far beyond getting our golden ticket to heaven. This passage demonstrates the true fullness of salvation. Look at how mighty to save our Lord is:
He chose us before the world was created. He chose us to be adopted into his family. Consequently, we don’t just have forgiveness, we have the key to unlocking the mystery of God’s will. Because Christ’s resurrection is the firstfruits of our own, we can know that God is including us in his plans for the future, for his plans for the universe. We are not privy to all the details, and he certainly doesn’t need our help, but we have the assurance that our loving God has established for us a future and a hope. He is choosing us as partakers in the indescribable glory of God.
In our sin, this may not seem like such a big deal, but if we could grasp even a sliver of how much we don’t deserve such lavish treatment, we might behold the power of the resurrection in it. You’ve got to really get grace, that it really is all that Christ is in exchange for our complete and utter emptiness. The resurrection is not just about turning over a new leaf. It really is about being dead and then being brought back to life. It really is about being an enemy of God and being brought into the light.
In Colossians 1:21, Paul describes our state before salvation as being alienated from God. We were separated from him, far from him. We are images of God that are broken. We were in bondage to sin, we were dead and buried like Lazarus in the tomb, we were effectively disowned and dismissed, and like the prodigal son’s exile, it was self-willed. We were, for all intents and purposes, anti-God, even if consciously we were just ambivalent. But then the resurrection power of Jesus, he who is mighty to save, ushers us into new life—where?—“in him.”
Paul describes this wondrous reunion alternately here:
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Rom. 5:9-11)
We are saved from many things: sin, Satan, punishment, death. But primarily we are saved from the wrath of God. And we aren’t just passed over for wrath; we are brought in, held close, covered up. We have received reconciliation. This is such a powerful way to talk about salvation, because it moves us beyond self-centered talk of being saved into a personal faith, as if Christianity is about self-improvement, and takes us right into being unified again with God, which posits salvation such as it is—Jesus the Savior taking dead strangers to God and transforming them into living friends.
We have been reconciled to God. We were alienated from him, effectively enemies, but in Christ’s death we were made right with God. In other words, the debt we owed has been paid and credited to us, and in Christ’s resurrection we have been made alive to God.
See, when Adam fell, taking the fruit he wasn’t supposed to and eating it, he marred creation by ushering death and division into it. By embracing sin, he invited death and he set up a dividing wall between him and God that could not be surmounted from his (Adam’s) side. So a new Adam has come, dying to fulfill the death owed by man, and rising to give new life to those who desperately need it. And therefore we are reconciled to God.
That is the meaning of life, by the way. It’s not being healthy and wealthy and happy and wise. It’s not being successful or achieving all your dreams. The meaning of life is moving from alienation from God to being adopted into his family.
But the reconciling work doesn’t stop there.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:17-21)
What happened at the fall? Not only did Adam and Eve create separation between themselves and God, they created it between each other as well. The Bible says there was then also enmity between the man and the woman. So the fall distances us, separates us, it makes us say to ourselves, “I am my own person.” And to fully embrace the fullness of the gospel, we can’t just say, “Jesus has saved me from my sins,” we have to confess, “Jesus has reconciled me to God . . . and to others.”
Thus ensues the ministry of reconciliation Paul talks about. As followers of Jesus, “Christ’s ambassadors,” we act out our reconciliation with God in our relationships with others. This is the foundational command Jesus gives as the Mission Statement of the life of discipleship: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart soul mind and strength . . . and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The two are inextricably linked, because the saving reconciliation is a holistic reconciliation, a full reconciliation. Because he lives, we can finally, really live. The resurrection restores the entirety of our brokenness and division.