Whatever happened to the resurrection?

Without the cross there would be no resurrection, but without the resurrection the cross would only memorialize a wasteful martyrdom.

Steven P. Vitrano, Ph.D., is chairman of the Department of Church and Ministry, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University.

In recent months I have heard a great deal about the cross of Christ. I have been told again and again of its all-sufficiency for my salvation. Now, I have no question about its all-sufficiency for accomplishing what God intended, but the word salvation in that context must not be overloaded. The cross has not yet bestowed immortality upon me (see 1 Cor. 15:53), nor ushered in that "new heavens, and . . . new earth in which righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3:13). I see death and dying in me, and all around me, prejudice, discrimination, greed, little children with bloated bellies starving to death, the wanton debauchery of our sensate culture, and corruption without and within the church. And my soul cries out, "How long, O Lord, how long?" The work of salvation is finished? Not yet! Not yet! The key victory may have been won at the cross, and it surely was, but that doesn't keep the children from starving or the incurably ill from suffering, or "saved" people from being mean and devious and divisive and hypocritical. The assurance of salvation notwithstanding, the reality of sin's presence and curse still hurts and stabs at the heart of every loving Christian. Something in me vibrates in fundamental harmony with what the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:22, 23: "We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, grown inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." *

It may seem offensive to say, and yet it must be said: An inordinate preoccupation with the cross is a distortion of the gospel. The true Christian cross is not a crucifix on which Jesus still hangs. The true Christian cross is empty. He is not there; He is risen! The empty cross is a symbol of the risen Lord. I cherish the empty cross! If it is Christ on the cross who saved me, it is the risen Christ who saves me.

However much meditation and reflection upon the cross engender love (and it does), love alone will not produce obedience, will not overcome sinning. Love is the only true motivation accept able to God, let there be no mistake about that, but motivation alone is not enough, because obedience does not follow motivation automatically. "I can do all things in him who strengthens ["indynamites"; endunamounti] me" (Phil. 4:13). The key to victorious living is in Him. "For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (chap. 2:13). Faith takes us not only to the cross but through the cross to the living Lord, to whom all power in heaven and on earth has been given and against whom the gates of hell shall not prevail! And from His throne of grace, that power is made available to me so that I do all things in Him.

"Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:14-16). "There fore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, ... let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (chap. 12:1, 2).

Christ lives today and is seated at the right hand of God. This is good news! This is also the gospel. Do you stumble and fall? Are you discouraged? Look to Jesus, not just to the cross, but to Jesus, who is alive and sits at the right hand 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" (Rom. 5:10).

If there is a danger of making the doctrine of salvation too anthropocentric, there is also the danger of making it too theocentric. The Biblical doctrine of salvation is neither, it is Christocentric. And because it is Christocentric it is incarnational. In Christ, God loves (1 John 4:8, 9), gives (John 3:16); redeems (Gal. 4:4, 5), forgives (Col. 1:13,14; 1 John 1:9), justifies (Rom. 3:23, 24), sanctifies (Heb. 10:8-10), saves (Titus 3:4-7), empowers (1 Peter 1:3-5; Phil. 4:13), perfects (Jude 24; Heb. 13:20, 21). In Christ, man believes (John 3:16; Heb. 11:6), confesses (1 John 1:9; Rom. 10:8-10), yields (chap. 6:13), strives (Phil. 1:27), fights (1 Tim. 6:11, 12; 1 Cor. 9;24-27), works (Rom. 2:13; James 1:22; 2:14-17), overcomes (1 John 5:4, 5; Rev. 21:7), conquers (Rom. 8:35-39). Even as an inordinate emphasis upon the human or the divine distorts one's Christology, just so an inordinate emphasis upon the human or the divine distorts one's soteriology.

Without the cross there would be no resurrection, but without the resurrection the cross would only memorialize a wasteful martyrdom. Without the cross there would be no priestly ministry of Christ in heaven, but without Christ's priestly ministry, salvation at the cross would be only forensic. Without the cross there would be no second coming of Christ, but without Christ's second coming all of the above would only inform a Stoic mysticism or a hollow Christian Gnosticism.

Christians do not have immortal souls that will go to heaven when they die. The only way they become immortal is when the Lord returns and immortality is bestowed upon the resurrected and translated saints (1 Cor. 15:51-55). This is why Christians look up, as well as back. They are most interested in the work of a living Lord, because therein is their hope of a coming Lord. " 'Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near'" (Luke 21:28).

The cross, the throne of grace, the return of Jesus—three points of reference in the gospel that are all-sufficient in their context and all made effectual because He lives. Because he lives, I too shall live forever and forever and forever in a world in which righteousness dwells—no more inflation, no more deficits, no more unemployment, no more terrorism, no more war, no more oppression, no more dehumanizing discrimination, no more death, no more sorrow, no more crying. Saved at last, saved at last, saved at last! Hallelujah!

Notes:

* All Scripture references are quoted
from the Revised Standard Version of
the Bible, copyrighted 1946, 1952 ©
1971, 1973.

 

 

 

 


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Steven P. Vitrano, Ph.D., is chairman of the Department of Church and Ministry, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University.

March 1983

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