And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. - 1 Corinthians 15:17 (ESV)
The significance of Christ's resurrection cannot be overstated. It is the sine qua non ("without which not") of Christianity. Without it, Paul makes clear, faith in Christ is futile. The word translated "futile" is translated sometimes as "vain" or "worthless". Compare 1 Corinthians 3:20 (futile thoughts, Titus 3:9 (worthless arguments), James 1:26 (worthless religion), or 1 Peter 1:18 (futile ways).
Why the Resurrection Matters
Why is Christianity so dependent on a risen Christ? The reasons are many. If Christ is still dead, Paul says, then we are still in our sins (1 Cor. 15:17). If Christ is not raised, then he was wrong in his predictions that he would be raised again. And if he is wrong about this, what else is he wrong about? If Christ is not raised, then there is no guarantee that we will be raised.
Among the many reasons the resurrection of Christ is crucial for Christianity, this last one may be the most fundamental. If there is no resurrection for Christ, what hope can there be for us? Paul makes the resurrection of Christ the core of his hope for the future (Phil. 3:10-11). If there is no past resurrection for Christ, there can be no hope of a future resurrection for us.
If there is no resurrection of Christ, there is, at bottom, no hope of death being defeated. The notion that death is ultimate and irrevocable, while forming the basis of the secular worldview, is antithetical to Christianity. In short, if there is no resurrection, then there is no Christianity. And if there is no Christianity, then there is no point in living like a Christian. To live like a Christian when there is no resurrection is like preparing your home to receive Martians that don't exist and will never show up for dinner. But if the resurrection is real, then everything is different, and nothing can be the same.
Why is this so? How does the resurrection of Christ 2000 years ago change the way I live now? It may be good to answer this in terms of perspective. The resurrection of Christ 2000 years ago shapes my vision of the future. Christ's resurrection is the great event in the past that directs the events toward which I now live.
The fact is that Christ's resurrection guarantees so much. It means that there is hope that Christ will return. It means that one day I too can be raised. It means that death is not ultimate. The resurrection of Christ, in short, is the very heartbeat of the Christian hope. And where there is hope, there is fuel enough to live for something.
Hope is no small thing. Hope is a confidence and reassurance that things will turn out ok even though they appear dark now. To be hopeless is like being a deflated basketball. It may retain its general shape and look, but it can't do what it's made for.
The Implications of the Resurrection
The resurrection of Christ is an event in the past that shapes my expectations for the future. In the resurrection, Christ proved that he is the door to eternal life, and I can live in that direction.
In this sense, the resurrection of Christ sets the course of my life for me. I live, like Paul, in such a way that by any means I might attain to the resurrection of the dead. This also means that I live my life with death in mind, yet not with death in mind as the end.
This is a fundamental change. Many of us think of life as something to be lived as well as possible until death. But the resurrection of Christ makes us think of life as something to be lived in anticipation of life after death. For many, this life is primary. Because of the resurrection, this life is a precursor to the one to come. This life is a staging ground for the next. This life is temporary, that one is eternal. And Christ's resurrection joins the two together.
Here is a staggering thought: the resurrection of Christ means that Christ is alive today. And as the Christ was born a man, so he died a man. And as he died a man, so he was resurrected a man. And as he was resurrected a man, so he lives as a man today. Although the mystical aspects of Christ's nature(s) and relationship to us are indeed beyond our comprehension, I fear that too often we allow the mystical aspects to overshadow the clear ones.
There are many implications tied to the resurrection of Christ. One of them is that the fact that Christ is not here means that wherever he is, it is a physical place. It must be, or Christ's body could not be there. There have been nasty rumors running around for millennia that claim that heaven is a purely spiritual place that is unreachable and unable to be experienced by physical beings. Jesus would beg to differ.
It is a staggering thought that Jesus is physically in heaven even now. It runs counter to what we tend to think about the nature of heaven as a spiritual place, yet the resurrection of Christ demands that it be a place where physical people can be. And not only Jesus, but we also know that Enoch and Elijah at least are there in their physical bodies.
All the preceding demonstrates that the resurrection of Christ is, in so many ways, what makes Christianity Christian. The resurrection of Christ is the beating heartbeat of Christianity because the hope of our resurrection is at the core of our faith. The resurrection shapes our hope for the future, and so we live on as Christians not so much because of what happened in the past, but because of what it means for our future.