What Difference Does the Resurrection Make? (Romans 8:5-11)
By Thomas R. Schreiner–
What difference does it make that Jesus was raised from the dead? Someone might say, “I don’t care that Jesus was raised from the dead. What interests me is real life today, not whether some man came back to life 2,000 years ago. After all, all kinds of strange things have happened in history, but they don’t really matter if they don’t affect my everyday life. For instance, it is interesting that a man landed on the moon in 1969, but it really isn’t a big deal. My life would be pretty much the same whether man walked on the moon or not. And I think the same is true of the resurrection.” Now what can we say in response to this? The first thing to say is that if the resurrection of Jesus doesn’t affect our everyday life, then it doesn’t matter. If the resurrection of Jesus is just a historical fact that makes no difference in real life, we shouldn’t celebrate it today.
Do you remember who won the World Series in baseball last year? I was terribly interested when it happened, but just this week when I tried to remember who won I could not recall who it was. I tried and tried to think of it but couldn’t. If the resurrection is a historical fact like the World Series, we can forget about it. But Romans 8:5-11 teaches us is that the death and resurrection of Jesus do affect our everyday life. In fact, they are the most important events that ever happened in history.
The Resurrection Determines How You Think
I see three reasons why the resurrection matters. First, the resurrection matters because it determines the way you think. What you think about every week, every day, every minute is affected by the resurrection. Paul tells us in Romans 8:5 that those who live according to the flesh think on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit think on the things of the Spirit. Those who don’t have resurrection life think on the things of the flesh. That means they think about the things of the world. For some people it means that they think about sex all the time. Maybe they are addicted to pornography, go to strip clubs, and have sex even though they are unmarried. Or maybe they dream about the comforts of life, about getting rich. Life is about vacations, eating out at nice restaurants, living in a beautiful house, and a nice neighborhood. Perhaps they dream about retirement when they can do what they want to do all the time. All these thoughts about riches and comfort lack one thing: God. God never or rarely enters their thoughts. Or maybe the goal of life is to be a success. Whatever you do, you are going to be the best, or you are going to be very good. What motivates you in your drive for success may be comfort, or perhaps it is praise from other people. How good and satisfying and wonderful it is to be praised and honored by others.
On the other hand, those who know the resurrection life of Christ think on the things of the Spirit. They are not perfect. They still sin. But the desire of their heart is to glorify God with their lives. They often think that what their friends need most is to know Jesus as Savior and Lord. They delight in God and in Jesus Christ. They find worshiping him satisfying and even thrilling. They don’t believe the Christian life is mainly about rules, but about loving and knowing God. It is sort of like when you first fall in love. When I first fell in love with Diane, my wife, I was head over heels for her. I wanted to be with her all the time. I wanted to see her every night. We went to the beach together, played Frisbee together, walked together, talked together, went to movies together, etc. Now I am not saying that thinking on the things of the Spirit means we are on a spiritual high all the time, but it is about being in love with Jesus. Those who belong to Jesus think about what is lovely and true and good and beautiful.
The Resurrection Determines What You Do
Second, the resurrection matters because it determines what you do. It doesn’t only determine what you think but what you do. Paul says in these verses that the mind of the flesh, the non-Christian doesn’t submit to God’s law. The unbeliever doesn’t obey God’s commands. Indeed, Paul goes further. He says that unbelievers can’t do what God commands. Isn’t that an amazing and stunning thought? Those who don’t have the Holy Spirit, those who are unbelievers, are enslaved to sin. They can’t obey because they lack resurrection life.
Now the point here isn’t that unbelievers never do anything nice. Paul isn’t saying that unbelievers always do the most evil thing possible. They may be nice to their parents or children or friends in a lot of ways. But even in their niceness they are selfish. Even their supposedly good things are done for their praise instead of God’s. Some people try to be nice, but they want to be nice so people will like them and approve of them and praise them. Now let me say an honest word to unbelievers: If the truth were to be told, there is much more evil in you than you would ever admit in public. You have secret sins that would embarrass you if they were known. Imagine this: imagine a movie screen suddenly came down and you were on the screen. And everyone was able to watch the evil you have done in your life. People were able to see you get angry or commit sexual sin or the thoughts in your heart were open for all to see. People could read your thoughts, and they saw the jealousy you felt when someone else was honored instead of you. The bitterness and resentment you felt would shock even your friends. Now we as believers have just as much to be embarrassed about. We have practiced much evil as well, but we have found forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
I read an interesting story about those who cheat on their taxes. The average tax cheat is male, single, and under 45 years old. Most tax cheaters sin in other ways too. They tend to keep wrong change when it is given to them. They wear an outfit once and then return it because they don’t want to buy it. But they want the benefit of wearing it for free. They file false insurance claims and lie about seeing something bad in their food to get a free meal. But the most interesting thing about tax cheats is that they still think they are morally superior to others. They think they are better than other people and should be treated as special. These tax cheats are just like you and just like me. How easy it is for me to sin and to practice evil, and then claim that I am really good. If you don’t have resurrection life, you live for your own glory and praise instead of God’s. You worship the creature rather than the creator. You worship yourself instead of Christ. Those who have resurrection life (those who are Christians) aren’t perfect. We still sin, but we have the Holy Spirit now. And we obey God in a new way, even if not perfectly. When we don’t obey him, we confess our sins and lament about the evil in our lives. We are grieved because we want to please our Lord and Savior, the one who loved us so. We turn to Christ for forgiveness and cleansing. But we are also empowered to live in a new way. Our motive is truly to glorify God. We want others to become Christians because it brings glory to God.
Unbeliever: You may think believers don’t love you because they are always telling you need to repent and be saved. But they tell you that because they do love you. Believers live pure lives sexually (or at least they should!) because they want to glorify God with their bodies. They enjoy the good gifts of this world, but they want to use their wealth to honor God. They give generously to causes that advance the gospel. They use their homes for Bible studies, not places where people party and get drunk. They meet with other Christians to pray and to sing because they love God now.
The Resurrection is a Matter of Life and Death
Third, the resurrection matters because those who don’t have resurrection life will die and be destroyed forever. The apostle Paul says in Romans 8:6 that those who set their minds on the flesh will experience death, but those follow the Spirit have life and peace. We will all die, but the death Paul talks about here is eternal death. In other words, eternal death is the last judgment, the lake of fire, hell. Jesus often spoke of hell. He said that there the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. The book of Revelation says that those who go to hell will suffer eternal torment. And who will go to hell? Those who are in the flesh. Those who don’t have resurrection life. Those who don’t have the Holy Spirit. We read in v. 9, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” If the Holy Spirit doesn’t indwell you, if you don’t have the Holy Spirit, then you will die. On the other hand, if the Spirit of Christ lives in you, then you will live. You will enjoy life and peace forever.
All of us want life and peace and joy. And we want it forever. Vacations can be a little bit of heaven. I remember a few years ago on spring break that I was tired and exhausted from work, and we went to Lake Barkley in the western half of the state, and took a boat out on the water and took hikes in the woods. How peaceful and beautiful and refreshing those times were to my soul. One of the things God uses to restore my soul is experiencing the beauty of the world God has made. And experiences like that anticipate heaven. The pressures, stresses, and suffering of life will be gone. And we will enjoy life and peace, and we will enjoy our God forever and ever. We will see his face. We will see the King in his beauty.
And we will have new bodies then. We read in Romans 8:10 that even if we are Christians our bodies are “dead because of sin.” We are dying. Our bodies are wearing out. Think of the oldest person you know. Are they full of wrinkles, weak, and very old looking? Well, if you live long enough, that’s your future, that’s your destiny! Your body is not going to improve but decline. It improves for a few short years when you are young, but then it is all downhill. Why do our bodies become weak? Why do we get sick? Why do we get wrinkles? Why do we die? Paul tells us that it is because of sin. Our bodies are mortal and die because we are sinners and have failed to please God.
Now if you are a Christian, your mortal body is not the whole story. The Spirit in you is life because of righteousness. Now that is a strange phrase. The Spirit is life because of righteousness. What does Paul mean by this? He means that we are righteous because we belong to Christ. And so we have the promise of v. 11 that we will be raised from the dead. Here is where the resurrection of Jesus comes in. The same God who raised Jesus from the dead will raise us from the dead too. If we have the Holy Spirit, if we are Christians, then we will enjoy life and peace forever and ever. Our bodies will be changed. We will be raised from the dead. And we will live with Jesus forever. But this life is only for those who are righteous. It is only for those who have the Holy Spirit. And how do we become righteous? How do we get the Holy Spirit? How do we experience this resurrection life? Not on account of our goodness. Paul has already said that we can’t please God, that we can’t obey him. Our sins separate us from God. So, we aren’t righteous because of our own goodness. None of us can earn such life by obeying since God demands perfection. We need the righteousness and goodness of another.
And this is where Jesus Christ comes in. He always did the Father’s will. Jesus said, “I always do what pleases the Father.” He was the only perfect human being. And yet Jesus was crucified on a cross and suffered. Why did he suffer? Because of his great love for human beings. For our sake and for our salvation he bore our sins on the tree. The punishment we deserved was poured out on him. He absorbed the wrath of God that we should have experienced. But that wasn’t the end of the story. God was pleased with his Son’s obedience and raised him from the dead, showing that the sacrifice on our behalf was accepted. If we trust in him, if we believe in him, if we give our lives to him, then we become his children. We put our lives in his hands, and he gives us his righteousness and his life. And because he lives, we will live, not just for a few years, but forever and ever and ever. And when we see Jesus on the day of our resurrection, we will understand in a way that we don’t now, why God made us. For then we will see the King in his beauty.
Thomas Schreiner joined the Southern Seminary faculty in 1997 after serving 11 years on the faculty at Bethel Theological Seminary. He also taught New Testament at Azusa Pacific University. Dr. Schreiner, a Pauline scholar, is the author or editor of several books including, Romans, in the Baker Exegetical Commentary Series on the New Testament; Interpreting the Pauline Epistles; The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law; The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance; Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives of Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace, co-edited with Bruce A. Ware; Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of I Timothy 2:9-15; Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology, 1 and 2 Peter, Jude, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ, Magnifying God in Christ: A Summary of New Testament Theology, and Galatians.
Read blog posts by Thomas Schreiner here.