How Does the Doctrine of the Bodily Resurrection Shape the Life of the Local Church?
Biblical doctrine is not just for the head but for the heart, for daily life as a disciple of Jesus. So it is, too, with the doctrine of bodily resurrection. Thinking about the future will help us here and now. In local churches that are pursuing faithfulness to Christ, we will want to connect the importance of sound doctrine to the lives of our church members.
How, then, does the doctrine of bodily resurrection shape the life of the local church? Let’s reflect on four ways.
Preparing to Die
First, the doctrine of the bodily resurrection confronts us with the reality of death. Our local churches are filled with people heading toward the grave. Memorial services are held for the young and old. By giving attention to the Bible’s teaching on the bodily resurrection, local churches face the truth that our earthly lives will come to an end. After all, something won’t rise unless it has first died. The writer of Ecclesiastes is right: “All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return” (Eccl. 3:20).Humans have an invincibility problem, especially when we’re young. Click To Tweet
Humans have an invincibility problem, especially when we’re young. We know people die, but we don’t imagine it will one day be true of us. Facing the truth of our mortality will sober our minds, and we need that effect often. A responsibility for local churches is preparing people to die. Our sermons and Bible studies, our catechisms and songs, must operate from an awareness of our perishable frame.
As people reflect on their coming death, fear is a normal and understandable response. People fear the fact of death, the process of death, the timing of death, and what their death will mean for those left behind. By teaching about the bodily resurrection, churches are arming and aiding their members who may be tempted to fear what is to come. Death is the end of earthly life, but local churches must preach and teach and exhort one another with the good news that earthly death will end as well.
Pointing Beyond Disembodiment
Second, the doctrine of the bodily resurrection aims our hope beyond the disembodiment of heaven. What are some popular conceptions about the life to come? Playing harps on clouds, becoming angels with wings, living forever away from this creation, or dwelling in some kind of ghostly or ethereal existence. These notions aren’t just believed by people outside the church. These are common notions among church attenders. Local churches have a responsibility to educate their people about what exactly our future hope entails.A disembodied existence in heaven is the intermediate state, which means our disembodiment is temporal. We have a hope that the intermediate state cannot fulfill. Click To Tweet
Disembodiment is not the best thing about what is to come. At death, the believer goes to heaven. Death disrupts the union of soul and body. Paul talks about the earthly body as a tent that we will set aside at death, and while we are away from the body we are at home with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:1, 8). A disembodied existence in heaven is the intermediate state, which means our disembodiment is temporal. We have a hope that the intermediate state cannot fulfill.
By teaching the doctrine of the bodily resurrection, local churches will be casting a more accurate vision of future life. Better than going away to heaven is being raised to dwell forever with the Lord in a new creation. The new creation will be material, not just spiritual, so a life of embodied immortality fits with the future consummation. John wrote in Revelation that the Lord “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). Disembodied life in heaven will be eclipsed by immortal physical life at the bodily resurrection.
Not Losing Heart
Third, the doctrine of the bodily resurrection strengthens our perseverance through hardship. The righteous suffer. The true gospel does not promise a life free of trials. The people of God face persecution, but they also face the bodily sufferings and circumstances that are evidence of a groaning creation. The world of Genesis 1 and 2 has been affected by what took place in Genesis 3. Believers are living in a creation that God “subjected to futility” (Rom. 8:20).In light of the bodily glory to come, our present sufferings pale in comparison. Click To Tweet
Paul says we are like jars of clay (2 Cor. 4:7). We are vulnerable and breakable, not untouchable and invincible. Because we will experience an array of sufferings, we can lose heart. Certain trials can be devastating and discouraging. Certain hardships aren’t brief but can last many seasons and years. When Paul encouraged the Corinthians, he said that “he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence” (2 Cor. 4:14).
In light of the bodily glory to come, our present sufferings pale in comparison. “So we do not lose heart,” Paul said. “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:16-17). This eternal weight of glory is resurrection glory. Our churches have sufferers, and sufferers need hope. The hope of bodily resurrection is not irrelevant or powerless. This hope can strengthen the discouraged. It can help us persevere in the race set before us. As D. A. Carson once said, “I’m not suffering from anything that a good resurrection can’t fix.”
Looking Back and Ahead
Fourth, the doctrine of the bodily resurrection connects us to the creeds of history. This historical perspective is valuable because we are reminded that we confess what the saints throughout the ages have confessed. In the Apostles’ Creed, we say, “I believe in…the resurrection of the body.” From the Nicene Creed: “We look for the resurrection of the dead.” The life of the local church is strengthened as we look to the faithful teaching and creeds in the history of God’s people.Along with speaking the trinitarian and christological parts of the creeds, believers should be eager to corporately affirm the return of Christ who will raise the dead. Click To Tweet
Part of looking ahead with hope, therefore, will involve looking back to learn and confess. Believers are anchored between past instruction and future glory. By confessing the doctrine of resurrection, we are proclaiming the same hope that sustained and encouraged ancient sufferers. Along with speaking the trinitarian and christological parts of the creeds, believers should be eager to corporately affirm the return of Christ who will raise the dead.
If the past couple millennia of church history have included the confidence in the resurrection of the body, then local churches will be wise and humble to confess the same. This historical connection reiterates that the doctrine of bodily resurrection is not peripheral but crucial. We confess that Jesus has been raised from the dead and that he is the firstfruits of what will happen to us. Growing as disciples in faithfulness to Christ, we will be those who “look for the resurrection of the dead.” We actively wait and hope for it. When all is said and done, the bodily risen Jesus will have a bodily risen people.