Friday, June 27, 2008

There is Power in the Blood

As Christians, we cherish the theological truth of the power in Jesus' blood. Jesus' death on the cross is easily the center of Christianity. The worship song "There is power in the blood" articulates this notion, that there is power in Jesus' blood, "wonder working power". A few months ago, it struck me while spending some time in thought that Jesus' sacrifice rightly should stand as our center focus. After all, it was his blood that established the new covenant, it is by his blood that we will stand justified before God, and it is by his blood that God's plan for redeeming humanity is accomplished. What struck me though was that I could not think of any Biblical significance to the resurrection.

Paul certainly believes the resurrection is core, as he is willing to say that his entire ministry is in vain and his and the church's faith is in vain if Christ didn't actually rise from the dead, (1 Cor. 15:14). So the resurrection is certainly important, if for anything as a demonstration of God's power, and Christ's living presence today. But theologically, is this the entirety of its significance?

One might chime in at this point that in fact there is more, because the resurrection proves Jesus' deity. But the New Testament authors consistently attribute the power of Jesus' resurrection to the Father, and though theologically we could add a note here about the Trinity, this role / distinction should not be removed. However, there is in fact a lot more significance to the resurrection. There is a very good and solid theological basis for Paul's strong words about the importance of Jesus' resurrection. We must first begin by defining the significance of resurrection in a Biblical framework.

First, resurrection is most importantly a resurrection to life. This mostly goes without saying, but it cannot be overstressed. Man's fall into sin brought death. This curse was not only manifest itself in man dying (spiritually and likely physically Gen 3:19), but also all of creation suffered a curse. The undoing of this death obviously would need to be brought about by a new infusion of life. Paul says as much in Romans 5, that Jesus' death undid our enmity with God, but it is by his life that we are saved.

So, resurrection means new life. This infusion of life and restoration can be seen in the Old Testament prophets, (such as Jeremiah's stone of flesh). 1 Peter also picks up on this theme, that we are a part of a new creation, we have new life in salvation. This is seen again and again throughout the New Testament.

As Christians, I think we reduce Christianity to simply dealing with the problem of sin. We stress that Jesus not only paid the debt, but also stands in our place before God, so that God only sees Jesus' righteousness. In a more Pauline vein, we are redeemed from enslavement to sin and freed to live righteously to please our Father. Salvation is not just about having our debt of sin paid. In fact, I think that the issue of sin is actually secondary.

Sin is what brought our death and enslavement, and thus it has to be dealt with. But God's purpose was not just to pay a debt. His goal was redemption. The reason the Biblical narrative begins and ends with Eden is because Eden is God's goal. A righteous and pure human race that has an unhindered relationship with God. More than this, God wanted a restoration of all creation. New Creation is primarily about humanity, but Paul and John both see this applying to all of creation. Dealing with the debt of sin does not transform. Death is the problem, and it was caused by sin. So sin must be dealt with, but Jesus' sacrifice does not bring life, it only deals with the problem of sin. Of course we will admit that God makes us righteous, but it often seems like the details are averted to Sanctification, and then glossed over. How does God want to make us righteous?

The solution is new life, new creation. God wants to remove our slavery to sin by Christ's death, and pay our debt. But it is by the power of his resurrection that he wants to transform us. Jesus' resurrection is the first fruits of God's promised new creation. This is not only spiritual life, but physical life. New life means an undoing of physical death and decay. Our new bodies will not suffer the same ills as today, and thus Paul can say that Jesus' resurrection is the firstfruits of a wider physical resurrection of those already dead, (1 Cor. 15:20). We cannot relegate God's salvation only to our spiritual lives, it must encompass all of creation because God's kingdom is repeatedly couched in such language throughout scripture. One has a hard time studying John's theological of life and its biblical background to miss this. In the same line of thinking, Jesus' death brought the New Covenant, but the purpose of covenant is to bring life.

Many passages speak of our present experience of this new life. We are both freed from sin and giving this new life. Of course it is natural to expect this to be progressive in this already/not yet period. And naturally our hope is looking forward to its finality, when our transformation is completed (Christ's return and judgment).

So we need to celebrate Jesus' resurrection just as much if not more than his death. His death was necessary, but our only hope lies with his life. We are not slaves to sin, and we are new creations with new life. It is then fitting to say (as is often said in scripture) that we need to live a life that reflects this reality. Living a contrary life either points to the illegitimacy of what we proclaim (as in, one has not really experienced new life) or something very dangerous: one has experienced new life, but is choosing to live by his old life. I think it is in this light that we can see a clear application of the message of Hebrews: Jesus is far greater than anything we formerly had, so we need to press on and hold firmly to the faith we profess.

No comments: