1 Corinthians 15:12-18 (paraphrase) – Christ is resurrected, therefore there is resurrection of all dead. If there is no resurrection of the dead, then it negates Christ’s resurrection, which negates all Paul has preached along with faith itself. This would also make the apostles false witnesses, since they had testified that God has raised Christ from the dead. If Christ has not risen, then our faith means nothing–of no effect, for we are still in sin. And those who have believed in Christ and gone before us are “perished.”
Paul’s argument reaffirms the utmost importance of Christ’s resurrection. Without this fact, our faith would be “empty.” The gospel they preach would be dead. A dead gospel–it only has meaning and life with the Christ who has risen with it!
Interesting to note how the denial of Christ’s resurrection does not mean denial of sin or hell. If Christ did not rise again, it doesn’t negate the reality of sin (offenses committed against God) and its consequence or the afterlife. It would mean that we’d still be lacking the proper atonement, or payment, for the debt that sin has taxed on the soul. There is a subtle distinction made here between heaven/hell and Christ. Paul is preaching to an audience who believes in the reality of sin and the afterlife but struggle with the reality and significance of Christ and his resurrection. In other words, these people are not agnostics or atheists, but people with bad or messy theology.
Verse 19: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” The ESV and NASB versions say we are “most to be pitied.” What a resounding statement! This is the emphatic conclusion of Paul’s argument. In other words, if what Paul has preached about the afterlife and Christ’s resurrection is not real, then all those who believe would carry on the saddest existence. I think about all the Christians who suffer for this “idea,” of Paul himself who has been beaten, whipped, tortured, mocked, persecuted, abandoned, and opposed all for the sake of this belief. He had forsaken his once highly-enviable life with respect and social status in exchange for the most egregious suffering…for what?
If Christ has not died for our sins, did not rise from the dead (proving his power over sin and death), did not ascend into heaven afterward, then Paul and all other Christians are living on delusion. He calls it empty faith. A belief with to be found holding nothing inside. Paul, of all men, would be the one to be most pitied.
But Christ rose triumphantly as God’s mighty pen to cross out that big IF. Instead, we who believe in Christ are marked by his righteousness, declared victorious over sin here and in the afterlife. Now we have hope. And as such, we of all men are to be the most thankful.
2 Corinthians 4:17 – “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”