“He is risen!” The angel’s words thrill the heart and soul. Jesus, crucified and buried, seemingly defeated, is victorious over death. He is the Christ, the Son of God. He is risen. He is living. He is reigning at the right hand of God. The resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us confidence God has forgiven us. Through the resurrected Jesus Christ we know God is powerful, the Almighty God. We know God will fully restore and reconcile his creation to himself, for Jesus is risen. Jesus is risen. He is living. He is coming again. We are assured of our salvation and eternal life. When we face death, the death of our loved ones or our own death, our hope, comfort, and strength are in the resurrection of Christ and the promised resurrection of his people. When we remember the resurrection of Jesus, most often our eyes are on the future, on life after death. The resurrection of Christ, however, is not simply about our resurrection yet to come. The resurrection of Christ is about our resurrection already experienced. Notice the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 6:3-13.
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death…” (Romans 6:3-4a). I did not fully understand this when I was baptized into Christ. Now I understand Paul to be saying to the Christians in Rome, to us Christians today, when we come to Christ in faith and are baptized there is more happening than the physical act of baptism. In baptism, Paul reminds us, we were participants with Jesus in his death. We died with Christ. Paul will explain.
“In order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:4b-5). We were baptized through faith in Jesus as the Christ, himself crucified and resurrected. “Having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12). When we were baptized we placed faith in God. We trusted in his powerful working by which he raised Jesus from the dead. We trusted in the truth of the resurrection of Jesus. Dying with Christ, buried with Christ, united with him in his death and burial, when we physically rose out of that watery grave, more happened than the physical act. By the power with which God raised Christ, God raised us with Christ to new life, a resurrection like that of Christ to walking, living, in newness of life.
“We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin” (Romans 6:6-7). United with Christ in his death, we were crucified with him. Our old self was crucified with him, so that sin might be emptied of its hold over us. We have been freed to live a resurrected, new, and transformed life. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live” (Galatians 2:20).
“Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:8-11). “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses” (Colossians 2:13). Death in Christ is death to sin, death to living sin. Resurrection with Christ is resurrection to new life, to living to God in Christ Jesus. We were dead in sin, separated from God. Through faith in Christ, by the power and grace of God in Christ we were raised from that death, forgiven, and transformed.
This is more than belief in doctrine. This is the reality of our experience with Christ. By the power with which he raised Christ, by the riches of his grace and mercy, God raised me and you from death. He raised us from the death we knew in our sins. With Christ we were raised by God to life, a new life, a new self, a new creation, a transformed life.
Two other images used of salvation carry the same message of being transformed, of newness, and of the old passed away. One of those images is that of a new creation, created by God. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The picture is not that of the old self left as it is but with the slate wiped clean. Rather it is the picture of a new self, a new creation, a transformation that takes place by the grace of God through faith in Christ. It is a transformation, Paul reminds the Roman Christians and us, identified with being buried with Christ in baptism.
The other image is new birth, being born again, born from above. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). The image is not an adult, forgiven, now needing to try harder to be good. It is the image of a new born baby, a new life, a new self, born of God, transformed.
All too often after that initial expression of faith in Christ and commitment to him, confessing “Jesus is the Son of God who died for me,” and being baptized, people find it all too easy to get the idea there really isn’t that much more to do. The result often is “a big gap in their vision of what being a Christian is all about. It’s as though they were standing on one side of a deep, wide river, looking across to the further bank. On this bank you declare your faith. On the opposite bank is the ultimate result–final salvation itself. But what are people supposed to do in the meantime? Simply stand here and wait?”1
We might respond, “While waiting to cross the Jordan to the other side, there is church attendance. Of course there is trying to keep our noses clean and being a good solid citizen.” The image of a clean slate and now the effort to keep it clean. Being raised with Christ, a new life, a new creation, a new birth, present a more dramatic picture of transformation.
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (Romans 6:11-13). Paul is not calling us to a new set of rules, starting over with a clean slate, and seeking to do better this time with a better set of rules. New self, new creation, resurrection with Christ to new life, are about who we are within, our very character, being transformed. Transformation, a metamorphosis, like the ugly caterpillar transformed into a beautiful butterfly. The mind, the heart, and thus life, created in the image of Christ with a new way of looking at life, a new way of living life. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Raised from death to life, we are to give our members, that is our hearts, minds, hands, feet, every part of our bodies to living as those alive in God through Christ, living righteousness.
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ is God” (Colossians 3:1-3). “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24).
Raised with Christ to life hidden with God we are transformed in heart, mind, and life. Through Christ and by his Spirit, God created each of us with a new self after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Transformed, resurrected to life in Christ, we are to think and live toward others with the mind and heart of Christ. The heart of Christ led him to come in the flesh and die on the cross for those who were sinful, weak, and ungodly–you and me. As Paul goes on to urge in Colossians 3 those things that are above, that are part of the character of those raised with Christ, include a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, and love like that of Christ. The Spirit of Christ produces within the new self, within the resurrected and transformed life, the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Final and full resurrection of our physical bodies, transformed for eternity, is yet to happen when Christ returns. The experience of resurrection, however, is not only in the future. The experience of all who in faith are united with Christ in his death are united with Christ in his resurrection now! We have been raised with Christ to new life. Resurrected we have been transformed, renewed, and created after the image of God. In Christ, through his Spirit, God is restoring us to the image God meant for us to have in the very beginning. In true righteousness and holiness of heart, mind, soul, and life, we are being created after the image of our Creator. Raised with Christ we have a new life, a new self. We are a new creation. A new birth, born by the will of God in Jesus Christ, is our experience.
The image of a clean slate can easily fall into our thinking of our lives, “I really was not bad. Growing up in church I have always believed and sought to be good. When I was baptized nothing really changed except being able to partake of the Lord’s Supper and some other things I couldn’t participate in before. I still go to church as before I was baptized. God forgave me. He cleaned the slate. Now I have a fresh start. Hopefully I will do better in obeying him now.” Unless we were “despicable sinners” it is hard to grasp our need for, let alone the fact of, a transformation in Christ, a resurrection to a new life. The point Paul makes is that resurrection from the death of sin to life in Christ, transformation, is exactly what we all need.
Resurrection, transformation, is our experience in Christ! “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20) My life, your life, as children of God, as disciples of Christ, as Christians, are resurrection lives. Resurrected in Christ our lives are to be lived now as we will live in eternity. We are not to wait until eternity to live in the righteousness and holiness of God. God is creating us in the image of Christ now. He is restoring us to the image he created humankind to live. We are to live in the image of Christ. We are to live as he has created us anew to live, as God has raised us with Christ to live.
1N. T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters (New York: HarperOne, 2010), 3.