The Resurrection

On Sunday I preached on the resurrection*. As I was preparing for it I was very stirred by some things that Richard Gaffin wrote in his "Redemption and Resurrection: An exercise in biblical-systematic theology". I am captivated by the idea that the resurrection is a fragment of the future that has invaded the present reality. It is our very first sight of that awsome new creation that one day will rise from the ashes of the present heavens and earth.

Here are some quotes (and please don't be put off by the academic language:

In fact, as much as any, it [the resurrection] is... the dawn of the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15), the arrival of the age to come (Rom. 12:2; Gal. 1:4). It is not an isolated event in the past, but, in having occurred in the past, it belongs to the future consummation and from that future has entered history.

This is interesting and exciting, if somewhat abstract, but Gaffin really begins to shine in the last section when he starts to talk about how this applies to us.

However while the Reformation and its children have grasped, at least intuitively, the eschatological thrust of the gospel for justification, that is not nearly the case for sanctification and the work of the Spirit. Undeniable is a tendency, at least in practice, to separate or even polarise justification and sanctification. Justification, on the one hand, is seen as what God does, once for all and perfectly; sanctification, on the other hand, is what the believer does, imperfectly. Sanctification is viewed as the response of the believer, an expression of gratitude from our side for salvation defined in terms of justification and the forgiveness of sins - usually with an emphasis on the inadequate and even impoverished quality of the gratitude expressed.

When you hear a Reformed scholar of the stature of Gaffin criticising the Reformation tradition, you know there must be an unusually important reason. And he states it in the next paragraph:

The intention of such an emphasis is no doubt to safeguard the totally gratuitous character of justification. But church history has made all too evident that the apparently inevitable outcome of such an emphasis is the rise of moralism, the reintroduction into the Christian life of a refined works-principle, more or less divorced from the faith that justifies and eventually leaving no room for that faith. What is resolutely rejected at the front door of justification comes in through the back door of sanctification and takes over the whole house.

So it is all about GRACE. Preach it Dick! He concludes:

It stands under the apostolic promise that ‘He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 1:6, NASB). Sanctification, no less than justification, is God’s work. In the NT there is no more basic perspective on sanctification and renewal than that expressed in Romans 6: It is a continual ‘living to God’ (v. 11) of those who are ‘alive from the dead’ (v. 13).

However, there is one place I have to respectfully disagree with Dr. Gaffin. In Part IV-4 he argues that A current widespread misperception notwithstanding, the NT does not teach that spiritual gifts, especially miraculous gifts such as prophecy, tongues, and healing, belong to realised eschatology. (i.e. they are part of the age to come). Gaffin points out that Paul tells us in 1 Cor 13 that these gifts will cease, and so he argues that they are therefore part of this present order, not of the age to come.

I would argue that precisely the opposite is true. The supernatural gifts are themselves fragments of heaven, deposits of the Spirit. Heaven is perfect healing, so present healings are small pieces of heaven enjoyed now. In heaven we will have perfect communion with the Lord, so the prophetic gifts are foretastes of the age to come.

To say that supernatural gifts belong to this age, not the age to come is to misunderstand the reason for their ceasing. They will cease precisely because they do belong to the age to come in the way a shadow belongs to the reality, and their passing away will not take the form of diminishing to nothing, but by being replaced by their perfect equivalents.

Paul's argument in 1 Cor 13 is that experiences of these limited fragments of heaven by individuals will cease when the full reality comes, but he does not deny that they belong to the eschaton. (His argument is that individual posession of these gifts will end, whereas this is not the case with love.)

In fact, it is the Christ who became the life-giving Spirit is the one who then functions in this mode by showering his church with supernatural giftings (Eph 4). We only have these gifts because of the resurrection!

Gaffin's very last point is excellent and deals with suffering. It is as we take risks for Christ in this life that we experience many "little resurrections" as the power that raised Jesus from the dead works in us. As Gaffin puts it:

Believers suffer, not in spite of or even alongside the fact that they share in Christ’s resurrection, but just because they are raised up and seated with him in heaven (Eph. 2:5-6).

* The message isn't online because the battery in the recorder ran out just before the end. However, you can read and hear the sermon on the resurrection that Adrian Warnock preached on the same day and you will hear many of the same themes that I preached.