Resurrection and Redemption Review

April 4, 2012

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Then and Now

How does an epoch-changing event that happened over 2,000 years ago radically affect the life of a believer? Or, you may be asking, does it affect us? We can imagine that even 1st century Christians probably had the same question, substituting “2,000” with “2”, “20”, etc.

Explaining what Paul says regarding the contours of redemption and salvation, and specifically how the resurrection fits into that picture, is Richard Gaffin’s purpose in Resurrection and Redemption. It’s a challenging read, and the reader should know before cracking this book that it will take him or her through some deep theological waters. (Originally this book was Gaffin’s dissertation at Westminster Theological Seminary.)

Methodological Considerations

The book is divided into three parts, the first of which briefly deals with methodological considerations. Gaffin takes many of his methodological cues from a generally unknown but crucially important Dutch theologian and Old Princeton professor, Geerhardus Vos, regarded as one of the fathers of Reformed “biblical theology.” Gaffin describes biblical theology as: “A survey of the progression of the redemptive-revelatory activity of God in history, carried out from a later and basically (i.e., redemptive-historically) different vantage point” (p. 24).

That’s a heavy definition, and part of his reason for defending biblical theology as a discipline in the first place is because some scholars are hesitant to call Paul and other biblical writers “theologians,” and are therefore hesitant to speak of “Paul’s theology” or “the theology of Hebrews,” etc. Gaffin wants to make clear that there are unique features to the biblical authors, as Peter himself indicates in 2 Peter 3:16 when he refers to Paul’s writings as particularly “hard to understand”! With a discussion of these issues behind him, including a proper method of biblical interpretation and a consistent doctrine of Scripture, Gaffin then begins the heart of the book: the resurrection.

The Central Theme and Basic Structure

In Parts II and III, Gaffin looks at key texts (1 Cor. 15; Col. 1:18; 2 Cor. 4:14; Eph. 2:5-6; Col. 2:12-13; 3:1; Rom. 6:3ff; Gal. 2:19-20; Rom. 8:11) in order to show a central theme in Paul’s thought: “the unity of the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of believers” (p. 33). In Paul, we repeatedly see phrases like “with Christ” and “in Christ” that emphasize the union between Christ and believers. That union with Christ, understood as having high priority in understanding our redemption, is partially what Gaffin will be emphasizing throughout the book.

In each of the passages above, there is an explicit connection between Christ’s resurrection (as the “firstfruits” and the “beginning”) and believers’ future resurrection. Christ’s resurrection was certainly a past, historical, miraculous event, but if that is the only thing we say about it, or even the primary thing we say about it, we rob ourselves of a full Pauline and biblical understanding of what the resurrection accomplished and how that accomplishment is then applied to us as believers. As Gaffin says, a “governing presupposition is the unity of the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of believers” (p. 40).

The Development of the Theme

With a solid biblical foundation established from Part II in working through what Christ’s resurrection accomplished, Gaffin now turns his focus to how that accomplished work is then applied to believers through salvation in our justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification. Coupled with that, another key facet that needs to be introduced before Gaffin discusses redemptive application is the decisive eschatological shift that took place when Christ was resurrected. A key text here is 1 Corinthians 15:45: “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being;’ the last Adam became a life-giving Spirit.”

This first Adam/last Adam paradigm highlights a world-changing accomplishment of Christ in His resurrection—defeat of death itself, which includes the defeat of death for those who are in Christ (the last Adam) and no longer in Adam. By Christ’s resurrection and the defeat of death, He has ushered in the final eschatological era where He reigns over death. Paul says Adam was merely a “living soul” but Christ in His resurrection became a life-giving Spirit! Gaffin summarizes what he means in this discussion of eschatology or “last things:” “…the Messiah’s coming is one (eschatological) coming which unfolds in two episodes, one already and one still to come, that the “age-to-come” is not only future but present” (p. 91).

Although Gaffin, following Calvin, is keen to show the inseparability of Christ’s death and His resurrection, something different was accomplished in Christ’s resurrection that was not accomplished by His death alone. But let’s pause to think about this:  What is the most prominent symbol of Christianity? What does Evangelicalism reference almost more than anything else when asked what saves us? The cross.

Now contrast this with what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:14: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” If Christ was only to die on the cross and was not then raised from the dead, we are to be most pitied. This certainly seems to indicate, among other things, that the resurrection should be taken as seriously and receive at least as much priority and attention regarding our salvation as the cross!

Gaffin then zeros in on what was mentioned above: the specific benefits of redemptive application: adoption, justification, sanctification, and glorification. Christ himself was “declared to be the Son of God in power” (Rom. 1:4) when resurrected, indicating that Christ’s resurrection effected his redemptive adoption as the messianic Son of God and second Adam.

It might at first seem strange to speak of Christ’s adoption, and may seem even stranger to speak of Christ’s justification, but if we let the biblical texts define our categories we can see what exactly is meant. When we read that Christ was made sin (2 Cor. 5:21), became a curse (Gal.3:13), and actually died for us as He identified with our condemnation, a question should naturally arise: “What changed Christ’s condition from cursed to justified?” You know already—“Jesus’ resurrection is His justification” (p. 123); He was “raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). Christ’s resurrection was so much more than an unusual and miraculous event! After all, Lazarus had also been raised from the dead, but that did not and could not accomplish what Christ’s resurrection in our union with Him accomplished for us.

It may also be foreign to us to speak of Christ’s sanctification, probably because our understanding of sanctification tends to default to progressive sanctification rather than definitive sanctification. But Paul “characteristically refers the vocabulary of sanctification not to a process but to a definitive act occurring at the inception of the Christian life” (p. 124). Romans 6 is a key passage here. If Christ’s resurrection (and our resurrection by virtue of our union with Him) means He is now dead to sin, victory was accomplished because Christ was in a real sense “alive to sin” before His resurrection (note that this is very different than saying Christ actually sinned or was sinful, which of course we must always reject).

“For believers, having been raised with Christ is their (definitive) sanctification because Christ’s resurrection is his sanctification” (p. 125). There was a change in Christ’s relationship to sin when He was raised, having accomplished a definitive breach with sin and, positively, was then glorified. For believers, resurrection-union will also apply to us when we are raised at the last day and receive our glorification in Christ and, given new bodies, appropriate to the new heavens and the new earth.

Ok…Now What?

How is what was said above going to help effect change in people’s lives? What if we thought of it this way: The more we know about what Christ’s resurrection accomplished in its redemption, the more we know about how that redemption is then applied to us in our union with the risen Christ.

What could be more relevant in a situation where someone is deeply grieving than Christ’s once-for-all defeat of death itself in His resurrection—and the reality of our own future resurrection? As we talk with countless people who come from broken homes with parents who have utterly, sinfully failed, how can the reality of our adoption in Christ and ability to truly call God our Father not speak into the particulars of those situations? For the stream of people who can’t seem to win the daily battles and the long war of particular sins, does the definitive breach with sin accomplished by Christ’s resurrection speak into those lives? What God says in His Word through Paul regarding our redemption is the power to speak into hearts and to effect real change through the Spirit.

As you well know, there is no silver-bullet script for counseling. What we say in actual conversation with people will vary and must vary if we are to counsel effectively. So none of what is said above regarding our redemption should be taken as a prescription to be repeated verbatim. But I do think Gaffin’s Resurrection and Redemption has monumental counseling implications that help us see with great biblical clarity who we are in Christ and how that reality changes our hearts and our lives. For counselors seeking to bring what God says in His Word into the lives of people, you have a thoroughly rich resource in Gaffin’s work, Resurrection and Redemption.

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