“If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).
IT’S AN AGE-OLD QUESTION WHETHER THE MAIN PURPOSE OF THE GOSPEL HAS TO DO WITH THIS LIFE OR THE LIFE TO COME. In our age, the emphasis is so lopsided in favor of the here and now, one hardly ever hears from the pulpit about eternity, and there are many who say that if the gospel gives us a happier life right now, the question of the afterlife doesn’t really matter that much. Paul tackled this issue in 1 Corinthians 15, and he maintained, with all the other apostles, that the resurrection of Christ, and consequently our own resurrection, is the heart of the gospel. Leave out the preaching of the resurrection, and whatever it is that you have left, it is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. And Paul didn’t duck the implications of this. If it turns out that there is no resurrection, Christians are pathetic to have believed such a lie. “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
Make no mistake: there are many earthly (or “temporal”) blessings that may accompany life in Christ. Yet none of these is guaranteed to every Christian. Some of us, for example, enjoy three meals a day, but many Christians, equally faithful to the Lord, do not. The fact is, the only blessing promised by Christ to all of His faithful people is reconciliation to God — leading to eternal fellowship with Him when our earthly tribulations have been left behind.
In this life, the Lord may deliver us from some of our earthly problems. He certainly is capable of doing so. But sometimes it is His wisdom to allow us to suffer hardship, as He did with Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7–10). When we are called upon to endure, we do so with the promise that He will help us.
So if we are Christians, our hopes should not be pinned on deliverance from earthly hardships. The value of the gospel does not lie in its power to remove the pains and difficulties of this life; its power is the promise of resurrection to eternal life when Christ returns (1 Peter 1:3–5,13). May God help us, against the spirit of our age, to put the emphasis where the apostles put it. May we not destroy Christianity in the process of making it “relevant.”
“Christianity is in its very essence a resurrection religion. The concept of resurrection lies at its heart. If you remove it, Christianity is destroyed” (John R. W. Stott).