Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.
1 Cor. 15:58
One of the easiest rules of Bible interpretation to remember is this one: whenever you see a “therefore” you have to ask what it’s there for. Whatever precedes the word “therefore” justifies whatever comes after it. In this case, Paul has given an extensive discussion of resurrection – first, of Christ’s resurrection, which is the foundation of our faith. He then talks about the future resurrection of believers. Because of this future hope of resurrection he says that we should “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,” knowing that our work is not in vain.
The Resurrection is not simply a nice theoretical doctrine. It has an important practical application in motivating faith and good works. It’s not a “pie-in-the-sky by-and-by” theology, but a theology of a future life in which we will be transformed to be like Christ in his resurrected life. As one of my former seminary professors has said, we will be “bulletproof”. The historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection is the guarantee of our own future resurrection. This is not an imaginary hope; it’s as real as it gets.
Theologian N.T. Wright calls this future hope “life AFTER life after death”. We often talk of “life after death”, by which we mean the immediate state that we enter after death. There is such a state (and I plan to do more blogging on the research into this through the study of “near-death experiences”), but this is not the final state for believers. It is a temporary one in which we await the final resurrected state that Paul talks about.
Some Christian theology is based on a future state of a disembodied existence in heaven. This is not the biblical view. The Resurrection of Jesus happened in the physical world. Our future resurrection will likewise be in the physical world, not in a spiritual world in which we float around on clouds strumming harps. The accusation of Christians as being “too spiritually minded to be of any earthly good” should never be true of us. Just as our future hope is a real hope, our good works should be real and visible to the world. God calls us to live lives characterized by good works, lives that stand out from the world by their quality. If that can’t be said of our lives, then something is wrong.