Christ’s resurrection from the dead changes the trajectory of human life. In 1 Corinthians 15:32, the apostle Paul hypothesises that if the dead are not raised then “we should eat and drink for tomorrow we die”. This is not difficult to understand. If this life is all there is, if our existence is limited to this temporal experience, then it makes sense to do whatever we can to adorn whatever time we have left with whatever morsels of leisure and pleasure might come our way. Nor is this an unfamiliar philosophy in our world. Slogans like “you only live once” abound, bending our minds into thinking we need this experience, or that possession, to be truly human. Putting this differently, if the resurrection is not real, then there is no real impetus to change the way we live: we might as well continue living what seems to be the sensible and familiar way.
But of course, as 1 Corinthians 15 so richly communicates to us, the Christian faith rests upon the reality of Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead, a resurrection that we are told is the first of many (1 Cor 15:20-23). Christ’s resurrection secures a resurrection future for those who are cleaved to him in faith (Rom 6; Eph 2). And so the ethical principle “eat and drink for tomorrow we die” — the principle so prominent in our world — is itself put to death in the resurrection of Jesus.
As far as the apostle Paul is concerned, the resurrection plays a vital role in the way a Christian chooses to act here and now. The resurrection changes the way we live life, because it changes the way we view life. Two features of the surrounding context — namely Paul’s example and Paul’s exhortation — provide insight into the primary ways the resurrection informs our life choices.
First, is the example that Paul’s own ministry presents of the resurrected life. Paul faced mortal danger continually. This danger was so frequent that he can describe it as an hourly experience in 15:30. The phrase ending v.31 “I die every day” suggests that Paul woke every morning expecting to be killed that day for his faith. This daily threat to his life came on the back of his unrelenting proclamation of the gospel, the product of which was the conversion of the Corinthians, who were his pride in Christ Jesus (1 Cor 15:31). In addition, he goes on to describe his ministry in Ephesus (where he spent a number of years proclaiming the word of God (cf. Acts 19) as a fight with wild animals—evidence once more of his perilous ministry. This life of perpetual struggle and persecution, contrasting so strongly with a life of epicurean pleasure, is not lived on the back of some temporal human hope (15:32b). Rather it is lived on the back of Paul’s knowledge of the resurrection. The resurrection of Christ, and the promise of the resurrected life that comes for his followers, allowed Paul — indeed, drove Paul — to do his gospel work in the face of daily threat of death.
Second, is Paul’s exhortation that follows in v.33 and v.34. “Do not be deceived …come to your senses …stop sinning”. The three imperatives here work together. The deception that says there is no bodily resurrection leads to a way of life that is contrary to God’s desire. And yet it is a very real, and a very tempting, deception, as noted in the opening paragraph above. It is a deception that gives vitality to the modern advertising industry. But Paul’s exhortation aims to break apart this deception. “Do not be deceived …come to your senses”. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead jolts us into re-evaluating. It rattles the cage of our minds, awakening our senses to this end: that we stop sinning. For the believer, the resurrection of Jesus, and so both the resurrected status that they have with him now and the resurrection future that they are assured of, provides the motivation (under the power of the God’s Spirit) to stop sinning. It provides the impetus to stop living for selfish pleasures and desires, and instead motivates a lifestyle that greets every new day with the attitude “today I am going to die to myself, live for Christ and share him with others for their sake”.
There is more to be said about the influence that the resurrection has on our ethical framework. But just a brief look at 1 Cor 15 shows something of the resurrection priority for Paul. The primary impulse of Jesus’ resurrection is to promote self-sacrifice for gospel ministry on the one hand, and to promote the cessation of self-centered sinful living on the other. Collapsing this into the one statement: the resurrection encourages us to die to self and live for Christ.