Are We Resurrected from the Dead When We Obey the Gospel?
“Are we resurrected from the dead when obeying the gospel? If we are made alive in Christ, how can we be dead and resurrected again [at his second-coming]?”
Before one obeys the gospel, he is dead in sin (Eph. 2:1). To which does this refer: the physical body or a spiritual condition? It refers, of course, to our spiritual condition. The passages cited in the question (Rom. 6:3-8; Col. 2:11-12) do discuss the spiritual life that we can have when we obtain the forgiveness of sins.
By way of contrast, Hebrews 9:27 states that it is appointed unto man “once to die.” Is this the physical body, or it is a spiritual condition? In this passage, it is physical death that is under consideration. Yes, Christians who have “been made alive” will also die. How can a Christian be alive and dead? Because the words “dead” and “life” are used in different ways. “Dead” can refer to a spiritual condition. “Dead” can also be used of the physical death that the body experiences when the spirit departs from it (Jas. 2:26).
So when we read a passage about death, or the resurrection of the body, how do we know what is being discussed — physical death or spiritual death? One must read the passage carefully, and it will be apparent, by the language used in the passage, the kind of death that is under consideration.
In 1 Corinthians 15, physical death and the resurrection of the body are in view. Jesus was never dead in sins. His body, however, was dead and buried for three days. Christ is the first fruits of them that die (1 Cor. 15:22-23). Therefore, our resurrection will conform to the kind that Christ had: a resurrection of the body. Paul is clear, however, that the body will not be a physical one, because the resurrected body will be changed into an immortal body. Paul wrote in Philippians 3:21 that Jesus will change our “body of humiliation” to be conformed to the “body of his glory.” Similarly, John wrote that “we will be like him” (1 Jn. 3:1-3). This has reference, John says, to what we will be (future tense) when Christ is manifested (i.e., his second coming; cf. 1 Jn. 2:28).
Think about what Jesus said in John 5:28. Whatever he would raise would be that which is in the tombs. What are in the tombs? Bodies. And he also said that ALL would be raised: those that have done good unto the resurrection of life, and those that have done evil unto the resurrection of condemnation.
Furthermore, Paul talked about the resurrection of the just and the unjust (Acts 24:15). If “resurrection” is always the spiritual life we receive at the new birth, then what is the “resurrection of the unjust.” Likewise, Daniel predicted the resurrection of the body when he talked of those who sleep in the dust of the earth being raised (Dan. 12:2).
Paul identifies the resurrection as taking place when Jesus returns (1 Thess. 4:13ff). This is not, obviously, our conversion when we are “raised to walk in newness of life.”
Paul condemned those who taught that the resurrection is past (2 Tim. 2:17-18). But if the resurrection of the dead is simply our conversion, would it not have been true to say that it “had already happened”? According to Paul, the resurrection was something in the future, and it will take place when the Lord returns (1 Thess. 4:13ff).
A thought question: Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 15 to address the question of the resurrection of the dead. There were those in Corinth who had a problem with that idea, and Paul sought to correct it. If the resurrection of the dead in this chapter is supposed to be the spiritual life that comes to a person at the new birth, explain why any Christian would have had an objection to that? One could see, however, how some Gentile minds would be disturbed about the resurrection of the body.
Being dead spiritually is a consequence of sin. Physical death is also a consequence of sin (Rom. 5:12). The death of Christ atones for sin, therefore, it remedies the consequences of sin for those who obey him. That means we can have the forgiveness of our sins; our souls can be made alive to God. It also means that he will redeem our bodies from physical death, which is also a consequence of sin. And so, Christians are now alive in spirit, and they wait for the redemption of their bodies in the resurrection (Rom. 8:11,23).
The resurrection is not simply some peripheral New Testament teaching. It involves the final act of God’s salvation plan — the victory over the last enemy (1 Cor. 15:54-58).