If Christ Has Not Been Raised, We are the Most to be Pitied
Paul is writing as a man who has already lived a life of law-keeping while denying the resurrection.
“If Christ has not been raised… we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:12-19).
There are those who say that even if the claims of Christianity are false, it is still a better way to live. I have heard this more and more as debates over the future of the West and Western culture have increased over the last few years. On the one hand, it is easy to understand what someone is saying when they make a statement like that. They mean that living as if there is a God who requires certain good behavior is better than living like there is no god at all. However, this requires you to believe that the paramount good of Christianity is some sort of morality or ethical standard. It is certainly true that the God of Scripture puts forward moral demands; this is easily seen in the Ten Commandments, among other places. And yet Paul tells us if the resurrection of Jesus did not actually happen, "we are of all people most to be pitied." Why?
Paul is writing as a man who has already lived a life of law-keeping while denying the resurrection. He knows what it is to have the commands of Scripture apart from the crucified and resurrected Messiah. Paul boasts that no one has excelled in that life more than he had:
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Phil. 3:4-11).
Paul knows that striving after the law will not make you a good person who lives in a better way. It made him a persecutor of others. The law does not make people good. Instead, it names them as lawbreakers and sinners. Without the death and resurrection of Christ, we will find ourselves manipulating the law to be found righteous. We will pretend to live up to a divine standard when we have not. A resurrection-less Christianity is a gospel-less Christianity and, therefore, reliant on our confidence in the flesh. And so, a Christianity without the gospel is worse than no Christianity at all. If Christ has not been raised, we are left with a religion of moral imperatives that will set neighbor against neighbor. A religion of holy wars and ruthless judgment. A religion that had Paul rounding up his neighbors in the name of righteousness.
If Christ has not been raised, we are left with a religion of moral imperatives that will set neighbor against neighbor.
Paul is not arguing that if Christ has not been raised, one should believe in God anyway. He is not saying that he would go back to his old life of resurrection-less religion. He is saying that if Christ has not been raised, nothing matters. None of your "pursuits of justice." None of your "righteous" living. Anything done in service of anything or anyone other than yourself is meaningless, and anyone who lives their life otherwise is to be pitied. He says this because he knows religion and law, apart from the truth of the resurrection, gets you nothing in the end. Paul has lived life both ways and chooses neither if Christ remains dead. But notice that I did say the truth of the resurrection. As Paul writes in the next verse: "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Cor. 15:20).
The glorious truth is that Christ HAS been raised from the dead. He has defeated all death in his death and promises us eternal life as a gift. This is what Christianity is: forgiveness and eternal life given freely to sinners because of what Jesus has done. Resurrection-less religion is pitiful.