A Portrait Of The Resurrection Life
When I committed my life to following Jesus, I found a clear sense of purpose to live for God. However, my knowledge of that life was immature. Church then taught me that my sins were forgiven and that I would go to heaven after I died. But regarding the new life, it is mostly about keeping away from the world by maintaining disciplines like holiness, regularly reading the Bible, prayer and “sharing the gospel”. Though I am grateful for that beginning, I was ignorant of my life in our resurrected Lord.
I viewed my faith for most of my life from that knowledge. Most of the Christian literature I read and the sermons I listened to confirmed it. Therefore my Bible reading was also influenced by it. However, reading the life story of William Carey did help me rethink my faith and dig deep into God’s word to make sense of the gospel.
I discovered that, unlike the present church, the resurrection of Christ and our resurrection life in Him are paramount to the apostles and the Early Church. According to Paul, there is no redemption without the resurrection. (1 Corinthians 15:14).
Popular teaching distorted my understanding of our salvation, our place in God’s mission and His glorious vision of new creation. It taught me that the purpose of my salvation was to only keep myself from the world so I could go to heaven rather than instruct me that the problem was within me and I needed to die daily to my old nature so that the resurrected Christ may manifest in me.
Today, things are even worse. The resurrection of Christ has further got obscured from our convictions.
Our naive understanding
For many, Christ’s Resurrection was about His victory over death. That means Jesus, unlike other gods, did not remain in the grave but came back to life. Hence, the resurrection is evidence of Christ’s divinity and power over death and that there is life after death. This, we supposedly believe, is eternal life.
On the other hand, our understanding of the cross is that Christ died in my place to forgive my sins, so I need not die forever but go to heaven. This is also misleading; Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls this ‘cheap grace’. Yes, Christ died for our sins, but our salvation is in the resurrection through the cross. By partaking in His suffering, we share his resurrection.
Sadly, our belief about the cross and resurrection today is merely historical and intellectual. The Early Church did not understand Christ’s death and resurrection that way. Instead, they understood the cross as the way to the arrival of the new creation through Christ’s resurrection.
The most astonishing thing is that it is not just Christ who is resurrected; we who die with him are also resurrected in him to a living hope, sharing his glory and divine nature. Isn’t that marvellous? (2 Peter 1: 3,4, 1 Peter 1:3,4, Ephesians 1: 3)
It is not just Christ who is resurrected; we who die with him are also resurrected in him to a living hope, sharing his glory and divine nature.
What does it mean to still have our sinful nature and yet become partakers of the divine nature? What does it mean to live in this sick and dying world yet share Christ’s resurrected glory and excellence? Our lack of understanding not only obscures the truth but also impedes our new life.
I am not talking about our bodily resurrection when Christ appears bodily at the end of time. Yes, that is ahead of us; when the dead in Christ and those saints alive will rise to incorruptible bodies. However, we are born again to a living hope and share the resurrection life in Christ in heavenly places today, even as we wait for the revealing of our salvation when Christ appears. (Ephesians 1:3, 1 Peter 1:4,5)
The cross of Christ is not merely to forgive our sins but to lead us to the new creation in our resurrected Lord. I think this understanding made the Early Church face horrendous persecution boldly and even joyfully. Since they already see themselves as ones passed from death to life; therefore they did not fear persecution or death. (John 5:24, 1 John 3:14)
The cross of Christ is not merely to forgive our sins but to lead us to the new creation in our resurrected Lord.
Resurrection life through death
Have you ever asked yourself why you should die with Christ and take up your cross when Christ has already died in your place? (Luke 9:23)
Writers use the phrase ‘in the belly of the whale’ when a character experiences an internal transformation which is the turning point of any story. It alludes to prophet Jonah’s experience in the belly of the fish. Jonah surrendered as he died; therefore, God granted him a new life. For the Israelites, passing through the Red sea was a similar experience.
Resurrection life requires death. I am not talking about physical death here. Jesus said, “whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:24,25) Every disciple faces their belly of the whale moments with God. It is a moment we surrender ourselves to God, and then God begins the transformation. Some may be dramatic, like the apostle Paul’s experience, and others may not be so dramatic. Whatever the case, new life requires death and sharing his suffering. (1 Peter 4:1–2, 12–13).
The Early Church knew that we share resurrection life in Christ by dying to our old nature as Christ died and rose again. Taking part in the suffering of Christ and his triumph is the will of God for the body of Christ to attain the full measure of Christ. Paul says, “If we have died with him, we will also live with him.” (2 Timothy 2:11). Sadly, many preach a gospel that requires no death. That is not the gospel of Christ.
Taking part in the suffering of Christ and his triumph is the will of God for the body of Christ to attain the full measure of Christ.
But remember, this is not one single moment; it is a daily process. My old nature always wants to take control and silence my inner self. So in dying to our old nature daily, Christ is glorified in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” (2 Corinthians 4:10,11)
As God redeemed the Israelites from Egypt, he took them through the wilderness so that they die of their old ways and learn God’s ways. Similarly, when Christ calls us to repent, he is not merely asking us to believe or say a prayer of confession. He calls us to come and die to our old sinful nature so God can make us into new beings, a new creation born of God, to walk in the newness of life, sharing his divine nature as His kings and priests. (1 Corinthians 5:16,17, Romans 6:3–11, Acts 11:18).
Resurrection life in jars of clay
Resurrection life is not about non-material existence after death. Instead, it is the overlapping of the heavenly and the earthly. When God made Adam, He took the physical being and breathed His Spirit into him, making him an eternal soul sharing God’s eternal life to reign with Him. In Adam, both the earthly (physical) and the heavenly (spiritual) came together.
Similarly, in the last Adam, Christ, we are born again by the Spirit of God to share God’s eternal life again. God breathed his Spirit on us at Pentecost and made us his dwelling place. So, even when we carry our perishable bodies, God’s eternal life has come on us. This is the “treasure we have in jars of clay.”
Jesus said, “Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:19). Here, Jesus is not talking about our afterlife. He is talking about God’s presence in us. “…and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23, Ephesians 3:16–17)
In Christ, God is building us together as a holy temple of God where he dwells by His Spirit. (Ephesians 2:21–22) The gospel is not merely about Jesus being God and saviour; it is also about God’s resurrection power and His presence manifesting through our bodies.
Therefore Paul reminds us that our dying to our old nature and offering our mortal bodies as a living sacrifice to God is our spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1) As we worship God by offering ourselves, the glory of Christ is made visible through my body which God sanctifies as His temple. (2 Corinthians 4:6–11)
The gospel is not merely about Jesus being God and saviour; it is also about God’s resurrection power and His presence manifesting through our bodies.
Resurrection life in the kingdom of heaven
Jesus said, Unless one is born-again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Our old sinful self cannot inherit the kingdom. Therefore, when we offer ourselves to die with Christ, God, who raised Christ, will raise us up in Him as a kingdom to reign with Him. (John 3:3–8, Revelation 1:6, 1 Peter 2:9–12)
In Christ, we are back in the garden, God’s dwelling place, seated at the right hand of God. Our identity as sons and daughters of God, citizens of heaven, and our calling as kings and priests of his kingdom is restored.
Therefore Paul, Peter and other New Testament authors instruct in their letters not to walk in the flesh but to walk in step with the Spirit and to set our minds on things above. What does it mean?
In Christ, my old self needs to be wasted away daily. My pride, ego, envy, status, possessions, and selfish desires are crucified on the cross. In doing so, we can walk in the newness of life, demonstrating the fruits of the Spirit to grow “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Galatians 5: 16- 26, Romans 6:6, Colossians 3:1,2, Ephesians 4:13)
In all aspects of life, we die to our old nature, and by renewing our minds, we live in step with the Spirit of God in us. So then my service, work, study, marriage, relationships, parenting, finances, leisure, and rest, reflect the glory of God.
Then as saints resurrected in Christ, we need to reign with Christ as kings and priests to extend his kingdom to the ends of the earth by reflecting the resurrected Christ through our bodies, carrying His afflictions, proclaiming his excellencies and abounding in good works, reconciling the world to God. (1 Peter 2:9–12, 2 Corinthians 5:18–20)
So here is the summary, God calls us to repent (metanoia) of our sins and surrender to Christ; that is, to die to our old nature, so he can make us a new creation born of the Spirit of God, to become the temple of God and restore our calling as kings and priests and grow to attain the full measure of Christ that He may be glorified in us. This is the calling the Church today has ignored. Apostle Paul pleads us to walk worthy of our calling.(Ephesians 4:1–2)
Our portraits of a resurrected life are, in fact, portraits of our Lord. Not of glamour or power in terms of the Greco-Roman world but of humility and affliction.
A portrait of the resurrection life
What does resurrection life look like? Our portraits of a resurrected life are, in fact, portraits of our Lord. Not of glamour or power in terms of the Greco-Roman world but of humility and affliction. (Isaiah 53:1–9)
In his poem As kingfisher catches fire, Gerard Manley Hopkins writes…
“-for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”
Here is a beautiful tribute sketched by Caroline Cynthia to a daughter of God who demonstrated the resurrection life. (With her permission, I am adding it here.)
I’m constantly trying to find the woman that I want to be. I have a vivid image of her in my head, and I have yet to see her in real life. However, I see many role models who show some sides of the ideal woman that I imagine.
One such woman is Vigneswari auntie. Incidentally, I never knew her name until I saw her Aadhar card to produce her death certificate after succumbing to a Covid infection.
Her name startled me for a moment; we always called her using her husband’s surname. Oh, how I did not even know her name. But that didn’t stop her from influencing lives. Identity is more than a name, I learned that day.
She is a good friend of my mother-in-law. And a godly woman with a mother’s heart to everyone in our church. She has such a big heart that could probably fit the whole of Chennai.
There are so many stories of her life. She has touched every age group of people in our church family. My mother-in-law still tears up every time she mentions her and remembers her goodness.
In the early 1980s, our church had a mud floor. Cow dung was used for plastering the floors, as it was a good binder and gave the floor a fine finish. Despite having a family of four children to care for, and other duties in her home, Vigneswari auntie would work dutifully to plaster the church floor using a cow dung mixture. It was a long, tedious and messy process. But she would do it in a way that sparked joy.
She was a part of a small group of praying women who would fast, wail and pray for the needs of the church community. Her prayers were filled with love and tears. Although I envied her prayers, I couldn’t get myself to genuinely weep for a stranger. Her prayers were private, never before a mic or a camera. She encouraged many young people in our church. She never held the mic, but her words touched the soul.
She lived on the first floor, and she’d often buy her daily vegetables and fish from the vendors on the street. She would let down a basket through her balcony, and they would put the groceries into it. Along with the money for the things that she bought, sometimes, in the basket, she would put freshly made home-cooked food for the vendors. That was the kind of heart that she had. Her acts of service were not random. It was consistent and intentional. I recently came to know that when she was younger, she prepared lunch and dinner for her elderly neighbour every day because he lived alone.
The love she showed was always inspired by her desire to share the love of Christ.
Moreover, she raised four noble children who live life with an eternal perspective and use all their capacities to serve God and his people. One of her sons fondly remembers her saying, ‘She is both the Mary and the Martha of the house’, meaning she holds the home’s spiritual fabric and also does all the practical work.
The Bible mentions a godly woman called Dorcas, “Her name was Tabitha or Dorcas. She did many good things and many acts of kindness.” Vigneswari auntie was our very own Dorcas.
I miss her. I wish to imitate parts of her life; I hope that somebody will someday say that they see something of Vigneswari auntie in me. But no one knows her name. The Bible says in Galatians, I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.
Her presence showed us Christ who lived in her. So, if you live like that, it’s ok if no one knows your name; you continue to live. Even though she is no longer with us, her legacy lives on through her children and the impact she has on others.