Dec 7, 2011

Attaining the Resurrection

Philippians 3:10–11

“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.”

When God revealed the Mosaic law to Israel, He did not give it as a means for sinners to earn the kingdom of heaven. After all, it was revealed after the nation was redeemed from Egypt (Ex. 20:1–17). Moreover, the Law’s sacrificial system proves that the Lord knew His people would fail to obey His regulations perfectly. But if the Law is not a means for sinners to save themselves, why did God reveal it at all? Romans 7 and Galatians 3 give one set of answers to this question. Our Creator revealed the Mosaic law to remind us that righteousness before Him demands perfection; to show us that sinners cannot meet this standard; and to make us long for a sinless Messiah who can keep the Law perfectly in our place.

The Law does not give sinners the power to conquer sin. Only the Holy Spirit (Rom. 6; 8), the One whom Christ poured out upon His people so that we, by faith, can share in “the power of his resurrection” (Phil. 3:10–11), enlivens the believer to live a godly life. Jesus died for all those who trust in Him, but we must never forget that He rose from the dead for His people as well. God resurrected Him from the dead for our justification — to prove Jesus atoned for sin (Rom. 4:25) — as well as for our sanctification. Jesus was raised to God’s right hand that He would have power and authority above all other powers and authorities, empowering His people to defeat the sin that ruled them before they believed in Him (Eph. 1:15–23).

But though we experience the power of our Lord’s resurrection today, we still wait for that final day when this power will be consummated in our resurrection and glorification. This is what Paul is talking about in Philippians 3:10–11, a passage that is exceedingly difficult to translate into English. The Apostle is not revealing doubt about his future reward in the new heaven and earth when he expresses his hope to attain the resurrection “by any means possible” in verse 11. Instead, the uncertainty involves the physical route by which he will be prepared for resurrection. At the time he wrote, Paul did not know if he would gain his resurrection body at the final judgment after dying as a martyr, after dying of natural causes, or by being alive when the Savior returned. But he did know that the righteousness imputed to him by faith in Christ alone guaranteed that resurrection would be his.

Coram Deo

We do not know our route to resurrection. Perhaps we will die as martyrs or simply of natural causes, leaving our bodies to rest in the grave until the last day even as our spirits dwell in heaven until then. Maybe Christ will return while we are still alive and we will not experience physical death at all. Either way, if we trust in Jesus, we will be resurrected, and even now we share in Christ’s resurrection power and by His Spirit are able to resist temptation.

For Further Study