Living As People of the Resurrection

The work of fighting poverty is a long and difficult road. For every joy and story of transformation, we can all think of sorrows and stories of loss and failure. Walking alongside people through the brokenness of the world is often a one-step-forward-three-steps-back process. It is easy for ministry practitioners and volunteers to grow weary and ministry participants to grow discouraged. Real hope for people and systems in a fallen world seems elusive, and anxiety is poor fuel for sustainable ministry.

At the Chalmers Center, at least one of our ministry goals is to encourage you. Not by “Rah, rah, you can do it!” cheerleading, but through prayer, through crafting training and curriculum that works so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, through supportive communities of practice, and through exploring the foundational framework for poverty alleviation in Scripture.

This isn’t simply optimism, or wishful thinking. We are, in a very real sense, trying to live as people of the resurrection. As theologian and missiologist Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998) told an interviewer near the end of his life “I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!”

What does it mean for us to live out resurrection hope in our ministries? How does the fact that Christ is risen direct and empower our work to address material poverty here and now?

The Resurrection Grounds Our Faith

This may be a bit obvious, but as Christians who focus on the gospel in all our work and worship, the cross gets a lot more attention than the resurrection. We’re not saying the cross isn’t of primary importance—may it never be!—but that we should speak as Scripture does in holding the cross and resurrection together. It is not only because Jesus suffered and died for sins that we are saved, but because He was raised from the dead, breaking the power of sin and death that we may be made alive together with him (Eph. 2:5; Col. 2:13).

The Apostle Paul teaches us that the resurrection is how Christ is proved to be the one atoning sacrifice for sins and redeemer of all things—He was “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). Many “messiahs” had come and died fighting for their people, but only Jesus laid down his life willingly and then took it up again!

Christ is our sacrifice, but also our death-defeating redeemer who is now seated at the right hand of the Father. In a very real sense, the resurrection guarantees the promise of salvation for all those who believe. We can have hope because we are united to Christ, and in union with Christ, our life is secure. We can work without fear and with confidence that God is really at work in us and in those we serve.

The Resurrection Is the Beginning of the End of Poverty

The resurrection is not only the finished work of redemption, it is the opening of the final act of God’s story. The resurrection means we have a living savior who is right now reigning as king and is coming again to wipe away every tear, to make death (and poverty and everything that tends toward death) history, to dwell with us again, and to make all things new (Rev. 21:1-5). When Jesus returns, all the things that weigh us down in this life will be resolved—both because He will powerfully remake all things, and because, in His presence, our pain and fear and despair will melt away in the light of His glory. We’ve put this in our vision statement as an organization, letting it anchor our work to remember that “Jesus restores all creation, and poverty is no more.”

We can take heart as we fight against poverty and all the effects of the Fall because the battle is won. What begins at the resurrection continues to happen in local churches, in parachurch organizations, in villages, in cities, and in the lives of believers in big and small ways every day until Christ at last returns and sets all things to rights. By faith in Christ, we are really, truly united to Him in His resurrection, and our sin, shame, and brokenness is really, truly being stripped away until we are made perfect in His consummation of all things. Just when it seems that death is winning, the resurrection proves that its victory is really its defeat.

The Resurrection Is the Ground for Our Action Here and Now

The resurrection is not only a past event and a future promise; it is our present reality. It motivates and empowers all our work here and now. As Paul writes, in the famous “resurrection” chapter in 1 Corinthians 15, “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’…wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God” (1 Cor. 15:32-34). The resurrection, he says, should make us take stock of our lives and live as though the New Jerusalem is our true home—we should turn from sin, and turn from the ways of the world to boldly live as if he is making all things new, and reconciling all things to himself (cf. Col. 1:20). Paul speaks of Jesus as the “firstfruits” and “firstborn” from the dead in these passages, explicitly reminding us that our resurrection is coming because His has already come.

Perhaps the hardest part of working to fight poverty as Christians is that we can spiritualize our discouragement, throwing up our hands and saying “Maranatha!” (come Lord!) not as praise, but as the cry of exhaustion. We need Jesus to fix it because nothing can be done. Again, at some level, this is true, but our confidence in Jesus’ “fixing it” is always presented in Scripture as a motivator for us to walk in newness of life as if He is doing it, not to turn aside from good work because He has not yet done it fully.

We carry on equipping churches to operate savings groups that bring pockets of flourishing in difficult places because Jesus has been raised from the dead and is coming again. We carry on facilitating jobs-preparedness training or financial literacy classes because Jesus has been raised from the dead and is coming again. We carry on proclaiming the whole gospel of redemption and reconciliation and the end of poverty and pain because Jesus has been raised from the dead and is coming again.

Beloved brothers and sisters, this Holy Week and Easter season, take heart in your work. Carry on by faith. Rejoice, for Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.

Image: Nheyob, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Justin Lonas

Justin Lonas

Justin Lonas is director of core content deployment for the Chalmers Center at Covenant College and an MDiv student at Reformed Theological Seminary (Atlanta). He is a member of East Ridge Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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