Why is the resurrection necessary for forgiveness of sins?

Hi friends,

One of the verses that was referred to by my pastor during the Easter sermon was 1 Cor. 15:17. It brought memories back of a discussion I had with an extended family member who could never grasp why we Christians think resurrection is necessary for forgiveness of sins. I remember sharing how our sin separates us from a holy God, the author of life. As Jesus lived a sinless life, his death must mean he took our sins upon himself. I further added that his resurrection proves the forgiveness of our sins and opens the possibility of eternal life for us through faith in Jesus. This family member had trouble accepting my thought process because of a new spiritualist mindset that the body is temporary and only the eternal spirit matters. What are other helpful ways of explaining the need for resurrection?


I’ll be honest that I haven’t considered why the resurrection is necessary for forgiveness of sins. I’ve thought about how without the resurrection there is no hope after death and we have nothing to point to in that case but not this angle.

Since death is the result of sin then how could a sinless man be contained by death? The only way a sinless man could remain dead in God’s economy is if God refused to accept any type of substitutionary atonement. In which case there would be no need for resurrection. Jesus’ spirit could just ascend to the Father where he said, “Sorry Dad, I tried.” No resurrection needed. At that point why die in the first place?

Alternatively, if God would accept a substitute, that substitute must be sinless and still not subject to the death that resulted from sin. Otherwise that substitute would be dying for their own sins. Without the resurrection the substitute’s death remains as a certification that the substitute was not sinless and deserving of the death died.

In both of the above scenarios we are left condemned for our sins and forgiveness is not available.

As a tactic I might entertain this line of reasoning. 2 Corinthians 4:18 agrees that what is seen is temporary but 2 Cor 4:17 Paul is talking about how the temporary afflictions we endure in the body have lasting impact in the eternal. The implication being that what is done in the temporary world of the flesh has eternal impact in the spiritual. So to ignore the resurrection and it’s impact on our eternal state is to deny the reality they are acknowledging.

It should also be stated that though the eternal is spiritual to us now. The reality is that Christ’s physical body was ascended to the Father. So even this temporary physical body will be raised to eternity.

Without the resurrection the apostles have nothing to witness and testify about and Jesus is just another teacher that inspired others and did amazing things. At that point rank him with any other religious teacher.

We can’t though. Jesus is God and was bodily raised from the grave. His death was a substitute for our sins and resurrection proves that He was accepted as such and our forgiveness is made available.

Thanks for asking this question I don’t know if I’d ever consider it from this perspective without it. I’d love to hear any other thoughts or if anything I wrote was off in any way.


Hi @lakshmi,

I’m so glad you raised this question as it provided a prompt to further study the resurrection. In the fascinating book Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened, N.T. Wright clearly explains what the New Testament teaches us about the meaning of resurrection.

First, I think his definition is very helpful:

All this ignores a rather obvious fact: the word “resurrection” never did mean “disembodied bliss.” Furthermore, in the New Testament itself, the word “resurrection” does not mean “life after death.” It meant, and means, what I call “life after life after death.” Although this is quite a difficult idea for some to get a hold of, if you go back to the ancient world, whether pagan or Jewish, the word “resurrection,” along with its various cognates in other languages, is clearly not a way of talking about the destiny of people immediately after death. It is a way of referring to a newly embodied life at some time beyond that point. The simplest way to see this is to think of Jesus’ words to the brigand on the cross: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). But, as Luke makes clear, Jesus wasn’t raised until Sunday. “Paradise” must therefore refer to the place, or state, of blissful waiting before the bodily resurrection (Kindle Locations 787-793). Kindle Edition.

There’s a nice section here in the book where Wright explains how different this understanding of ‘resurrection’ is from many modern versions.

Second, I noticed the tie between the resurrection and the forgiveness of sins. I think N.T.'s argument in the following section is helpful here:

Almost everywhere else in the New Testament, where you find people talking about Jesus’ resurrection, you find them also talking about our own future resurrection, the final hope that one day we will be raised as Jesus has been raised. But the Gospels never say anything like, “Jesus is raised, therefore there is a life after death” (not that many first-century Jews doubted that there was); or, “Jesus is raised, therefore we shall go to heaven when we die” (most people believed something like that anyway); or better, “Jesus is raised, therefore we shall be raised at the last.” No: insofar as the event is interpreted in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, it has a very “this-worldly” meaning, relating to what is happening here and now. “Jesus is raised,” they say, “therefore he is the Messiah; he is the true Lord of the whole world; therefore we, his followers, have a job to do: we must act as his heralds, announcing his lordship to the entire world.” It is not, “Jesus is raised, therefore look up into the sky and keep looking because one day you will be going there with him.” Many hymns, prayers, and Christian sermons have tried to pull the Easter story in that direction, but the line of thought within the Gospels themselves is, Jesus is raised, therefore God’s new world has begun, and therefore we, you, and everybody else are invited to be not only beneficiaries of that new world but participants in making it happen." (Kindle Locations 1043-1052).

I see two key ideas here: first, it is thoroughly Biblical to connect the resurrection to our final hope.

However, second, in the Gospels, the resurrection is primarily spoken of as validation that Jesus is Messiah, the true Lord, and we are to go and announce this news.

But zooming out a bit, it seems to me there’s a bigger question or set of values that create a gap in this discussion with your relative. N.T. Wright goes on to say:

But the point about Judaism and Christianity is that they are focused on creation; that is, they believe in a God who made the world of space, time, and matter and who wants to reclaim it. Thus, what happens in the real world actually matters (Kindle Locations 1082-1084).

To bring it all together, I wonder how to communicate this core idea to your family member - that the real world actually matters?

When our bodies get hungry or sick, this often clarifies how much we value our physicality? And when we mourn the death of a loved one or are approaching death ourselves, it is entirely appropriate to grieve the end of embodied life. I am unfamiliar with this person’s cultural and religious background, but as someone who bears God’s image in their creational context, I believe there must be many connecting points.

On this point, it seems to me that what their religion denies, their very embodied being is speaking. How could you hear that voice together?

Second, the embodied resurrection of Jesus speaks to this fundamental human concern. Not only is God dealing with our sin on the cross - a claim vindicated by the miracle of resurrection - but God is showing us what redemption looks like as the disciples witness the transformed, perfect, everlasting, and yet wholly physical, resurrection body of Jesus.

That is, what does it mean to have our sins forgiven? The embodied resurrection of Jesus shows us a foretaste of the new creation that God has begun and will complete.

I look forward to learning more as I listen to your response, if desired, and any other participants.


Hi @chris and @Carson , you both have given me so many angles to consider in understanding the concept of resurrection and forgiveness of sins.

@Chris, I like how you considered scenarios where we have no forgiveness of sins. Your logic makes sense. As I read the two scenarios, it made me think about the evidence we would need for the alternate options where resurrection is not tied to forgiveness of sins.

If we assume that God refuses substitutionary atonement, then we would have to explain why a sinless man died. If our response then is that Jesus may have been sinful, then we would have to explain away the evidence for resurrection. This ties into the point Carson made that emphasis of the gospels is on resurrection proving divinity of Christ. In this scenario, we would also have to find good reasons to doubt the testimony of all the gospel authors. As there is lot more historical and biblical evidence for the unique life of Jesus and his resurrection, it seems reasonable to believe God accepted substitutionary atonement, the payment for our sins, so that justice is served.

Not being subject to death is a key criteria for divinity for my relative. But if Jesus were only to have been translated, there would be no staisfying means for justice or his identification with human nature. As Jesus died, it is tempting to doubt divinity of Christ. But if we doubt his divinity, we once again are left with explaining away the evidence for resurrection and the unique life that Jesus lived.

@Carson, I never noticed different emphasis in the gospels and the rest of the new testament when it comes to resurrection. Its interesting that gospels use resurrection as proof for divinity of Christ and the other parts of NT use it more as proof of our future hope.

I think this is a very helpful angle to present. What we are going to receive in the new creation is much beyond we can imagine. With this new spirituality mindset, spirit is embodied in a limited material form because of its moral condition. If there was no material restoration, how can we be sure that spiritual restoration alone would be sufficient? The christian hope introduced through resurrection is a much more comprehensive restoration including all of creation.

I appreciate your insights on this question. If our world didn’t matter, why is it so natural to respond to it. If it didn’t matter, why is there so much beauty in it? I think even Chris’s point that our conduct in the temporal impacts the eternal is another way of establishing that this world matters.

These are helpful directions to take the conversation toward. Thanks again for helping with this question.


Hi @lakshmi

Allow me to share a thought on this.

“And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.” (Jn.16:8-11, KJV)

According to the Bible app that I use, reprove in Greek is ἐλέγχω (elénchō), translated in other versions as convict, denotes a display of an undeniable proof that:

  1. Man’s damning sin is unbelief (v. 9.)
  2. Christ lived a sinless, guiltless life because He has been resurrected, with NO body of evidence to prove otherwise (v. 10)
  3. Satan is proven wrong of his controversy against God for his Celestial eviction (v. 11)

In verse 10, the physical resurrection is proof to Christ’s sinlessness invalidating death’s claim (sin’s wages, Rom.6:23, KJV) against Him, and substantiating His death’s substitutionary and transcending efficacy (2Cor.5:21, KJV) for all who repented of unbelief (v. 9).

“… if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins," (1Cor.15:17, KJV) because there will be no evidence to substantiate our faith.


Hi @dennis ,

The reference John 16: 8-11 is so ver helpful in this context. Its a clear claim by our Lord of his sinlessness and a claim of resurrection as evidence for his sinlessness. It establishes Jesus as worthy to judge and as worthy of our trust. If we need pardon for our sin, why go to another lord when we could go straight to the Judge! I think the argument for why we can believe in the claims of Jesus should hopefully suffice after sharing from this verse.

Thanks a lot!


Hi @lakshmi , I have found your question, and all the responses incredibly thought provoking. I really appreciate the perspectives brought forward. I’m curious about the family member’s belief systems, so rather than addressing the issue of resurrection directly, I wanted to consider Biblical vs eastern spiritual perspectives on eternity and our role as individual and precious image bearers.

It would be helpful to understand just how this family member holds to new spiritualist mindsets - whether this is a conscious belief system they’re pursuing, or whether they’ve absorbed it within the culture. As Walter Martin, in his book The Kingdom of the Cults, says,

“People are pursuing Eastern religions in the United States because their message has been dressed up to meet our cultural needs- they are responding to it because there is a deep awareness of a need for spiritual reality.” (Ch 9, Buddhism-Classical and Zen)

Knowing how this person is using this mindset might help you in your responses, but either way I think it’s good to notice that however these beliefs have come about, it’s likely this person has a need to understand their spiritual significance. To detach oneself from one’s physical significance can feel easier, because the spiritual significance is so abstract; almost so that any form of eternity could be chosen.

There’s some interesting questions to work out about what it means to reach eternity, given they at least accept the idea of an eternal spirit, as @carson highlighted:

  • does this family member believe they have sins that need forgiving?
  • do they think they can reach eternity without forgiveness?
  • or do they feel the need to be ‘good enough’ somehow to reach eternity?

I know you’re much more familiar with eastern thought than I am (so please correct me where wrong), but if we go along the basis that some of it is heavily influenced by Buddhism (although I acknowledge the differences between the various influences of eastern thought) I found the comments by Samuel Macaulay Jackson in The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge interesting:

The goal of Buddhism is Nirvana. A definition of this term is almost impossible for the simple reason that Buddha himself gave no clear idea, and in all probability possessed none, of this state…the summum bonum is release from karma and reincarnation…this involves the annihilation of individuality.

This sense of annihilation of the individual means that there would be no significance for your family member’s eternal spirit. Whereas, the Bible teaches that each individual is precious and planned from the start, and will continue to enjoy relationship with God for eternity. The abstract and unknowable nature of Nirvana is in sharp contrast to the specific promises of the Bible for resurrection life, as shown to us through the resurrection of Christ Jesus.

Looking at the example of Christ, Walter Martin says:

The Bible plainly states that Jesus rose from the grave in a physical form (John 20:27), that He was not raised as a spirit (Luke 24:39-44), and that Christ himself after He had risen rebuked His disciples for their unbelief in His physical resurrection (Mark 16:14). It is evident, therefore, that though Jesus Christ was raised physically He had what the Bible terms a “spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:44-49), not a spirit form but an immortal, incorruptible physical body possessed of spiritual characteristics forever exempt from death (Romans 6:9), a body the likes of which all believers shall one day possess at His glorious return and our resurrection (Philippians 3:4; 1 Corinthians 15:52-54).

Our glorification is not accomplished by our own efforts, but by the “victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).

I think that encouraging them to think more precisely about what it is they actually believe might lead them to acknowledge some inconsistencies with the idea that the physical body has no significance in eternity, and also get them to consider how it is they even escape the physical world without a saviour. Then a discussion on how their value - both their physical and spiritual dimensions - is eternal, and seeing how relationship with God is so wonderful and beautiful to comprehend, far more so than anonymous generic co-existence with the universe, or Nirvana, or Moksha.

I apologise for any generalisations I’ve made here about other beliefs; I appreciate the subtle differences in spiritual thought, but I hope they at least illustrate the general points I’m trying to make and may help you as you consider where to take the conversation with this family member next time.


Hi @alison ,

Thanks for your input and thinking through other ways of approaching the question.

What this relative follows is probably a mix of different streams of hinduism. What is held in common with new spirituality is that matter is temporary and only spirit is eternal. I think there is an understanding of sin and release of the soul from matter once the sins are paid for to worship God in eternity in spirit form. It is however different from the Buddhist perspective where the soul itself ceases to exist with nirvana.

You are probably right, I would have to take a few steps back in my conversation and start with explaining the need for forgiveness of sins. But even if I am able to bring this relative to an understanding of our need for forgiveness of sins, I am still left with the question of whether forgiveness of sins should lead to spiritual release from the wheel of bodily reincarnation or should it lead to resurrection?

This reasoning makes a lot of sense to me in the Buddhist context. In the hindu context, I may need to explore further the understanding held by this relative on the meaning of the identity of the eternal spirit without a body. Perhaps asking why matter should be viewed as temporary will also shed some light. I doubt if rational evidence would be enough as its not reason but experience and tradition that seems to keep this relative in the faith.

Thanks for thinking through this for me.

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