I began a Sunday school class I taught several weeks ago on “God’s Sovereignty and Our Responsibility” with the following statement:
You will never be able to walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil unless you believe in God’s sovereignty.
I believe that God is working out his master plan to restore the whole of creation, in all things, working for the good of those who love him (Rom. 8:28). At the epicenter of his plan is the event we will celebrate on Sunday, the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This is the most significant event in history. Without the resurrection, nothing else matters (1 Cor. 15:14). Paul describes the resurrection as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). Based on this historical fact, it is the believers’ great hope that we, too, will be raised from the dead when Christ returns (1 Cor. 15:51-52). This hope gives us great joy as we anticipate the future but also offers us a compelling purpose to live for today.
An Adverse Diagnosis
Days after I taught this class on God’s sovereignty, this belief was put to the test in my life when I was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). It is a disease with no real treatment and no cure. People diagnosed with ALS typically have a life expectancy of two to five years, while some only live six months, and others live twenty years. The interesting thing is there is no way to know which group you will be in; you genuinely have to live one day at a time.
You might think that this revelation has been a great challenge to my faith; if anything, it has reinforced it. That is not to say that I am excited about the turn my life has taken. I hate it. I hate the brokenness of this world now more than ever.
Why Our Work Still Matters
But as I have turned to 1 Corinthians 15 to study over Holy Week, as has become my tradition, I am deeply moved by the power of the resurrection and the fantastic way in which Paul ends this chapter.
It seems like Paul would say, “Since there is a resurrection, look forward to this glorious future?” No. He says something quite different:
Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).
Your work is not in vain! Why not? I love NT Wright’s answer to this question and quote it in my book, How Then Should We Work. He says:
Because everything you do in the present, in the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, everything that flows out of love and hope and grace and goodness somehow will be part of God’s eventual kingdom. That is the message of the Resurrection. The Resurrection is your new body in which you will be gloriously, truly wonderfully you. The Resurrection means everything you’ve done in the present through your body—works of justice and mercy and love and hope—somehow in ways we don’t understand will be part of God’s new creation.
All of our work matters to God and has eternal consequences because of what happened on that first Easter, and because of what will happen to all of us who are in Christ at the end of this age.
Fixing Our Eyes on Jesus
I ended my Sunday school lesson talking about one of my favorite verses in the Bible, which harmonizes the two seemingly contradictory ideas of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility. The author of the book of Hebrews writes:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1-2)
Every morning we need to get up, lace up our shoes and run the race as hard as we can; that is our responsibility. It is God who lays out the path on which we run. We have no control over that, as I was reminded two weeks ago.
The good news is that we can confidently run the race because Jesus, the pioneer, and perfecter of our faith, has already crossed the finish line, defeating the powers of sin and death.
Jesus asked an essential question to Martha after hearing about the death of Lazarus,
“I am the Resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)
All of us must, at some point along our earthly journey answer this question. If your answer to this question is yes, as mine is, it changes everything in this world and the world to come. Now, I know that the work God has called me to do in whatever time I have left has eternal importance because of the resurrection.
I long to stand with God’s people Sunday and acknowledge, He is risen… He is risen indeed.
Editor’s Note: We will not be publishing a blog on Friday, April 10, 2020, in recognition of Good Friday.