The second consequence of denying the resurrection is found in verse 14. If Christ has not been raised, then preaching the Gospel is meaningless, and faith is futile. The Greek word Paul used here in verse 14 is translated as “useless” in the New International Version. This is the same Greek word that has been used for what has been called the “kenosis theory” of the incarnation. It means an “emptying.” The theory is based on Philippians 2, where Paul said that Jesus emptied himself, not considering equality with God something to be grasped (v. 6). Rather, he emptied himself and became like us, a man, and died on the cross. The point here is that Paul is using the word “useless” in the same way. He is saying if there are no resurrections, then Jesus is not raised. And if Jesus is not raised, then our faith is emptied of all its substance.
We can preach morality; we can preach about God; we can preach about the meaning in the flow of history; but if you remove the resurrection from the Gospel, it just vitiates it all, because in Christianity we are dealing not chiefly with a philosophy. The men who taught in Greece before Paul came had philosophies. He says, “We are not talking about that. We’re talking about God’s intervention in history in a supernatural way, which has an impact on each one of us. If there is no resurrection then Jesus is not raised and this preaching that we’re going about doing is emptied of all its content and all its meaning.
I wish that liberal preachers, those who know that they do not believe in the supernatural, would listen to Paul at this point, because he is consistent and they are not. We have a lot of men in the pulpits who do not believe in anything supernatural and certainly do not believe in the resurrection. Yet, they go right on preaching. Of course, this is the reason why their churches are so bad, why nothing happens, and why people are not converted. Their churches become clubs where people of the same socio-economic level can pat one another on the back and look askance at those who come and do not fit in. Nothing of any spiritual consequence is happening, and no wonder. Those churches have lost the heart of the Gospel–the vicarious atonement of Christ on the cross for our sins, and his resurrection. As a result, nothing of eternal value happens.
I read an interesting poll some time ago about ministers. It compared their belief in the resurrection with the amount of education they had received. I do not remember the exact figures, but about 40 percent of the ministers who went into the ministry with only a high school education disbelieved the resurrection, leaving 60 percent who believed. For those ministers who had completed college the percentage of disbelief rose. In that group, about 60 percent disbelieved the resurrection and only 40 percent believed. For those ministers polled with a seminary education, the figure went up even higher; somewhere around 70 percent no longer believed in a literal, bodily resurrection. And if a minister managed to earn a doctorate degree in addition to his seminary education, the level of disbelief edged up into the eighties.
That is really tragic because it speaks of the muddled educational system in our seminaries among those who are supposed to be teaching the things of God. These findings call us back to the kind of logic Paul puts forth here in 1 Corinthians 15. I do not mind people disbelieving the resurrection if they are not convinced of it. No one is supposed to proclaim what he does not believe. But I do wish they would get out of the pulpits if they do not believe it, in order to make room for those of us who do. We have many young ministers who are looking for pulpits today. I think having our young men fill these pulpits and having these unbelieving men leave would improve our churches.
The third consequence of disbelieving the resurrection comes out in verse 15. Paul wrote, “More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.” What is a false witness? A false witness is a liar. Paul says this in slightly nicer language, but the fact remains that, if there is no such thing as a resurrection, the apostles would be liars. The reason for that lies in the requirements that were necessary for qualifying as an apostle, which we will consider in tomorrow’s lesson.