Easter and the Goal of the Gospel

N. T. Wright’s most recent book—After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters—begins with a simple question, “What am I here for?” The question is posed not as abstract philosophy but rather as the concrete concern of a genuine disciple: Given that, as follower of Jesus Christ, I’ve been saved by grace through faith . . . what now? What’s am I to do with my time this side of the second coming—the ‘in-between’ time, so to speak? Where’s it all going? And, most importantly, how do I become a part of what God is doing in the every day realities of life?

For most evangelicals, the goal of the gospel—what it’s really all about—can be summarized in a single word: heaven. We may (at our more humble moments) say, “It’s all about God,” and we may (at times) even mean it. But when it comes to our own personal happy ending, when we really get down to what it’s all about for us, heaven is the goal.

The trouble with this goal isn’t so much that it’s not true; only that it’s half true. Heaven—in the sense of a spiritual, disembodied, escape-from-the-world-down-here sort of place—is certainly a part of the story (part of each of our own personal in-between time), but it’s not where the story ends.

The problem is that ending with heaven leaves out the most significant event in the New Testament: Easter. As Wright has elsewhere put it, “Heaven’s important, but it’s not the end of the world.” No, the goal of the Christian story—from Genesis to Revelation—is not going-to-heaven-when-you-die. The goal is resurrection—God’s cosmic, kingdom-enacting re-creation of all things “in heaven and on earth.”

Where does Easter fit into this story? In 1 Corinthians 15:20 and 23 Paul tells us that Jesus’ resurrection was the “first-fruits” of God’s new creation, the down-payment in the present guaranteeing and even providing the foundation for what will one day flood creation.

The point in all of this is that knowing the end of the story drastically changes how we answer the question: “What am I here for now?” Wright sketches out the following answer through what he calls “moral thrust of the New Testament”:
  1. The goal is the new heavens and new earth, with human beings raised from the dead to be the renewed world’s rulers and priest.
  2. This goal is achieved through the kingdom-establishing work of Jesus as the Spirit, which we grasp by faith, participate in by baptism, and live out in love.
  3. Christian living in the present consists of anticipating this ultimate reality through the Spirit-led, habit-forming, truly human practice of faith, hope and love, sustaining Christians in their calling to worship God and reflect his glory into the world (67).

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