Easter and ethics: How the resurrection reshapes the Christian life

By Phillip Bethancourt
Apr 18, 2014

What is the relationship between Easter and ethics? How does the crucifixion shape the Christian life? How does the resurrection reorient our moral intuitions?

The answer may come from an often-overlooked part of Acts 1. When most read the beginning of the chapter, they fixate on several features: (1) Acts as a continuation of Luke (1:1), (2) the promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit (1:6), and (3) the missionary commission to be witnesses to the end of the earth (1:8).

But buried in that text are a few nuggets of truth that shed light on the relationship between Easter and ethics. It highlights how, before his ascension, Jesus gave “commands through the Holy Spirit” while “speaking about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:2-3). What Luke makes clear is that, after the resurrection, Jesus reframes how to live as a follower of Christ in light of the inbreaking kingdom of God.

Ethics and the Victory of Christ

Through his death and resurrection, Jesus achieves a decisive victory over his enemies Satan, sin, and death. This conquest is precisely why Jesus has the authority to instruct his apostles with the commands Luke mentions in Acts 1:2. With victory comes authority. With conquest comes credibility.

By defeating Satan through his death and resurrection, Jesus reframes our ethics by showing that our primary moral adversary has no lasting authority or power on those who are in Christ. By conquering sin, he reshapes our ethics by demonstrating that all this world can boast is nothing compared to the glory of faithfully obeying the call of Christ. By overcoming death, Jesus reorients our ethics by defeating the fear of death that overwhelms the anxieties of every person.

If Jesus died and rose on the third day in victorious triumph, it changes our cultural engagement. We do not enter the public arena seeking to crush enemies but persuade captives. We are not held captive by the allure of Satan’s deceits but set free to follow the way of Christ with joy.

Ethics and the New Creation

Through his death and resurrection, Jesus ushers in a new creation. He is the forerunner who launches a cosmic reconstruction project by which the broken world is becoming untrue. All things are being made new. And the down payment that functions as the sign and seal of this new creation is the Holy Spirit, who Luke highlights in Acts 1:2.

By ushering in a new creation through his death and resurrection, Jesus reframes our ethics by transforming our mission. For those now part of this new creation order, the call of Christ is to restore the shalom shattered by sin through declaring the word of God in proclamation and demonstrating the power of God in ministry. Our cultural engagement is no longer about self-preservation or power, but about applying the transformed order of the new creation to our broken world.

By ushering in a new creation through his death and resurrection, Jesus also reframes our ethics by transforming our context. Followers of Christ are now citizens of a new creation. This transforms our allegiances and our authority. We perceive the daily events of life that demand ethical clarity through the lens of an unfolding new creation kingdom that will not fail.

Ethics and the Kingdom of God

Through his death and resurrection, Jesus inaugurates the kingdom of God. By overthrowing the power of sin and death, Jesus squelches the parasitic insurrection of Satan. He demonstrates his authority to rule and reign over the entire universe. This is precisely why, during the 40 days after his resurrection, Jesus was “speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).

By inaugurating the kingdom of God through his death and resurrection, Jesus reframes our ethics through a call to kingdom flourishing. The curse of sin has been shattered. The fear of death has been subdued. In Christ, Easter has set us free to live the abundant life that promotes human flourishing for the common good and the upbuilding of the church.

By inaugurating the kingdom of God through his death and resurrection, Jesus reframes our ethics through a call to embody the ethics of the king. Jesus models what life in the kingdom should look like. He indwells us with the Holy Spirit to empower us to walk in the way of wisdom. He surrounds us with the church, the outpost of this new kingdom, to fortify us to withstand in the evil day.

Ethics and Easter

The death of Jesus seemed insignificant to the average Jew passing by on that ominous day. They had seen thieves, murderers, and insurrectionists slung upon these Roman instruments of torture far too many times. Their familiarity bred apathy. They did not recognize the eternal significance of what happened.

Is it possible that the same is true of us? That our familiarity with the Easter story causes us to pass by seemingly insignificant Scripture passages like Acts 1:1-3 because we are so familiar with the overarching narrative of the resurrection? That our familiarity breeds apathy?

The death and resurrection of Jesus transforms the Christian life because the victory of Christ ushers in a new creation and launches a new kingdom. Easter changes everything, including our ethics.

Further Learning

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