(1 Corinthians 15:50-57)
This section of scripture is well known among Christians for a number of different reasons, but what it represents is one of the least understood principles in the bible.
It speaks directly to what the offer of God's grace is to mankind. Grace is one of those “churchy” words that Christians throw around all of the time. But understanding grace and what God has offered us is well described in this section.
And the final few verses offer an insight into the mystery of grace. They open up the power of the grace of God so we can better understand just exactly what God achieved through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In the first few verses we see Paul describe the inheritance that is offered to all mankind.
50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. – (1 Corinthians 15:50-53)
Here is the inheritance. Eternal life in a renewed body, not made of the perishable stuff of flesh, but the imperishable spirit. Those who have died in Christ will be raised imperishable and those who are still here on this earth awaiting the return of Jesus Christ will be instantaneously transformed from this weak, perishable state into the imperishable state where we will live with God.
The End of Death
In the next few verses we see that this is where the final victory we have all been waiting for in Christ is achieved.
The final victory is to conquer death. Death is the punishment all of mankind faces because of sin. But Jesus claimed the victory over sin and death when He died a sinless man, and was raised to sit at the right hand of God.
54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” – (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)
The victory has been won, but at the last trumpet it will be passed on to us as we are transformed into the imperishable image of God.
No longer will death be victorious over mankind. No longer will the sting of death be inflicted upon man leading to death. Instead, man will live because of the victory achieved by and in Jesus Christ.
The Sting of Death
But there is another extremely important point that comes from these verses. It is too easily overlooked in the joy that we will have this victory in Christ, and it relates as much to what is happening NOW in our Christian walk as it doesn't the time when the final trumpet sounds.
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – (1 Corinthians 15:56-57)
What we see here is that the “sting of death is sin.” It is sin that gives death its power. It is sin that is the reason why man dies because we have to pay the debt of sin and that payment is death.
But the verse goes on to say, “the power of sin is the law.”
It is law that gives sin its power. This is because the law, that is, the 650-odd laws of the Old Covenant, define what sin is. To break ANY of the laws is to commit sin, and committing sin leads to death.
But wait…the verse then goes on to say, “…thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
We already have the victory over sin because we can enter into and take on the death of Jesus Christ as our own through baptism by faith. This is one of the offers of the grace of God, to be able to enter the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ through baptism, and by faith to be set free from sin and the law.
If God has taken away the power of sin, which is the law, then sin has no power over us. And when we take on the death of Christ as our own death through baptism, that is exactly what is happening. Through Christ Jesus we are being removed from the law because the law is binding on a person only while they are alive, as it says here:
Or do you not know, brothers-for I am speaking to those who know the law-that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? – (Romans 7:1)
So if we have died in baptism, then we are no longer under the law. And by not being under the law, sin has no power over us because “the sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law.”
Sin is removed through faith by God's grace, and to keep us free from sin, God also removed the power of sin, which is the law.
We truly have the victory over sin and death through Jesus Christ, and it is made stronger by the removal of the law. This is truly an amazing example of the brilliance of God's plan and the power of His covenant given to provide us freedom.
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