…”Death has been swallowed up in Victory.” “Where, O Death, is your victory? Where of death is your sting.” The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:54-57
As I consider the freedom I celebrate as a citizen of the United States of America on the 4th of July and enjoy every day, I am reminded of a greater freedom I enjoy as one who has been redeemed from death to life. As a citizen of heaven, my death has been swallowed up in victory and I am freed from the bondage of sin and shame. Thanks be to God!
While I have accepted this truth for much of my life, I am still learning to live into the implications of it as I study and apply scripture to my life, line by line, day by day in different seasons, at different ages, in different circumstances.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul is writing to the church in Corinth, a church that is suffering great divisions. Paul writes to them many truths about who they are in Christ and what that means for their situation. In this letter of 16 chapters, Paul dedicates a long 58 verse chapter to the proof and implications of Christ’s resurrection. This chapter of scripture is critical commentary on what happened in the Easter narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We can celebrate Easter without fully understanding 1 Corinthians 15, but living into all Easter means for us requires this teaching Paul is giving the church at Corinth and Bible readers throughout the ages. The scope of this teaching is beyond me and the blogs I write. (Most recently, I have found, Tim Keller’s Hope in Time of Fear: The Resurrection and the meaning of Easter helpful in unpacking the riches of this passage.) In this space, however, I want to share a few “light bulbs” this passage lights for me.
First, apart from Christ, I am enslaved to sin and death and need liberating. (see 15:21-22) Now that fact, I hate to admit, took me a long time to really believe and is still much too easy for me to forget! If you are there, still trying to grit it out on your own, I have empathy. For too long, I thought I might just be good enough on my own, before God showed me my great need. He did this not to shame me, but to free me! How is He showing you your need for liberation?
Second, Christ did actual work to liberate me and all who will trust Him for salvation from sin and death. Understanding the details of this work has given me a solid foundation to stand on when I doubt, question, and face new seasons of challenge and opposition. This is not some dreamy picture of Jesus making ethereal promises we cannot grasp. This is Jesus who did the real and costly work in the trenches of this world and in the heavenly places too. It is finished. His victory is secure. It is a fourfold work. #1: He lived a perfectly holy life on this earth. Fully God and fully man, Christ truly fulfilled the old covenant law in a way no Jew or Gentile could. He lived a life that glorified God in every thought, word, deed and heart desire. #2: He laid down that life on the cross at Calvary to pay the wages of sin for all who will ever put their faith in His sacrifice. God’s holiness demands that sin be punished by death. Jesus offered His perfect life in place of mine and yours. (1 Corinthians 15:3) Not only does He take on our sin, but He offers us His righteousness, reconciling us to God! #3 Christ was raised on the third day. Paul details proof of this in 15:3-11 and discusses the implications in the rest of the chapter. He sums it up in the verses above: death has been swallowed up in victory! And finally, #4: Christ ascended to the throne of God where He reigns and from where He will return to consummate redemption. We see reference to this in 15:23-28. Pondering and processing and acting on this fourfold work is the beautiful work of worship that citizens of heaven get to do every single day!
Third, by inviting me to think in detail through what would happen in Christ had not been raised (12-34), Paul has shown me how to think through the implications of believing or not believing the resurrection in my daily life. I can now look at my greatest fears, my heart attachments, the way I spend my time, emotions, money – do these reflect the fact that I am free from sin and death? For instance: I do not have to follow the well-worn ruts of my flesh when offended, I am free to love and forgive. I do not have to practice self-preservation in relationships, I am free to risk rejection. I do not have to exact justice in every social media space, I am free to not demonize others and give God room to work. I do not have to worry about my future, I am free to trust God’s provision. I do not have to build my kingdom here and now because I am a citizen of an eternal kingdom and my King has defeated death forever. I can, as Paul admonishes in verse 58, stand firm. Let nothing move me. Always give myself fully to the work of the Lord because I know that my labor in the Lord is not in vain.
I put portions of these verses 54-57 on a sympathy card to encourage the grieving. Certainly, these verses are the very best encouragement when we lose a sister or brother in Christ! But in this blog, I offer them to all who will read them on this day after the 4th of July. Have you received freedom from sin and death through the four-fold work of Jesus Christ? It is available to you today. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to talk more. Our faith journey is meant to be shared.
If fireworks are how we remember the war that won our freedom as Americans, would whole-life worship be the way we honor our Redeemer who won our freedom from sin and death to life and glory?
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Offices by Biblica, Inc.™