1 Corinthians 15:56-58 - The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.
1. The sting of death is sin (v56):
The only poison from death is sin. So the only one who needs to fear death is the one who has unresolved and unconfessed sin. Whenever a person dies with all of their sins forgiven, there is no poison (eternal judgment) in their death. For such people, death is an exciting immeasurable upgrade of residence.
2. The power of sin is the law (v56):
It is the absolutely holy law of God that shows us what sin is. If we did not have the law of God, we would not know what sin is (Romans 7:7). So in any area of our lives that we do not know the law of God, there is no violation or transgression (Romans 4:15).
This is a beautiful truth that can free us from the fear of all the sins that we do not know we are committing. But it also raises another question. Is it better for us to not know more of the Law of God? Because the more that we get to know and learn, the more that we will be responsible for!
To answer that question, we must first ask ourselves what our goal in life is. If our desire in this life is to get to heaven, then we just need to be forgiven of our sins. And to be forgiven of our sins, we can go to God and honestly confess our sins and receive the cleansing forgiveness that Christ offers (1 John 1:9). But if our goal is to bring maximum honor to God and to use all of our lives to say thank you to God, then we will seek for more than to be merely forgiven of our sins.
So wanting to know less of our sins, so that we are held responsible for less, is not the heart of a disciple of Jesus. One who loves Jesus for all that He has done personally, will seek to gain the maximum victory for Him.
3. Am I Waving An Exemption Slip Or A Victory Flag (v57):
When a country is fighting an intense war, it asks its able-bodied persons to enlist to fight for the country. But the country might also grant exemptions and waivers for some – based on medical conditions, religious beliefs, etc.
In fighting against sin, the question is whether we seek to get a waiver from the fight, or whether we seek to fight and be a victor.
Forgiveness of sins is like getting a waiver from the fight. I don’t want to win the fight, but I still want to be on the winning team. I don’t want to pay the price to fight, so I succumb to temptation. But then I come to Jesus for forgiveness, and He provides me an exemption waiver because of His great mercy and forgiveness that He purchased by His life. And what's more, even though I didn’t actually fight, I even get to enjoy some of the spoils of Christ’s victory as a result of His inexplicable kindness.
Yet God earnestly seeks for those who want to be conquerors in the fight. Such people are not merely interested in the final victory of the King; they are zealous to be a part of His army of victors who fight and win battles for Him every day. So they are eager to enlist in the army that fights the enemy and seeks to defeat all sin day after day.
Gideon's army is a great Old Testament parable that speaks to this. Out of the 32,000 who initially volunteered, only 300 were victors. All of Israel (so all 32,000 as well) enjoyed the spoils of the victory. But not all were conquerors. Only Gideon and his band of 300 fighters enjoyed the fully victory of God.
And here’s one big benefit that only those who fight and win enjoy: They alone are freed from the FEAR of sin’s power.
There is an underlying spirit of fear that accompanies every sin (Romans 8:15). Very few Christians live a life free from the fear of sins, because very few are truly interested in being victors. Many are comfortable to just wave the waiver flag of God’s forgiveness. And so, we settle into a cozy lifestyle of having a sincere interest in Jesus, but living sloppy lives and thereby falling into sin from time to time. And then, we repeatedly reach out for forgiveness from Christ so that we can have His rest and comfort again. But a subtle fear will hang over us - the fear of slavery to sin. And we will not experience the life of “Sabbath rest” promised by God (Hebrews 4:9).
So let us seek to unearth every bit of God’s law. Let us pry open the mysteries of who God is, that is hidden in His Word. And may we understand the depths of God’s hatred for every kind of sin. And then, let us seize our whole inheritance and birthright: To rule and overwhelmingly conquer in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:37).
4. Be Steadfast and Be Immovable And Abounding in the Lord’s work (v58)
We have been blessed to receive rich truths about God from over the centuries, as well peculiarly blessed by the truths of the New Covenant. So we must remain steadfast and immovable in our pursuit to be victors over sin. Waving the waiver letter of forgiveness is not good enough for us. We want the total victory of the Lord to be established in our lives.
And not only steadfast and immovable, may we seek to abound and overflow in the Lord’s work of salvation in us. And let us set aside all desires to overflow in our good works – that we think would validate us before the Lord. Rather, let us abound in the Lord's work of salvation in us. Only then will our toil in the Lord not be in vain (not be empty). As we have heard in Brother Zac's rephrasing of the famous C.T. Studd quote: Only one life, 'twill soon be past; Only what's done through Christ will last.
5. Am I Achieving or Receiving The Victory (v57)?
Our victory over sin is something that is GIVEN to us by God, through the Lord Jesus - just like the branch receives life through the vine it is attached to (John 15:1-5). The Christian's true victory over sin is received, not achieved. So we must become experts at RECEIVING. The victory by which I will overcome the world is not ultimately my self-control and my strong discipline (even though God requires that of us; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Rather it is our faith (1 John 5:4). It is our leaning and reaching up to God’s giving hand which is our faith. So our receiving muscle must be very, very strong.
We might be burdened with many burdens. We are commanded to boldly CAST all our worries onto the Lord (Psalm 55:22; 1 Peter 5:7). But it is not good enough to stop there. Non-Christians have their own methods to cast off their troubles and worries (mindfulness, meditation, more money or comforts, pleasures of sin, etc). We as Christians cast our burdens on the Lord. But we go further. We also reach up to RECEIVE THE VICTORY from the Lord.
Sin will not master us when we come under the massive shelter of grace (Romans 6:14), which is realized only be being (and living) in Christ (John 1:17).
6. "Too many" for God to work with
When God first saw Gideon’s army, this is what He said: Judges 7:2 - The LORD said to Gideon, "The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, for Israel would become boastful, saying, ‘My own power has delivered me."
At this time, Gideon had gathered 32,000 Israelites to fight against 135,000 Midianites and Amalekites (Judges 8:10). So there was already a 4x disadvantage for the Israelites. But this was “too many” for God. So God massively pruned Gideon’s army down to just 300 people. Now there was a 450x disadvantage! NOW there was a proper imbalance so that God would get all the glory!
Yes, I might have surrendered a lot to the Lord. There might be a 4x space for God to work. But are there still "too many" little Sandeep's within? Does God look at me and say that He still can’t give me His full salvation yet, because I will still be boastful and say (in my heart underneath the most pious of language), "My own will-power has delivered me!"
May the Lord's hand extend freely to "push back" and "withhold" and “prune” - because He alone knows what is “too many” for God to get the glory in my life. As there is a fuller emptying of myself, then God will be unrestrained to work in and through me.