I think it’s easy to forget, as children of God what a uniquely privileged position we are in. We sing: “No guilt in life, no fear in death: this is the power of Christ in me.” No fear in death. No fear when we stand at the graveside of a loved one who knew and trusted Jesus. In this passage, Paul explains why.
- The power of sin is the law. Sin would have no power if there was no right and wrong, if God had never set out a plan for how to live. We live in a world that often acts as if there’s no grand plan, no overarching narrative. However, there is a God, who spoke the world into form, who is real and living and powerful and holy. And sin, falling short of God’s plan, holding itself up against God’s plan, is a powerful force, albeit an ugly and destructive one.
- The sting of death is sin. If sin didn’t exist, then death would be of no consequence. If sin didn’t exist, then there would be no need to “appear before the judgement seat of Christ” (2 Cor 5:10), because none of our actions would need to be judged. However, sin does exist, as the poisonous, fearsome, scorpion sting in death’s tail.
- God gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Cast your minds back to the Garden of Eden, shortly after sin entered the world, shortly before Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden forever. God tells Satan (the serpent) that Eve’s offspring “will crush your head” (Gen 3:15). And many generations later, Jesus defeated death, crushing the power of sin, “once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous” (1 Peter 3:18). Jesus took the sting for us, the poison of our sin, “nailing it to the cross” (Col 2:14). Which means: we are victorious in Christ!
(Why don’t you take a moment to pray, or to worship Him, for this?)
So how should we respond? Paul tells us:
- Be steadfast and immovable. We don’t face anywhere near the amount of persecution faced by the early church. But we are called to withstand the pressure to compromise and conform. Jesus’ victory over death means that we have nothing to fear, and that we can stand firm in His promises. As we’ll hear in a few days’ time, “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor 4:17).
- Abound in the work of the Lord. We have a message of hope, of redemption, of forgiveness – but crucially we have a message that robs death of its sting.
- Know that our work is not in vain. It’s so easy to lose hope when faced with discouragement. In my new job, one of my key responsibilities is to see the number of rough sleepers in Cambridge reduced to an absolute minimum. The only problem is that new people are arriving on the streets as fast as the existing ones are being rehoused. I saw a woman in her 20s slumped outside our offices early on Friday morning as I was heading into work and I nearly welled up. I pray every day for breakthroughs that are greater than anything we could achieve through strategy. (If you have a chance, please pray for the work of so many Christian groups in the city: Hope Into Action, Cambridge Churches Housing Project, Street Pastors and so on). I need to take hope that my work is not in vain.
- Be generous. Verses 1-4 of chapter 16 appear to address a different issue: that of the collection for the saints. However, Jesus’ death on the cross has bought us victory over greed and self-sufficiency. When we are generous with our finances, we show that God is sufficient and that the best investments are those that reap eternal fruit.
One day there will be no more death: God will wipe every tear from our eyes, and death will be no more (Revelation 21:4). But for now, we can live with confidence. No guilt in life, no fear in death.