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"By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain." - 1 Corinthians 15:2 (NLT)
There are two fundamental blind spots in my brain function: I am an adamantly hands-on learner, and I am directionally challenged. This means no matter how many times you speak instructions to me, I will not fully grasp them until I do it myself; this also means that when my sweet father is giving me directions including words like “north” and “south,” I listen intently, can’t comprehend it, and use my GPS anyway. There is a gap between my ability to understand and my ability to enact the information given.
1 Corinthians 15 outlines the bottom line of what we believe: the resurrection. The rest of our faith hinges on that. Our gap, like my directional abilities, comes in the way we interact with this truth - because if we truly receive it, our lives will look a lot different. Resurrection, y’all. That’s powerful. Do we really live like we’ve been given a whole new life?
I recently listened to a sermon that unpacked the word “to know” used throughout the Old Testament: “yada.” It’s a different connotation than the way we know information; it’s more intimate, like the way we know gravity, or the closeness of a spouse. It’s the way the Lord knows us, and the way we were meant to know Him. Pastor Sarah Deutscher went on to propose that, “your true religion is not what you believe, your true religion is what shapes your behavior.”
So what is the truth we engage with at a level that shapes our behavior? Embracing the reality of the resurrection means radical freedom, joy and love. It creates an overflow. We have to start here: at living out of our deep-down, intimately-known belief of the gospel. This is what saves us. This is the foundation we build on.
"But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me - and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace." - 1 Corinthians 15:10 (NLT)
Anyone who has a sibling (or keeps up with politics) will understand the blame-game - the frantic need to shift responsibility to put yourself in the best possible light. If something good happens, you can grin proudly and declare, “ME!” And if something bad happens, the finger-pointing and excuses and “NOT ME’s” ensue.
We wouldn’t like to admit it, but we still do that a bit, don’t we? We wear success like a badge and cover our shortcomings in guilt and shame. Paul, the writer here, has the extremes of both - from persecuting Christians to radically dedicating his life to the mission - and it allows him to speak powerfully of a grace he intimately knows. He grasps the fullness of the resurrection and as a result declares one essential truth here: it’s not about me.
Later in this chapter he also speaks about the glory of creation, and says, “Our bodies are raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength.” (1 Cor. 15:43). Friends, we were created with the explicit purpose of God’s glory. And while this manifests differently in each of our lives, the radical power of the resurrection means we can fully step into that. It is a mark of God’s goodness and mercy that He calls us to something beyond ourselves, and beyond what we can see or understand. It’s not about us, and that’s a freeing truth.
- Reflect on the powerful truth of grace and how it is evident in your own life. Ask God where you can more fully receive the grace He’s offering, and where He could be asking you to live beyond yourself. If you feel prompted, you can look into getting involved in the Ministries Southland has to offer.
"For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all of our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless… and if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world." - 1 Corinthians 15:13-14,19 (NLT)
When I was little, I asked my dad about heaven a lot. Even with all his gracious and educated answers, the picture in my head was still clouds and robes and harps, and I recall adamantly thinking how supremely boring that would be. My adult life has brought a bit more clarity and anticipation to something miraculously beautiful: an earth reinvented to a fullness and beauty that our good God originally intended.
The reality of this insane hope - that our Father went to the greatest lengths to bring His kids home - is the mightiest truth we can possess. Resurrection is what it all hinges on; it means if the grave is empty, anything is possible.
I come back to this phrase frequently and fill in my blank accordingly: “If the grave is empty, __ is possible.” Redemption, mercy, forgiveness, love, freedom, joy, and an endless list - if we aren’t living into these realities, our faith is incomplete. In essence, this is what Paul is calling out; he’s asking, “what’s the point?” If we live within a grave-free reality but live grave-tending kind of lives, what’s the point? The anticipation of Heaven carries an indisputable hope, and our lives look more joy-filled because of it.
This idea of hope frequently brings me to 1 Peter 3:15, where we are told to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Our lives should be so radiant with hope that we prompt others to ask questions, and the resurrection (and the non-boring, non-cloudy heaven we look forward to) is what makes that possible.
"And why should we ourselves risk our lives by the hour? For I swear, dear brothers and sisters, that I face death daily. This is as certain as my pride in what Christ Jesus has done in you." - 1 Corinthians 15:30-31 (NLT)
I could easily argue we live in a post-Christian culture - an environment that will naturally push against what we believe and why we believe it.
This being said, we probably cannot claim the full gravity of persecution as Paul details here - his faith meant a constant threat of imprisonment or torture or death. So though we may be largely unsupported in our beliefs or shoved to the outskirts for them, this is exactly what we’ve been told to expect: Jesus tells us in Mark 13:13 that “Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
The resurrection means we have a mission. The same grace we receive is readily available to a desperately broken world; so the abundance of our grace is not only for our own sake, but for the sake of others. And friends, we are beyond blessed in our circumstances. None of us “face death daily,” as Paul did, on behalf of our faith. This doesn’t necessarily mean we’re doing something wrong, it means we have been given a privilege. How are we using it?
Paul goes on to say, “If there is no resurrection, ‘Let’s feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!’” (1 Cor. 15:32b). In other words, the resurrection compels us beyond a self-motivated, life-improvement kind of faith; and in an affluent and indulgent culture, compromise and distraction can be some of our biggest hindrances to truly bold faith.
We have no shortage of socially acceptable distractions. Netflix, podcasts, social media, shopping, sports, dining … these are all good things, but if we are devoting the bulk of our attention to these endless entertainments, what are the compromises made on our spirits and our time? Bob Goff wisely says, “What constantly distracts us will eventually define us.” If we allow our blessings to distract us and define us, we risk neglecting the power of the resurrection.
"But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless." - 1 Corinthians 15:57-58 (NLT)
I was approached by homeless men on two separate occasions this morning, each asking for a spare dollar for food. I ended up at a McDonald’s, waiting for order 394, anxiously tapping my foot, wrecked by this problem and its prevalence in Lexington. My solution-oriented brain was in overdrive, trying to think of a fix for a broken system. I was overwhelmed by it, and that’s what typically happens with tragedy or injustice, isn’t it? It’s too big, too much, and we’re too powerless.
Celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart recently responded to the hurricane devastation with a project called Resilient Light, using his photography skills to capture the desolation of the aftermath while incorporating light and inspiration. It’s simple, hope-filled, unconventional, and a beautiful example of what it looks like to work for the Lord. The resurrection means what is done in love is never wasted.
The truths offered in 1 Corinthians 15 are bold and weighty ones, but it’s the beauty in this passage that ties it together: we live in victory. When victory is declared, we are free to live in worship. We are free to love fiercely. We are free to use exactly what we’ve been given exactly where we are and trust that the Lord will bring purpose.
Ultimately, we are all children created to be worshippers for the glory of the Father, and we are all a part of the grand narrative to reconcile His family. In the words of one of my favorite bands, “The battle rages but the war is won” (Adelina, Johnnyswim). So while we keep fighting, we declare victory. In ache or failure or temptation, declare victory. In doubt or fear or insecurity, declare victory. In sickness or tragedy or injustice, declare victory.