In his famous “Resurrection Chapter” (1 Corinthians 15) the apostle Paul wrote: “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law” (Verse 56).
The word “strength” (in both the KJV and the NKJV) is rendered from the Greek dunamo, from where we derive the words dynamo and dynamic – meaning or having to do with force or power, strength.
Some people, whom the apostle Peter describes as being “untaught” (KJV) or “unlearned” (NKJV) [from the Greek amathes, meaning “ignorant”] and “unstable” [from the Greek asteriktos, meaning “unfixed” or “vacillating”] were those in God’s Church who “wrest” [from the Greek strebloo, meaning wrench, torture or “pervert”] the apostle Paul’s letters, “in which are some things hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:15-16).
1 Corinthians 15:56 is one such difficult scripture. I have read about someone stating with presumed authority that Paul is here saying that, by God supposedly removing the law, sin has no more power or strength over a person, and the “sting” [from the Greek kentron, meaning “center” or point – prick with poison] of death, which sting is sin, can no longer affect man.
One can point to Romans 4:15, which says: “because the law brings about wrath: for where there is no law there is no transgression [sin].” It is thus easy to conclude: “Do away with the law, and you do away with sin!” [See: No Such Thing as Sin?]
But that is one hasty conclusion and fails to consider the whole counsel of Paul’s writings as well as all of the Scriptures.
Romans 7 is Paul’s clarification of the relationship or connection between the law and sin. True, Paul declared that, in Christ, we have “become dead to the law” (Verse 4). He also declared: “For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death” (Verse 5).
Lest we be tempted to conclude that the law of God has a bad influence on us, Paul hastened to say, “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said ‘You shall not covet’” (Verse 7). Paul then continued: “But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead [‘slept’]” (Verse 8).
There is a common observation about the baffling behavior of my fellow-Filipinos, which may or may not be the case with other nations. It is this: that where a notice or sign says, “Bawal Magtapon ng Basura Dito” [“No Dumping of Garbage Here”], there, precisely, we find people throwing their garbage! The same goes with the notice “Bawal Umihi Dito.” [“No Peeing Here.”]. Right there, in some corner of a building men go to relieve their bladder!
Were the notices bad in themselves? No, they were meant to maintain sanitation and order in the designated places. But somehow people find those prohibited places convenient for their purposes (or needs?), and so they disregard the intent of the notices, and that despite any penalty or fine for disobeying the instruction.
In the same vein, Paul continued: “Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment [of God] holy, and just and good” (Verse 12).
Paul then analyzed the irony of our human nature. “Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin [become clear as such] was producing in me death through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful, For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to do well is present with me; but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me” (Verses 13-20).
Pondering this quandary, Paul was driven to despair – until he found the ultimate solution: “I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!
In chapter 8 Paul explains how Christ is able to help us obey the law of God. In a word, we can only do so with the help, and through the power, of Christ’s Holy Spirit. [See: God’s Spirit and Obedience and The Higher Law of the Spirit.]
God’s law abides forever
Contrary to the belief of many professing Christians, Jesus Christ did not come to abolish the law or commandments of God. He categorically said: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven [if they get there at all!], but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven; for I say to you, that Unless Your Righteousness Exceeds…. the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Verses 17-20).
The psalmist said: “The law of God is perfect, converting the soul” (Psalm 19:7). How can something perfect be done away with? God’s law – as does all His Word – abides forever” (1 Peter 1:23, quoted from Isaiah 40:6-8).) Psalm 119:142 affirms that God’s “law is the truth.” And Christ declared: “Your word is truth” (John 17:15).
As a Christian hymn says, “God’s grace [is] greater than all our sin.” The Son of God – Jesus Christ – is God’s gift [Greek, charis] of grace to sinful mankind because He died on Calvary’s cross so we can receive pardon from all our sins and thus become righteous with God, [See: The Ransomed of the LORD.]
As the Church of God observes God’s Feast of Unleavened Bread from the 16th of April through the 22nd this year, may our brethren find strength in Christ to overcome the sins that so easily beset us, thus helping us to make it to God’s glorious kingdom!
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.