Toward the end of 1 Corinthians, we find a verse that helps us to explain the connection between sin and death. Interestingly, the two words are not used as we commonly use them today. The reference is, of course, 1 Corinthians 15:56: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” Notice here that death is not necessarily the thing that happens at the end of life, for we simply don’t know if there is or is not a sting in that death. Instead, death seems to be something that we all know exactly what is being spoken of. It is a daily thing, suffering the normal aspects of life. Because the sting of death is sin, we see that sin is something that has us in its grips. Death is defined as a moment-by-moment decision to continue in the bounds of sin, or to step out through the cross of Christ Jesus to choose life. We are given the choice, and if we choose death, then we shall face death ultimately (reference Revelation 20:114).
What shall we say of sin? If death is moment by moment because of sin, then we must ask what we mean by sin. For many, sin is the action that offends God. It is the disobedience to the law of Christ. However, we’ll see later in this section why exactly that cannot be. Sin is a power. It is a condition. We cannot relieve ourselves from the grips of sin. It takes a supernatural work to break the chains of sin. It is at work in our members so that when we were once under the law of sin and death, we found that no matter how greatly we desired to obey the law, we did the very things we did not want to do. We strove to obey God’s commands, but there is something at work within us to prevent us. This prevention is actually not some sort of human nature, but rather a sin nature. It is a secondary nature that has been put upon us.
The actions called sins are not to be understood as the “end all be all”. Instead, we should understand that the actions are a result of something deeper. There is an inward working of death in our mortal bodies. We are increasingly being moved further and further away from God and toward death. Sin reigns in our bodies, and therefore we are stuck in the grips of death – to be absent from God. It is our sin that separates us from God, but sin of what kind? Certainly it is not the petty shortcomings that we all face, for when we are in Christ there is no condemnation. No, this sin being expressed by Isaiah the prophet is an inward reality of death having its way in our members. It is a condition, a disposition, and that without remedy.
Now, what is meant by Paul when he says that the power of sin is the law? In Romans 7, he establishes the fact that the law is not unholy, nor evil. On the contrary, the Law is the mechanism that God used to express His heart to us. It is holy, holy, holy. When Paul uses the term “law”, it needs to be understood in the context of two kingdoms. There is a wisdom of the kingdom of darkness that says we can do on our own strength. To walk according to the law is to say that God has given us His ‘manual’ and we only need to live in accordance to it. After all, we do read the B-I-B-L-E – the Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. To view the Scripture in this manner is to take the holy things of God in a carnal manner – walking out our faith by our own strength and power – and thus utilizing the wisdom of demons to achieve a preconceived notion of righteousness. Thus, we are not simply talking about the law in content, but the law in practice. It is not just the law, but the law manipulated through the wisdom of this age.
It is all about self-preservation. Because we know what God commands, we can perform these regulations in order to attain unto righteousness. However, righteousness comes through faith and faith alone. To trust in the works of the law is to trust in sin and death, for through the law sin came. In the ever-nagging question of whether we’re supposed to obey the Torah, we want to answer question number two without asking question number one. The first thing to answer is whether we have indeed established our righteousness upon faith, or whether we in fact do have some sort of religious system and tradition to uphold a preconceived notion of righteousness. Once that has been established, we can then seek to understand the Law according to faith. For they who desire to observe a Sabbath day, do it unto Christ through faith. For they who say that every day is a Sabbath, do so unto Christ through faith.
We do not observe the letter of the Law as was once taught. Instead, we see that the Passover is fulfilled in Christ, and so when we keep the Passover, it is through Christ and not of fleshly obligation. We see in the kosher diet as ascribed in Leviticus 11 that Christ is our clean food – the bread of truth and sincerity without leaven, and our meat in due season – thus anything clean points us to Christ, and anything unclean reveals to us what Christ was not. In all things, whether eating or drinking, we do it unto Christ. The question of whether we’re free to live apart from the law is answered as follows: Love your neighbor as yourself, for in this the whole of the law is summed up. You who are not circumcised, remain as you are. You who have not kept the kosher diet, think heavily before taking up that kosher diet. Do all things unto Christ through faith, for the power of sin is the law. Now that you have been given freedom, do not exchange that freedom for bondage. You’ve been set free for freedom’s sake.
This is the power of the kingdom of darkness: Death being at work in us through sin, and sin being at work in us through our own attempts at being righteous. To be free from this is to be free indeed. That kind of freedom comes with a price. The author of Hebrews warned his readers, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” It takes the Gethsemane experience of every believer to break past the bounds of sin and death and into the realm of eternal glory. It is that resurrection glory that we seek, not just at the end of the age, but to be alive within our members even now. We are of a different kingdom, and therefore we are of a different wisdom. We are not bound by sin and death – the power of the kingdom of darkness – but instead we are bound to Christ. Now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve the new way of the Spirit, and now in the old way of the written code. We are set free, not to avoid the Torah, but to find the deeper expression of it through life lived unto Christ through faith.