The first question of the New City Catechism states: “What is our only hope in life and death? That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our savior Jesus Christ.”
What a great hope! But what is that hope rooted in? What is it’s basis? It’s rooted in the resurrection of Christ! In 1 Corinthians 15 the Apostle Paul pens fifty-eight verses explaining and applying the resurrection of Christ. I want to point out three things that I see in these fifty-eight verses that speak to the hope that we have in both our own death and the death of a loved one, if they are a believer.
First, the Gospel is verified in and by the resurrection of Christ. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (15:22). The Gospel is about bringing dead people to life. When you were dead in your sins (Ephesians 2:1) the Holy Spirit convicted you of your sins, gave you faith and regenerated your heart. You needed a Savior because Adam sinned and plunged all of creation into sin; Jesus is that Savior! But how does this verify the Gospel, you might ask? Because without the resurrection Jesus Christ saves us no more than having a life jacket on next to you saves you from drowning. We can tell people all day long that Christ died for their sins, but if we don’t tell them that Christ rose from the grave it means absolutely nothing!
Second, the resurrection promises us a new, glorified body. Our bodies are ravished by the effects of sin. Sickness and death are two inescapable effects of Adam’s sin. Our bodies deteriorate, and eventually decompose into the dust from which they came, but not our new glorified body. Our glorified body, free from sin and it’s effects, is not an earthly body but a heavenly one. Paul writes in 15:44 “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” Our new body is “raised in glory” (15:43), just like Jesus.
Lastly, in the resurrection sin has lost its sting. What does Paul mean by “sting”? 15:56 sheds some light for us. According to Paul the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin (or maybe another way of saying it is “the fuel of sin”) is the Law. The Law of God does not save, rather it condemns. Two observations concerning the Law: 1) The Law is a mirror, revealing our sin to us (Romans 7:7-12). 2) Bondage to the Law “arouses” sinful passions within us. Why is it that when you put a sign up that says “Do Not Touch” we are always tempted to touch it? Because in our sinful and fallen nature we eagerly do contrary to what is commanded. The same is true with going against and breaking God’s Law. As unregenerate people, when we see the Law of God our instinct is to either rely upon it to save us or push against it in utter rebellion. The Law fuels our sinfulness, not because the Law is evil, but because it calls us to a holy life that sinners aren’t interested in living.
Back to determining what Paul meant by “sting”! He says that the sting of death is sin, but death has now lost its sting (i.e. sin). In the resurrection of Christ, Christ has set us free from sin. Sin no longer has a grasp on those who have turned and repented of their sins.
In conclusion I want to tie this into the hope that believers have in both their death and the death of loved ones who have professed genuine faith in Christ. Death is not easy to grasp, but the Gospel provides a handrail for us to hold on to. When believers die, they don’t go to hell or purgatory to pay for their sins– Christ paid for their sins already! Rather, they obtain their glorified body. In the death of a believer, sin’s last finger tip slips off of the person. No longer are they affected by the fall. There’s no more weeping, heartache, sickness, or decay. There’s only joyous praise in the realization and collection of their promised reward– Jesus!
If you are grieving the loss of someone close to you, and they believed in Christ, rest assured in the words of Paul “God, who gives us the victory through Christ”. Christ has obtained the Salvation of all those that the Father commands, and the Spirit seals all those that Jesus purchased redemption for. There is hope, a sweet and joyous hope, and His name is Jesus!