Scriptures: 1 Corinthians 15


Everywhere you look these days it seems people are trying to get the perfect body. Magazine covers feature tips on how to lose 20 pounds in ten days, cosmetic companies promise creams that erase the lines of time on your face and the media continues to bombard us with the idea that we should all look like runway models.

According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, between the years 1997 and 2000 there was a 173 percent increase in cosmetic surgery. It should come as no surprise that baby boomers between the ages of 35 and 50 had the most cosmetic procedures (43 percent of total), followed by 19-34 year olds (25 percent) and 51-64 year olds (22 percent). (ASAPS website)

The latest statistics reveal that in 2003 alone there were some 8.3 million cosmetic medical procedures preformed in the United States.

But we don't have to turn to surgeons or to the latest diet fad to get the body we've always wanted. In fact, as Christians, God has promised us that ultimately we will end up with a perfect body. That's right, if you're a Christian, one day you'll have the perfect body.

Open your bible with me to the 15th chapter 1st Corinthians. Our text today includes verses 35-58, with our primary focus being in verses 50-58. God promises here to give us the body we've always wanted. But before we get to the heart of our message, let's set the context.

It is fascinating for me to observe how quickly we abandon that which can know with certainty, in search of that which we certainly cannot know. This curiosity, resident in our human nature, is not all bad, after all it is what spurs us on to invention and discovery. But on the other hand, it is what got us all into trouble in the first place. Adam and Eve had the whole of the Garden of Eden to explore and enjoy, but where do you think they ended up? In the one place that was off limits to them.

Throughout scripture we find people asking for things which are beyond them. Habakkuk questioning the will of God, Jonah questioning the mercy of God, Job questioning the way in which God works, the disciples questioning the redemptive plan of God which included the brutal crucifixion of our Lord. We find the disciples wanting to know when Jesus would return and here we find the Corinthians wanting to know things about the resurrection that simply serve no practical purpose for us to understand. We find here in verse 35 two questions of this type. 1) How are the dead raised up, and 2) what with what kind of body do they come?

In verses 35 to 49 Paul answers the second question first, as he explains the reality of the resurrection and the perfection of the resurrected body. The earthly body is buried, or planted as he says in verse 37, but God raises it up a heavenly or resurrected body. While there are other things in this section, explaining the resurrected body, its perfection and the reality that we will be different in the resurrection than we are now, is the thrust of verses 35-46.

Look at verse 35. Here we have two questions the Christians at Corinth were discussing: How are the dead raised? And what kind of body will they have when they are resurrected?

For the sake of our study this morning, we will break up this passage into three sections. In verses 50-53 we observe the Bodily Transformation, in verses 54-57 we find the Spiritual Triumph, and in verse 58 we find a Practical Teaching.

I. There will be a bodily transformation

Paul begins this section by reiterating his answer to the second question; with what kind of body are we resurrected? Or to put it into our common speech: What kind of body will I have when I am resurrected?

In verses 50-53 scripture says, "Brothers, I tell you this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, and corruption cannot inherit incorruption. Listen! I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raise incorruptible, and we will be changed. Because this corruptible must be clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal must be clothed with immortality." (HCSB)

Here he affirms that he is revealing a mystery, or something that cannot be discerned outside of divine revelation. Writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul gives us an insight into that which we could otherwise never discover. He says that the resurrection is not merely the resuscitation of a corpse, but the transformation of our physical bodies into a glorified body. (Fee, Gordon D. New International Commentary of the New Testament, First Corinthians. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1987. Pg. 777.)

Paul explains this in Philippians 3:20-21 where he says:

"But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body." (Translation by Richard B. Hays, Interpretation Commentary, John Knox Press, Louisville, KY. 1997. Pg. 273.)

This is difficult for us to grasp, and quite frankly, I'm not sure we will be able to fully comprehend it till we are in Heaven. The only example we have is the one which Paul mentions here in Philippians: that of Jesus who once He was resurrected He was different than before. Did He have flesh and blood? Yes! He ate fish with the disciples and Thomas was able to touch His hands and His side, but as the same time the gospel of John tells us that He was able to walk into a locked room, through the walls and appear to His disciples.

The substantive difference between the bodies that we have now and the bodies we will have in the resurrection is perhaps best described in the Jerusalem Bible's translation of verse 44. It says of the earthly body, "When it is sown it embodies the soul, when it is raised, it embodies the spirit. If the soul had its own embodiment, so does the spirit have its own embodiment."

The point Paul is making is that when we die, what will be buried will be our natural bodies, bodies that were meant to house the soul, when we are raised it will not merely be our natural bodies, but supernatural bodies, bodies meant to house the eternal spirit.

But those who have died are not the only ones who will be changed. We will all be changed. It is necessary for us to be changed, to be conformed to Christ, because flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, only that which is imperishable. Thus all who have placed their faith in Christ will be changed. The dead in Christ will rise first, they will be raised with their new incorruptible bodies. Then we who are alive and remain will be transformed, in a split second, in the twinkling of an eye, and we will be caught up together in the air to be with the Lord. So all who are in Christ will be changed.

A great change is coming. We will be changed from bodies that are destined to die, into bodies that are designed to live forever. We will be changed from bodies that are drawn to sin, to bodies that are destined to be sinless; we will be changed from bodies that are earthly to bodies that are heavenly. The change will be from that which grows old to that which is forever young, from death to life, from natural to supernatural, from mortal animation to immortal inspiration. That is what will happen in the resurrection.

A bodily transformation will occur and we will have the bodies God wants us to have.

But not only will the resurrection mean a bodily transformation, it will also usher in a great spiritual triumph. Look at verses 54-57.

II. There will be a spiritual triumph

Since the fall of man, when Adam sinned against God in the garden of Eden, man fell from innocence and was born with a nature that is set against God. We call it a sinful nature. Throughout the scripture we find this truth that all men are sinners.

Genesis 6:5 says that the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of the heart of man was only evil continually.

I Kings 8:46 tells us that there is no man who does not sin.

Psalm 53:3 says that there is no one who does good, not even one.

Isaiah 64:6 for all of us have become like one who is unclean and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.

Romans 3:23 tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God.

And 1 John 1:8 says if we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.

In fact, Romans 5:12 says, Therefore just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned ...

Sin is universal and the scripture tells us that consequences of sin is death.

Ezekiel 18:4 says, The soul that sins will die.

Romans 6:23 says, the wages of sin is death and James 1:15 says, When lust has conceived it gives birth to sin, and when sin is accomplished it brings forth death.

All of humanity is born with the curse of death upon them. In fact, Hebrews 9:27 tells us that it is appointed for man once to die. Because of our fallen nature, spiritual death is a certainty, and with spiritual death, came physical death. The fall from innocence brought sin and sin brought death.

The sting of death, is sin, and the power of sin is the law.

What does he mean by that?

There are basically three purposes of the law:

A. In our inability to keep it, it demonstrates to us our sinfulness

Romans 3:20 says, "For no flesh will be justified in His sight by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin." (HCSB)

The law is what shows us the righteousness of God and demonstrates to us the difference between God and us. Because it is impossible for us to be perfect, we cannot keep the law in its entirety, and James tells us that if we are guilty of breaking the smallest part of the law we are guilty of breaking all the law.

One writer notes that the Law drives the fallen man to Christ by revealing the enormity of his sin; it completely unmasks him before a holy God.

B. It serves as a deterrent to sin and gives us moral instruction

Simply put, it tells us what to do and what not to do.

C. It directs us to Christ

Galatians 3:24 says, "The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith." (HCSB)

Because we are unable to keep the Law, and God uses the Law to show us how truly unrighteous we really are, it is the Law that ultimately points us to the only one who was righteous, the only One who could be an acceptable sacrifice for our sins. The Law points us to Jesus and leads us to salvation by grace through faith.

It is to the first purpose that Paul makes reference here in verses. Without the Law we would not be aware of our sinfulness and of the consequences of that sin.

But Paul's point here is that the resurrection vanquishes death. Death, which has held humanity in its iron clad grip since the fall of Adam, was defeated when Jesus rose from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus defeated death. It gave us victory over the tomb and triumph over the curse of sin.

Jesus died on the cross and was laid in the tomb, but something marvelous happened! On the third day, a trembling must have shaken the place - a sound that could only be made by the rolling back of a stone. Jesus, who was mocked, beaten, crucified, and laid in the tomb, got up. He shook off the shroud of death and thanks be to God, by His glorious power Jesus rose from the dead. It was there that death was defeated. It was there that the power of sin was overcome.

And on that great day, when the trumpet sounds and the dead in Christ arise, on that awesome day when we are all instantly changed, the victory over death that Christ secured by His resurrection will be ours. We too shall share in His victory. The shadows of death will be vanquished by the brightness of the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself up for us.

I was at the hospital this week visiting, and it occurred to me that in Heaven there will be no hospitals, no doctors, no nurses, no medicine and no pain. There will be no cancer ward, no ICU and no children's wing.

It will be as Revelation 21:4 says, "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will exist no longer; grief, crying and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away." (HCSB)

Resurrection day will be a day when our great spiritual triumph over death will be complete. Death will have lost its power, and we will be free from its every insidious influence.

III. There is a practical teaching

Therefore: because we shall be changed, because we will certainly appreciate a final and thorough victory over death, we must therefore live a certain way.

We must be careful never to separate doctrine from practice. All we do is to be predicated upon all we know. Since we know of the victory to come, till it does come to fruition there is still work for us to do. Paul gives us two words of exhortation and one word of encouragement.

A. Be steadfast in your faith

Be steadfast, settled, trusting in the grace of God. Keeping in mind the reality that you know your future is settled. Immovable – this word caries with it the meaning of being unmoved by external circumstances, by outside agitation, excitement or movement.

When the culture in which we lives begins to deteriorate, when the financial picture of our country seems bleak, when immorality makes great strides against truth and when we find outcasts for our faith, we don't have to worry. We can stand firm, knowing that Jesus has already won the victory.

Be steadfast. Philippians 1:27 says, "Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ: so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel."

We must remain steadfast.

B. Be excellent in your work

Abounding – carries with it the idea of being superior or excellent. We cannot afford to sit back and allow the work of the kingdom of God to go undone. Here at Applewood we are located in a metropolitan area with around 2.5 million people in it. I learned this week that somewhere between 93 and 95 percent of those 2.5 million people do not go to church. And you don't need statistics to tell you that. Just look around you as you drive to church or home from church on Sunday. People are going about their weekends, going about their lives with absolutely no thought whatsoever of God. Not only do they not recognize a need for God, but they think we are foolish and week for holding to our faith.

I saw a bumper sticker the other day that was in Latin. The English translation of which was "I think therefore I am an atheist." Friends we have our work cut out for us.

Jesus is coming again, and given the way the world is moving, it could be soon. What will we do when we stand before Him to give account for our work? What will we say when He asks us if we did everything we could do to reach more people for Him and for His kingdom?

We must be excellent, abounding, superior in our work. If the secular world will go to any expense to get you to buy their product, to drink their cola or to wear their label, and all that they are selling will perish, to what lengths should we go to help people gain that which cannot perish? If the city is willing to spend untold millions on a stadium they didn't need to see a group of men throw around a pigskin bag filled with air, how much are we willing to spend, to do, or give in order to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ?

We must be abounding in the work of the Lord. Not complacent, not comfortable, and not complaining, but excelling, abounding, making sure that everyone has an opportunity to know Jesus like we do.

And when we abound in the work of God, we can be confident that our work will make a difference.

C. Be certain that your work is not in vain

The Greek word for "know" (vs. 58) speaks of perfect possessed knowledge, as opposed to knowledge which is progressively acquired. We know that our toil is not in vain in the Lord.

In life there is ever the temptation to get discouraged and to ask ourselves, "What's the use?" Why am I going through all this, why am I doing all this work, after all, I don't see any results?

I don't know about you, but as a pastor I find myself asking that rhetorical question from time to time. Serving the Lord can become very much of a routine. While there are times that we see the impact of our ministry and the difference that we make, those are few and far between. The Lion's share of the time we are left wondering if we are really making a difference.

Part of it is our sinful infatuation with self. Thinking that somehow we are to make a difference, and part of it is our limited ability to remember that it is not us doing the work, but Christ doing His work through us. Thus success in ministry of any kind is not based on results that we can see, but rather upon our faithfulness to our call and our ability to leave the results to God.

Paul says we don't have to wonder whether or not our lives are making a difference, because Christ rose, because it is certain that we shall be changed, because He is coming back, because the end of the book has already been written, we don't have to wonder whether or not our service is making a difference. We can know with certainty that our toil, our hard work for the Savior is not in vain. It makes a difference.

Someday, and it could be today, Jesus will return. The dead will be raised and that which is corruptible will be made incorruptible. We will be given the body we've always wanted. But we don't have to wait till Jesus comes to be the Body we're supposed to be.

What I mean is that, as the body of Christ, God has given us all we need to accomplish His will, to continue His work and to bring Him glory till He comes. We should be more concerned about being His Spiritual Body than we are about receiving a new physical body.

Are you standing steadfast in your faith? Are you as excited about Jesus as you were the day you were saved? You should be more excited.

Are you abounding in work for His kingdom? What difference are you making in the Kingdom of God? If you were to die, what would go undone in God's kingdom? Are you content with where you are and if now, what will you do to change it?

When it's all said and done, will you look back with regrets? It's never too late to change.

Dr. Calvin Wittman is pastor of Applewood Baptist Church, Wheat Ridge, Colorado. He serves as a trustee at Criswell College, and regularly contributes to Open Windows, a monthly LifeWay devotional publication.