Question: Please help me understand this verse from 1st Corinthians …

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” – ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭15:56‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Answer: This verse has challenged a number of people, and you can find a variety of explanations for it. I think the most important thing to note is that the verse preceding it reads, “Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55).  So the passage in reference is in the context of Christ’s Resurrection victory over death… perfect for this Easter season! So whatever we say about death we need to understand that it is a defeated enemy.

So in that light, I believe that the point being made is that death would not necessarily be a fearful thing for people if it weren’t for sin. In fact death, we know from Jesus, is a doorway to New Life for the believer (John 11:11-13, 1 Thessalonians 4:13). But if a person dies in sin, rejecting the salvation of Jesus Christ, then death will have quite a “sting” – not just a sleep, but eternal death … what is sometimes called the “second death” (Revelation 2, 20, 21).  However, we know that the sting of sin itself, along with death – the ultimate sting of sin – has been defeated in Christ’s crucifixion.

Now when Paul refers to the “power of sin” in this verse, it is in the context of the law – God’s Law.  We must keep in mind that the Law’s primary power is not to make us holy (it’s cannot) … but to drive us to the Lord. In fact, when we sin, if it were not for the law, we would be ignorant of that sin. However, the Law shows us our sin and therefore has the “power” to move us toward God for salvation. The law is a terrible taskmaster by itself; it will never be satisfied. One good thing about the the Law however, it is that when we sin, it will send us crying for mercy to the Lord. … that is one “power” that we could ascribe to sin – when we break God’s Law, it shows us our need for a Savior.

I like what one commentator has said “without the law sin is not perceived; under the law sin has dominion.” … You and I would be bound to sin, and therefore the law of death, if it were not for Christ who has made us victorious over both the Law and death! Sin is merely the “grease” of both: the law and death. It’s almost like a math equation (engineer-types might appreciate this approach!) the law leads to sin, then sin leads to death. If a implies b, and b implies c, then a implies c… therefore the law leads to death. But take heart, we know even more so, the gospel of Jesus Christ leads to life!

Oh thank the Lord that we are free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2)!

In Christ our Risen and Victorious Lord!

Pastor Augie