Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Battle of The Wills

1 Corinthians 15:50-58

As we struggle through a friend dying of terminal cancer there is something that happens that we don’t completely understand. There is a battle going on between life and death. The will to live is inherent in the nature of man. It is not necessarily a conscious willfulness choice. Sometimes a person slips into a coma and the will to live is still there. The body hangs on to life as long as it possibly can.

But there is one thing that is certain in this battle of the wills. Death will defeat the will to live at some point. It will happen to us all. Yet, it is a necessity for the follower of Christ to experience the ultimate victory of the life of Christ.

Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed,
52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.
54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.
55  “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law;
57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

In this passage the author uses a literary style called anthropomorphism or personification. He presents death as having characteristics, qualities, or behavior of something alive. He speaks to death as if it is a being with its own will. “O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?”

In this passage God presents the ultimate bait-and-switch scenario. There is a battle personified between physical life and physical death. The battle of the wills is between the will of life and the will of death. In Genesis 2:16-17 God pronounced the result of the Fall of Man:

The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely;
17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

Death is the result of man’s choice to disregard the life God gave. On the day that man ate of the forbidden fruit death was given reign over man. Man will surely die. Death is a reality. In its personification death believes it is the victor over man. Death believes itself to be the victor in the war of life and death.

In Christ, God uses death to benefit man but death doesn’t know this. Death is baited with what it perceives to be the victory. Yet, at the very moment of defeat God switches the results on death and defeats it with eternal life.

Our passage in 1 Corinthians tells us that death must win the physical battle of the wills in order for the “brethren” to “inherit the kingdom of God.” Flesh and blood cannot inherit it. The perishable must put n the imperishable. The mortal must put on immortality. At the very moment that death wins the battle of the wills the victory mocking of the ancient rings out on the other side:

Death is swallowed up in victory.
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

For the believer the battle is fought until the bitter end. But death is nothing more than a doorway into the ultimate dimension of the kingdom of God. Death opens the door for us to receive our inheritance. For the believer there is no fear in death. In the book of Revelation 1:18 Jesus tells us that he alone holds the keys of death. The door of death cannot be opened without Jesus unlocking that door.

“Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.

The Kingdom of God has many dimensions. The unbeliever stands outside and cannot see or understand the things of God. Only with the influence of God can man enter into the kingdom. By grace through faith man is influenced and becomes a believer and, as a believer, man enters into a dimension of the kingdom where he sees and understands as God’s Spirit gives him illumination. On this side of death “we know in part and we prophesy in part…we see in a mirror dimly.” 1 Cor. 13:9&12

For the believer, death, in thinking it is winning the battle of the wills by defeating the will to live, is the door to eternity. When Jesus unlocks that door, the victory death thought it would experience is defeated. Death is swallowed up in victory.” The sting death thought it was inflicting is not felt.

Verse 56 says, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” The battle of the wills begins at a very early age. Sin is inherent in our nature and the battle begins when we see and understand that we are sinners. That is, we start choosing death over life. That is what sin is. God says, “Here is life, my life. I want to give it to you, for you to experience its fullness. I want you to have life with me, to exist with me, to interact with me, to know me. This is life and I want you to chose it over the alternative, death.” Then the serpent, Satan, comes along and says, “Are you kidding me? That doesn’t look like life at all. It looks restrictive. It looks like going without something that is pleasing to the eyes and sweet to the taste. It looks like a don’t. Doesn’t it seem reasonable that life would be do’s?”

Thus begins the battle of the wills. The word ‘sin’ doesn’t mean “doing something wrong.” It literally means, “missing the mark.” When we chose sin we are choosing death over life. We are choosing:

Flesh and blood over the Spirit.
The perishable over the imperishable.
Our mortality over our immortality.

Sin is not so much doing wrong as it is missing out on the life God has for us and wants us to experience in Him. Sin is when we don’t believe that what He has for us is life and we miss the mark by choosing to believe the lie. Death is disguised in a costume of life.

Though we fight this battle between life and death all our lives, because of sin, death will win the battle of the wills. That is, at least physically. Yet, we are promised there is no sting in death and death will have no victory. Death is deceived by its own doing in thinking that he will be victorious in defeating physical life. When in reality all it does is open the door into eternal glory. It opens the door to our inheritance. It ushers us into the ultimate dimension of the kingdom of God.

The scripture says God gives the believer the victory over death through our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus blazed the trail for us in defeating death. He died on the Cross and was buried in the tomb. Death thought it had won the victory and celebrated for 3 days. Then came the resurrection and death was defeated. We, as believers, have our identity in Christ and are included in His victory. God ‘gives’ it to us. It is a work of grace. A gift given and not earned.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

When in scripture we see a “therefore” we know that it is ‘there for’ the reason just stated. Therefore, based on the fact and gratitude of the victory over death that God has given to us through Our Lord Jesus Christ, we are to “be” the following. Notice that it doesn’t say ‘do’ the following as if He is concerned with our behavior or performance. No, He says “be” because His desire is for our being. The Law is all about doing. Sin is all about doing. Life is all about being and being is all about life.

Knowing the reality and certainty of death and that its sting and victory has already been conquered for us, we chose life in Jesus. What does that choice look like? It is a “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.”

To “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding” is fairly easy to define. Stay with it, don’t get distracted, stay focused, constantly be engaged, be an overachiever, actively pursue, in all circumstances be proactive followers of Christ.

“In the work of the Lord” is a little more difficult to define. Starting out, notice that it does not say ‘work for the Lord.” To work ‘for’ someone is to spend our energy so as to accomplish something that is not already completed. When Jesus died on the cross He said, “It is finished.” The work for which He came to do was completed and needs no further accomplishment. To work ‘for’ Christ is to labor with an expectation of being recompensed. The idea of working ‘for’ Christ is saying I earned something from Christ. Yet, the scripture says,

by grace you have been [are being and shall be] saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. Eph. 2:8-9

No, we do not work ‘for’ the Lord since there is nothing of the Lord that we need to accomplish nor is there anything of the Lord that we can earn. To ‘be’ in the work of the Lord is to rest in what He has already done and to be a servant to Him in what He is doing.

we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Eph. 2:10

When the disciples came to Jesus in John 6:28-29 and asked, “what shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered them and said to them, “this is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” To be in the work of the Lord is to believe in Jesus Christ. Salvation is the work of the Lord. Sanctification is the work of the Lord. Glorification is the work of the Lord. “Being transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:1) is the work of the Lord. “To be conformed to the image of His Son,” is the work of the Lord.

For each of us the work of the Lord is to be engaged in what He is doing in and through us as individuals. Do not let anything in life or death move you from this objective. As we go about living our lives remain steadfast, immovable in what God is doing. Always be abounding in this work. As we go about living our lives be in the work of the Lord.

He never ask us to be something or do something that He first does not cause us to become and empower us to do.

That which motivates us to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” is a knowledge that comes from experience.  “Knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” If there is no knowledge of the victory given to us there can be no steadfast, immovable, always abounding. The knowledge is not only in the victory won by Christ but is also in the timing of experiencing that victory in its completeness. Until Jesus takes the keys and unlocks the door of death we toil in the Lord.

The fact that we work from a position of victory does not negate the hardness of the work. It is a ‘toiling’: hard labor, strenuous exertion, exhausting effort. The battle of the wills is a ‘battle’. To continuously chose life over death is not always easy. Especially when we are watching a loved one who is fighting the final battle against death. Our emotions are on high alert. We want them to continue in physical life and it is easy to lose sight of the victory in death. We grieve the loss of our personal present face-to-face relationship. We grieve for the now and in the midst of it we don’t understand the suffering, the pain, and the heartache. It is at this point that we hold onto the truth that our “toil is not in vain in the Lord.” It is times like this that the forging of our faith is processed.

I can explain this scripturally and theologically but emotionally and in this present reality I have no answers. What I know to be truth is comforting and gives hope for eternity. But for right now all I know is that this friend is suffering. His precious wife with their 2-month-old baby girl is in indescribable pain. His dad, mom, and brother are in the depths of grief that is deeper than the deepest ocean. As his friends, we are in deep sorrow. And my heart breaks for us all.