(This devotion is day twenty-five of a 30-Day Thanksgiving Challenge. Each day includes a daily reading that will be accompanied by a post on this blog.)
After an entire chapter on the resurrection, the most extended and exhaustive New Testament passage on the subject, Paul ends it with two punctuating remarks. The first is that this glorious reality and hope leads to thanksgiving. If anything should lead to giving thanks, it’s reading 1 Corinthians 15. As this song reaches its climax, he thunders out, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57).
And then the second punctuation ending this chapter is a call to live in light of it. Since the resurrection of Christ is true, and since we have present and future victory as participants in his resurrection, then “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (15:58). Theology leads to thanksgiving and theology leads to right living. Or, as N.T. Wright says, it leads to thanksliving.
“The decisive battle has been won; the battles we face today are part of the mopping-up of operation to implement that victory. We are called to thanksgiving, where we stand at least in the truly human relationship to the creator and the world; and we are called to thanksliving, where we behave as the free subjects of the true king, and owe the powers nothing at all.”
To encourage thanksgiving and transformed living, I want to consider two pieces of good news in 1 Corinthians 15 and the resurrection. I hope we can be like Paul and erupt into an exclamation of “thanks be to God.”
We have the future promise of resurrected bodies reigning with Jesus.
Though much of contemporary “Christianity” today aims to give us our “best life now” and act as if all God’s good promises will come true in this life, Paul has a future-oriented (eschatological) understanding. Many of God’s promises and our hopes will only be realized when Jesus returns and all things are made new. “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19).
It’s not that we have no hope in this life, or that we don’t begin to experience many wonderful blessings as believers in Christ now, but we still await the full consummation of these blessings. We do experience the Holy Spirit making us new, but as indwelling sin remains, we look to the day when sin is removed and we are fully new. We have spiritual life in Christ and communion with him, but there is coming a day when we will live in the eternal, untainted life with Christ on a new earth. We have many blessings to give thanks for here in this life, but the completion of our hope, and the best blessings, are still to come. The Christian life in this age is a trailer giving us a glimpse of life with Christ, but the real show has not yet been released.
The resurrection promise is that just as Christ has been raised from the dead, when he returns, so we too will be resurrected like him. Whether dead or alive, at Christ’s return he will make all things new—all things right, restored, and resurrected—including us (1 Cor. 15:23-24). Though we died in Adam, we will be made alive in Christ. Like Jesus reverses the penalty of sin on us through Adam by taking our unrighteousness and giving us his righteousness (Rom. 5:12-21), so also as Adam brought corruption and death Jesus has won our eternal life, resurrection, and glorification (1 Cor. 15:21-23).
Though in this life we still suffer through sickness, pain, disabilities, weakness, weariness, physical wounds, temptations, indwelling sin, and death itself, one day we will be given perfect bodies and sinless hearts. The leased vehicle we’ve trashed in this world will be turned in and upgraded for an eternal, physical but perfect, resurrected body. Thanks be to God.
We have the future promise of Jesus eliminating all evil and sin from the world.
The problem in this life is not only that we walk around in fallen physical bodies with a corrupt nature—which we do—but we live in a fallen, sin-cursed world. Creation itself is in chaos and out of whack. Evil seeks to ruin all of God’s good designs. Spiritual beings and human beings live in rebellion against God and fight to bring others into their evil kingdom.
This is partly why following Jesus in this life is so hard. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Until all evil and every spiritual power in opposition to God is removed, things will not be made right.
But we know Jesus has already won the victory when he stepped on the head of the serpent. The battle has been won. Victory is sure. And before too long the victory earned will be a victory enacted. It will be fully carried out. Every enemy of God, and anything opposed to God or contrary to God’s perfect designs will be wiped out (1 Cor. 15:24-28). This is the end-time mopping up of things by Jesus, as making things right includes making us new, restoring the kingdom-environment in which we’ll live, and removing any evil obstacles to living “happily ever after” with our God as His people in His place.
As Paul writes, the last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Cor. 15:26). Death still sinks its claws into us. It’s the looming cloud over every frail human life. But death is not ultimate. It has been defeated and will soon be destroyed.
“Death is swallowed up in victory.” ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:54-57)
We wait for that day. But in the meantime, we give thanks. Give thanks for the victory we have in Christ today and the blessings enjoyed through him. And give thanks knowing the fulfillment of many of God’s promises and the consummation of these blessings is still to come. They are ours, and they are on the way. Thanks be to God.
Give thanks because of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:57) and then live in light of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:58).
 N.T. Wright, Following Jesus (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014), 22.