Paul has asserted that the resurrection provides a hope that sustains us by providing believers with a new attitude about death. For the Christian, death is not the bitter, final end of our existence. Rather, it is a transition step toward eternal union with God.
The second piece that naturally follows our new attitude is a new confidence about life. When we understand the reality of eternity, we also understand that fear of death no longer needs to govern our lives. Because we are free from fear, we are free to live. Paul takes this up in the next section.
Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I die every day—I mean that, brothers—just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? (1 Corinthians 15:29-32a, NIV).
Some who fear death are filled with superstition. Evidently some in Corinth did not embrace resurrection, but were being baptized vicariously for the dead “just in case.” Without going into all of the historical detail regarding this first century cultic practice, for our contemporary purposes I see it for what it is at the lowest common denominator: people practicing superstitious acts compelled by fear.
More important to the argument is Paul’s own attitude about death. Notice what he has written:
1. We face danger every hour. Indeed, the world is a dangerous place. No matter how hard we try to live safely and securely, there are no 100% guarantees that protect us from harm.
2. Death is a daily reality. Paul bluntly declared, “I die daily.” I liken that to those public servants such as police officers and fire fighters who go to work each day realizing that they may be called upon to make “the ultimate sacrifice.”
3. There are those who do not have our best interests at heart. By referring to fighting wild beasts, Paul has drawn on the popular imagery of slaves who were forced to fight for their lives in the arenas as sport for the spectators.
So what’s his point? Death forces us to confront our deepest and darkest fears. But ultimately, you are not ready to live until you’re ready to die. Only when you resolve the reality and immanence of death are you truly free to live life as God intended. Jesus has been raised, and his resurrection guarantees our resurrection. Therefore, our lives do not have to be governed by fear of death or anything else. We can live with freedom and confidence because we are confident of what’s on the other side.