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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 15:48-50 imperishable

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, July 31, 2023

48 As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so will be those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, let us also bear the image of the man of heaven. 50 What I mean, brothers, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. The perishable does not inherit the imperishable.

Adam’s fleshly, dusty, earthly descendants are like him in their sinfulness. They are incapable of inheriting eternal life on account of their sins. But those who put on Christ in faith have Christ’s characteristic of sinlessness rather than sinfulness. We are at the same time saints and sinners—sinners on account of our inherited and actual sins, but saints by the merits of Christ which are credited to us because of our faith in Christ, just as it was with Abraham (Genesis 15:6).

When Paul says that flesh and blood cannot inherit heaven, it’s as clear as a glass of water that he means flesh and blood alone, without faith. Paul is not using the same vocabulary as Luke here. Luke quotes Jesus as saying, in his risen, resurrected state, “Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24:39). The emphasis there is on not being a ghost, for Christ retains his body, flesh and bones, in his risen state and in heaven today. But Paul means that someone who is only flesh and bones (that is, flesh and blood, or human) but who has no faith, cannot ever inherit eternal life. For eternal life is not an achievement man makes, but it is a gift God gives. It is not based on anything man does, but is this: God promises and forgives our sins, and we believe him. If anyone wants to bicker about words and insist on saying “receive” or “accept” rather than just “believe,” then I will point back to Genesis 15:6 and say, “Abraham believed God, and God credited that to him as righteousness.” The root Hebrew word there is Amen, which in the form or conjugation Moses uses (the hifil stem) means to believe or trust in someone, just as David says: “I believe in your commandments” (Psalm 119:66).  The word of God is the thing we believe in; the word that teaches us what God has promised and what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us.

Peter is in complete agreement with Paul, for Peter says: “You have been born again, not from perishable seed but from imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). In fact, since Peter was writing that after Paul wrote 1 Corinthians and since Peter speaks highly of Paul’s letters (2 Peter 3:15-16), it’s likely that he is actually paraphrasing or condensing Paul’s point when he writes that in his first letter.

When Paul says, “the perishable does not inherit the imperishable,” we must remember that for the believer, this is the preaching of the gospel, not of the law. This is good news for us! It means that each believer will undergo a change, a dramatic change, an amazing change and renewal! “Decay,” preaches Professor Toppe, “cannot inherit immortality” (People’s Bible, p. 156). Don’t let anyone try to argue that this means only souls and spirits will be in heaven with God, or that even Christ has no flesh in heaven. Not at all! We are born again, as Jesus our Lord teaches, of water and the spirit (John 3:5). But if the spirit of man leaves the body at death and returns to God, as Solomon teaches (Ecclesiastes 12:7), then why would there be any preaching about the resurrection at all? Wouldn’t the spirits already be with God without any resurrection, if there is to be no resurrection of the flesh? But the body is forgiven and rescued along with the soul. “Just as the bread… is no longer (merely) bread but a sacrament, consisting of two things, an earthly and a heavenly, so also our bodies, when they receive the sacrament, are no longer corruptible, because they have the hope of the resurrection” (Irenaeus of Lyons). For the Christian has been given the name of God, and we, in the flesh but also in faith, are called “Christians” with the name of our dear savior Jesus Christ, and it is both the body and the soul of each believer that is forgiven, saved, rescued, reborn, and raised by Jesus to eternal life. Just as we sang in the Psalm of the day in worship yesterday: “my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you like a dry weary land without water” (Psalm 63:1), both soul and body long for God; both soul and body will rise, rejoined and reunited on the Last Day. We will no longer be perishable, but imperishable, on account of the love, power, and gift of Jesus Christ.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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