The Law is the Strength of Sin
1 Corinthians 15:55-58
O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?…

1. Any man who thinks or feels at all about sin knows that it is the strongest principle within him. His will is adequate for all other undertakings, but it fails the moment it attempts to conquer and subdue itself. The experience of the Christian likewise demonstrates that sin is the most powerful antagonist that man has to contend with. Nay, more, this heat and stress of the Christian race and fight evinces that man must be "strong in the Lord" in order to overcome sin.

2. The cause of this mighty strength of sin is the law of God. By the law is meant the sum of all that a rational being ought to do, under all circumstances and at all times. It is equivalent to duty, and includes all that is implied in the word "right," and excludes all that we mean by "wrong." At first sight it appears strange that this should be said to be the strength of sin. Yet such is the assertion here and in Romans 7:8, 9, 11; and we cannot understand these statements unless we take into view the difference in the relation which a holy and a sinful being respectively sustains to the moral law. St. Paul means that the law is the strength of sin for a sinner. For the saint, on the contrary, it is the strength of holiness. In a holy being, the law of righteousness is an inward and actuating principle; but for a sinful being it is only an outward rule. Law does not work pleasantly within the sinner, but stands stern outside of and over him, commanding and threatening. If he attempts to obey it, he does so from fear or self-interest, and not from the love of it. The "law of sin" is the sole inward principle that rules him, and his service of sin is spontaneous and willing.

3. Hence the Scriptures describe regeneration as the inwardising of the moral law (Jeremiah 31:33). To regenerate a man is to convert duty into inclination, so that the man shall know no difference between the commands of God and the desires of his own heart. The two principles, or "laws," of holiness and sin, in order to have efficiency, must be within the heart and will. They are like the great fruitful laws that work and weave in the world of nature. All these laws start from within and work outward. The law of holiness cannot bear fruit until it ceases to be external and threatening. and becomes internal and complacent. So long as the law of God is a letter on the statute-book of the conscience, but not in the fleshy tablet of the heart, so long must it be inoperative, except in the way of death and misery. This righteous law, then, is "the strength of sin" in us, so long as it merely weighs down with a mountain's weight upon our enslaved wills, so long as it merely holds a whip over our opposing inclination, and lashes it into anger and resistance. How can there be any moral growth in the midst of such a hatred and hostility between the human heart and the moral law? Flowers and fruits cannot grow on a battle-field. As well might we suppose that the vegetation which now constitutes the coal beds grew up in that geological era when fire and water were contending for possession of the planet, as to suppose that the fruits of holiness can spring up when the human will is in obstinate and deadly conflict with the human conscience. So long as the law sustains this extraneous relation to the heart and will —


1. For genuine obedience is voluntary, cheerful, and spontaneous. The child does not truly obey its parent when it performs an outward act, outwardly insisted upon by its superior, from no inward genial impulse, but solely from the force of fear. Here lies the difference between a moral and a religious man. The moralist attempts, from considerations of prudence, fear, and self-interest, to externally obey the external law. It is not a law that he loves, but one which he would keep because of the penalty attached to it. And yet, after all his attempts at obedience, he is conscious of utter failure. But the renewed and sanctified man "obeys from the heart the form of doctrine that is delivered" unto him. The Holy Spirit has inwardised it. He acts naturally, he acts holily, and when he sins he is uneasy, because sin is unnatural to a renewed heart.

2. Everything that is genuine, spontaneous, and voluntary wears the garb of grace and beauty; while that which is false, pretended, and constrained has the look of deformity. We admire the living plant, but we turn away from the artificial flower. So is it with the appearance which the moralist and the believer respectively presents. The one is rigid, hard, and formal; he rather endures his religion than enjoys it. The Other is free, cheerful, pliant; the Son hath made him free, and he is free indeed.

3. Another criterion of genuine obedience is love. But so long as the law sustains this extraneous and hostile relation to the heart and will, there is no love of it or its Author. No man can have a cordial affection for it until it becomes the inward and actuating principle, the real inclination of his will. Yet the law overhangs him all this while; and since it cannot produce the fruits of peace and holiness, it betakes itself to its other function, and elicits his corruption, and exasperates his depravity.


1. For the law is entirely outside the executive faculty. It is in the conscience, but not in the heart. It consequently gives no impulse and aid to right action. The law sternly tells the man that by his own determination and fault he is "dead in trespasses and sins," and condemns him therefor; but so long as it is merely didactic and comminatory, and not impulsive and indwelling, he derives from it none of that strength which empowers to righteousness.

2. But in the Christian, the law of holiness, by virtue of his regeneration and union with Christ, has become inward, spontaneous, and voluntary. It is no longer a mere fiery letter in his conscience, giving him knowledge of his sinfulness, and distressing him therefor; but it is a glowing and genial impulse in his heart. His duty is now his inclination, and his now holy. inclination is his duty.Conclusion: This subject shows —

1. That it is an immense work to make such an entire change and reversal in the relations that now exist between man's will and the Divine law. The problem is, to transmute the law of God into the very inclination of a man, so that the two shall be one and the same thing in the personal experience, and the man shall know no difference between the dictates of his conscience and the desires of his heart.

2. It is the work of the Holy Ghost. It is the result of God's "working in man to will and to do."

(Prof. Shedd.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

WEB: "Death, where is your sting? Hades, where is your victory?"

The Last Triumphant Conflict
Top of Page
Top of Page