Text: 1 Cor. 15:29-34

Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead? And why do we stand in jeopardy every hour? I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!”

Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.


These past few weeks, we have been talking about what the doctrine of the resurrection means for the future—for the end times and our lives in eternity. We have also tried to conclude our recent sermons with the point that the resurrection also affects our present. It sets the terms and conditions by which we live our present life, and it is the bigger picture which makes sense of our present life. Because we will be resurrected, we should live new lives now.

Paul repeats these themes in our text this morning, and he throws in an interesting line about “baptism for the dead” along the way. We’ll try to explain what’s going on there, and we’ll talk about the rest of the passage too. But baptism will be important for us. Baptism, you see, is the point in our Christian life where we our resurrected, at least in a way. We are buried with Christ and raised to newness of life. So, as we will see, our baptisms mark us out as those who are raised in the Spirit now and will be raised on the last day. This also means that our baptisms mark us out as those who must live holy lives now. Our baptism testifies to us the very same thing that Paul says, “Awake to righteousness and do not sin!”

Baptism is practical. It places the resurrection upon us and tells us to “get to work.” We must be faithful to our baptisms, believing what they say and embodying what they testify to the world. The resurrection begins to guide our lives in the sacrament of Christian baptism, and it lasts throughout this life and into the next.

Without the Resurrection Christianity Doesn’t Make Sense  

This section of 1 Cor. 15 continues with familiar themes. If the resurrection is not true, then the rest of Christianity does not make sense. Paul says, “What is baptism for the dead for?” We’ll explain this in just a minute. For now, we’ll just note that it’s something that the Corinthians were doing, and Paul says that it needs the resurrection in order to mean anything.

He then adds his own example of suffering. “Why do we stand in jeopardy every hour?” (1 Cor. 15:30). Paul says he is persecuted for his preaching. Why does he keep doing it? It’s only worth it if the things he is saying are true and the carry over into the next life. Without the resurrection, he’d be better off just living a life of ease and pleasure. “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” (1 Cor. 15:32).

This is true for us as well. We will suffer and face persecution if we remain faithful to Christ. Why should we put up with this? It’s only reasonable to follow Jesus, if He is true to His word, and that means, if He rewards us in the world to come.

Baptism For the Dead

Now what is this “baptism for the dead” thing in vs. 29? This is a tricky question and one that has stumped a lot of people. One commentator notes that there are currently 200 different explanations for this verse in the academic literature! The most common understanding is that some Christians in the first century were being baptized in the place of people who had died before they could be baptized. This would mean it was a sort of vicarious baptism. The problem with this is that there is no other evidence that this kind of thing was allowed, and as early as the 300s, we have Christians arguing strongly against that practice, claiming it is a misunderstanding of 1 Cor. 15:29.

So if it doesn’t mean what it looks like it means, then what does it mean? This is where all of the various suggestions come in. We are not going to go through all 200 explanations, and for that you are most welcome.

What I think Paul is doing here is simply talking about normal baptism. He’s pointing out its theological significance. We are dead men, dead in our sins, who are baptized into Christ’s death. Baptism is a picture of that. And then, because of Christ’s resurrection, we are also raised in Him. This too is a part of baptism, and it sets the tone for the rest of our Christian life.

Paul explains this in briefly in Colossians 2. “You were buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Col. 2:12). He does so again in much more detail in Romans 6:

Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection,  knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 6:3-11)

This is what baptism is all about. It’s what our baptisms mean for us. They bury us, for we have died in Christ. And they resurrect us, bringing us into the life of the Holy Spirit, the life of holiness which we are called to live now.

So, while it might sound like an un-impressive explanation, I think “baptism for the dead” is just what all baptisms always are. If there’s no resurrection, then baptism makes no sense. It doesn’t work. It leaves us dead. This fits in with the rest of what Paul’s talking about here in 1 Cor. 15. Why do we keep doing all this stuff if there’s no resurrection? Baptism is one such aspect of Christianity that just doesn’t make sense apart from the resurrection.

We Must Be Holy Now

Baptism is also a great pivot to Paul’s pastoral exhortation in 1 Cor. 15:33-34. He says:

Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.

This might feel like a quick wag of the finger to a misbehaving church. But really, it’s the natural implication of resurrection. If our lives are going to continue after death, then we should take great care with them now. What we do, and how we live, matters. So we need to get real about how we’re living. We must be holy, and we must be holy now.

“Evil company corrupts good habits.” This line is not original to Paul. It’s a quote from the Greek poet Menander, and it was probably just a regular piece of everyday wisdom in the 1st century. For you classic rock fans out there, this is where we get the expression “Bad Company.” And while it might not strike you as overly profound, this saying is still true today. Bad company wears off on you. It will corrupt your habits, and before long, it will lead you into sin.

We have our own colloquial expressions to this point. If you lay down with dogs, you’re gonna get fleas. You can’t expect to associate with people of low morality and not be affected. This means that anyone who wants to be serious about holiness—serious about pleasing Jesus—needs to evaluate their circle of friends very carefully. Don’t run with a bad crowd.

Now, can a Christian have non-Christian friends? Some of you might be taken aback by the very question. Of course, you say. We are called to love all people. We are supposed to evangelize and share the good news. And non-Christians can be good people, even talented, kind, and loving.

This is all true. Indeed, it’s very important for us to remind ourselves that being a Christian is itself no guarantee of being “a good person.” It should lead to that, of course. But Christians are sinners, and we can be very big sinners. We can be short-tempered. We can be surly. We can be cynical. We should never be content to remain in such a condition, but we should be honest. We can and often are unpleasant. And there are many non-Christians who are “better” than we are on this level. They are genuinely kind and loving. They devote themselves to charity. Neither the Bible nor Christian tradition objects to this. It is reality.

However, there is always a heart difference. Non-Christians do not worship God, nor do they give Him thanks. They are, no matter how nice, under the dominion of sin, and until God changes their heart, they are actually opposed to Christ. They might like the idea of Jesus—the nice guy, slightly hippy Jesus—but they do not like the idea that God judges the sins of all men and that Jesus died a sacrificial death to atone for those sins. If you press them on that point, they often lose their cool and become quite uncomfortable and unhappy. And so our relationship with non-Christians must always be a missionary relationship. We are truly loving them, and we can truly value and enjoy their friendship. But we should be loving them truly and fully. We should love them enough to try to save their souls, to help them find God. And this means evangelism. It means faith. It means repentance.

So, back to our question. Can a Christian have non-Christian friends? Yes, he can. But he must still be careful. Who is influencing whom? Are you having a good influence on your friends, or are they having a bad influence on you? And if these non-Christians are in fact, “bad company,” then you need to get real. They are hurting you. Make a break.

You need to surround yourself with people who love what you love, and that must start with loving God in Christ. Life is too hard to let others drag you down and pile extra burdens on you. Peer pressure is real. Evil company corrupts good habits.

“Awake to righteous and do not sin!” It’s almost as if Paul is saying, “open your eyes!” Get real! Living a life of holiness is a battle. Make no mistake about it. Christianity is hard. You have to deny yourself! You have to say, I want that thing, but I will say no. I want that person, but I will say no. You have to put Jesus first.

Listen to how Paul puts it in Romans 13:

The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. (Rom. 13:12-14)

Hear me on this point. This is incredibly difficult. You can’t do this without God’s grace, and you can’t do it alone. You will not be able to do this if you don’t have a community of helpers around you. You won’t be able to do without lots of Christian friends.

You need the baptized community. You need that community of people who have died and been raised to newness of life. You need the church. Since the resurrection is true, you must resolve to live a new kind of life, and you can only do this successfully if you live it with other people doing the same thing. Make sure your friends will help you repent and avoid sin. Because without their help, you won’t make it.


Now, I am assuming that everyone in this room is baptized. I could be missing someone, and if so, I apologize. But my guess is that everyone is. So you all should know, something has been done to you. You have been given a sign and seal—a promise and guarantee from God, and you have also given yourself, you have promised yourself, to God. You should believe that you have been ingrafted into Christ, born again, and forgiven, all by Jesus. But you must also sincerely believe that you are given to God. You must then give up all claims to your own life. You must die. And you must walk in newness of life. You must life a resurrected life. You must pursue righteousness. Stop sinning! Be holy. Follow after God’s Word.

You may not have known that’s what baptism meant. If you were baptized as a baby, you really may not have known. But that’s what it means. You’ve got something hanging over you. You have a mark on you.

Now, baptism doesn’t do this automatically. No, it must be received in faith. You have to believe it. But baptism always testifies of this. It always says the same thing. It says, you have been baptized into Christ’s death. You must therefore walk in His resurrection. Let me ask you then, are you being true to your baptism? Or are you living a lie?

It must start with faith. You have to believe this stuff. And believing means dying. As Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt. 16:25). You’ve got to die to be a Christian. But the good news is, if you die, God will resurrect you in Christ.

All of this is proof of the necessity of the resurrection. Without the resurrection, this is all crazy talk. It makes no sense. But with the resurrection, this is the pathway of our salvation. Die to yourself in Christ. Be raised in newness of life. And put away sin as you put on righteousness, living the new life in Jesus with His people.

Let us pray.

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