A concept commonly advocated in conservative, holiness-minded churches is “dying to the flesh.” And invariably, while preachers are advocating denying worldly lusts and choosing righteousness, they will appeal to Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:31 that he “dies daily” (KJV). I’ve heard this interpreted to mean we need to make a choice every day to submit our will to God’s or to deny worldly lusts. Some even cite it in the context of prayer and fasting (i.e. those practices will cause you to die out to your flesh desires on a daily basis). When Paul penned those words, was he talking about sacrificing our will to God? Did he have prayer and fasting in mind? Let’s look at those words in context:
Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? 30 Why are we in danger every hour? 31 I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! 32 What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” 33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” 34 Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame. (1 Cor 15:29-34, ESV)
The words in question, along with the entire passage quoted above, appear in an even larger context wherein Paul is arguing for the bodily resurrection of the dead. Some believers in Corinth were denying our future bodily resurrection, and Paul was attempting to set them straight. First, he asks them why people are being baptized on behalf of the dead if the dead are not raised (no one is really sure what Paul is referring to, but it’s likely a practice the Corinthians were engaging in – that though it was not orthodox – was consistent with the belief that they were denying, namely a bodily resurrection). Then he turns the conversation to himself and those who traveled with them. If there is no bodily resurrection, why are they putting their lives in danger every hour? That’s when he says he dies daily, followed by a brief mention of his struggles in Ephesus. It’s clear in the context that Paul is referring to the daily threat on his life for preaching the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. If the dead are not raised, why should he risk his life for this message? Why not rather live for today lest tomorrow we die? If our bodily life does not continue beyond the grave, then we should make the most of this life, not risk losing that life each day by preaching the resurrection of Jesus.
Are Christians to live for God rather than self? Yes, and this is taught elsewhere (Rom 12:1; 2 Cor 5:15; Gal 2:20), but that is not the point Paul is making in 1 Cor 15:31.
Keep it in context….