What to do with death?

This week’s People’s Choice blog responds to a question on death, particularly the intermediate state between one’s death and the Resurrection, Judgement and the eternal state. What happens to the body and soul?

The easiest way to proceed is to respond by a series of questions and statements which will be backed up by a relevant passage from the Bible. Let’s begin with some background teaching on death.

Why does death exist in the first place?

Death was not originally part of God’s plan for creation but came as a result of the Fall.

Ro 6:23a (ESV)- “For the wages of sin is death” and this is both physical and spiritual.

Is death then a punishment for Christians?

No, death is not a punishment for Christians for Christians no longer stand condemned (Ro 8:1 (ESV)- “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”)

If Christians have been saved from both sin and death why then do Christians still die?

Death does not come because of our sins but as a result of living in a fallen world. Paul states that “the last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:26 ESV). The benefits of salvation are being progressively applied to believers. However, when Christ returns these words shall come to pass:

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your sting? O death, where is your victory?” (1 Cor 15:54-55 ESV).

Until that time Christians and non-Christians will experience death, illness, injuries and natural disasters for this “last enemy” has not yet been destroyed.

What purpose does God hope to accomplish in believers facing death?

It appears that through suffering God can a) discipline us in love (Heb 12:6, 10-11) but rather b) that he uses such experiences as part of our sanctification whereby we come to trust Christ more and rely on his grace and power, by sharing in His experience of suffering and death.

Phil 3:10 (ESV)-“that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death.”

While this positive sanctification accompanies aging it must be remembered that death is not natural and is still the enemy.

Should we seek then to preserve our life?

The world teaches that preserving one’s life is the highest goal (make-up, exercise, dieting, etc). While some of these things are certainly positive, seeking the preservation of life should never compromise our obedience to Christ.

Rev 2:10 (ESV)- “be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (cf. Acts 5:29, Acts 21:13, 20:24; Heb 11:35; Rev 12:11).

How should I view my own death?

While unbelievers have no assurance in death, Christians know that they have been made right with God and therefore have nothing to fear in death.

Ro 6:23b (ESV) continues…” but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

How then are we to view the death of a fellow Christian?

When Christians die we will experience genuine sorrow, but this will be sorrow mixed with joy. We read in Acts 8:2 (ESV) that, “devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him.” There are numerous other examples of this in the NT. However, such grief will be different than that of unbelievers who have no hope.

1 Thes 4:13 (ESV)- “[we] do not grieve as others do who have no hope.”

Indeed there is an element of hope and joy intermingled with grief when a believer dies. It is bitter sweet.

When an unbeliever dies it is truly a tragic event, in which while we can have joy in our salvation we cannot share in the joy of assurance with that person and thus must lament.

Paul declared, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh” [his fellow unconverted Jews] (Ro 9:1-3 ESV).

This should spur us on to share the life-saving Gospel with other people.

To be continued…coming next the more specific answer to the intermediate state…