The Bible describes our time here on earth as “a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14). We think that if a person lives to be 80, 90, or even 100 years, they have had a long life, but in comparison to eternity, our years come and go like a vapor. Many people assume that our time on earth is all there is to life. As they contemplate their own death or that of a loved one, they are filled with deep sorrow. There is a finality about death that, to them, is devastating.
While the prospect of one’s own death or the death of a loved one is, indeed, a time of sorrow, grief, and loss, we need not face this time without hope or without comfort.
Life Beyond this Earth
When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian saints, he reminded them that there is life beyond our time here on earth.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Our physical life here on earth is temporary. The afflictions we experience in these bodies of flesh (what Paul calls the “outward man”) are “light” and last “but for a moment.” Paul reminds us there is life beyond just the physical. We have an “inward man” that is spiritual and eternal. The physical sufferings we experience in this life will one day give way to a “weight of glory,” a glory that far exceeds our present sufferings, a glory that will last for all eternity. The things we see with our physical eyes are temporary, but there are things we cannot see physically, things that are eternal, things that can only be seen with the eyes of faith.
Life More Abundant
When the Lord Jesus Christ lived here on earth, He said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). A person may have what the world considers a full life; maybe a life of many years; maybe a life of financial success; maybe a life filled with loving family and friends: all of these, things that people consider important. Jesus came to provide us with a life more abundant than anything this world can offer. Jesus came to give us spiritual life, a life of blessings that surpasses anything we experience in this world, a life that will last forever.
How did the Lord Jesus provide this abundant life for us? Jesus did not come into this world to teach us a way to live. He was unquestionably the greatest teacher who ever lived, and we can learn many things from studying what He taught; but simply following Jesus’ teachings will not result in life more abundant.
Jesus did not come to provide an example for us to follow. He certainly did live a perfect, sinless life. He humbled Himself and became obedient to the will of His Father, providing a wonderful example of how we should live (Phil. 2:5-8). Nevertheless, trying to live as Jesus did will not bring us life more abundant.
Jesus came into this world for one purpose: to die. This is why the eternal Son of God had to become a Man and take a body of flesh and blood—to shed that blood and die so we might live. To many this seems foolish. “Why,” people ask, “did Jesus have to die?” and “How could His death give me abundant life?”
Why is there Death?
People struggle with questions about death because they fail to understand two important truths: 1) People are, by nature, sinful, and 2) God is not just loving and merciful; He is also holy and righteous. Most like to believe that people are basically good, and since God is loving and merciful, He will accept those who at least try to live a good life. While this assumption may sound reasonable to us, it is simply not true. The Scriptures tell us, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). Paul wrote to the Romans, saying:
“There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10-12)
We may not like to hear these things, but they are true. We are all born with hearts that are “deceitful, above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). Our natural instincts lead us into sin (Ephesians 2:1-3). No one does what is right in God’s eyes. Other people may consider us righteous, but God does not. In the sight of a perfect God, “all of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). None of us, if left to the desires of our sinful hearts, will seek after God. We invariably “turn aside” from God’s way and follow our own path. We have no desire to please God; we are intent on one thing: pleasing ourselves. No one does what is good in God’s eyes. Others may judge us to have good character or to be capable of good deeds, but Paul says that “nothing good dwells” in us (Romans 7:18). There are no exceptions to this, for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Why are people born with sinful natures? Where did sin come from? Sin began with one man: Adam. God created Adam and Eve to have a relationship with them. God met with them daily; He walked and talked with them. He placed them in a perfect place, the garden of Eden, where all their needs were met. They were allowed to eat freely from all the trees of the garden except one: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God warned Adam that in the day he ate from this forbidden tree, he would “surely die” (Genesis 2:17). In spite of this warning, Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command and, thus, sinned against God. Though they did not physically die that day, the process of death began in their bodies. Bodies that had once been incorruptible were now susceptible to disease and pain. Bodies that had once been immortal were now subject to physical death (Genesis 3:19).
Another Type of Death
The sentence of death upon Adam and Eve included more than just physical death; it also meant spiritual death. The very moment Adam and Eve sinned, they died spiritually, meaning they were separated from God. They felt the shame and the guilt of their sin immediately. They tried to cover their nakedness and guilt by making coverings for their bodies from the leaves of the trees, then tried to hide themselves from God among the trees of the garden (Genesis 3:7-8). Adam and Eve’s close, personal relationship with God was broken. As part of His judgment of their sin, God expelled Adam and Eve from the garden. The place where they had once enjoyed open fellowship with God was now closed to them because of their sin (Genesis 3:23-24).
Adam’s sin affected more than just himself and Eve; it affected all of mankind. We read in the book of Romans:
“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12)
Because we are all descended from Adam, his sin nature has been passed down to us, making us all sinners. As a result, we are under the same penalty for sin as Adam: death, both physical and spiritual. God declared through the prophet Ezekiel, “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4).
Our situation, as sinners, appears bleak, but God is a loving, merciful, and gracious God. He did not abandon us in this terrible condition: “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). God never intended for anyone to perish (1 Peter 3:9). He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). God knew beforehand that Adam and Eve would disobey Him and that their sin would bring the sentence of spiritual death upon all mankind. God’s plan and purpose, even before sin entered the world, was to provide the way for sinners to be brought back into fellowship with Him.
Many people expect that a loving, merciful God will surely “forgive and forget” their sins. They don’t understand the other aspects of God’s nature and character. While God is loving and compassionate, He is also holy (Leviticus 11:44), meaning He is separate from sin. Our sins separate us from God (Isaiah 59:2). His eyes are so pure, He cannot “behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness” (Habakkuk 1:13), therefore, He cannot accept us in our sinful condition. He cannot simply overlook or excuse our sins; this would violate His holy nature. God, in fact, hates sin (Jeremiah 44:4). We can’t imagine a loving God being capable of hatred, but He does hate sin. While God hates sin: He loves sinners. We must be careful to make this distinction.
God is also a righteous God (Deuteronomy 32:4), meaning He always does what is right or just; and He requires that same righteousness from others. Because of our sins, we “fall short” of God’s holy and righteous standard (Romans 3:23). God’s righteousness demands that our sins be judged, and the just payment (wages) which must be made for sin is death, physically and spiritually (Romans 6:23).
Our problem is that with our sinful nature, we are helpless to do anything to change our miserable condition. How, then, can sinful people ever be accepted by a holy and righteous God? The answer is through the death of a substitute—someone to die in our place and pay the penalty for our sins—a substitute that must be sinless himself. The sacrificial system that was part of the Law of Moses illustrated this requirement. The people of Israel were required to bring a lamb to kill as a sacrifice to cover their sins, but these sacrificial lambs, these substitutes, had to be “without blemish” (Leviticus 1:3). Because all people are sinners, none of us is qualified to die as a substitute for anyone else’s sins.
The only Person who is without sin is God, therefore only He could die as a substitute for people’s sins. But, God is a Spirit (John 4:24); in order to die for our sins, God had to become a Man. Over 2000 years ago, the eternal Son of God “was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). He took on a body of flesh and blood, like ours, except without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus died for our sins, providing the one and only way for us to be reconciled to God. The night before His death, Jesus told His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father, except through Me” (John 14:6).
Life through Death
God’s provision of salvation for a sinful world came at great cost to Him. Our Savior endured sufferings more severe than anything we face here on earth. Some of Jesus’ sufferings we can identify with; sufferings we cringe at when we think about them. Jesus endured excruciating physical pain: beaten with a rod, crowned with thorns, scourged with a whip, and nailed to a cross for the slow, cruel death of crucifixion. Jesus suffered emotional anguish as well: rejected by His own people, the nation of Israel; abandoned by His closest friends; betrayed by one of those friends; and denied three times by the one who, supposedly, had the strongest faith. Jesus suffered the social stigma of crucifixion, a punishment reserved for the worst of criminals. He was publicly humiliated, mocked, and insulted as He hung on that cross for six long hours.
As terrible as these forms of suffering were, Jesus endured far worse, an agony we cannot fully comprehend. Philippians 2:8 says that Jesus “became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” The “death of the cross” speaks of more than just death by crucifixion; it refers to the special torment Jesus endured for us on the cross of Calvary. God’s sinless Son not only entered this world and “became flesh;” He also “became sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21). As the Lord Jesus hung on that cross, He “bore our sins in His own body” (1 Peter 2:24).
Christ experienced two different types of death on our behalf. He shed His blood and died physically because “without the shedding of blood there is no remission (forgiveness) of sins” (Hebrews 9:22); but Jesus also died spiritually. As He neared the point of death, Jesus cried out in anguish, “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). Because He bore our sins, Jesus was separated from God the Father—completely and utterly forsaken. This is what spiritual death means. We can understand, to some extent, how it might feel to be forsaken by our own father, but Jesus’ relationship with God the Father was closer and dearer than any relationship we have in this world. The torment Jesus experienced when His Father turned His face away was more painful than anything we can imagine. This dreadful judgment should have been ours, but He took it for us!
Why would God be willing to do this for us? The simple and wonderful answer is love. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). God did not love us because of any goodness or good works on our part. “God demonstrated His own love toward us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). It was “not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
The word “propitiation” means that God was satisfied with Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. Just before Christ died, He cried out with a loud voice, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). His sacrificial work was complete, meaning that the wages (or penalty) for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2) was “paid in full.” All of God’s holy and righteous requirements were satisfied, making it possible for us to be brought into a relationship with Him. God proved He was satisfied with Christ’s finished work by raising Him from the dead after three days in the grave. Jesus was raised unto eternal life, never to die again (Romans 6:9-10), and because He lives, we can live as well.
The Gift of Life
Romans 6:23 begins with bad news: “the wages of sin is death,” but it concludes with good news: “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The gospel, or good news, for all men is that “Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
While Christ has paid the penalty for everyone’s sins, and the gift of eternal life is available to all people, not everyone is saved and reconciled to God. Why not? Because the gift of eternal life must be received by each person, individually. Salvation is “not by works of righteousness which we have done” (Titus 3:5). We don’t have to earn it—it is a gift! Salvation is by God’s grace; it is His gift to us, though one we certainly don’t deserve.
If we can’t earn it or work for it, how is this gift received? The wonderful gift of eternal life is received by simple faith in Jesus Christ and what He accomplished for us on the cross. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Salvation is not by any goodness in us—there is none! Salvation is not by any good works we do—there are none! Salvation is by faith, which means we trust in God to save us from our sins; we rely upon His finished work on the cross, not on any works of our own.
When we hear the “word of truth, the gospel of our salvation” and trust in Christ as our Savior, God’s Holy Spirit places us “in Christ” and seals us there “until the day of redemption” (Ephesians 1:12-14). We are “made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21), and “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). The moment we put our faith in Christ, we are “passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). This truly is “life more abundant!”
Life—Even in Death
What happens, then, at death, to those who have this abundant life in Christ? While spiritual death is separation from God, physical death is also a separation. When a person dies physically, their spirit is separated from their body. The body, which is made of dust, “will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). The spirit of an unbeliever is reserved for eternal judgment by God, but what happens to the spirit of a believer? Paul expressed the hope, or expectation, we have as believers in Christ in his second letter to the Corinthians.
“So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8)
Even though we are saved from our sins, as long as we live in these bodies of sinful flesh, we cannot enter into God’s presence, thus we are “absent from the Lord.” However, when we physically die, we become “absent from the body.” Our spirits are separated from our bodies of sin, thus making it possible for us to be “present with the Lord.” Paul spoke of death, for the believer, as a departure. He wrote to the Philippians of his desire “to depart and be with Christ which is far better” (Philippians 1:23). This is what death means to a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. When we physically die, our spirit departs from our body and enters into the very presence of the Lord, which, as Paul says, is “far better.” In His presence, there is no more pain, no more sorrow, no more tears, and no more suffering. The Psalmist David wrote that in the presence of the Lord there is “fullness of joy” and “pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
This is the blessed hope of every believer in Christ. This is what we can look forward to, with expectation. We can be confident this is what our future holds, because this is what God has promised us in His Word. Not only do we have the hope of one day being with the Lord; we also have the hope of being like Him.
One day our Savior, Jesus Christ, will appear in the air to take us home to live with Him in heaven (Colossians 3:3-4; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). When that day comes, the bodies of those believers who have already physically died will be resurrected. Believers who are still alive when He comes, will be caught up together with the “dead in Christ,” and “we shall all be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-57). Our sinful, shameful bodies of flesh will be transformed and made like the glorious body of our risen Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20-21), and “so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). What a wonderful message of hope and comfort!
What About You?
Do you have this abundant life in Christ? Do you have this blessed hope in Him? If so, you can rejoice and take comfort in knowing what the future holds for you, even in facing death. If not, you are still lost, spiritually dead in your sins, and separated from God. However, you don’t have to spend eternity in this miserable condition. You can be saved from your sins today. You can be reconciled to God and receive the gift of eternal life if you simply trust Christ as your Savior. He will give you such a wonderful life, a life more abundant than your mere existence here on earth. He will bless you with a life of love, joy, and peace—a life with Him that will last for all eternity.