Saturday, March 26, 2011

What Happens After We Die?

I’ve received quite a few emails about last week’s sermon. Seems the sermon sparked some questions and raised a few issues. I thought this might be a good excuse to jump back into my blog. So, I will use this blog to answer some of the most common questions I have received.

One of the more frequent questions is represented by this email:

Pastor Jim, during your sermon on Sunday, you made mention of the mortality of the soul, you stated that there was no mortality of the soul. I thought maybe I misheard or you misspoke, so I listened to the message again. At the 11:42 mark in your sermon, that was what you said, so now it raises the question as what Paul meant by "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord." 2 Cor 5:8. Please explain.

Yes, Paul is stating his belief in the resurrection just like he does in Acts 24:15, Rom. 6:5, 1 Cor. 15, et al. Whether he is killed by his enemies or executed by the Romans, Paul says that is not the end. When I die, and my body is limp and absent of life, I will be raised from the dead to be present with the Lord. Verse 8 (and vv. 6&7 before it) recap the theme first introduced in 4:16-18. “At home in the body” means to dwell in “the earthly tent” (5:1), to be outwardly “wasting away” (4:16), to be away from the immediate presence of the Lord.

When we die, we don't stay dead, merely rotting away into all eternity. When this body dies, we will be resurrected into a new body where (as Christians) we will be present with the Lord. God will raise each of us from the dead. As you can see from the context in 2 Cor. 5:1-10, Paul is not contrasting the difference between body and soul, he is contrasting the difference between our earthly bodies and our heavenly bodies. When we die and this earthly body is destroyed, God will raise us up from the dead and give us new bodies.

The belief in the immortality of the soul, (that the soul doesn't die) is a very popular belief but is a dangerous lie first introduced by Satan in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:4). It was made popular by secular Greek philosophers like Plato and Socrates and has infiltrated first the Catholic church and then the Protestant church both to a deep degree. The Hebrew word for soul is ‘nephesh’ ("soul, breathing one, a person's lifesource" used of God giving life to Adam in Gen. 2:7). Using that word ‘nephesh,’ the Bible plainly states in Ezekiel 18:4 "The soul who sins will die." Our soul, that is, our life, has a lifespan, that is, we die, our soul dies. Our soul is mortal, not immortal.

When we die, all of us dies: body, soul, mind, heart, all of it. Again, it was the Greeks who introduced this idea that you can separate us into compartments: body, soul, spirit, mind, etc. The Bible sees each of us as a unity of personhood, not some tripartite or dualistic entity. It’s important that we recognize the Bible as our authority and not Greek philosophy.

It’s also essential that we maintain the centrality of the resurrection. It is the core doctrine of the Christian faith. If the soul does not die, there is no need for a resurrection. By definition, resurrection can only happen after a death. If you teach the immortality of the soul, that the soul never really dies, then you have no need for a resurrection and you have destroyed the foundation of the Christian faith. Read 1 Corinthians 15 where the first Christian theologian argues for the centrality of the doctrine of the resurrection. It might help to read it in a clear translation like the NLT where you can see the brilliance of St. Paul’s argument with more clarity.

If you have any questions (or comments), feel free to comment here.

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