Unusual Assurances, Pt. 3
“What is Death?”
Study Guide, August 26, 2018
Pastor Clay Olsen
We started this mini series on ‘Unusual Assurances’ with the help of some great questions that children ask. Again, we have been using these questions from children as springboards into various amazing and often reassuring teachings about life from the Scriptures. And as we started it we referenced that crisis verse in Genesis that set the whole course of man’s history, and his future, into motion. It was this: Gen 2:17- “…but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” NASU And the question that kids have asked about that is this: “Why didn’t Adam die when God said he would?” Great question, right? And part of the answer to that first comes in the form of another question: “What is death anyway?” And the answer to that would seem obvious. But we know that there are many things in this world that seem obvious, yet many people remain oblivious as to what they really mean or really are. Actually, in this upside down world of ours, oftentimes there is a fine line between the obvious and the oblivious.
For example: One dictionary defines ‘death’ as the end of the life of a person or organism. Seems obvious, right? However, that definition distorts the real meaning of death, which is essentially: ‘A separation’. So death is a separation. And that leads to another question: ‘A separation of what?’ Now we’re getting back to our child’s question of ‘Why didn’t Adam die when God said he would?’ And the answer is: ‘He did!’ Or more specifically, when Adam sinned against God he did die or he was immediately separated from God as to his spiritual relationship with God. Plus, he also set the dying process into motion, or this separation process of life from his physical body into motion as well. So in reality, when Adam sinned his spirit was immediately separated from God’s spirit and his body began the dying process, or the separation process from his living soul.
Remember, when God created Adam, God stated that he became a living soul. Gen 2:7- “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” KJV And the NLT puts it like this: “Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.” And at this point, Adam was also spiritually united to the life of God, since he was created without sin. But as the Apostle Paul points out to us: Rom 5:12- “When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.” NLT
Sin has many effects on our world, but sin had and continues to have two fundamental effects upon this world. One: Sin immediately separates the spirit of a living soul from the Spirit of God, like it did with Adam and Eve. Our first parents spiritual relationship was immediately separated with God because of sin. They spiritually died when they sinned. That’s why Paul describes the condition of any person who has not received the Messiah, the Lord Jesus as their Savior, as still being spiritual dead. And this is paramount for any Christian to understand about the condition of people around them that have not yet been spiritually born again. Here it is: Eph 2:1- “In the past you were spiritually dead because of your sins and the things you did against God.” ERV
This is a stark irony about people in our world. Most people think about death only in terms of something that is going to happen to them in the future. When the reality is that, even though they are still physically alive, they have already died. They are already spiritually dead; dead in their sins. In fact, our entire world is inhabited by the ‘walking dead’, the ‘spiritually walking dead’. And unless they give their life to Christ in repentance and receive Jesus into their life by faith as their Savior, they will walk right into eternity still spiritually dead, separated from a relationship with God.
Remember, spiritual life is only found in relationship with Christ, in being re-united to God through receiving Jesus Christ into your life. So whenever you hear the word ‘death’ or think of ‘death’ you need to realize that there are two parts to death; spiritual and physical. Which brings us to the second effect of sin upon this world. So; Two: Sin set into motion the separation of life from physical beings and even material entities. What we mean by ‘entities’ here is like we talked about last time, like even the Earth itself has been and is being affected by the presence of sin, as the Psalmist put it: Ps 102:25-26- “Of old You founded the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands. Even they will perish, but You endure; And all of them will wear out like a garment; Like clothing You will change them and they will be changed.” NASU
Sin is the ‘death agent’ acting on the planet Earth and on every living thing on planet Earth, causing everything to wear out and decay, or waste away. Ever since the presence of sin entered into the world, the Earth has been wearing out. That’s what effect the presence of sin has on any living organism or being. And so even though when we receive Christ as our Savior and He removes the sin penalty from us, the effects of the presence of sin has already started the mortality process on our bodies…or the dying process. But, praise God, He is even going to clothe us with an immortal body! But, again, the Earth and everything and everyone in it has essentially been dying ever since sin entered the world.
Now, that brings up another fascinating question. When do we begin dying? In Science and Medicine that concept is often answered in terms that we begin dying the day we are born, speaking of this wearing out or this ‘mortal’ aspect of the physical body. They have a way of stating that concept that goes like this: ‘Media vita in morte sumus’ or ‘In the midst of life we are in death.’
And as stark as that sounds, since human life begins not at birth, but at conception, the full reality is that this dying process is set into motion even before birth; it is set into motion at the very conception of a human being. In other words, the mortal part of our being, the physical part of our life, has been dying ever since we came into being.
Paul refers to the bodily part of our life as the ‘outer man’ and the spiritual part of our life as the ‘inner man’. And notice what he reveals: 2 Cor 4:16-17- “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” NASU So how about that? Even though the body is aging, there is a part of you that actually is getting younger day by day!
But still the mortal body is wearing out and wasting away. It’s not called ‘mortal’ for nothing. Awhile back when Dr. Norm Geisler learned he had cancer, Pastor Robert said that when people asked him about dying, Dr. Geisler would say that we’re all dying…just at different rates. And while that does sound a bit ‘morbid’, still, to redeemed children of God, or to all of us who have had our spirit already resurrected by Christ’s Spirit, praise God, it’s actually a reminder that this dying world is not our Home. No, our Home is where our Heavenly Father lives. And it reminds us to rejoice in the fact that just as our Savior was clothed with a resurrected and immortal physical body we also will be clothed with a resurrected and immortal physical body in which to enjoy the physical wonders and the joys of the New Earth and the New Heaven forever.
Which also leads us to adopt new attitudes about death itself. And one of those attitudes about death that we are to adopt has to do with the fact that since this temporary world in which we now walk is not our Home, that means that life in this world is actually just a long walk on our way Home. Life is a long walk on our way Home. Recently Sharon told me about a description she came across that described dying for Christians this way: Dying for believers is simply God’s people walking each other Home. Isn’t that a great picture? As we walk through this world we are just ‘walking each other Home’, with our Savior, our Shepherd, leading us all Home. For Christians, life on planet Earth is just a long walk Home.
And since we are pilgrims in this world on pilgrimage to our real Home, this calls for us to adopt another attitude in relation to death, or we should say, in relation to what death means for a follower of Christ. We often refer to the death of someone as a loss, like the loss of a loved one, which it is. The loss refers to the loss of the fellowship and the physical presence that was enjoyed and was a precious gift for us in this life. Remember, even Jesus wept at the death of His friend Lazarus. Even though Jesus would soon see Lazarus again, and even though we know we will see our saved loved ones again, there is a temporary loss about death. But there’s also a greater reality that is going on in the death of a redeemed child of God, which the Apostle Paul identified this way: Phil 1:21- “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” NASU Have you ever thought about death that way? ‘To die is gain’. Again, in death there is certainly temporary loss and sadness to family and friends, but for the believer himself or herself, the greater reality is that to die is gain. In fact, Paul said that you can’t even compare the two; you can’t even compare the world the believer has just stepped out of to the world he or she just stepped into…the world of Heaven…Home.
Think about even that word the Apostle chose, or that God chose for the Apostle Paul to use. The word ‘gain’ means ‘profit’; ‘advantage’. The meaning is that Paul was revealing to us that when you compare living to leaving, the advantage goes to ‘leaving’; the advantage goes to ‘dying’. For the believer, that is what death is; it’s leaving this broken world to go Home, where everything is perfect; perfect health, perfect environment, perfect relationships, perfect peace, and even more. For the moment a believer’s body dies, he or she experiences what life was always meant to be; perfect joy in the presence of our perfect Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! Nothing in this life is perfect, and everything in the next life is perfect. And until the Lord returns, the only doorway into the perfect land of Heaven is through the doorway of death. But again, God tells us not to fear this doorway, because why? Because Jesus is the One who walks us through it.
“For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Could it be that God wants His children to adopt a different attitude toward death than the world has? And no, not to hasten it or to intentionally put ourselves in harms way and such. But what would happen if God’s children would start thinking to themselves and even telling others that ‘to die is gain’? That would get people’s attention!
To others in this world, death is the worst that can happen. Death is what people fear the most. But Jesus said otherwise: Luke 12:4-5-” I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” NASU
For unsaved people in this world, death is not what they should be afraid of; what they should be afraid of is what death finalizes for them. Death finalizes their destiny of judgment by the Judge of the Universe, to whom they would not repent so as to be saved. They would not repent of their sins and ask God to be their Lord and Savior, so God remains their Judge. Either God will become your Savior or He will remain your Judge. Each person decides which He will be for them for all eternity.
Actually, we can tell how deceived and calloused our world is toward God and His Word by how little people are afraid of sin. People are not afraid of sin. Have you notice that? Remember that the central effect that sin had on Adam and Eve when they sinned was that they immediately became afraid. That’s what they told God when He came to them in the garden and asked why they were hiding from Him. They said they were afraid. That’s is the natural effect sin has; sin’s natural effect is that sin induces fear; unless the one that sins has become terribly deceived and greatly calloused.
Actually, that’s how we know how deceived and calloused our world has become toward God is because so many people are not made afraid by their sin. They are not afraid of sin, and they are not made afraid when they sin. And when sin no longer causes it’s natural effects, then we know that the sinner is under great deception and has become severely calloused in their soul toward God. That’s why we need to keep praying for the eyes of the lost to become open and their hearts to become convicted, to become sensitive to the Holy Spirit of God, so they can turn from their sin and have their Judge become their Savior, who will forgive their sin, like He did with Adam and Eve, and then cover them with His forgiveness, and re-unite their spirit with His Spirit and become their Heavenly Father.
Which leads us back to the fact that for all of us who have repented toward God and have received Jesus by faith as our Savior and Lord, Jesus reminds us that even when it comes to death, we don’t have to fear it; because we fear God, and are His eternal children. And what has God done? 1 Cor 15:50-57- “What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.” NLT
So for the Christian, death is not a defeat, but a victory. Jesus conquered death, and since we are conquerors in Christ, that means that through Christ we conquer death. Sort of gives new power to what Paul also said: Phil 4:13- “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” NKJV So let’s rephrase that to include what he said about death: ‘I can do all things, like even conquer death, through Christ who strengthens me.’