What happens to us when we die?

I have often made this statement in my preaching: “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” This expresses the central mystery of Christianity: We place such heavy emphasis on feeding the desires of our physical bodies; we should instead be feeding the eternal part of our beings, our soul or spirit.

There is a movement among preachers in our fellowship who suggest that after we die we will inherit the same bodies that we have now. They point to Jesus’ resurrected body, apparently the same as the one he had before his death, bearing the marks of his crucifixion. Consider his invitation to Thomas to touch the scars in his hands and side (John 20:26-28). But it’s also worth noting the image of the risen victorious Jesus, white hair, face like the sun and eyes like a flame of fire (Revelation 1:12-16). This is clearly not describing the physical body Jesus had while on the earth.

Perhaps such a teaching is attractive to a twenty-five-year-old, but the day will come when he is seventy and he may not be quite as eager to pick up his battered and bruised body in the afterlife.

Scripture is plain on this subject: “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:50).

Our eternal bodies are not fleshly bodies. For a start, they are eternal. Can there be a contrast more stark? Paul utilizes the seed to full-grown plant analogy. “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain” (1 Corinthians 15:35-37).

When a seed is planted, it dies and is buried. Then comes the miracle – a resurrection! The seedling bursts out of the earth and begins to grow! It is hard to look at an acorn and imagine the majesty of a seventy-foot oak tree!

The concept of “body, soul and spirit” comes from Greek philosophy, not Scripture. The Bible, more simply, distinguishes between body and spirit, the physical and the eternal. God’s Spirit “bears witness to our spirit,” telling us that we are “children” and “heirs” of God (Romans 8:16,17). The human “mind” is hostile to God (Romans 8:7). Jesus uses the term “heart” to make a similar point: “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:18,19).

Note that it is our hearts that cause our bodies to do and say things we shouldn’t do! The writer of Hebrews utilizes the term “conscience” to refer to the invisible yet eternal part of a human being (Hebrews 9:14).

If I grab a neighbor and throw him into a mud puddle, although it would literally be my hands doing this dastardly deed, it is my mind that caused my body to do so! On the other hand, if my body carries out an act of kindness, though my hands might be outstretched in love, it was my mind and heart that caused it to do so. This, beloved, is the part of me that will live on, and that will be judged righteous or unrighteous by the Lord Jesus!

Conscience, spirit, heart, mind, soul, motives, this is the eternal part of us and this is what survives physical death. The body does not survive. Is this Gnosticism? Am I saying the body is evil and the spirit is good? Not at all! The body is not evil, the heart that caused the body to do wrong is what is evil. So, the soul, the spirit, the mind, the conscience, the heart, all of these comprise our character, our personality, and it is this essential part of us that is eternal. Our bodies are merely the shell we currently use. The part we cannot see, the eternal part, is that which we should feed, cultivate and develop. The paraplegic will not roll his wheelchair into heaven, he will be walking and leaping and praising God! No one will be warped and twisted by cancer or arthritis or aging. We will be eternal!

“So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44).

One Reply to “What happens to us when we die?”

  1. Dear Brother Stan,

    This sentence has me puzzled: “The concept of “body, soul and spirit” comes from Greek philosophy, not Scripture.” It puzzles me because I read passages such as First Thessalonians 5.23, which says: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

    Concerning the resurrection of the body: you quoted from First Corinthians 15: “It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.”

    “It” the body is sown, and it is the body that is raised, but Paul’s point is that it is transformed. In Philippians 3.21, Paul said that the Lord will, “transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body.”

    My understanding from these passages is that He does not start from scratch, so to speak, but takes our bodies and turns them into something else that is no longer flesh, but is spirit or spiritual.

    If it is not the spirit reentering the body, how then is it a resurrection? It is a resurrection because the spirit reenters the old body, but the Lord does something wonderful and transforms it into a body like what Jesus has now.

    The resurrected body of Jesus had to have been transformed into what He has now when He ascended into heaven.

    What do you think of the passages to which I have made reference?

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