Death

Preaching and Worship Resources about Death

Death is cessation of physical or spiritual life.

In Scripture

Death is a consequence of sin: "And the Lord God commanded the man, `You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die'" (Gen. 2:16 - 17). "[T]hose who miss me injure themselves; all who hate me love death" (Prov. 8:36). "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, so death spread to all because all have sinned" (Rom. 5:12). "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23).

Death is a part of the rhythm of life: "Then the Lord said, `My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years'" (Gen. 6:3). "When Jacob ended his charge to his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed, breathed his last, and was gathered to his people" (Gen. 49:33). "[There is] a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted" (Ecc. 3:2).

Spiritual death: "Jesus answered him, `Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.' . . . What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:3, 6). "`For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him'" (John 3:16 - 17).

Dying in the Lord: "`Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going'" (John 14:1 - 4). "If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's" (Rom. 14:8). "For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ" (1 Cor. 15:21 - 22). "So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord — for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:6 - 8). "To me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better" (Phil. 1:21 - 23). "I heard a voice from heaven saying, `Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.' `Yes,' says the Spirit, `they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them'" (Rev. 14:13).

Christ defeats death: "How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin" (Rom. 6:2 - 6). "[Christ] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death" (1 Cor. 15:25 - 26). "Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: `Death has been swallowed up in victory.' `Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 15:51 - 57). "[H]e will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away" (Rev. 21:4).

Dead in sin, alive in Christ: "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you" (Rom. 8:11). "And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses" (Col. 2:13).

Points to Ponder

A tragic consequence of sin In Genesis 2 and Romans 5, death, both physical and spiritual, appears to be a tragic consequence of sin. In 1 Corinthians 15 death is "the last enemy to be destroyed." It's not hard to conceive of even physical death as an enemy: "it separates lovers." Elsewhere in Scripture, perhaps to be understood inside the frame of death-as-enemy, physical death is a familiar, expectable part of the rhythm of existence. There is a time to be born and a time to die. People perish, but thus make room for newcomers.

Physical death does not mean the end of our existence Yet most Christians at most times have thought that physical death does not mean the end of our existence. We depart to be "with Christ," as Paul says in Philippians 1. John Calvin's followers have usually thought, as he did, that our "soul," or "self," or "ego," or "spirit" consciously enjoys its union with Christ in the "intermediate state" between death and the general resurrection at the dawn of the new heaven and new earth. The thinking here is that if going to be with Christ is a "gain," (still Phil. 1), then our enjoyment of it cannot be less profound than it was before death. This is one reason that most Christians at most times have resisted the claim that we are simply identical with our bodies. As in the case of God and the angels, you don't necessarily need a body to think and love and exult.

Life In some Scripture, and especially in the gospel of John, it's hard to know whether the writer when speaking of "life" means spiritual vitality in this life or everlastingness in the next or, most likely, both. This is the case, for instance, in the famous verses of John 3:16 - 17.

Sin and physical death Lots of questions surround the idea that physical death is the tragic consequence of the human fall into sin. We now know from the fossil record that there were animal deaths for millions of years before humans were even on the scene. So is carnivorousness a part of God's original design? Judging by the fossil record, and by the incisors of carnivores, it seems so. Judging by the Scriptural prophecies of shalom and by our own hearts and minds, it seems not so. In Isaiah's picture of God's peaceable kingdom, for example, we find some of the loveliest of all Scriptural prophecies, and in them carnivorousness is only a memory: The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them (Is. 11:6). The portrait captures our imagination because we wince at the stark realities of "nature red in tooth and claw." If you watch one of those National Geographic specials on TV in which young lions chase down a deer, leap at its throat or claw their way onto its back, and then start sinking their incisors into the deer's flesh, it all looks more painful than anything we imagine God to have delighted in when he called creation "very good." Here's a place where Christians who read Scripture, read the fossil record, and consult their own sensitivities may come up with more questions than answers. If carnivorousness is part of God's original design, is God less sensitive to animal pain than we are? If not, why do we have what looks like a design for it? Could a pre-fall in the angelic world have anything to do with an answer? Or is that mere speculation? If actually, in the "real" world, carnivorousness is one day to cease in the coming of God's peaceable kingdom, how will lions keep up their strength?

Sin and spiritual death If there are hard questions about the connection of sin to physical death, there are only hard certainties about the connection between sin and spiritual death. Healthy dependence on God is our lifeline. When we turn our backs on God, or grieve God in some other way, we start a spiritual death spiral. People "dead in their trespasses" have succeeded in sinning themselves out of existence, spiritually speaking. They have become inert.

Disintegration is in fact the main event in corruption of the human person — the breakdown of personal and social integrity, the loss of shape, strength, and purpose that make the human entity an "entirety" and make it this entirety. Near its nadir the disintegrated human spirit is affectless, as in reported cases of juvenile killers whose gaze is wholly blank. At its nadir, the disintegrated human spirit moves beyond affectlessness to generate a demonic inversion of values, the sort of upside-down morality we see in those mafia movies in which ruthlessness is respected and the refusal to accept a bribe taken as a sign of contemptible self-righteousness.

A mighty miracle Because sin deadens us, the grace of God in a mighty miracle must regenerate us. In fact, if anyone questions whether there are contemporary miracles, the plainest answer is a convincing example of a hard, dead heart that has been softened and regenerated by God-Almighty's grace. To hear today of regeneration in a difficult person in a difficult culture is to hear the story of a Holy Ghost miracle.

Practically the last thing the Bible says about death is that a time is coming when "death will be no more."


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.