There is only one “Good Death”, and all other Deaths Are our Enemy
If you were to look at the top two shelves of books beside my desk, you would see nothing but books about death. How We Die, by Nuland. The Gift of Death, by Derrida. Death and Eternal life, by John Hick. Immortality and Resurrection, by Oscar Cullman. The Denial of Death, by Ernest Becker. From Grave to Glory, by Murray Harris. The list goes on and on. My mother is 81 years old. My father is 88 years old. I think a lot about death.
I hear a lot of talk about death being a blessing for Christians. The idea seems to be that death is no longer our enemy after we become Christians. Many follow the Roman Catholic tradition is teaching that death is what takes us to either purgatory or to heaven. In this tradition, there is no need for Jesus Christ to return to earth, because death will supposedly take us to Christ in heaven.
But the Christian hope is not our own deaths. Our hope is not going to heaven, but the Resurrected Christ one day coming back again to earth and raising us from our death. Our hope is not our dying. Our hope is Christ’s death. There is only one “good death” and that death is not our death but the death of Christ as the righteousness which satisfies all the demands of the law. Our hope is not our death, but legal identification with Christ’s good death. There are not two “good deaths”, but only one “good death” and that’s why “imputation” is so important
Romans 6 is about Christ the public representative of the elect first being under death “for” the elect, in their place, as their replacement, as their substitute.
Romans 6:7 “For one who has died has been justified from sin. 8 Now since we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death NO LONGER has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died HE DIED TO SIN once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”
Christ was never under grace and is still not under grace. Christ was under the law because of the imputed sins of the elect. Romans 6 is about Christ’s “good death” as the complete satisfaction of God’s law. Christ after His resurrection is now no longer under law and therefore now no longer under death.
The death of the justified elect is that VERY SAME legal death. The resurrection (present and future) of the justified elect in Romans 6 is the result of Christ’s justification from being under law and death. There is only one “good death”, and that was Christ’s death.
Christ was never under the power of sin in the sense of being unable not to sin. Christ was always unable to sin. The only way Christ was ever under the power of sin is by being under the guilt of sin. The guilt of the elect’s sin was legally transferred by God to Christ.
Christ’s death to sin was death to the guilt of sin, and since the elect are united with a death like his, the death of the elect is also a death to the guilt of sin. And this is what Romans 6:7 teaches: “For one who has died has been justified from sin.”
Yet many commentators tell us that “set free from sin” must mean the elect’s transformation by grace and by the Spirit so that the justified elect cannot habitually sin (or that their new nature cannot sin) They tell us that justification was in chapter five and that chapter six must be about something more if it’s to be a real answer to the question “why not sin?”.
But Christ was never under the power of habitual sin or any sin, and the death of the elect is not their own death or their own dying. The death of the elect in Romans 6 is the same one “good death” which Christ Himself died.
Romans 6:10, “For the death He died He died to sin.” When the elect consider themselves dead to sin and alive to God, they think of themselves as dead to the guilt of sin. Death to the guilt of sin means justification and life before God.
Romans 6:14 does not say, For sin shall not be your master, because the Holy Spirit has changed you so that you cannot habitually sin, but only occasionally and always with repentance. Romans 6:14 says, “For sin shall not by your master, because you are not under law but under grace.”
Christ also died to purchase every blessing, including the giving of the Spirit and our believing the gospel. But it is not believing which frees the elect from the guilt of sin. Our hope is being legally joined to Christ’s “good death”. Romans 6 teaches that being “baptized into” Christ’s death is what frees the justified elect from guilt. Romans 6 does not teach that the Holy Spirit is the one who puts us into the “good death”. The gift of the Spirit is a blessing which results from having been placed into Christ’s ‘good death”.
Make no mistake. I know that some deaths are worse than others. We all have to die, but some of us die quickly. Others of us are given just enough notice to say and do the things we want to with regards to our family and friends. And then others of us will go through great suffering, many medical procedures, with much pain and expense, for ourselves and for those we love. Some of us die young, and others of us die after we are so old that our health is bad and we would rather be dead already. It is not good to die, but since we all have to die, sometimes it is better for us to die sooner rather than later. And though we submit to and recognize God’s sovereignty over life and death (which is one reason we do NOT kill or cause other humans to sacrifice their lives), we simply do not now see why God thinks it’s better for some of us to die later rather than sooner (and others of us to die “early”). We do not have to deny that God does all things “on time” to confess that we do not understand why God has some of us live so much longer than others live.
This “variety” in death applies to both Christians and non-Christians. Even bigger is the difference between the death of a Christian who has a real hope of resurrection, and a non-Christian who has no such hope. In both cases, we all have to die. Unless we are still living when Jesus Christs returns, we all will be dead for a while. But even in death the Christian is “in Christ” and this means that even our dead humanity in legally joined to Christ’s living humanity so that Christ has the right to our resurrection.
But the “catholic” tradition teaches an instant consciousness after death for Christians and a trip to heaven, all without a body. From the phrase in James, “the body apart from the spirit is dead”, the tradition infers that “the spirit apart from the body is alive.”
John 5: 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, as many as hear my word and believe him who sent me has the lasting life of the age to come… They do not come into judgment, but HAVE PASSED FROM DEATH TO LIFE. 25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the graves will hear his voice 29 and come out…
Instead of recognizing from Genesis 2 that “souls” are “living beings”, the tradition begins with the idea that “souls” are non-material spirits with consciousness that can nevertheless be seen and heard. Thus the tradition reads John 5 as saying that it’s only the bodies which will come out the graves. It can’t be the persons, the tradition explains, because it already knows that “souls” go straight to heaven. Thus the teaching that Christians have a “good death” of their own. Thus the teaching that all humans have an immortality of their own, and that no human ever really dies. Thus the teaching that Christians don’t really have a “good death”, because their death is not really death.
I Thessalonians 4:13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
We will not precede them. They will rise first. This is NOT about “never-dying souls” of dead Christians getting into heaven before we do. Leave your dead body behind. Do not pass go. Get a new body in heaven now, as soon as you die, and before they even bury your old body. No, none of that is the hope. Nor is our hope some experience of disembodied consciousness That is a stoic hope for those who fear human emotions so much that they think mainly of control. Duty and law become so important to them that they entertain a gnostic hope for triumphal worship before and without
Christ’s second coming. I could say that in a more gentle way—“over-realized eschatology” leaning toward preterism—-but I think it’s important to see that there is no hope outside of the one “good death” of Christ. There is no hope in our own dying, or in our own law-keeping, but only in Christ’s death which has completely satisfied the law.
Human persons, elect and non-elect, justified and condemned, will not be left in the graves. But now they wait in the graves, and then the elect will be changed in the twinkling of an eye and clothed with immortality. Then “the dead in Christ will rise first. Only then, at His coming will those saints who are alive and remain be caught up together with dead saints [all at one time, at the same time)] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air as He comes to earth. This meeting is not to go back to heaven, but the coming of heaven to earth. Thus “we shall always be with the Lord.”
The non-elect will also be raised on that day but only to come into judgment, and then to perish in the second death. But the justified elect will be raised and “shall not come into judgment” but will from then on, in the lasting age to come, be with the risen Christ with bodies like his glorious body.
The “catholic” tradition causes folks to read “those who have fallen asleep” as “those bodies which sleep”, because people thinks they already know that “perfected souls” are already ascended to heaven and now worship 24/7 without sleep.
John 3: 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that as many as believe in him shall have the life OF THE AGE TO COME. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that as many as believe in him should not perish but have the life of the age to come.
The tradition presumes that all the saints who have died the first death have only died in their bodies and that their “souls” have already ascended to heaven. ( The orthodox tradition does not teach that these “souls” were pre-existent and descended from heaven.) So presumably the promise of “not perish” is only about the bodies, because the tradition knows that “souls” can never die or perish, no matter what God did in giving His Son, no matter what Christ did in being lifted up on the cross.
The tradition of intermediate hope of conscious souls in heaven immediately at death is not taught by the Bible, but is contradicted by what the Bible teaches in defining “living being” (Genesis 2:7) or describing the “good death” of Christ (“pouring out his soul, Isaiah 53).
The Bible says, wait and be patient. But the tradition says instead: the people left living behind wait, but the Christians who die get a ‘good death” which is not really death but which gets them right away to conscious worship (until presumably all that is interrupted by needing to go with Christ to earth for earthly things, like resurrection, judgment, other Christians, and bodies.)
Hebrews 12: 18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.
The tradition ignores the “ye have come” for the sake of what it thinks will happen in our own “dying”. “First comes the perfecting of our souls when we die”. Even though the tradition does not teach that the “blood that speaks” (be it that of Abel or Christ) is literal, it is sure that disembodied “souls” are now not only conscious but already perfected and glorified. Neither does the tradition understand “consuming fire” in a literal way.
The tradition acts as if “soul” is not a “thing that has been made”. Does this mean that our bodies can be shaken (having being created) but that our “spirits” (souls) cannot be shaken?
”God will put forth upon that soul that has left the body a concentration of his sanctifying grace and power that will immediately complete the work of conforming the soul to the moral likeness of Christ.” The tradition has no understanding of the one “good death” of Romans 6, and so it ignores the forensic (Christ died under the law, we died with Him, we are not under the law) meaning and displaces that forensic meaning with an “in us” idea of some “definitive” regeneration in which we don’t sin (much) anymore (like we used to).
That “in us” view cannot account for the “one and only one good death” teaching of Romans 6. Christ had no need for the Spirit to conform him to the pattern of Christ. Our death with Christ to the guilt of the law is NOT brought about by our conformity to Christ. The death of the elect to the guilt of the law is the same as Christ’s good death to the guilt of the law. There is only the one “good death”, and that only belongs to the elect by imputation. The only death which takes the sting out of our own deaths, the only hope is Christ’s “good death”.
I certainly agree that dead Christians do not sin anymore after they die. But that is no reason to claim that our own death is our hope. Nor is it reason to deny that death is our enemy. Indeed, I doubt very much that even the non-elect will continue to sin after their second death, even though they most certainly will sin as they gnash their teeth at the judgment which has not yet come. But agreeing that dead Christians no longer sin has nothing to do with proving that their conscious spirits are now in worship in heaven. Nor does it prove that our own deaths are now good deaths.
Who is the dead person? Presumably, according to the tradition, the dead person is not the body, because the body is merely only something the person has. Is the “immortal conscious soul” the person? Or does the person also “have a soul”? If so, what is the person who “has a soul”? And where is that person, when the body sleeps and the “soul” worships?
Spurgeon writes about John 17: “You bend your knee in prayer and say ‘Father I will that thy saints be with me where I am.’ Christ says, ‘Father I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am.’ Thus the disciple is at cross-purposes with His Lord. The soul cannot be at both places; the beloved cannot be with Christ and with you too….You would give up your prayer for your loved one’s life, if you could realize the thoughts that Christ is praying in the opposite direction.”
What does “realize the thoughts” mean? Must we agree with what Spurgeon is preaching, even though it has no logic? Should we stop taking our children to the doctor, because that might be in “cross-purposes” with what Jesus wants? Or should we only think this way, after our loved ones die, but not before they die? Why would that timing matter? And to replay my previous question–are we praying for their “souls” to be with us, or is it our desire for them as persons to be with us? Is Christ praying for their persons or only for their “souls”?
The presumption of the tradition is that the way to be “with Christ” is “instantly at death”. The tradition evades any sense of the resurrection being the hope which is “far better” in Philippians 1 or II Corinthians 5. The tradition rejects any idea of a time-lag between “departure” and conscious life with Christ at the resurrection. Even though the tradition will concede that “nakedness” is not the way that the Bible speaks of glorification, it still assures us that our comfort is “largely” based on a desire for instant conscious nakedness before God as soon as we die.
Christ said: “to be with me where I am”. The tradition presumes that this means heaven as soon as we died, and ignores the hope of Christ coming to earth to be with His (then resurrected) people. The tradition ignores the wait involved in hope, so that no Christian gets to glory before another Christian, so that we not precede each other. The tradition presumes that the “sleep” of I Corinthians 15 and I Thessalonians 4 is not about the real us (our persons), but only about the “bodies we have”.
According to the tradition, Stephen’s prayer (Acts 7) to “receive my spirit” means that Stephen the person never really died. The tradition expects beatific vision as soon as a Christian dies, and argues for this based on a vision Stephen had before Stephen died. Because Stephen prayed, “receive my spirit”, the tradition assumes that his means that Stephen had a never dying spirit. Stephen the person didn’t really die. Only his body did.
The Lord Jesus prayed, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”. (Luke 23:46, Psalm 31:5). Does this mean that Jesus the real humanity of Christ person never died either, but only part of his humanity, that is, only his body? I certainly do not begin to understand the incarnation or the mystery of Christ’s death, which is why I am not about to explain it on the basis of a “never-dying soul” so as to prove that the humanity of Christ really did not die. I do not question the unceasing nature of the “hypostatic union” of Christ’s two natures, but I do not presume to explain it by assuming that the real humanity of Christ never died. To the contrary, my only hope is the “good death” of Christ.
I Timothy 6:13 “I charge you in the presence of God, WHO GIVES LIFE to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pilate made the good confession, 14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach UNTIL THE APPEARING of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 WHO ALONE HAS IMMORTALITY, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and lasting dominion. Amen.”
While we could not say that “Christ lives in us” when we are dead, nevertheless even then (when we will have died and be dead) we will continue to be legally “seated in the heavenlies” by means of our federal relation to Christ, whose humanity is now absent from us and living in heaven. Christ indwells us now, lives in our humanity now, but when we are dead, the hope that the Holy Spirit will transform us from death is not based on any idea of the Spirit having now already transformed us so that we already are immortal. In our “theology of glory”, the glory has not yet come for us and we must die and wait for Christ’s coming, with a hope not based on what has now been put in us but a hope for future transformation and resurrection based on Christ’s own death and resurrection.
Romans 8: 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, HE who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies THROUGH HIS Spirit who dwells in you.
Hebrews 13:20– The God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the lasting covenant