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What does the Bible say about death?

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Chris Elkins: Hi, I’m Chris Elkins with Denison Forum, and I’m with Dr. Jim Denison today, and we want to talk about a fairly tough subject. Jim, I want to bring up the subject: What does the Bible say about death? You know, I’ve always been told all my life there are two sure things: taxes and death. I’m not so sure about taxes, but I’m pretty sure that death is definitely a sure thing. Most of us tend to avoid this subject. It’s difficult to really talk about. Why do we need to face that topic today?

Why do we need to face death?

Dr. Jim Denison: Yeah, you’re right. It is something we avoid if we can. I’ve done obviously a lot of funerals over the years as a pastor, and people typically say of the deceased, “They are the deceased, or the dearly deceased, or they passed away. They went on to a better place,” all of that, but don’t like the word death. It’s just kind of a euphemism that we’re around these days.

And we’re at a place now where, as a culture, we’re not around it as much as previous generations would have been. More people die in hospitals, you know, they die in places that are not around their families and all of that. And yet, it’s an unescapable consequence of life. Hebrews 9:27 says, “It’s appointed unto all men once to die, and then the judgment.”

Unless the Lord comes home first, unless he comes back for us to take us home first, all of us, each of us, are going to face death one day, and the only way to be prepared to die is to make that decision now. I can’t put that off to tomorrow because I’m not promised tomorrow.

I remember, Chris, when I was pastoring in Atlanta, there was a member of a church out there in the community who was diagnosed with brain cancer and given a period of months to live. And so he wanted to redeem this time as best he could.

So he went around to the various churches in the area and spoke to the men’s groups, and told him his story, and urged them to be ready for eternity—told them that he was making himself ready to meet the Lord, to be with the Lord, and they needed to do the same thing. And they needed to be ready for eternity today, and he hoped they would.

Well, he did that on one Sunday morning in one of the churches in the area. The next day, on Monday, one of the men that was in that Bible study on that Sunday morning, that heard him speak, was driving on what they call the perimeter of the loop around Atlanta. There was a pickup truck in front of him with a loose spare tire in the back of the truck. And then the truck went over a bump or something and it kicked the spare tire loose, and it smashed into the windscreen, the windshield of the car driven by the man that was in the Bible study, and killed him.

And the man with the brain tumor went to his funeral. That to say: none of us has tomorrow promised. No one gets a five-year plan in the Bible. And we have to confront death if we want to be ready for death. And today’s the only day we have to do that.

Why does God permit death?

Yeah, if God is all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful, you’d think he wouldn’t do this right? If I were God, you would say I wouldn’t allow death, wouldn’t permit death. Well, in a sense, death is definitely connected to the fall, the first man and woman were warned that if they ate of the fruit that they would die. They began to die spiritually in that moment and then would eventually die physically as well.

But in a fallen world now, where we live in these broken bodies, these diseased bodies and this broken world, death is a gift of God. It’s the means by which we can step from death into life, where we can step from these broken, fallen bodies into God’s perfect paradise.

I’m sixty-two years old. I’m getting older every day. And the older I get, the more grateful I am that I’m not going to spend eternity in this body, that I’m not going to just continue to age forever, that I’m not going to live—even if God were to stop the aging process—that I’m not going to live forever in this broken, fallen world.

And even if God were to somehow make this world better than it can be because of sin, it’s still not his presence. It’s still not his paradise. And it’s nothing like it’s going to be.

I can make you this promise. One second on the other side of death, every believer is going to be grateful they died. One second on the other side, when they’re in God’s perfect paradise and God’s perfect presence. They’ll be grateful that God allowed death as the doorway to life.

A poet said it like this: “Think of stepping on new ground and finding it celestial. Think of breathing new air and finding it heavenly. Think of hearing new music and finding it angelic. Think of feeling a touch and finding it God.” Well, that’s what’s waiting for us one instant on the other side of what we call death.

How can I be ready for death?

Yeah, there’s the old story about the pastor that was doing, I think, a children’s sermon or something and asked the kids to raise their hands if they wanted to go to heaven. And everybody did.

But one—pastor was kind of surprised—asked the little boy why hadn’t raised his, and he said, “Don’t you want to go to heaven?”

And he said, “Well, sure. I just thought you were getting up a load right now.”

He wasn’t quite ready right now to do that. Most of us aren’t, quite honestly. As much as we know we should live for heaven, live for eternity, be ready for all of that—if we had a vote, a lot of us would rather spend a little more time here—which just shows how little we understand about heaven. Again, once we’re on the other side, we will be so grateful that we are there, so grateful that the Lord allowed that.

So how can we be ready for all of that?

Well, the first thing is to make sure that Jesus is your Savior and Lord.

Anybody hearing this or seeing this video right now, let me please ask you to be certain that a time has come in your life when you’ve asked Jesus to forgive your sins and failures, when you’ve asked him to be the Savior and Lord of your life, and you’ve turned your life over to him.

There’s no magical way you have to do that. But it’s that commitment. It’s that decision. If you’re not sure how to do that or why to do that, let me urge you to go to our website, denisonforum.org, and look for my white paper entitled, “Why Jesus?“. It’ll explain who he is and what he came to do and why he died. And at the end of the paper, there’s a salvation prayer that you can pray and a way to know that you have trusted Christ as your Lord. That’s the first thing to do is to be absolutely certain. And then every single day, be ready to make Jesus Lord of that day. Well, how do you do that?

Get alone with the Lord.

Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to mind anything in your life that isn’t pleasing God, anything that you need to be prepared to get rid of or move out of your life. If you were ready, if you wanted to be ready, to meet the Lord today, and then confess whatever comes to your thoughts. He will bring that to your mind, whatever sins or whatever failures you need to make right with God. It’s called a spiritual inventory. Do that every single day.

So that you know that that bread, that day, you’re ready to stand before the Lord because you’ve confessed whatever was between you and him.

Then, on a third step, ask the Holy Spirit every day to show you what, on a horizontal level, you need to do to be ready to meet the Lord, what relationships you need to amend or fix.

In Matthew 18:15, we’re told that if our brother sins against us, we’re to go to him. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “If you bring your gift to the altar and remember your brother has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go be reconciled with your brother.” So whether they have something against you or you against them, we’re required by Scripture to take the initiative to do all we can do to bring about reconciliation in that relationship.

So if you knew you only had a week to live, let’s say, what relationships would you work on? Where would you seek forgiveness? Where would you offer forgiveness? What would you do to kind of be ready horizontally to be with our Lord?

And then last, embrace death as God’s invitation to paradise.

Know that, as you serve and follow Jesus, the worst that can happen to you is the best that can happen to you. One day you’ll hear Jesus say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

So if we’ll live every day knowing that we’ve trusted Christ as our Lord, every day, vertically right with God, horizontally right with others, living with boldness and courage, that knows that every single day, we could be ready and we could meet the Lord that day. And what a blessing and celebration that would be.

I can make you this promise. I remember back in seminary days, we were talking about the return to the Lord and various eschatological theories and ways people tried to understand all that. I remember our professor saying this, “Well, I know this, I can make you this promise: we are one day closer to eternity than ever before. And we only have today to get ready.”

So let me ask you: If this were that day, would you be ready today?