What Happens to Christians When They Die?
“. . . the spirits of the righteous made perfect.” -Hebrews 12:24
My dear friend, if you are a Christian, one truly born again by the work of the Holy Spirit, then our gracious God has brought you from death unto life, from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of His beloved Son, from being an enemy of God to being a child of God, from being bound for perdition to being put on the glory train to heaven. The moment you were given the grace to repent of your sins, to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and to call upon the name of the Lord for His saving mercy, you were declared ‘not guilty.’ You were acquitted of everything sinful in thought, word, and deed. You who had been an orphan were adopted into the family of God. Furthermore, you were sanctified, set apart by God as a saint, what theologians call ‘definitive sanctification.’ And you are now on the road to heaven.
Having said that you are justified, adopted, and definitively sanctified, you also now know better than ever that you daily fight indwelling sin. While the old man (what you were in your Adamic nature, how you lived before you were saved) is dead (Romans 6:6), you will fight the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil until the day you die. Surely you somewhat regularly find yourself commiserating with the apostle Paul who writes, ‘For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which indwells me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good,’ (Romans 7:19-21). No doubt there are times in your life, as in mine, when you are so very discouraged by your lingering sinful attitudes, predispositions, habits, desires, affections, words, and deeds. Yes, as you look back over your Christian journey you see progress, what theologians call ‘progressive sanctification, but this progress is also mired in the reality that you are far from the devoted, holy believer you wish to be.
Perhaps, due to temperament and past circumstances, you have a negative, critical spirit. You find yourself being overly critical of other saints. Or maybe you are predisposed toward depression, fear, or anxiety, even at times suffering panic attacks. You know God is with you, that you should be able to trust Him, but you still find yourself falling to these debilitating and sinful inclinations. Maybe your past sinful habit of foolish spending seems to rear its ugly head from time to time; or though you dearly love your wife and are satisfied with your intimacy with her, you nonetheless find yourself looking lustfully at other women. You know this is sinful and you hate it when you do it, and you ask God for forgiveness and grace, but it is still there from time to time. And though you know you have everything you need in Christ and are aware of His love and acceptance of you, you still find yourself striving for acceptance from others, living in constant fear of losing your position at your company, of losing the esteem of others if you fail to meet your performance goals for the year. And one moment you are praising your great God and Savior and the next you are speaking sinfully of a friend, work associate, or rival. You may even find yourself swearing under your breath when things don’t go your way. You love your spouse and your children but there are times you ‘lose it’ and say very harsh and demeaning things to them.
You know it is only a matter of time before you close your eyes in death. You do not know the day, time, or circumstances under which you will leave this world, but you know that day is coming. So, here’s my question to you: when you breathe your last breath, when your spirit leaves your body, what exactly happens next?
Paul the apostle tells us that to be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). The very moment you breathe your last breath, your spirit, the very essence of your being, will be in the presence of Jesus, giving praise to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. This, of course, is wonderfully glorious. But my friends, it gets even better than this. The writer to the Hebrews declares that we will come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and the church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect (Hebrews 12:22,23).
I wish to focus your attention briefly on the phrase, ‘the spirits of the righteous made perfect.’ The very moment your spirit leaves your body, it will be made absolutely perfect, just like the spirit of the Lord Jesus Himself. No longer will you battle your earthly, debilitating sinful attitudes, predispositions, habits, desires, affections, words, or deeds. All your thoughts, words, affections, desires, and habits will be pure, perfect, and undefiled. You will be forever done with these severe and discouraging limitations.
We can go further. While on earth, you no doubt have wonderful times of praise to God, being moved by wonderful sermons, overcome at times by the glory of your salvation in Christ. At the same time, however, you often grow weary in prayer, falling asleep at times, your mind wandering to the things you need to do that day. Your warmth in service and praise to God has always been negatively affected by hardheartedness and coldheartedness. In heaven, however, the very moment you get there you will always be praising Jesus, joining in with the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures, the myriad of angels, and the great assembly of saints, giving unadulterated, unmitigated, unfettered, unrelenting worship to the great lover of your soul. Forever, without ever being tired, bored, or distracted you will sing, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and might, and honor, and glory and blessing.’
Comfort your heart with these things. Comfort your dying Christian loved ones with this truth. And declare this wonderful truth to anyone who will listen who is outside of Christ, telling him that Jesus was given over to death for our transgressions, that He was raised again from the dead for our justification. He is the only remedy for sin, death, and Satan. Declare His glory to all the nations.
Al Baker is an Evangelistic Revival Preacher with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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