Many people are afraid of dying and many are afraid of the End Times. In these posts I’d like to explain why Christians shouldn’t have these fears.
Fear of Death
Let’s first take a look at dying and why we fear it. Shakespeare put these words about death into Hamlet’s mouth:
“The dread of something after death, the undiscovered country from whose [domain] no traveler returns.”
Aristotle called death something to be feared because “it appears to be the end of everything.”
1. Jesus’ Promise
Yet as Christians we know that death is not the end of everything, but actually a beginning. It is a passageway to something better, a corner to be turned. We know this because it is the major theme of the New Testament. This theme is expressed well in what Jesus said to his followers in those familiar words of John 14:1-6:
“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.”
“Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” NRSV
Jesus didn’t just promise us an afterlife, but a better life in heaven basking in the glory of his presence. Your final glimpse of this life will open the door to your first glimpse of your Savior, Jesus.
2. Nature of Our Fear
We know this, so why do we still fear death, even after placing our trust in Jesus for our eternal destiny? After all, our reservation in heaven is guaranteed because it is not dependent on our good works or anything we have done, but by our faith in Jesus. We get to heaven only on the merits of Jesus Christ, not on our good deeds outweighing our bad or anything like that. We read in one of my favorite passages (Ephesians 2:8-9, NRSV):
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own do-ing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast.
We also read in 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10:
For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. NRSV
So why are we still apprehensive about death? Three possibilities come to mind.
a. Too Good to Be True
One possibility is that we believe that salvation by faith alone is just too good to be true. How can placing faith in what Jesus did on the cross on our behalf result in our going to heaven? There must be more to it than that! Where’s the catch? That leads me to the second possibility why we still fear death.
b. God’s Grace Is Insufficient
Second, we fear death because we may think God’s grace is insufficient, despite what we read in the Bible. Certainly there must be some works we must do in order to gain entrance into heaven. After all, we live in a performance-based world, and many of us grew up in churches where works were necessary to assure our salvation. So questions arise about what works and how much must be done. Yet nowhere in the New Testament does it say we must do certain things to assure our entrance into heaven. Quite the opposite, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:57:
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. NRSV
The Bible states clearly we are to do good works, but those works don’t give us the keys to the kingdom. Once saved by grace through faith, our works store up treasures in heaven, but they don’t get us there.
c. Fear of the Unknown
The last possibility why Christians may fear death is fear of the unknown. When asked whether he feared death, Billy Graham answered, “I don’t fear death, but I’m not looking forward to the process.”
I think that expresses the feelings we all have. We may be confident of our salvation because we have placed our faith in Jesus, but that doesn’t guarantee our passing from this life will be pleasant. Often our fear is of the process, not of what will happen when we leave this life.
Of course we really don’t know what heaven is like, but we have been assured that it is much better than here. It is a joyful place in the presence of Almighty God, and there is worship of God and pleasant work to do for the Lord. Rick Warren says that this life is really preparation for the next. So let us be diligent in serving the Lord in this life, as Paul exhorts us in 1 Corinthians 15:58:
Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. NRSV
More on this topic in a future post.