|EXPLORING CHRISTIANITY - LIFE AFTER DEATH||
LIFE AFTER DEATHChristianity's Hope & Challenge.
The nature of Christian conversion
To understand the true nature of life after death and its certainty for the believer, it is necessary to understand the nature of Christian conversion. The basic problem of the human race as outlined in the opening chapters of the Bible, is that we are rebels in God’s world. Though created for fellowship and partnership with the living God, our first ancestors chose to go their own sinful ways and live independently from him. One of the consequences of this is that God withdrew his Spirit from men and women and we were left in a condition that the Bible describes as being spiritually “dead”, that is, empty of God and spiritual life.6
The rest of the Bible is the story of God’s activity in history to bring us back to himself, culminating in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The heart of this message focuses on the cross where Jesus paid the price of our rebellion. As a result of all he achieved on our behalf by his death and resurrection, the way has been opened for us to return to God and once again enjoy all the blessings that come from living in a relationship with him.
Our responsibility in this matter is to acknowledge our sins, turn from them and submit our lives to Jesus Christ. When we do, two wonderful things happen. First we receive forgiveness and are accepted into full fellowship with God, as if we had never sinned in the first place. The second, and equally important part of the process, is that the third Person in the divine Trinity, God the Holy Spirit, comes to live within our human bodies.  This experience is described in the New Testament as being “born of…the Spirit”(John 3:5), crossing over “from death to life” (John 5:24), being “made…alive with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5), or being “raised…up with Christ” (Ephesians 2:6). A true believer is spoken of as one who already “has everlasting life” (John 6:47) and already has been “raised with Christ” (Colossians 1:1).
In other words, a true Christian is one who has received the very presence of God into his being. Death in the Bible is often associated with sin or disobedience to God (e.g. Genesis 2:17; Romans 5:12; 6:23). When we accept all that Christ has achieved for us on our behalf, the penalty is removed and in a very real sense we are already on the other side of the grave. It is true that our physical bodies, as we know them now, will go through the process of decay and death. But the real me—that thinks, hopes, feels, dreams, makes decisions—my personality, described as “soul” in the Bible, will continue in uninterrupted relationship with the living God, the one who planned my existence in the first place. He brought me into being, sent his Son to die for me when I had drifted from him, restored me to spiritual life and committed himself to me by giving me the Holy Spirit, and has given me an inheritance in his kingdom which “can never perish, spoil or fade” (1 Peter 1:3,4). Christians are not going from the land of the living to the land of the dying. They are going from the land of the dying to the land of the living. Andrew Bonar, in Heavenly Springs, wrote: “Preparation for death is almost an imagination. A believer does not prepare for death at all. Christ does it for him. The believer prepares for life.”
In this sense, death for a believer is incidental. It is not a full stop but a comma (however distressing it may appear at the time), in the ongoing relationship with God that began when he or she first trusted Christ. As we have seen above, it is no more significant than falling asleep. It is a “departure” on an exciting adventure. This is the word that Paul used when facing execution in Rome (2 Timothy 4:6). Paul wrote his letters in Greek and this word was used of seamen casting off moorings and setting sail for the open sea. It was also used for the freeing of a man held captive. His shackles were struck off, the prison doors were opened, and he was free to leave the dark gloom of his dungeon and go out into the glory of God’s world. Bishop Moule described it as:
...that delightful moment when the friendly flood heaves beneath the freed keel, and the prow is set straight and finally towards the shore of home, and the Pilot stands on board, at length ‘seen face to face’ and lo, as He takes the helm, ‘immediately the ship is at the land whither they go’ (John 6:21).
It is from this perspective that George Macdonald could write, “I came from God, and I’m going back to God, and I won’t have any gaps of death in the middle of my life.” Similarly, in The Meaning of Salvation, Michael Green says that in the New Testament
The life to come is represented to us as continuous with this life. Death has been robbed of its significance, and the two poles in the Christian’s existence are his conversion and the coming of Christ.
Christian conversion, therefore, involves receiving the life of God himself into our innermost being through the presence of the Holy Spirit. We are “spiritually alive” in New Testament terms. We are in a totally new relationship with the living God, a relationship which physical death cannot affect. A certain Ebenezer Erskine, speaking of the hour when he accepted Jesus Christ as his Saviour, wrote that it was in the summer of 1708 that he “got his head out of time into eternity.” However, it is obvious that when we die our present physical bodies, through which we expressed our lives and personalities in this world, will no longer exist. So let’s explore the means by which this life will be expressed beyond the grave.
6 I have described the process of our rebellion and its full consequences more fully in the booklet Who Am I? Finding My True Identity as a Human Being and as a Child of God.
 I have explained the Trinity in more detail, how God exists in three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and how these relate to us in our new experience as Christians, in the booklet Understanding the Trinity.
Part 1: Exploring the territory
Part 2: The Christian view of life after death
The nature of Christian conversion