By Peter Amsterdam
September 10, 2019
(Points for this article are taken from Christian Ethics, by Wayne Grudem1)
In this series so far, I’ve addressed topics of defending life (self-defense, war) as well as the taking of life (suicide, euthanasia, and abortion). The focus in this two-part article will be aging and natural death. As we all know, every person ages and eventually dies. According to Scripture, both aging and death are a result of Adam’s sin.
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”2
Adam and Eve disobeyed this command and ate from the tree, and when they did, God passed judgment on them for their sin.
“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”3
The penalty of death was not immediately enforced, but over time they gradually grew old and eventually died.
Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died.4
In the New Testament, we also read that death was introduced because of Adam’s sin.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…5
For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.6
Because we live in a fallen world, we experience aging and eventual death. While aging and death are judgments or punishments put on humanity because of sin entering the world, for Christians they are no longer to be looked upon as a punishment. The apostle Paul wrote,
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.7
Death for us has become a gateway to eternity with God; we experience death, and then we receive the full measure of the benefits of salvation that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross has earned for us.
Unless one has an untimely death because of a fatal accident or disease, most people live into old age. Since many people in developed countries live much longer than people have in the past, doctors who specialize in caring for the elderly have developed different designations for those growing older. For example, one study breaks it down as young old (60–69), middle old (70–79), and very old (80+). Another study groups it as young old (65–74), old (74–84), and old–old (85+).
While the aging process can bring about difficulties, it also brings some things which from a Christian perspective can be seen as blessings. For example, with age comes a lessening of physical and perhaps some mental strength; however, this can result in a deeper relationship with God and can lead to greater spiritual strength. The apostle Paul experienced some kind of weakness or affliction (a thorn in the flesh) which God didn’t remove, even though Paul sought deliverance from it.
To keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.8
As we age and our body becomes weaker, we can learn from Paul’s teaching and apply the principles which he expressed—that in weakness we can become strong, that God’s grace is there for us in time of need, and that Jesus’ power will rest upon us in our weakness. Though the way in which the Lord uses us may change as we age and our strength and stamina lessen, the power of Christ will still rest upon us, and He can use us to share His message and love with others.
The apostle Paul also wrote about some measure of weakness in his body which seemed to be continually increasing.
Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.9
While Paul wasn’t necessarily writing specifically about his aging, the principle he wrote about fits the aging process. It is inevitable that as we grow older our physical body will age, weaken, and eventually die. However, our “inner man,” our spirit, is renewed day by day, and it will never die. As we age, we can expect physical decline; however, we can look forward to continual inner renewal and spiritual growth as we faithfully draw near to God, and He draws near to us.10
As we age, we will likely be faced with age-related challenges that will bring some hardships for which we will need to trust God. Such circumstances will call for us to pray and put our trust in the Lord while seeking Him for the right solution for the challenges we face. As the aging process causes a weakening of our bodies, we can ask Him for the grace and strength to live in a manner that glorifies and praises Him.
Because of Adam’s sin of disobedience to God, all humans suffer death. However, because of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross for our sins, after His return, death will be destroyed.
He [Jesus] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.11
The apostle Paul compares our human bodies to tents and points out that in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.12 He wrote that we, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.13 The older we get, the more we will long for our resurrection bodies, which we will be given upon Christ’s return—bodies which will be very different from the weak “tents” we are presently living in.
Paul states that our old weak bodies which die and are buried are like seeds that are planted in the soil. These seeds, in time, produce a new plant.
So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.14
As Christians, we have nothing to fear from death. New Testament authors write about a believer’s death in a positive way. The apostle Paul wrote,
We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.15
Later, when he was in prison with the possibility of execution on the horizon, he stated:
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.16
In the book of Revelation, the apostle John wrote:
“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”17
As believers, we are assured that death will not be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.18
While we know that believers who die are with the Lord, it is part of our human nature to feel grief when they pass, as they are no longer with us in this life. In the Gospel of John, we read that when Jesus heard about the death of His friend Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, He wept.19 He felt deep sorrow at Lazarus’ passing, so much so that the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”20 We’re told that Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb.21 In the book of Acts, we read of Stephen preaching to the Jewish elders, scribes, and the council, who had him executed. At his burial, devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him.22 Lamentation is defined as the passionate expression of grief or sorrow, which would include weeping, wailing, sobbing, and moaning.
The Christians who were mourning Stephen knew that he was in heaven because they had seen how he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”23 Nevertheless, they publicly expressed their grief over his death and that they would no longer have fellowship with him in this life.
In the book of 1 Thessalonians, Paul wrote:
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.24
His point was that believers shouldn’t feel the same grief at the loss of a Christian friend or family member as those who don’t have faith in God and the afterlife. The sorrow Christians feel at the death of believers should be mixed with hope and joy, because those believers are in God’s presence. Paul pointed out that believers who have died are with the Lord.
God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.25
Though we have sorrow at a Christian loved one’s passing, our mourning should be mixed with thanksgiving and praise to God for the life our loved one lived, and that they are now in His presence.
When non-Christian members of our personal family or others who are close to us die, the sorrow we feel is different, as it isn’t mixed with the same assurance that they are now with the Lord. This sorrow can be very deep. The apostle Paul expressed such sorrow when he wrote about some of his Jewish brethren who had rejected the Lord.
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.26
Of course, we don’t know for certain if someone we consider to be an unbeliever didn’t at some point in their childhood or before their death accept Jesus as their savior. Often those who realize their death is approaching will remember a testimony of someone’s salvation that they had heard in the past, or a specific witness which someone gave them, that they had previously rejected but now accept. Or they will come back to the childlike faith they had when they were young but had later resented or rejected.
When a non-Christian has died, it’s best not to make affirmations that the person has gone to heaven, as this could be misleading and give false assurance. When someone has died, often those closest to them reflect on their own lives and immortality, and they may wish to speak with a Christian friend about their own mortality, which may bring the opportunity to speak with them about Jesus and the afterlife, and lead them to receive the Lord.
(Continued in Part 2)
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 Wayne Grudem, Christian Ethics (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018).
2 Genesis 2:15–17.
3 Genesis 3:19.
4 Genesis 5:5.
5 Romans 5:12.
6 1 Corinthians 15:21–22.
7 Romans 8:1–2.
8 2 Corinthians 12:7–10.
9 2 Corinthians 4:16–18.
10 James 4:8.
11 1 Corinthians 15:25–26.
12 2 Corinthians 5:2.
13 Romans 8:23.
14 1 Corinthians 15:42–43.
15 2 Corinthians 5:8.
16 Philippians 1:21–23.
17 Revelation 14:13.
18 Romans 8:39.
19 John 11:35.
20 John 11:36.
21 John 11:38.
22 Acts 8:2.
23 Acts 7:55–56.
24 1 Thessalonians 4:13.
25 1 Thessalonians 5:9–10.
26 Romans 9:1–3.