Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
To Die Is Gain
The righteous man perishes, and no man takes it to heart; and devout men are taken away, while no one understands. For the righteous man is taken away from evil, he enters into peace; they rest in their beds, each one who walked in his upright way.
Question 85 of the Larger Catechism, asks, “Death, being the wages of sin, why are not the righteous delivered from death, seeing all their sins are forgiven in Christ?” It gives the answer, “The righteous shall be delivered from death itself at the last day and even in death are delivered from the sting and curse of it; so that, although they die, yet it is out of God’s love, to free them perfectly from sin and misery, and to make them capable of further communion with Christ, in glory, which they then enter upon.” Last week we looked at why all men die. This week we consider, in particular, why Christians, who are forgiven of their sins, must still die.
I love this question of the Catechism. It shows how practical and pastoral the Westminster Divines were. When we preach the gospel and teach that all who believe in Jesus have—right now—eternal life, their sins forgiven, and God’s wrath against them entirely propitiated by Jesus Christ so that there is no more penalty or punishment for them as God is now their loving heavenly Father who will never allow them to be lost; the first question that naturally comes to mind is, “Then why do believers still die?” Or, to put it another way: since death is the wages of sin (as taught by Question 84), and since the believer has fully paid those wages in the death of Christ their savior, why must the believer still die? This is a great question! The person who asks this question is clearly taking their forgiveness in Christ and God’s sovereign and active rule over this life seriously. God is just. If Jesus Christ has paid my sin debt, God will not require it again from me. Yes, nothing could be more certain! That is the good news of the gospel. Jesus paid it all. Truly it is finished, now and forever. No believer will ever taste even the slightest drop of the wrath of God against their sin – Christ drank that cup to its bitter dregs!
So once again we must face the dilemma: then why do we still die? We could even go further and ask why do we suffer at all? Why do we get sick? Why do we grow old, break bones, suffer persecutions, trials, troubles, and tribulations? The answer is: for the glory of God. The believer suffers now, and the believer will still pass through death in the future, even as the unbeliever. However, for the believer, all suffering is for our spiritual good in glorifying God (Rom. 5:3; Jam. 1:3). Likewise, death is no longer a judgment from God; it is the believer’s entrance into his eternal reward. For every Christian, death truly has lost its victory, the grave has lost its sting (1 Cor. 15:54-55). When a believer dies, his body rests in the ground until the resurrection on the Last Day, but his soul immediately passes into glory and is with Christ in heaven. So Jesus said to the robber on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise,” (Luke 23:43); and the apostle Paul taught, “to live is Christ, to die is gain,” (Phi. 1:21). When the believer “dies,” all that he truly loses forever is his sin nature. His body temporarily stays in the ground, but one day it will be restored to him, new and immortal, never to grow old, get sick, or die again. It is an “incorruptible” body (1 Cor. 15:53). Yet, his soul immediately goes to be with his Lord in heaven, as the angels carry him to Abraham’s Bosom (Luke 16:22).
Think of it Christian. When you close your eyes in death on this earth you will go to a place where you will see your Savior face to face. You will have your mind, your memories, your thoughts and desires, hopes and dreams – you will still be you – but without sin! You will have no more sinful thoughts or sinful desires. Pride and envy will never again be your experience. Unrighteous anger and sinful lust will not be appealing to you at all. Your old man will be fully, finally, and forever killed. Thus, as the Scripture at the head of this article teaches, the righteous man is taken away from evil, and he enters into peace. Death is not evil for the Christian. It brings nothing to an end and causes no permanent loss. The uncertainty of when and how it will come is disconcerting. The pain that usually accompanies it is scary. But believer, for you, the moment of your death will be the beginning of your life with Christ and without sin, and that life will last forever and evermore!