Noah J. Greer Pastor Matt Round

Noah Greer & Pastor Matt Round

February 16th, 2023

Episode 18

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Should a Christian be afraid of death?


So, when we are asked the question, "Should Christians be afraid of death?" Most people would say: “No, obviously, Christians shouldn't be afraid of death.” And then, we begin to go through a handful of theological truths. Still, we need to recognize that it's easy to say one thing on a Sunday morning, but it's much easier to say, sing, or recite than to live those things out when they're tested. We often face that with any theological truth.

We know we're supposed to be relaxed about where our provision comes from. We know that God provides for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. He says his children are much more precious than those things. We know we can read the text in the Sermon on the Mount that says you don't need to worry about what you eat, drink, or wear.

When you seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, all these other things will be added to you. Your Heavenly Father is going to take care of all those things. And we know that. And it's tucked away in our heads and our hearts. But then again, when you get laid off from your job or your car is totaled, and it wipes out your savings, those theological truths get put to the test.

And at that moment, it's tough not to be taken off guard. It's hard not to be caught up with anxiety in those things, even though you know all the truth. It doesn't mean that you don't believe it, but we recognize that there are times when the distance between what my head knows and what my heart feels.

Those seem to be a long way apart sometimes. When it comes to “Should Christians be afraid of death?” it would be easy to say, “No, of course not; let’s move on.” But I don't think that recognizes the real struggle with this. It’s a struggle that many people have at every stage of life, particularly during times of illness or pain.

I want to think about why we tend to fear death first (and because we're approaching this from the perspective of someone who's a believer): Should Christians be afraid of death? We'll get to the theology of it all in a minute.

Why We Fear

It's not because we don't understand what comes next, but I think a lot of the fear is still wrapped up in those things about death that we don't know. For instance, we don't know when it is going to happen. Death has many unknowns, but we know that life is temporary.

We know that, given enough years, these bodies get old, weak, and wear out. We also know that at any moment, an accident, disaster, or catastrophic injury could end our life tomorrow. It's not like you can plan for a specific time frame when your death will probably fall. Just the timing in and of itself is unknown to us.

The how is unknown. A significant source of fear could come from many of those situations being painful. Sometimes it's a long fight with an illness that you must gird yourself up and fight through, but other times it's very quick.

How it happens sometimes determines how much discomfort there is. It’s important to realize that we can have all the theological truth in the world, but facing some of those genuine unknowns can get very scary very quickly.

The fear of death, particularly for the Christian, typically when I talk to people and counsel people when I sit with people in a hospital, doesn't revolve around the moment after; it revolves around everything leading up to it. From the moment of death, we might be secure in our understanding, but leading up to it, there are many things we don't know. So how do we work through that?

We can't take away those unknowns. We can't look in God's word and find the passage that says: “This is when and where and how you're going to go. So be ready.” On the other hand, when we think about the truths we do know regarding death, we can begin to work through that fear. That's generally how you work through the fear of many things. It's what parts of this are known.

Why We Shouldn’t Fear

God’s Unchanging Provision

Why is it that we don't have to be afraid? What theological truths do we know that speak to this? That doesn’t mean those theological truths clear up all the mystery surrounding the how, when, where, and why, but there are things that still apply to that. One of the most comforting things is a very familiar passage from Psalm 139. Psalm 139 talks so much about what God knows about us.

“For You created my innermost parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, because I am awesomely and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully formed in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my formless substance;
And in Your book were written
All the days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.”

Psalms 139:13-16; NASB

That Psalm tells us a lot about the nature of God. One part of the Psalm clarifies that our lives are never cut short; we don’t live a moment more or live a day longer or lesser than God intends or knows about. So, while we look at the future, particularly when it comes to the end of our life: what is unknown to us is completely known to God.

If that is true, then everything that God says about every one of the other days of my life, from the first to the last, is also true. My death doesn't catch him off guard, whether a sudden accident, catastrophic, unexpected death, or a years-long battle with an illness, that timing is perfectly known to him.

What has God said about my days from now until I see Him? Well, He has said He’s given us everything we need for life and godliness. He said that He’ll provide us with what we need for the day that He's entrusted us with, which means that if I battle with a particular illness for many years, then every day that struggle goes on, God is faithful to give me everything I need to obey Him, to live a life of obedience and worship.

In that moment, does that take away physical pain? No. But it's a tremendous comfort to know that amid physical pain and struggle, even if that's protracted over several years, God is just as present, sovereign, and empowering from the first moment to the last.

That also means that if my death is tomorrow through some unexpected circumstance, I have the same empowerment of the Holy Spirit to live in a manner worthy of my calling. It helps us not to be afraid, knowing that we will never come to the point where we say: “Well, I'm going to be too weak to do what God wants me to do.” or “I’m in too much pain to do what God wants me to do.”

The reality is that for believers, the fruit of the spirit remains the same. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. All those things are what the spirit produces in the life of a believer, even in the most difficult, painful circumstances.

So again, does that take away the pain and the unknowns? It doesn't. However, bringing glory and honor to God is a Christian’s highest calling. Those days full of unknowns are still filled with God's provision and purpose. Thus, we find great reassurance in knowing that during those things, we don't have to be afraid of death because we still have every resource to honor God and live in His perfect peace.

What Comes Next

Then, of course, there is the reality that we don't need to be afraid because we do know a tremendous amount of what comes next.

First, we know we must put off these temporary bodies. Reading through 1 Corinthians 15, Paul often talks about the perishable and the imperishable and that these perishable, temporary bodies cannot inherit what is eternal. No matter how good a shape you're in, these bodies are not prepared for heaven. They're not built for it. And so, death isn't only a reality, it’s a promise. It prepares us to put off what is temporary and put on what is eternal and lasting. Not only do we have the physical provision of a new body that's fit for eternity, but Hebrews 9:27 Says:

“[And inasmuch as] it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,”
Hebrews 9:27; NASB

After death, an inescapable evaluation comes to every man, woman, child, and every one of us who has ever lived. And for the non-believer, that's terrifying because death is an enemy. For them, death leads to the final eternal judgment of God; there's no reprieve or second chance. Death is just their entrance into an eternity of judgment and separation from God.

What do Christians know? We know that we face that same judgment. Yes, we know that we stand before that same Holy God, but we also know that we don’t need to plead our case. We don't plead our goodness, righteousness, or faithfulness. We know that when we meet that same evaluation, we're covered with the blood of Christ. We're still fallen sinners, but we don't face separation and judgment. It's not because we're better or because we managed to work ourselves somehow to meet God's minimum standard and sneak through the pearly gates.

We know that when we stand before God, we are seen as being covered with the righteousness of Christ. That exchange where He took our sin, weakness, and failure and bore the penalty for all of that, removing God's wrath from us and placing on us His righteousness, goodness, and perfection. He's that perfect sacrifice that covers and cleanses our sin once and for all. Hebrews 2 picks up on that:

“Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself [Christ] likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.”
Hebrews 2:14-15; NASB

It pictures the world as being slaves, lifelong slaves to the fear of death: that Satan has this power over humanity that involves fear because of what death brings. Christ, defeating the power of sin and Satan and defeating itself through His own death; He frees us from that slavery. You and I mustn’t be afraid because that enemy has been defeated.

Death Loses Its Sting

“For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.”
Hebrews 2:16-18; NASB

Mankind lives in this grip of the fear of death. This is apparent because we do whatever we can to prolong our lives. Mankind takes extreme measures to avoid death, but Jesus Christ has already defeated death. He overcame temptation; He defeated Satan. He lives, and so he says, we will live. And so, these enemies we face have already been overcome.

That passage is so helpful and comforting because it talks about Christ as our merciful and faithful high priest. He's like us, but He's nothing like us. He's like us because Jesus Christ knows what it is to be tempted and tested. He knows what it's like to be in pain. He knows what it's like to face a horrible death.

In our most fearful moments, even in the face of death itself, we cry out to a God who knows. There's so much comfort in knowing that we talk to a God who is merciful and sympathetic, a God who knows what it is to be like us, only without sin. And so, there's that beautiful reality that Jesus Christ, as one who has gone before in suffering and death, has this sustaining and encouraging ministry even to those who face the same thing.

He's provided an example of how to suffer in obedience. The idea is that even in death, suffering, and injustice, we entrust ourselves to God, who is always faithful. There's this idea that we don't need to be afraid because we know what comes after death. We don't need to be fearful because we know our judgment has fallen on Christ. We don't need to be afraid because we know death is simply an entrance into eternal life. And so, it's a good thing. More than that, we don't need to be afraid because we don't approach death alone, no matter what circumstance that is, whether it's the most isolated, punishing death you can think of from a human perspective, no believer ever faces death alone because we have grace from this merciful, faithful high priest in Christ.

Preparing for Death

I want to close with another thought: how do we prepare for death? That sounds a little dark, and it's not meant to be. One of the ways that we overcome the fear of something is to prepare for it and think about it. If you're afraid of the math test, preparing to do well will overcome that fear. One of the ways to overcome the fear of death is not to dwell on death but to think clearly and rightly about how we prepare for it.

A Reconciled Heart

The first way to prepare for death is to acknowledge that sin has an eternal consequence and that Christ has paid the penalty of that consequence to be reconciled to God. If you do not know Jesus Christ, have not repented of your sin, or have not placed your faith in Christ as the one who did what you could not do, then fear of death is appropriate.

Beyond that, how do we prepare for death? Our culture sanitizes death. Death happens, the body is taken away and prepared, and many funerals don't interact with the body anymore. There's a memorial service that's not good, bad, or indifferent. In many cultures worldwide and throughout human history, death was much more part of life and culture than we are used to in modern-day society. Death happens in the movies and on the news, but we don't grapple with it a lot in our daily life.

How do we prepare for death in a way that honors God? Well, the first preparation and reconciliation with God, but there's more.

“It is better to go to a house of mourning
Than to go to a house of feasting,
Because that is the end of every man,
And the living takes it to heart.”

Ecclesiastes 7:2; NASB

It sounds depressing to say a funeral is better than a party, but that's what the author said. Why is that? Because at a funeral, people think about important, weighty, and eternal things. One of the ways that you and I prepare for death and remove the fearful aspect surrounding it is by fixing our perspective on what is eternal. Psalm 90, the oldest psalm in the Bible, was written by Moses and starts this way:

“Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were born
Or You gave birth to the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.
You turn man back into dust
And say, “Return, O children of men.”
For a thousand years in Your sight
Are like yesterday when it passes by,
Or as a watch in the night.
For all our days have declined in Your fury;
We have finished our years like a sigh.
As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years,
Or if due to strength, eighty years,
Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow;
For soon it is gone and we fly away.
So teach us to number our days,
That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.”

Psalm 90:1-4, 9-10, 12; NASB

One of the ways we prepare for death is by understanding and thinking through the temporary nature of who we are. That's sometimes difficult when you're young and have more life in front of you than behind you; when death is likely a long way off, it's easy not to think about it. It's effortless to be consumed by the things of this world: the temporary things that are passing away because that's what the world offers and we are naturally drawn to.

Eternal Investment

Wisdom understands that eternity is so much longer than this life. One of the ways to prepare for death even now is to try and maintain that eternal perspective. Because once you understand that this life is temporary, it starts to make sense to pour into those things that are not temporary. It starts to make sense to invest in the things that last. And that's what Jesus picks up on and works through in Matthew 6:19 in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Matthew 6:19-21; NASB

One of the best ways to prepare for death is by investing in eternal things. If I have a particular amount of money and I invest it in a CD or a three-month, six-month, or one-year term investment, I'm looking forward to the end of that term because I get to see the return on my investment.

Life isn't something to be worked through and born up under as we wait for eternity; life is a beautiful chance to invest in eternity. What if I spent my life investing in things I knew would last for eternity? Then death is no longer this fearful thing; instead, death becomes the place where I begin to see the return on my investment.

We talk about treasures in heaven, rewards, and crowns, and we sing about them. We talk about them like they don't matter, but the idea is that heaven is full of reward and blessings for God's people. As you and I think about this life rightly, as we understand that it's temporary and that we have the opportunity to do things that matter for eternity, it changes our perspective on how we live and how we prioritize things. But it also doesn't make us long for death but makes us anxious to see the return on our investment.

While the easy answer to “should Christians be afraid of death?” is no, we can answer that confidently because we know whom death brings us into the presence of and what the rest of eternity with him will look like.