One of the most profound verses from the New Testament says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Death is a consequence of sin. And eternal life is a gift from Jesus Christ to all who believe in Him. When you realize this biblical truth, a question presents itself. If we are born again, why do we still have to die?
Jesus has forgiven our sins, so why is there still death if death is a consequence of sin? Though the Bible does not give a direct answer, thinking about the alternative will help. Imagine that believers would live forever in this world. That is not an attractive idea for several reasons.
- First, believers have to die because otherwise they would be surrounded by sin and misery without end. They would suffer because of natural disasters and illness. Even worse, they would suffer because of all the sin they see around them. They would see God being dishonored always without end. Therefore they can never be totally happy in this world, even if they would live forever.
- Second, and that’s partly contrary to the first reason, believers have to die because otherwise they would become too content in this world. God wants us to long for Him. God wants us to long for the perfection that only can be found in His presence. God does not want us to feel at home in this world. This current world is not God’s final plan for us, and He makes us realize that by not giving us eternal life in this world.
- Third, believers have to die because otherwise sin would continue to have an effect on them. Even though your sins are forgiven when you believe in Jesus, sin still has its influence in your life. The renewal of life that God gives when you believe in Jesus, is very real. At the same time, this is also true: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). When you believe, you do not become without sin. You continue to need God’s forgiveness. God does not want you to live like that forever, but wants you to be totally free of sin.
- Fourth, believers have to die because otherwise they won’t see God. Nobody on this earth has ever seen God in his glory. We long to be with God and to know God, because we love Him. But that is impossible in this mortal body.
When Paul writes to the church in Corinth, there is a passage that is very relevant to the question asked here. “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6). In a sense, you are at home in your body. But the problem is, you are away from the Lord. Therefore, Paul says, it is better to be at home with the Lord and away from the body (2 Corinthians 5:8). That is why believers have to die. It is better to be in heaven with God then on this earth in your body. For Christians, dying is the grace to come home with God.
But Paul does not condemn the concern about dying and losing your earthly body. For having a body is part of being human, and therefore dying and not having a body in a sense is “being naked” (2 Corinthians 5:3). Therefore it is really important to know that the final destination of believers is not to be in heaven with your soul. It is to be on the new earth with soul and body. That is what Paul means when he says “For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling” (2 Corinthians 5:2). “This tent” is our body. “Our heavenly dwelling” is not our place in heaven, as you might think when you first read it. Because you will put on this heavenly dwelling. It is talking about the resurrection body every believer receives on the new earth.
To recapitulate: to live on earth without faith in God is bad. To live on earth knowing your sins are forgiven is better. To be in heaven with God but without your body is better still. But best is to live on the new earth in the presence of God with a glorious new body. Because God wants the best for you, you have to taste death (unless Jesus returns before) so you will receive a life that is better than anything this world has to offer.