Note: all Scripture quotesÂ on this postÂ are from the NASB Updated version.
A lot of traditions have crept in over the last 2,000 years. Some of them have become a basic part of our assumptions that we never question.
One of those is our “immortal” soul. American Christians assume that all souls will live forever. Perhaps this is true. Jesus does say that he will call “all” from the grave (Jn. 5:28). On the other hand, it is not uncommon for the Old Testament Scriptures to say things like, “There is no mention of you in death; In Sheol who will give you thanks?” (Ps. 6:5) and “His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; In that very day his thoughts perish” (Ps. 146:4). Either way, whether all souls live forever or only some do, we miss much of the impact of the promise of eternal life because we tend not even to think about such things.
Paul begins his letter to Titus with, “…for the faith of those chosen of God…in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago” (Tit. 1:1-2).
Eternal life has always been a pursuit of mankind. I read a book once–the name of which, unfortunately, I cannot remember–that talked about some common themes in religions all over the world. One of those was the attainment of eternal life. In all religions around the world, this book argued, there was some sort of required way to live in order to ascend to the sky and live forever.
This is no surprise. All of us, at some time in our life, see people die. We see their energized and living bodies, and then we see their bodies dead, cold, and devoid of life. Is that the end? Is that all there is? As the Psalmist says, do their thoughts perish in that day? None of us want that, and we would be delighted to hear that there is some way to live forever.
I have to believe that Paul had this in mind when he said “in hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago.” Look at something else he said. In Romans 2, after telling us that God will render to each person according to his deeds, he writes, “…to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life” (v. 7).
There in Romans 2, he speaks of people who are seeking immortality. He tells them that perseverance in doing good will lead to their obtaining eternal life. (For those whose theology on faith and works is threatened by this, see my page on the Gospel and grace, and see Gal. 6:8,9, which says the same thing from a different perspective.) This is clearly written to people who care whether they will live forever or not.
I believe it would do us good to understand and feel that same hope. Look at Gal. 6:8-9. It promises eternal life, as Rom. 2 does, to those who do not grow weary in doing good, though it adds that this doing good is done by the Spirit of God. However, it also tells us that those who live by the flesh will inherit “corruption.” What does the word “corruption” mean? Well, in Acts 2:27 and following, Peter uses the word “corruption” to refer to the decaying of the body in the grave. (The Greek words in Gal. 6:8 and Acts 2:27 are slightly different. One is diaphthora and the other is just phthora, but the difference is only a prefix, and it appears clear from other uses, such as 1 Cor. 15:42, they are referring to the same thing.)
I do not want to present an argument for “soul-sleep” here, the doctrine that souls sleep in death until the judgment, nor an argument for the destruction of the soul after death. In fact, I don’t want to present any theological arguments. I want to put a thought in your mind that I believe is Christian and important. Paul tells us, “If you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13). We assume everyone will live after they die, so we are not moved by this passage. Where are those who “by perseverance in doing good seek for…immortality”? Paul clearly believes this a good attitude, because we have found three passages now that recommend this attitude. That doing good is done by the Spirit, true; nonetheless it is clearly a recommended attitude of Scripture.
Immortality. What a glorious thought. It is the promise of God to those who will, by the Spirit, put to death the deeds of the body. Let us not grow weary, then, brothers, in doing good, because in due season we will reap…if we do not lose heart.