TO PERISH OR TO LIVE
Copyright © 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
What does the Bible means when it states God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life? What does it mean to perish? What does it mean to have eternal life?
We think the Lord may be referring to the physical body.
TO PERISH OR TO LIVE
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16—NIV)
There are verses that have troubled me for years. I had always been taught that if we believe in Christ we will go to Heaven when we die but if we do not we will go to Hell.
I firmly believe from the Scriptures that there is a literal Heaven and a literal Hell. I believe further that the wicked go to the fiery Hell when they die, just as did the selfish rich man.
Paul was caught up to the third Heaven, to Paradise. As I understand it, the third Heaven is the location of God, Christ at God’s right hand, and the saints and holy angels.
But if you will look carefully at John 3:16 the issue Jesus is presenting is not residence in Hell (I will qualify this later) or Heaven but perishing and living. It seems to me that the Christian churches need to look again at John 3:16, for we may have departed from the Scriptures by assuming Jesus did not mean exactly what He was saying.
It is definitely true that Heaven and eternal life are not the same thing. Hell and perishing are more equivalent as we will note as we proceed. Heaven and Hell are actual places in the spirit realm. Living and perishing are things that happen to us.
Our inward, spiritual nature, our soul, cannot perish. It could be in Hell or the Lake of fire for millions of years but we believe it cannot perish. Our spirit and soul cannot cease their existence, to the best of our knowledge. They can be tormented but they cannot perish in the sense of extinction.
Our physical body can rot away in the ground or be blown to bits in an explosion. In this sense it can perish. But it shall be raised again. After it has been raised it can perish in that it no longer is allowed to move about in the creation of God, but there is evidence in the Scripture that it also, along with the inward nature, will not finally cease to exist.
Heaven and eternal life are not the same thing. Eternal life is the Presence of God in Christ entering our personality so we begin to live by the Spirit of God rather than by our flesh and blood.
If Heaven and eternal life were the same thing, Christ would have lost His eternal life by coming to earth. We could not have eternal life while living on the earth if Heaven and eternal life were the same thing.
I do not believe it can be maintained that eternal life is the same as going to Heaven. Perishing and Hell, however, may be closely associated.
If John 3:16 is not speaking of going to Heaven, to what then is the verse referring?
It is my point of view that John 3:16 is speaking of the physical body. God so loved the world He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him would not suffer the loss of his body but would be able to gain immortality in the body at His coming. In other words, John 3:16 is speaking of what happens to us at the time of the resurrection from the dead.
Before you decide whether I am right or wrong, you better take a look at what I have to say further. You may be surprised at what the Scripture actually states. Christian thinking has been heavily influenced by the philosophy of Gnosticism causing us to emphasize the salvation of our spiritual nature and overlook the redemption of the physical body—that for which the Apostle Paul groaned.
The renewal of life in the body, that is, the resurrection from the dead, is vastly more important from a scriptural standpoint than is demonstrated in today’s Christian teaching. It seems Gnosticism, a philosophy that ignores the body in favor of the salvation of the spiritual nature of man, a philosophy that has contaminated Christian thinking from the first century, is very much alive today. We see evidences of Gnosticism in the idea that we are saved by grace apart from our behavior, and also in the unscriptural teaching of the pre-tribulation “rapture” of the believers. The concept that we are to leave our flesh and rise in our spirit to the heavens is Gnosticism, not biblical Christianity.
Gnosticism will always reject any idea of the salvation of the physical body of the believer, and it probably was this philosophy that the Apostle Paul was resisting in the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians.
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? (I Corinthians 15:12—NIV)
It would be Gnostics who would claim there is no resurrection of the dead.
You may notice that the modern teaching of the “rapture” usually says very little about the resurrection of the body or ignores it altogether.
Notice the following:
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. (I Thessalonians 4:16—NIV)
The expression “the dead in Christ will rise first” does not mean rise into the air, it means to be raised from the dead and stand on their feet on the earth. I think it is the influence of Gnosticism that causes the believers of today to disregard the fact that before we can be caught up into the air to meet the Lord we must first be raised from the dead.
It is being raised from the dead, the restoring of life to our flesh and bones, that marks the conquering of the last enemy. Being caught up to meet the Lord in the air (not in Heaven!) is merely an act of Kingdom power, not the consummation of redemption as is true of the resurrection.
Our Redeemer has come to restore to us that which was lost in the beginning. What Adam and Eve lost was access to the Tree of Life, not life in Heaven. If they had eaten of the Tree of Life (which is Jesus Christ) they would have lived forever. God drove them from the Garden so they would not be able to eat of the Tree of Life and live as immortal sinners, being unable to die.
Physical death is a blessing from God because it removes our inward nature from our physical body until Jesus Christ has made our inward nature fit to be housed in an immortal body. Did you ever wonder about that?
Some may be thinking at this point, “It was not the bodily death of Adam and Eve that God was referring to when He said, ‘In the day you eat thereof you shall die.’ It was their spiritual death, their separation from God.”
We must come to understand God made man body, soul, and spirit. None of these can be missing if man is to remain man. It is the duality contained in Gnostic thinking that leaves the impression we can be without our physical body and remain man.
Didn’t God say to Adam and Eve, “You are dust and are going to return to the dust”? God treated them as though all they were, were bodies. In the same manner the Lord Jesus Christ, upon being raised from the dead, referred primarily to His body when He said, “Take a look at Me. A spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see Me have. Look at My hands and feet.” Can you see the emphasis on the physical body?
Let’s see what the Apostle Paul says about the death Adam and Eve died. Was it spiritual death or physical death that was at issue?
For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. (I Corinthians 15:21-23—NIV)
Now, when Paul says death came through a man, was Paul speaking of physical death or spiritual death?
Since Paul then says, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man, and the subject of the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians is the resurrection of the physical body, not the resurrection of our spirit, then Paul was speaking of physical death. The sin of Adam and Eve caused physical death.
Since physical death came through a man so the restoring of life to the physical body comes through a Man.
“Should not perish but have eternal life.”
Look further into this passage. “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”
Because of Adam’s sin we were driven from the Tree of Life. We die physically. But if we die in Jesus Christ we will be raised from the dead at His coming. In order to die “in Christ” we must meet the standards established by Christ and His Apostles. We must abide in Christ during our discipleship. The resurrection to eternal life in the body must be attained! It can be prevented by our conduct. We can slay our own resurrection.
“But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.”
For as in Adam all die so in Christ all will be made alive. Because of Adam we die physically. Because of Christ we will be made alive physically at His coming. “A spirit has not flesh and bones as you see Me have.”
We have eternal life now, in our inward nature. But the Bible emphasizes the resumption of life in our physical body (however glorified). Attaining to the resurrection of the dead ought to be the focus of each believer. The resurrection to eternal life in the body is the blessed hope of the Christian, not the catching up into the air.
When the Bible speaks of life or living it often is referring primarily to the body. You can see this in the following two verses:
I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4—NIV)
“They came to life.” We know the members of the royal priesthood had eternal life prior to their resurrection. Yet the Scriptures says they came to life at the coming of the Lord. They came alive physically.
But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. (Revelation 19:20—NIV)
“They were thrown alive.” We know Antichrist and the False Prophet have never had eternal life in their inward nature. The fact that they were thrown alive into the Lake of Fire means they were physically alive on this occasion.
Another issue is raised at this point. If Antichrist and the False Prophet were thrown in their physical bodies into the Lake of Fire, then there will be a convergence of the physical and spirit realms at the conclusion of the Church Age. Not only Antichrist and the False Prophet but all whose names are not found in the Book of Life will be cast body, soul, and spirit into the Lake of Fire. It seems also that no part of the personality ceases to exist but suffers endless torment. The personality has perished in the flames but has not ceased to exist.
Notice why Paul was laying aside all else, why he was seeking to gain Christ?
And so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:11—NIV)
What does Paul say about us?
All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. (Philippians 3:15—NIV)
Paul, toward the end of his life, was still striving to attain to the resurrection from the dead, and he admonishes us to have the same viewpoint.
Now, what does it mean to attain to the resurrection from the dead?
We know Jesus said all who are in the graves shall hear His voice and come forth, those who have done good to the resurrection of life and those who have practiced wickedness to the resurrection of judgment. There is no attaining to the resurrection because all will be resurrected whether they want to or not. So when the Apostle Paul was striving to attain to the resurrection he must have meant the resurrection to eternal life.
“Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice And come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.” (John 5:28,29—NIV)
To say that Divine grace alters this saying to mean if we “make a decision for Christ” we will rise to eternal life even though we have practiced evil is to demonstrate the incredible mental corruption that has destroyed almost completely our understanding of the new covenant.
The Word of Almighty God stands precisely as written, let none dare alter it in any manner: “Those who have done good will rise to live and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.” Amen!
God’s plan is simple. Let the body return to the dust and work on the inward nature by forming Christ in it. This is the new covenant—the forming of Christ, the Law and Word of God, in our mind and heart. Then when our inward nature meets God’s standard of righteousness, holiness, and obedience to God, our body will be raised from the dead. Our physical body will then be clothed with the house from Heaven that has been fashioned as we have sown our present body to the death and resurrection of Christ.
We see, then, that the resurrection to life must be attained by our submitting to the program of conformation to the moral image of Christ in our spiritual nature and entering untroubled rest in the Father’s will through Christ. To pursue the change into Christ’s moral image and to seek to live in the Father’s will is to be an overcomer, a victorious saint. Nothing short of this qualifies us as an overcomer.
It is the overcomer, the victorious saint, who is given to eat of the Tree of Life in the midst of Paradise.
This is only sensible. Will God clothe an unrighteous, unclean, disobedient nature with immortality? The fact that we are righteous, holy, and obedient by imputation does not qualify us for the gaining of immortality in the body.
Would you want unrighteous church people to be given an immortal body, a body of galactic capabilities like the body of Jesus Christ? Look at the harm they are doing now. Can you imagine what they could accomplish with their gossip and slander were they given a body like that of Jesus Christ?
The Apostle Paul described the program of redemption.
First of all, we must recognize that our body is dead, cut off from the eternal Life of Christ, because of the sin that is resident in it.
But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. (Romans 8:10—NIV)
But God intends to redeem our dead body.
And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. (Romans 8:11—NIV)
The Spirit that one day will give life to our physical body is already living in us. Resurrection Life is in our personality because Christ is present in us.
Seeing our body is dead in sin, and is waiting to be redeemed, we do not owe it to our body to continue obeying its sinful lusts and passions.
Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. (Romans 8:12—NIV)
If we choose to continue to obey the sinful desires of our flesh we will lose the resurrection life given us in the beginning, as in the parable of the sower.
For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, (Romans 8:13—NIV)
If however we follow the Spirit in overpowering and driving from us the lusts and follies of our flesh, we will grow in eternal life in preparation for the day when the Lord Jesus Christ returns, raises our body from the dead, and fills it with incorruptible life.
It is those who follow the Spirit in conquering their flesh who are the sons of God. They will inherit all things and God will be their God.
Because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Romans 8:14—NIV)
We see, therefore, that we Christians are pursuing eternal life in the body. We are seeking to regain what was lost in the Garden of Eden. The Lord Jesus told us the gate is small and the way is compressed and difficult that leads to life and few find it. Receiving the Lord Jesus Christ gives us the authority to pursue life. Then the Holy Spirit gives us the wisdom and power to attain life. The goal is the resurrection to eternal life in the body. God so loved the world He gave His only Son that the body of whoever believes in Him would not perish but attain immortality.
But it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (II Timothy 1:10—NIV)
Again we see that the resurrection to eternal life in the body must be attained by following the Spirit of God.
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7,8—NIV)
The question is, what does it mean to reap destruction and what does it mean to reap eternal life?
Since we already have eternal life in our inner personality it must mean if we choose to live in the Spirit of God instead of according to our fleshly appetites we will be given eternal life in our body when the Lord appears.
Most Christians would probably not have much of a problem with the idea that if we live in the Spirit now we will receive more eternal life in the Day of the Lord; we will have an abundant entrance into the Kingdom of God.
What really is difficult to understand is what it will mean to sow to our sinful nature and thus reap destruction from that sinful nature.
We would submit that if we kill our spiritual nature by pursuing the things of the material realm, by yielding to the passions of the flesh, and by insisting on following our own path in the present world, there will be no inner Divine Life in our personality, only the death that has accrued from our living according to the lusts and ways of the flesh. “She who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives,” Paul writes.
Now, if we have killed our spiritual nature by not keeping the commandments of Christ and His Apostles, and many believers in America do just this, what will be done with us when the Lord appears? He cannot clothe with a glorious body of Divine Life a spiritual personality that is unrighteous, unholy, and disobedient—even if that personality professes belief in Christ. To raise the flesh and bones of a corrupt personality and then clothe the whole with immortality would bring chaos into the Kingdom of God. It shall not happen!
We see therefore that we will reap precisely what we sow. If we sow to our flesh we will reap corruption in the Day of Christ. If we sow to the Holy Spirit we will reap eternal life in that our body will be raised from its place of interment and swallowed up in incorruptible resurrection Life.
But what happens to our body in the day of resurrection if we reap corruption? According to the Scriptures our body is beaten or else is assigned to a place of torment where it cannot die. It cannot die after it has been raised from the dead.
“That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows.” (Luke 12:47—NIV)
“From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the LORD. “And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” (Isaiah 66:23,24—NIV)
Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:2—NIV)
If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:29—NIV)
We see from the above that the body enters Hell or the Lake of Fire, and we know of no Scripture guaranteeing the spirit and soul are not included with the body. These individuals are lost and will be viewed with contempt by the saved nations of the earth. They could have gained eternal life through Jesus Christ but now they have perished in the flames, although they have not ceased to exist.
We can understand from the above that the argument we will be saved no matter how we behave is based on an incorrect view of salvation. Would we say that the sinning believer, all accomplishments having been burned away by a very painful fire, will enter the Kingdom of God as a naked spirit, and this is desirable?—that we can go blithely on our way because we have been saved as by fire?
And what would be true of the body of the spirit that has been saved as by fire? We do not think such a personality will be entrusted with a body like that of the Lord Jesus. This does not seem reasonable.
Is this a destiny we can contemplate with confidence and joy?
How would you like to enter the Kingdom of God as a naked spirit while all around you are great mountains of fire and glory—your fellow believers who kept the commandments of Christ and His Apostles?
Instead of hearing “Well done, good and faithful servant,” Christ said to you, “I am ashamed of you. I gave you so many chances to press into the Kingdom and you insisted on living in your fleshly desires.”
This is what it may mean to be saved as by fire. Is this what you want?
However God finally will wipe away all the tears of those in His Kingdom.
But suppose Christ not only rebuked you but cast you from His Presence. “Get away from Me you worker of wickedness. You may have performed miracles in My name but I never knew you.”
It is important that you know Christ. It is more important that He know you!
I suppose there will be those who will knock down my arguments, claiming we all will go to Heaven to live in a mansion by grace. Don’t you be one of them. I do not believe such teachers are speaking from the Lord. They are not scriptural in this. Their end will be according to their works for they will deceive many.
Those who learn to live by the body and blood of Jesus Christ will be raised up to meet Him when He appears. The eagles who live by feeding on the slain Lamb will be caught up to the Source of their life.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. (John 6:54-57—NIV)
It is the body and blood of Christ abiding in us that will raise us up to Christ at the last day. His body and blood are resurrection Life in us. They have made alive our inner nature now. When Christ appears His body and blood that are in us will make alive our physical body.
How do we eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ? By doing His will. Each day we are presented with choices. We can yield to the desires of our flesh and mind, fulfilling our passions and lusts. Or we can bring the decision to the Lord, lay down our own will and life, and obey God. Every time we lay down our own life we are given the flesh and blood of Christ (in the spirit realm) to strengthen us. By losing our life we save it.
In this manner we learn to live by the body and blood of Christ just as Christ lives by the Father.
This is how we attain the resurrection to life that the Apostle Paul was pursuing.
But if after we receive the Lord Jesus Christ we continue to live in the appetites of the flesh and the desires of the carnal mind, no resurrection life is formed in us. We are not living by the body and blood of Jesus Christ. There will be no Life of Christ in us that will raise us to the Lamb when He appears.
We marry the Lamb by eating the Lamb and the resurrection thus is formed in us.
Here is the meaning of the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. Some have the Life of God along with their lamp, which is the Scriptures. Some let the Life of God slip from them. They still have their lamp, but when the Lord appears the door is shut in their face.
They have drawn back to destruction. They put their hand to the plow and then looked back. They returned as a dog to its vomit. Having left Egypt, so to speak, they died in the wilderness of unbelief. They did not endure to the end. They did not hold their confidence in Christ steadfastly to the conclusion of their discipleship.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23—NIV)
The Christian who chooses to be the slave of sin will be paid off in spiritual death, according to Romans 6:23. How often we Christians have preached Romans 6:23 to the unsaved. “The wages of sin is death,” we have proclaimed to the world. But Romans 6:23 was not written to the world but to Christians who are making the choice whether to be the slave of sin or the slave of righteousness. Check the context!
The gift of eternal life is not like a gift of money, it is like the gift of a piano. You have to bring yourself under numerous long hours of discipline to draw the potential good from it. Once you accept Christ you have to “practice” many long hours to produce the “music” of immortality.
Let the reader not draw back to the destruction of his or her physical body in the Day of Christ, as the Hebrew Christians were in danger of doing. Let us all press forward so through faith and patience we may inherit the Kingdom of God.
It is noteworthy that the writer of Hebrews, in order to teach Christians the meaning of “the just shall live by faith” (an expression from the Old Testament), used the lives of the patriarchs and saints of the old covenant. The continuity of the covenants is revealed here. We see that no individual under any covenant pleased God other than through faith. We see also that faith consists of works of obedience to God’s revealed will, not belief in a theological position.
We are surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses. We have profited by their example. They are profiting by our example.
We all shall come to perfection together in the Kingdom of God when Jesus Christ appears. We then shall be whole in spirit, soul, and body, and filled with the Presence of the Father and the Son through the fullness of the Holy Spirit of God.
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 11:39-12:1—NIV)
This is a goal worth pursuing. It is not easy but it is possible through Christ.
Is this is what you desire above all else—immortality in the Presence of God and Christ forever?
Don’t forfeit your birthright as did Esau, for there may be no place of repentance for you if you turn away from Christ. (There wasn’t for Esau!)
See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears. (Hebrews 12:15-17—NIV)
The above was not written to the unsaved but to the Hebrew Christians. It applies to the Christian salvation. It is Christians who can lose the inheritance, who can be unchangeably rejected; otherwise the Holy Spirit would not have addressed the warning to believers.
If you wish to attain immortality, keep going forward in God. Never, never quit. He is faithful to keep that which you commit to Him so in the Day of His appearing you will be able to stand before Him in perfect, unsullied joy and victory.
(“To Perish or to Live”, 3900-1)