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Christ offers life or death

Hell - Conditional Immortality

Hell 5 — Christ offers life or death.

Christ offers life or death, not heaven or hell.

The call of God is to come and receive life from him, as opposed to death. Heaven and hell are never paired in this same way in Scripture.

This is the fifth in a series of posts about Conditional Immortality and how that view best explains Scripture. The evidence from Scripture is that immortality is NOT intrinsic to human beings. That is to say that it is not only that being physically alive is a gift from God; receiving eternal life is also a gift from God and this gift is offered explicitly only to all those who put their trust in Christ and live in allegiance to him.

In this post I want to set out some Old Testament texts that point to how the gospel is to be preached and how that fits best with Conditional Immortality. The New Testament furnishes many more such example but it is so useful to see how the New Testament is consistent with the Old Testament in this regard.

In the second blog post in this series, the one about my own journey from the traditional position that hell means eternal conscious torment to my current conviction which is that the wicked will be destroyed — the view known often as Conditional Immortality, one of the key steps was this question.

How could God fail to warn us that sin leads to eternal conscious torment until the very last book of the Bible?

Why would Scripture, that speaks so plainly on important matters, repeatedly use the word ‘death’ if what awaits those who die outside the faith is eternal existence experiencing conscious punishment?

Christians are committed to a fact-based, rational worldview. In that case the notion that when the Bible uses the word ‘death’ it means ‘life’ is baffling. Agreed, a different order of life is what I used to mean but being consciously alive is still to have ‘life’.

And why would all the warnings about a claimed destiny of eternal conscious torment be left until the very end of the Bible — arguably until the last book of the Bible? That does not fit with God’s character. It would not be morally right to hide from humanity the true nature of the consequences of unbelief and disobedience.

So, over the last few years I have found that Scripture has persuaded me that the notion that hell is eternal conscious torment is no longer a credible hermeneutical position for me to hold.

The blog series so far…

In the first post in this series I set the scene.

In the second I told my own journey.

In the third I showed that Scripture does not teach that human beings are intrinsically immortal.

And in the fourth I demonstrated the grounds from Scripture why I conclude that hell is not eternal in duration, but rather eternal in effect.

In this post I want to show that the offer of the gospel is an invitation to life instead of death.

This has implications for our preaching and messaging as Christians.

Yes, I agree that destruction and perishing are also referenced often when Scripture speaks to the eternal destiny of the wicked — but a consideration of that will await a later post — a consideration that will also point towards Conditional Immortality as the best fit with Scripture because the words destruction and perishing speak directly to the final destiny of the wicked.

I have spent decades telling people that we will all live for ever, the only question is where — heaven or hell.

I now believe that this teaching has no basis in Scripture and is, therefore, inaccurate at best, and highly misleading at worst.

We Christians must face the fact that the notion of an immortal soul is Platonism, not Christianity. I’m sure Sean Perron is a good man, and he certainly does well to express appreciation for his wife, the mother of his children. And I agree that any woman who is able to, and wants to commit to full-time mothering rather than working outside the home does an honourable thing. But what he tweets here about immortal souls is erroneous, I believe. And even many who teach eternal conscious torment would quibble with this blatant Platonism.

Christ offers life or death
Human beings do NOT have immortal souls

Moreover, this notion of the immortality of the soul is ubiquitous across the western world and people need to be disabused of this false notion as part of the explanation of the gospel. Recently a highly popular celebrity cook has died in the UK, the wonderful Dave Myers. His long-time chef-partner, Si King, has been widely quoted stating the following:

“Hairy Bikers star Si King has paid an emotional tribute to his “best friend” and long-time colleague Dave Myers, who has passed away aged 66.

“Writing on X (formerly Twitter), the TV chef announced that Myers passed away last night (Wednesday 28th February) following a long battle with cancer, writing that “All who knew Dave are devastated at his passing”.

“He also wrote a touching personal tribute in which he admitted that he was “not sure I can put into words how I feel at the moment”.

“He added: “My best friend is on a journey that for now, I can’t follow. I will miss him every day and the bond and friendship we shared over half a lifetime. I wish you god’s speed brother; you are and will remain a beacon in this world. See you on the other side. Love ya.”

Hairy Bikers’ Si King pays emotional tribute to “best friend” Dave Myers | Radio Times

This notion of the immortal soul is providing comfort to millions of people — comfort that the Bible calls into question. And yet, I would argue, the practice of telling everyone that they will live for ever (which was my custom over decades) may only serve to reinforce this false view.

The gospel is not ‘everyone lives forever, the only question is where — heaven or hell.’

Here is another X (formerly Twitter) tweet I came across recently from another great fellow believer. I agree wholeheartedly that if you are able to have children the costs should not put you off. They truly are worth every penny bringing much joy alongside many heartaches. I also affirm that every child is made in God’s image and is very precious in God’s sight but they do not have eternal souls. God alone is immortal.

The cost of raising children
The cost of raising children

There is simply no Scriptural support for preaching a choice between heaven and hell.

On the contrary what we find repeatedly is a call to come to God for life in contrast with the inevitable alternative which is death.

This is a consistent pattern of preaching found in both the Old and New Testaments.

If we want to be Biblical, then our preaching should reflect this language.

Let’s survey the pattern of language used in Scripture — the frequent use of life versus death.

Before we look at the various texts let me speak to the question of whether every such text addresses the question of physical death, or eternal death.

I write as a body/soul dualist in my anthropology — so that presupposition will be evident in my language. I recognise that when it comes to one’s doctrine of the nature of human beings (one’s anthropology), there are reasons to change from dualism to monism, or what is often called physicalism, but that is an area of research I still need to devote time to. Meanwhile, I find that Conditional Immortality fits just fine with a body-soul dualist doctrine of human beings.

It is accepted that many texts in Scripture speak to physical death, however, I posit that eternal death is in view more often than we may at first realise. Why is that?

Consider Moses’ farewell address to the Israelites when he tells them:

15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. Deuteronomy 30:15 (NIV-UK)

Was Moses speaking only about physical life versus death?

This seems unlikely to me. Why? Because when we enter into God’s blessing by responding to his invitation, that does not mean that we live for ever in our present physical bodies. On the contrary we know that everyone who has ever lived (with the possible exception of Enoch) has died physically, or will do so.

The New Testament teaches that Christ’s death has redeemed those who put their faith in Jesus from the penalty of sin. Christ has died in our place as our substitute. And yet, Christians still die physically.

Scripture addresses the question of death across these two horizons: physical death, and eternal death — the death of the whole being body and soul.

This double horizon is frequently evident in the Old Testament texts such as Deut. 30:15 as I have just suggested. The same double horizon may well also be applied to what Moses says that is recorded a few verses later where we read:

18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Deuteronomy 30:18-20 (NIV-UK)

Here again, as happens so often in Scripture, these two horizons are in view. On one hand there is the offer to live long in the land physically. But beyond that surely Moses is offering something far greater. “For the LORD is your life…” is too grand a statement to refer only to physical life. The asseveration in verses 19-20 is too extravagant an offer to be referring only to the horizon of physical life. It surely points beyond to eternal life.

Eternal life and eternal death are often the implication of Old Testament texts.

For example, consider what the sages assert in Proverbs 10:16:

16 The wages of the righteous is life,
but the earnings of the wicked are sin and death.

This cannot mean that the righteous are promised unending physical life. That is demonstrably not the observable outcome.

And again, when David prays out to God in Psalm 56:13 in these words:

13 For you have delivered me from death
and my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before God
in the light of life.

We do not understand David to mean that he has been delivered from ever physically dying. As the Scripture itself attests, David died and was buried (Acts 2:29). In that same sermon Peter quotes David’s words from Psalm 16:8-11 in Acts 2:25-28 — words which point to the hope of resurrection life beyond the grave. Psalm 16:8-11 reads:

I keep my eyes always on the LORD.
With him at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Whether in Psalm 56:13, or Psalm 16:8-11, we hear David under the inspiration of the Spirit speaking of deliverance from the awful fate of eternal death — not deliverance from the fate of physical death. And that eternal life has its source and ground in the very being of God and in our being rightly related to him about whom it can be written:

For the LORD is your life… Deut. 30:20b

This double horizon is also visible in the great statements that the Spirit inspired Ezekiel to make in Ezekiel 18:23 and 32:

23 Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?

32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!

Ezekiel 33:10-11:

10 ‘Son of man, say to the Israelites, “This is what you are saying: ‘Our offences and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?’” 11 Say to them, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?”

When God, through the prophet asks the people, “Why will you die, people of Israel?” he cannot be referring to physical death, can he? Those people have all died physically since receiving this offer — including those who repented and turned back to God. No, this is a gospel appeal. It is an invitation to come to God to receive the gift of eternal life. And an assurance that if we do so we shall avoid the judgement of condemnation which is the second death.

The Biblical invitation from God to humanity is life or death.

Heaven or hell is never the invitation.

The apostle Paul emphasises life versus death all through Romans 5, 6, 7 and 8.

And in 2 Tim 1:9-10 the apostle writes:

He has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

And reading this we can hardly avoid quoting one of the most famous texts in all Scripture, John 3:16:

16 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. NIV-UK

That introduces the Biblical language of destruction and perishing, but we’ll leave consideration of that to another post.

The next post, however, looks at what the Old Testament tells us about hell.

Books

For the whole list of books refenced or consulted to write this blog series please go to the first post and scroll to the end.

 

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