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About this series
Why I Believe
Straight Answers to Honest Questions about God, the Bible, and Christianity
When asked why you believe what you believe, how do you respond? Do you wish you'd paid more attention in Sunday school? Are you able to engage in thoughtful conversation, or do you become defensive? Why I Believe is a series designed to equip you with a simple, winsome approach to explaining why you believe what you believe about issues like: Jesus' resurrection, the authenticity of the Bible, life after death, the reality of heaven and hell, the validity of creation vs. evolution, and the God of the Bible, being the one and only, true God. Chip explains we can actually know the truth, and we can communicate the truth in a way that engages people rather than putting them off. There's solid evidence to satisfy the heart and mind of anyone honestly seeking answers. If you or someone you know has genuine questions about issues at the core of human existence, Why I Believe is an excellent resource. ACSI approvedMore from this series
A number of years ago, I lived in a very unusual town on the coast of California. Unusual in that it was very New Age, very progressive – actually had multiple satanic bookstores. And often there would be groups pop up that would be odd, to say the least.
And one was a group called “goths” for short, or gothic. And they would dress in all black and they talked about death and it’s just from dirt to dust, there’s no meaning. Philosophically, they were nihilist, there was no meaning to life, “We don’t care.” And they were a group of young people and they would travel in groups and a young man in our church got with the wrong crowd, got involved with them, overdosed on drugs, and died.
And I remember multiple conversations with them, talking with them about the meaning of life and nothing matters. You die, you’re dust, that’s it. And then I’ll never forget, I actually did the funeral and watching this wave of young people come in all dressed in black, some with their painted faces all in white, very bizarre.
And they began to talk about this young man, who was a winsome, winsome young guy. And they started talking about how special he was and then almost in unbelief it was like, “And he’s in a better place and he’s out of his hurting and that addiction won’t haunt him anymore.”
And I’m going, “Wait a minute.” I didn’t say that, but it’s like, “What about dirt to dust and there’s no meaning?” And here’s what I can tell you: it’s amazing how people can talk about, “You know what? There’s nothing. When you die, you die. Heck, I don’t care whether I go to hell or not. There’s a lot of hell on earth.”
And, yet, when someone close to you dies, when you’re faced with terminal cancer, I have rarely met anyone that is not asking the question with deep, deep sincerity: is there life after death? And if there is, what happens?
And that is, I would say, one of the most, if not the most important question that we could ever ask. And so, that’s what I want to do.
I want to suggest that there are seven evidences of life after death. Now, any single one of these is not going to be a proof, but all I want you to do is think with me. And I want you to get this idea that as we look at life and culture and time, the preponderance of the evidence is that there is life after we die.
First, there’s nature. The pattern of nature. Fruit has a seed, seeds you plant, the seed dies and then it grows, there’s winter but after the winter there is spring. And it was Plato who said, “I’m not sure what’s after death, but nature seems to give us a picture of what it will be like – some kind of life after death.”
The argument, if you will, from anthropology. If you went from the Himalayas to the Amazon to North America, South America – every culture, over time, everywhere has a sense and a teaching and a history of: there’s life after death.
And whether it’s the Pyramid of the Egyptians or the coin in the mouth of the Greeks, everyone is preparing for something happens after you die, at least in human history.
Third is psychology – this inner, innate sense that there is more to life than just now. The Bible would put it this way, that God has planted eternity in our hearts. C.S. Lewis in his Mere Christianity said, “If you’re living in a world and there is a sense that somehow, no matter what you try and get, it’s not enough, there’s something missing,” he said, “maybe it’s because you were made for another world.” This sense of “ought,” this psychological sense that we have that you never can have it all here.
Fourth is ethics. When you think about justice and we would all say life isn’t fair, the argument of ethics is there has to be life after death, because if there is going to be justice, if there is going to be right and wrong, good needs to be rewarded and evil needs to be punished. And if that doesn’t happen in this life, for there to be genuine ethics, it has to happen in the next life.
Very closely related to that in classical philosophy is Immanuel Kant took the concept of ethics and he said, “If God is good, and there is justice, there can’t be,” there cannot be, “justice and a good God without an afterlife,” when he looked at the evil in the world.
And then, one that is kind of interesting is near-death experiences – science, if you will. I did a little research on this and there has been a lot of anecdotal, popular books. Actually, millions of books have been sold on these near-death experiences. And, yet, there was a group in the UK – that did actual research. They did empirical studies of people that actually had died. There were over two thousand people in fifteen hospitals – and their heart stopped, they had no brain wave, and of those, forty percent of those that literally were dead and were resuscitated, had some awareness or some story in general of recollection after they died.
Approximately sixteen percent of them experienced this euphoric light, just love and warmth. Twenty-three percent experienced either total darkness or a tunnel of darkness. And then two percent had what we call the “out-of-body” experience. They literally, they are dead and they felt their body float out and they would watch the doctors, they heard jokes, sometimes they would even, afterwards, tell the doctors what they were saying and people were shocked. One lady, verified story, literally said she came out of the room, she continued to float, she went above the hospital and she saw a tennis shoe on the roof. Later, she was revived and she told them that story and they went up – are you ready? Tennis shoe on the roof.
Does it prove there is life after death? Well…it proves that when your brainwaves stop, when your heart stops beating, it doesn’t mean that your consciousness is necessarily gone.
And, of course, one of the strongest proofs for me is Jesus and the Bible. Jesus was so clear that there is life after death. In fact, He raised people from the dead. He died and rose again. He is the authority on that.
So, the cumulative evidence of nature, psychology, anthropology, science, ethics, philosophy, and the Bible is a strong case to say – when you look at all those things together – the probability that there is life after death is extraordinarily high.
And that raises a really, really big question. What happens? What happens when a person dies? And in most of the stories there is some level of accountability, there’s a balance, there’s a good place or a bad place, called different things in different cultures.
This is what the Bible teaches, these four summary statements. Number one: at death, every person’s soul or spirit enters immediately and consciously into relational aspects of eternal existence.
Let me say that again. Immediately after a person dies, your immaterial you, the real you, not your body, enters immediately and consciously into the relational aspects of existence. Your body goes into the grave, but your soul, your spirit is in eternity.
Now, where do I get that and where does the Bible teach that? It’s Jesus’ paradigm of the afterlife. If you want to know how Jesus and people view the afterlife and what happened, you listen to what Jesus taught. Listen to Luke chapter 16.
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. And then the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was tormented, and he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in the water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all of this, between us there is a great chasm that is fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my brothers, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so they will not come to this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’”
In other words, the Word of God. “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’” Now, notice how Jesus responds. “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” It’s rather prophetic, isn’t it?
In fact, what He’s saying is, if we don’t listen to God’s Word, we wouldn’t be convinced even if we saw some great and miraculous things. But the apostle Paul has a very similar paradigm of the afterlife.
2 Corinthians chapter 5, he talks about our bodies being a tent and this body is a tent and it’s temporary. And then here’s his line, “When we are absent from the body, we are present with the Lord.”
All I want you to get is when you die, there’s not soul sleep. When you die, you will immediately and consciously be aware of your new surroundings. The apostle Paul says, “The moment I die, I’m at home with the Lord.”
He would say in Philippians chapter 1, “I don’t know if I’m going to make it or not,” he was ready to be executed. He didn’t know, “Maybe I’ll get delivered, maybe I won’t.” And then he said this, “It’s better for you if I stick around, because I can minister more. It’s better for me if I leave.”
But then he makes this point. He says, “To live is Christ; to die is gain.” What he understood was the moment he died, he would be in the presence of Christ.
Second major overall point in terms of the afterlife. One day, everyone will be resurrected and live forever. I don’t know how long I was a follower of Christ and I don’t know how I didn’t get this. But I had this picture that, yes, if you’re a follower of Jesus and you believe in Him, you’ll get resurrected.
But I didn’t think about everyone. Listen to the apostle Paul. He has just presented his testimony and he is giving a defense and they are giving him a hard time. And now he defends himself in Acts 24:14 and 15. He says, “However, I admit that I worship the God of my fathers, as a follower of the Way, which you all a sect. I believe everything that agrees with the law and that which is written in the Prophets. And I have the same hope in God as these men,” speaking of the Jewish accusers. Then get this, “…that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.”
Everyone gets resurrected. Think of that. Everyone is going to live forever somewhere. That’s sobering, isn’t it? Think about your friends. Think about your family. Think about your co-workers. This being a follower of Christ isn’t this little window where we just kind of do our thing and go to our building and sing our songs and listen to someone like me teach God’s Word.
After we die, we have the promise of immediately being in the presence of God and after everyone dies, what we know is this: we will all be judged.
Third, every person will be judged and granted the extended capacity to fulfill in eternity the deepest yearnings and desires of their heart while on earth. Now, let me unpack this. It’s a really long sentence and I still remember writing it for the first time.
I remember putting it in notes the first time and having many people tell me, “You can’t put that in your notes. It’s way too long, it’s way too complicated.” Well, guess what – I put it in my notes.
Listen again carefully. Every person will be judged – believer, unbelievers, every person who has been born will be judged. And we will learn Jesus is the Judge. Now, listen to this: and will be granted the extended capacity – in other words – whatever they were experiencing on earth they are going to have an extended capacity. They are going to experience whatever they had on earth in extended capacity in eternity. Notice: to fulfill the deepest yearnings and desires of their heart.
The Bible says in Hebrews 9, “It is appointed unto man once to die, but after this, the judgment.” So, we are all judged. Now, listen to the Judge who is Jesus. John chapter 5, verses 25 to 27.
Jesus is speaking. “I tell you the truth, a time is coming and now has come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself. And He has given Him authority to judge because He is the Son of Man.
“Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice.” And so, He is the Judge. And let me roll this out for you in a way that you can understand.
There are some people that have come to know Jesus and they long to know Him better. They get up in the morning and they read God’s Word and they talk to Him and they want to learn and they want to grow and they are learning to love and they just have this passion for Jesus, this desire to love Him and know Him.
When they are judged, and God looks at them, and He sees, Oh! You put your faith in My Son, so all of His righteousness is on you and all your sins were placed on Him. The capacity to have an extended yearning and longing to know God more and more and more will be given to them.
They also probably wanted to develop their gifts and love other people. So, in heaven, they will have an extended capacity to grow and use their gifts and love people in ways they never dreamed, that they could never have on this earth.
By contrast, there are people that their deepest yearning and desire was: I am the boss. I want life my way. I am going to stay in control. No one is going to tell me what to do. And God says to them, “This desire to stiff-arm Me, this desire to have your own way and you be your little king of your little world – you will have an extended capacity,” in other words, you’re going to get to enjoy that, if you will, forever and ever and ever apart from Christ.
See, what I want you to understand is that when you really want to know what you believe, just ask yourself: what do you really love? What do you really love? Who do you really love? And if you’re not sure, then just open your Day-Timer, remember those old things? Or your phone, and look where your time goes and then open your checkbook or your 401(k) and then look at your credit cards and look where your money goes.
And then, what do you dream about and where does your energy go? And what I can tell you is this: whatever you love reveals the deepest desires and yearnings of your heart. And, see, I think we live in a day where people have all kind of, “Oh, I think this and I feel this and so-and-so says that and I have this emotion.” And I think we are greatly, greatly deceived.
If you want to know what you love, look at your passions, your money, your priority, and your time.