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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? Every culture around the world has some story 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.
And here’s what I want to do: what does the Bible say? As a follower of Christ, what happens the minute after a person dies? And that’s what I want to walk you through. Now, I wish I could say there’s this book of the Bible and it says, “This is what happens after you die,” and you just read that book.
But it’s literally woven all the way through Scripture. And so, I’m going to take the lens and I’m going to pull it back and I’m going to take all that I understand that it says everywhere in Scripture, and I think I can summarize it in four large, basic truths. And as you do that, it’ll give us a beginning understanding of what happens after you die.
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.
You see, God doesn’t judge people on the basis of their intentions or their emotions. Jesus is fair and loving and kind and no one is going to get a raw deal.
And He also will respect the dignity of every human being, so your deepest yearnings and desires, your real ones, whether it’s more of God or none of God, He says in eternity, that’s what you’re going to get.
The fourth major truth is that every person will spend eternity in heaven with Christ and fellow believers or in hell separated from God forever. Matthew chapter 25, Jesus ends a parable talking about the sheep and the goats. And He says to those who refuse Him, they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.
Now, God does not desire that any perish. But these are facts. You don’t hear this very often. Jesus talked about hell a lot. He talked about heaven a lot. He talked about judgment a lot. And I’m not sure why, but we don’t talk about it hardly at all.
And yet, we all have this inner sense, this God-awareness that we’re going to have to give an account. What I want you to know is that it’s not God’s desire that any would perish. In fact, the apostle Paul would say, “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.”
Jesus would say, “Verily, verily,” that’s the old King James. I love it. “Verily, verily I say unto you, he that hears My voice and believes on Him that sent Me has,” present tense, “eternal life and doesn’t come unto judgment but is passed from death to life.”
What I want you to know is that there is a real judgment and this judgment will be forever and ever and ever. And it’s based on how we respond to the Lord Jesus.
I’d like you to just pause for just a minute. I want that to sink in. I’ll confess to you, I don’t think a lot about heaven and hell myself. Not near as much as I need to. But even as I was reviewing and praying through this before I wanted to share it with you, there was one line in my notes, speaking to myself was, “What would happen, Chip, if you actually believed that heaven was as real as it is? What would that do to your priorities, Chip?”
How many of the distractions and the media and the Facebook and the stuff that just gets me distracted and I say, “That’s so trivial.” And what would happen if I believed, what would happen if we believed that there is a heaven and there’s a hell and that our neighbors and our friends and our family, there is a judgment coming. The same Jesus that has said to us, “Come unto Me all you that labor and are heavy laden,” the same Jesus that we’re trusting in and we know that He is our Savior and has forgiven and has been so real – He’s the same Jesus that says, “Depart from Me; I never knew you.”
I’d like you, if you would, even as I continue to speak to think about that one person that you know doesn’t know Christ and make an internal commitment inside that you’re going to pray and then you’re going to initiate some level of relationship to communicate the love of Christ, regardless of how they respond.
Okay, now you want to get to the good news? Because this is a great message. Do you want to know what heaven is going to be like? I can only give you a snapshot. And then I will give you a quick snapshot about what hell is going to be like and then as I promised, for some of you, you’re squirming inside. I can feel it right now.
And you have this sense that, Wowie, man, this is heavy and I think I know what I need to do and I want to respond and a lot of thoughts are going through, you just relax. God, God is going to speak to you.
And here in just a couple minutes after I describe heaven and I describe hell, I want to give you a chance to put your faith in Christ to know that without a doubt, you will spend eternity with Him forever and ever, solely based on what Christ has done for you.
So, let’s get a quick preview of heaven. This is very exciting. First of all, we know that God is there. And that makes it awesome.
Chapter 21 of Revelation, you want to hear a little bit of what it’s like?
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there was no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Now, the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them, and will be their God.’”
And listen to this, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there will be no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain; for the old order has passed away. He who is seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new. Write this down, for these words are trustworthy.’”
Heaven is going to be a place that has warmth and beauty and light. It’s going to be a place where relationships are wonderful. Can you imagine? No comparison. No envy. No jealousy. Incredible accommodations, right? Jesus is preparing a place. You get a fresh start. You get a new nature. No more struggling with guilt or, I should have done this, or, I shouldn’t have done that.
A new nature, a new body, a new vocation. At the very end of chapter 22, it talks about commerce and cities and works and I believe there is going to be music and culture and jobs. It’s not like floating around on clouds sipping iced tea. Heaven is a very real place.
Think of what the Garden of Eden would have been like if there was never any sin and then think of putting that on spiritual steroids, if you will. And heaven is going to be everything that God originally planned, except exceedingly better because you will have tasted and known what it was like on a fallen earth. You’ll have purpose and rest and protection and commitment and peace. Unbridled joy. Celebration and worship and laughter.
You’ll learn! You’ll grow! You’ll have friendships. You’ll explore the infinite majesty of God. And it will go on forever and ever and ever. There are banquets, there are meals, there are celebrations, there are family reunions, there’s adventure, there’s purpose. And are you ready? There is fulfillment at the deepest level. That’s what heaven is going to be like.
And that’s a lot to look forward to. And as I read through those men and women that have made the greatest impact in the world, they have this very clear picture of a very real heaven with very real rewards that really matters.
And they have this sense that how they live every, single day of their life has a direct correlation to the quality of their experience in heaven. And I’m not there yet, but I want to get there. I want to get to where I really think about heaven and eternity more and more and God would grant me an eternal perspective. Because when you have that, a lot of temptations are not very tempting.
Well, what is hell going to be like? Well, first and foremost, God is not there – 2 Thessalonians 1:9. Punishment and torment, varying degrees of punishment based on people’s culpability in response to the truth. Words like “outer darkness,” “weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth,” and it’s forever.
Now, some of these for sure are metaphors. You can’t have fire with light and darkness. But some of you, some of you have lost a child. It’s a sorrow like no other. Some of you have been betrayed by a mate and you’ve gone through a horrendous divorce. Some of you had a great job opportunity and decided not to take it, and then it turned out awesome and what you realize is regret, regret, regret.
Some of you have been clinically depressed and life was so dark and it felt like there’s no hope. Those are the kind of emotions that are typical of hell. Hell is not a place where people are, “Hey! You got a Bud Lite? Let’s watch a movie!” Hell is not a joke. Hell is a place that God, in response to the dignity of your individual choices said, “If you want your own way, you can have it.”
I think C.S. Lewis aptly said, “There are some who say to God, ‘Thy will be done.’ And there are others who God says, ‘Thy will be done.’” God does not desire anyone to spend eternity apart from Him. In fact, He did not want that so much that Jesus came to die in our place, to pay for our sin, and the Holy Spirit – moment by moment – even at this moment is wooing and drawing and convincing and convicting and saying, “Come! Come! Come! Let Me forgive you. Let Me love you. Get on a path of life with Me.”
Hell is like missing the last train, taking the wrong turn, making the big wrong decision, and then beating yourself up forever, by yourself, alone.
Let me finish with, I think, an important question that needs to be asked and answered: why must there be a hell? First, man’s dignity and freedom. God will not force you to be in company with Him. Love always requires that I have the opportunity to say “yes,” the opportunity to say “no.”
And hell is a place that God has reserved to say, “I so respect your individual choice that if you reject Me, though it breaks My heart, it is a place where you can go to be apart from Me.”
Second, God’s holiness and justice demand a hell. You say, “What do you mean by that, Chip?” Here’s what I mean by that, is that we get soft in our thinking. Can you imagine a heaven where Mother Teresa and Hitler, it’s the same place for both of them? There is not a loving God if there’s not justice.
Can you imagine for those of us that have a family or think of your top three closest friends, someone walking into the room and going: Bam! Bam! Bam! And shooting them and then you’re in the courtroom and they come before the judge and you’re expecting: they have to pay for this.
And the judge goes, “You know, you know, it’s okay. I just think they had a bad day.” And you would say, “Where is the justice? What kind of person are you?” You see, God has to judge sin and there has to be a place for sin to be judged and that’s hell.
The third reason is sin is serious; it demands a hell. Sin is like a cancer that hit the planet through the human race. Sin brought about death. Are you ready? Sin actually caused the Son of God to have to come to live a perfect life, be rejected by the Father, die, rise from the dead. Sin was the reason that God’s great love had to be demonstrated. Price tag for sin is super, ultimately, infinitely high. And so, the judgment for sin is eternal.
Finally, there had to be a hell because evil must be defeated and there needs to be a place for those who have been defeated. The Scripture says that Satan and the demons were thrown into the Lake of Fire.
See, the real question for every, single person on the earth is not just: is there life after death? Most cultures, science, the Bible, anthropology – there’s a lot of evidence that when we die, there is an afterlife. And what the Bible is very clear on is that you will either be judged and spend eternity with your heavenly Father, or you will be judged by Your own behavior as rejecting God and be apart from Him forever.
So, here’s my question: will your eternal future be a blissful adventure or a horrible choice? And I have to believe, I have to believe for many, many, many right now, you want it to be a blissful adventure. And if you’re asking: how can I have that? Can I ask you to bow your head right now and bow your heart?
And I want to pray for you, but this is between you and God and saying words after me does not make a Christian. This is a moment where you say in your heart of hearts, “I have sinned against a holy God. I have done things wrong. And I am going to own that right now and I’m going to ask Him to forgive me and cleanse me and make me His son or daughter, solely based on what Jesus did on the cross in my place.”
And if you want to do that right now and you don’t know exactly what words to use, you can use mine. And you repeat after me, from your heart: “Dear Father, I confess to You right now I have sinned. I have missed the mark. I know I have done lots of things wrong. I actually deserve to be punished. But I thank You that You sent Jesus to take my punishment. Today, I believe that He paid the price for my sin on the cross and I believe that it’s true, because He rose from the dead. I am asking You, will You give me the free gift of eternal life? I choose to trust in Him. And I ask You to fill me with Your Spirit right now. I want to follow You all the days of my life. In Jesus’ name.”
What I want you to know is that God, if you could picture Him leaning over the edge of His throne, that’s what He’s doing. There’s a party going on in heaven because many, many, many, many people have prayed that prayer with me and you meant it sincerely in your heart.
Now, let me encourage you: tell the best Christian you know what you’ve done. Get into God’s Word and find a great church that teaches the Bible, and walk with Him with all your heart. You have an amazing future today and an even more amazing one in the days ahead in heaven. God bless you and keep pressing ahead.