The subject of today’s sermon is not hell, but hell, I think, illustrates the problem with this doctrine more than any particular doctrine could. The doctrine I want to talk about is the concept of the "immortality of the soul." The idea that people live forever in a burning hellfire—when you really begin to stop to think about it—is kind of a strange idea.

What is there that a man can do in a lifetime of seventy, eighty or one hundred years, in the way of evil, that would justify not a hundred years, not a thousand years, not seven thousand years, not a million years, but an eternity of torture of the most exquisite kind—of the greatest pain, I guess, known to man. I can recall as a child that pain which I think I feared more than any other was the pain of burning. We, or someone, according to the doctrine, God in heaven has devised or designed a situation to where human beings throughout all eternity will suffer the pain of the fires of hell for the things that they have done in one short lifetime upon this earth.

What is there that a man can do, in that period of time, that could justify that sort of a response? You have to really wonder and you have to wonder about the image of God, the concept of God that a person would have who believes in a god who would do that to human beings. How do you suppose it affects their prayer life? How do you suppose it affects their image of God? Oh, I know that a person who believes in that who is a member of a Protestant or Catholic denomination who believes in Hell, would doubtless feel that, "Well, God’s wrath is not upon me because I’m saved and I have accepted Jesus Christ and I’m not going to hell, I’m going to heaven, so when I get on my knees and I pray to God, I feel confident and I love Him and He is a loving and a kind Heavenly Father." Yeah, He really is to you, but what about all these other people?

Now, if we were only dealing with the Hitlers and the Goehrings of the world, it would be one thing, but you see, according to the doctrines of large numbers of Christianity, if you were to walk up and down the streets of the city today and find people of different churches and maybe talk to their pastors about the technicalities of doctrine. Now, I don’t mean what do individual people believe, but I mean what does this church teach about the condition of unbaptized children? I think you would be appalled.

What does this church teach about human beings who have been—oh, what the title of one book was The Beloved Infidel—you know, he didn’t believe in God, but he was really a nice guy—a fellow who wouldn’t harm a fly, a fellow who would give you the shirt off of his back, who would help the poor, who’s a kind person to his wife and his children and his animals. But who just couldn’t bring himself to believe in God or Jesus Christ—never accepted Christ—where is that man today, if he’s dead, according to Baptist or Presbyterian or Methodist or Catholic doctrine?

It is strange in a way that, I believe Dante Alighieri was a Catholic, who wrote The Divine Comedy and who devised the picture of hell that so many people believe in, of the pain and the anguish, that the Catholic church probably is the most humane of the Christian denominations, relative to what happens to people after death who haven’t been all that bad, but who were not Christians. The Catholic philosophers down through the ages reasoned their way through this whole problem and they saw that it’s easy enough to understand how a saint would go to heaven and easy enough to understand how an evil person would go to hell, but difficult to comprehend how children who could not pronounce the name of Jesus would go to hell. Difficult to understand how a savage in Africa or in Asia or in the islands of the Pacific who had never heard the name of Jesus Christ and knew nothing of God, would go to hell. Difficult to fathom how a generous, good-hearted, grandfatherly, professorial-type of figure in a university, who happened to not believe in God at all and be an atheist should go to hell, who was a good man. And so, the Catholic fathers assumed or presumed purgatory—an in-between place—a place for the purification of the soul—a place where you’d spend a certain amount of time until, finally, you qualified for the beatific vision or for "going to heaven."

That’s a little bit, perhaps, easier to fathom, but I think you’ll find that the vast majority of strongly-believing Christian people in this community would believe that our grandfatherly, professorial-type of a fellow, who didn’t believe in God and who died last week is, at this moment, enjoying the fires of hell—the torments of the damned, because he either goes to hell or to heaven immediately at death, regardless of the mitigating circumstances. 

Missionary Movement

It always was a little bit troubling to me to muster up the sincerity for the missionary movement—the evangelical movement—because of the belief that anyone who has not heard the message of Jesus Christ is lost, that we must get people out to see to it and be saved and it was difficult for me to reconcile the actions of the church with the belief of the church of which I was a member.

For example, to sit in a business meeting and to hear quite a wrangle and argument and discussion over air conditioning the church mission building that we had over in this little community as opposed to sending money into the mission field. If we believed that people were out there dying, day by day by day, who did not know Christ and who were lost and HAD NOWHERE TO GO BUT HELL, why would we, as a people, not give every dime? Why would we not let our church meet in the street? Why would we not, you know, meet in peoples’ homes and send every bit of money we could into the mission field? Why were we there? Why were we in comfort? Why were we putting in stained glass windows? Why air conditioning buildings? Why all this comfort WHEN PEOPLE ARE GOING NOT JUST TO DEATH, BUT TO HELL! The absurdity of the doctrine is incredible to me whenever you begin to look at it carefully.

The Doctrine of the Immortal Soul

The doctrine of heaven and the doctrine of hell, particularly, is absolutely essential if you accept the doctrine of the "immortality of the soul." There’s no avoiding it. For the doctrine of the "immortality of the soul" essentially says that every one of us sitting here has an immortal soul, that whatever this is that is down inside of us, this thing that really constitutes the human mind—that our soul is that which feels, that hurts, that loves, that hates, that experiences life here and now, and that whenever our body dies, our mind—our soul—lives on and we see and we know and we feel and we understand. And so we are presented with the idea of a Christian mother, who has died and gone to heaven, who is able to look down across space to see her son who never was saved and who went to hell, and we’re asked to believe that this woman can be in happiness in paradise while she sees that son that she bore and held at her own breast, being tortured day in and day out in hell, because the way the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man is interpreted by these denominations, people in heaven can see people in hell, in torment. Frankly, the way I’ve listened to some preachers, I get the feeling that some of them are looking forward to being able to watch some people in torment.

You know, I begin occasionally to wonder if part of the rationale behind hell on many people’s part, is that they believe that, "well, here I am. I have had to give up all these things all my life that are considered fun. I’ve had to stay faithful to one wife here for forty years. I’ve not been able to go out and whore around like people do and I haven’t been able to do this or do that or steal and so forth, that man stole all those people blind and got rich and I’ve lived all my life in poverty. Therefore, it’s not fair for that man to be able to get into God’s Kingdom when he didn’t go through all that and I did. Therefore, you know, he’s gotta go to hell." I really think that there is a certain perversity in human nature that wants there to be a hell for certain types of people.

I have to confess there have been a couple of times in my life, there have been a few people–one or two people I could think of—that I could almost wish a hell for, but not quite. Not quite. Not when I consider all that might be involved in the concept of hell. I have to face up to that fact, because it’s a bit rough to comprehend.

The doctrine of the immortal soul is that here we are and we are alive. Now, when the body dies, we have to do something with this soul, and basically, according to Protestant doctrine, there is no place for the soul to go except heaven or hell. It’s kind of like an on/off switch. There doesn’t seem to be any concept—at least I don’t recall any being taught—of a variation or variableness in rewards that people achieve, that you know, if you lived the life or you accepted Christ—depending on your doctrinal stance—you go to heaven. And in heaven immortality seems to be the same for everybody—you sit at Jesus’ feet and you look up into the Master’s face and you dine on milk and honey and various interpretations that come out from that of playing harp music and singing in a heavenly choir and praising God and all that type of thing, but all of us are there and we’re all in the same place and we’re all doing the same thing.

And so here are all these souls that something has to happen. The man who died this morning; his body’s all laid out up here in the undertaker’s salon. His soul, according to the doctrine, is someplace—heaven or hell or purgatory. Now, you would think that studying the Bible would raise certain questions in people’s minds regarding this. In a way, I could title this sermon, I suppose, Immortal Soul or Resurrection? Because, you know, really the doctrine of the immortality of the soul and the doctrine of the resurrection are inherently incompatible concepts. If you’ll turn with me over to I Thessalonians, I’ll show you precisely what I mean.

I Thessalonians 4 is one of the earliest statements of the resurrection that we find apart, from anything that Jesus said about the subject. I Thessalonians 4 and beginning in verse 13. Now before I begin there, I should mention the fact the Thessalonian church had a time of severe persecution—there had been people who died, as a matter of fact, for the faith, in a very short period of time—Paul hadn’t been gone from there very many weeks. Now already the persecutors from other cities had followed Paul into this area—there was a small fledgling church there. He says in verse 13:

I Thessalonians 4:13 "But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope."

Now you would sort of expect that if the idea of the immortality of the soul were true, the way this verse would read is as follows: "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so we must believe that those who died in Christ are with Him now in heaven."

Now I have sat in funerals, I remember one in particular that was a very sad funeral conducted by a Protestant minister because the little girl that had died was, I don’t know, she was eight or nine years old, I think. She had been crossing the street and she’d been hit by a car and I remember going to the hospital, sitting with her mother and trying to encourage her mother and praying for the little girl, but she probably had irreparable brain damage and she died, and as the man was conducting the funeral—here were all the relatives who represented the Protestant denomination of that area that was very staunch and very strong—members of the church where this man was a preacher—and one lady, a very strong lady, the mother of the little girl, a member of the Church of God, who understood about the mortality of the soul. She believed that her little girl was dead. She believed that she had been blown out like a candle—her mind had—that she was not alive and in hell or heaven or any place else, that she was dead.

The preacher, in his sermon, spoke of this little girl’s soul. "This little girl is now in heaven playing with the angels" and here were relatives who believed in the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, crying like their heart would break, sobbing their hearts out, almost out of control some of them and this one woman who believed her little girl was dead, had a tear, but was strong. I saw that and it almost blew my mind and I thought, "who believes the things that they say they believe?" I have a hard time believing that people that say they believe in hell, AREN’T GIVING EVERYTHING THEY COULD TO MISSIONARIES! I have a hard time believing that people of Protestant denominations or Catholic denominations, what ever they may be around this world, who call themselves Christians, could possibly believe that people die and go to hell and are not making absolutely incredible sacrifices to get out there. I mean, the way they live, the approach they take to life, the things that they do, put the lie to what they say they believe. Death, oh my, should be a time of rejoicing for the family of a Christian if we believe that right now, this minute they are in the presence of God. My, I would envy such a one!

Like the old joke, the guy said, "there’s good news, bad news. The good news is you are going to heaven when you die. The bad news is you’re taking the trip today." This is a funny thing that people have. They want to believe it, but they’re still afraid of it, and I think it’s an interesting concept.

Looking back again, though, at I Thessalonians the fourth chapter, Paul said:

I Thessalonians 4:14 "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him."

The image of the dead that Paul puts forward is a people who are asleep. Not people who are awake and enjoying the presence of God. He goes on then to say:

I Thessalonians 4:15 "For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent [the word means, basically, to precede or go before or step in front of] them which are asleep. {16} For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first."

You know, when you really get right down to the bottom line, the resurrection is meaningless if human beings go immediately to heaven or immediately to hell at death. If I have been for a hundred or a thousand or for ten or for one year, in the clutches of Satan the Devil, upside down in some kind of a steam hole or stuck in a furnace and being burned and tormented by some demon that hits me with a pitchfork every once in a while, the question of the reuniting of my physical body is a matter of prime concern to me. If I have been in the presence of God for a thousand years or a hundred years or ten years and have been with my spiritual feet, as it were, on the pavement of gold; if I walked around the holy city and had seen the sapphires; if I have dined on milk and honey in the presence of God; if I have sung in the heavenly choir, what in the world do I want with THIS?! But, the idea is that we must resurrect the body, for the body must participate with the soul in the reward or the punishment. Whatever for? If my mind and my soul and my spirit; if what’s looking out of my eyes and looking at you right now is my soul in here, then my soul is what made my body do all these things, why does my body need to participate? Why blame it for the things that my soul did?

The whole concept of a dualism in human beings—that we are somehow spirit and flesh—is where a great deal of the error comes from, because the truth is we are not.

We are Flesh

We are flesh. God puts into our flesh a spirit which gives us minds, which gives us life, which gives us power, enables us to think, enables us to accomplish, enables us to even create, but when He blows out that light, it’s out. It’s gone. It’s over. We’ll talk a bit more about that as we go along but, first of all, realizing that what this really should say: for the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with a voice of the archangel and with all the heavenly saints who’ve been with Him up there! It doesn’t say that. He comes back FOR his saints, not with his saints.

I Thessalonians 4:17 "Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord."

Do you realize what the point of Paul’s statement is? Some people were sorrowing over those people that were dead and they assumed somehow that those people who were dead were at a disadvantage relevant to those Christians who lived up until the time of Christ’s return. Paul is saying, "No, no, no. You will not see Jesus one minute before they do." But he doesn’t quite put it this way because it wasn’t the question. But the fact is they will not see Jesus one minute before you do, because we are going to be caught up together, with them. The fact of the matter is that human beings, who have been in Christ or who have been converted—who have received the Spirit of God down through their lifetime upon this earth—we will all see Jesus Christ at the same time. That’s why the apostle Peter said: {Acts 2:29} "David is not ascended into heaven." David, who is going to be in the Kingdom of God, we know that—the prophets make it very plain that he is—has not ascended into heaven. He is still in the grave. I have to presume that if you’re a Catholic you might believe he’s in purgatory or if you’re a Protestant you’ve gotta believe he’s in hell, because it says he is not ascended into heaven. Now, I suppose that’s the way some people would look at it.

What is Man?

The question is what does the Bible really teach about man? Turn back to Genesis the third chapter, just a simple little statement, but enough to understand if you can just read it for what it is.

Genesis 3:19 "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."

There’s no question of heaven or hell or purgatory. Man is made out of the dust of the ground, he’s going to go back to the dust of the ground. Now that’s not really a hard concept to understand. Turn back to Psalms 146 to a very important statement of scripture.

Psalms 146:1 "Praise ye the LORD. Praise the LORD, O my soul. {2} While I live will I praise the LORD: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being. {3} Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. [Why?] {4} His breath [that is the breath of the Son of Man] goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish."

Now it’s not talking about his ideas perishing, because a human being can advance ideas, he can write ideas down on paper, he can teach them to other human beings and his ideas can live on well beyond him. It’s talking about the thinking process that goes on in the human mind. When God blows out your candle, the thinking process stops, "his thoughts perish." He isn’t somewhere suffering pain. He is not somewhere suffering bliss. He is not in the presence of the angels and of God. He is not playing with the angels. He is not fleeing from demons. He is dead and his thoughts, his pain, his love, his hate, is all gone. He is no more. This is what the Bible says. We could argue with it, I suppose, but there it is staring you right in the face. Turn back to Ecclesiastes:

Ecclesiastes 3:19 "For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. {20} All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. {21} Who knoweth [now here’s where you can get into trouble if you’re not careful—this isn’t making a statement, it’s asking a question] the "spirit of man" that goeth upward, and the "spirit of the beast" that goeth downward to the earth?"

It doesn’t say that the "spirit of man" goes up and the "spirit of a beast" goes down but, even if it did, what does it say? Because if that spirit in man is nothing more than the power—the hooking of man up to a divine power that gives him the power of thought, of creativity—and that plug is unplugged and that spirit or that power returns to God, perhaps, but the fact is he is just asking the question, he’s not making a statement. He says:

Ecclesiastes 3:22 "Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?"

Ah, so he felt there was no possibility of a man who has lived and died, who is now in some other nether world and able to see what is going on in the world behind him. Oh, there have been a lot of fantasies and books written that enjoy the prospect of a wandering spirit, for example, who, because of something he did in this life, his soul is not at rest and therefore he wanders around the earth like a ghost and interacts with human beings in various circumstances. It all makes great fiction but the Bible says categorically it doesn’t happen. In other words, there is no human being who, having died, who is aware of what continues in the world after he’s gone. So, you can’t have somebody sitting around in heaven, dining on milk and honey, looking up into the Master’s face and occasionally looking down on the earth and seeing what’s going on down here. It’s awfully hard, frankly, to see how anyone could be happy in heaven knowing what’s going on down here. I don’t know why anybody would want to look back.

I think the most important thing in this section is his statement is that a man has no pre-eminence above a beast. Now, what he is talking about is as far as this life is concerned. An animal lives for so many years. An animal is composed of the elements of the ground. He’s got phosphorus and all the base metal and all the different things that go into make up a man—the various chemicals that, I think, used to be worth two dollars and something, you know, that are in a man—probably now by inflation have gone up to around ten dollars—is what we’re worth in raw chemicals. Animals are made out of the same type of thing. Most of their bodies are water, just like ours are. They have little hearts that pump blood all the way through their system, just like ours do. They breathe in air into their lungs, which provides the fuel and their food that keeps them going all this period of time and they live much like we do. Their life is sustained much like ours is and when our lights are blown out, they’re blown out just like theirs are. Our thoughts perish and the animal dies, so we die, we all return to the dust and a man has no pre-eminence above a beast. There is only one way that a human being can have pre-eminence above a beast and that is if God Almighty reaches down and resurrects a man. Otherwise he dies, just like the beast.

So, unless you’re prepared to argue that our beasts also have immortal souls, you got a problem with maintaining an immortal soul for a man. Someone wrote me a letter once and wanted to know if they would see their little pet that had died in the resurrection. It was a very difficult letter to answer—I don’t remember to this day how I answered and I hope I don’t get that question again. I did try to be gentle about my answer. Ecclesiastes the ninth chapter, verse four.

Ecclesiastes 9:4 "For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion."

That’s, you know, pretty raw sentiment when you get right down , as long as you’re alive you’ve got hope and when you’re dead, hope’s gone, friends. That’s all. A living dog is better than a dead lion.

Ecclesiastes 9:5 "For the living know that they shall die [at least you know that]: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. [Not that somebody else doesn’t remember them, but their own memory is gone.] {6} Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion forever in any thing that is done under the sun. {7} Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. {8} Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment. {9} Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labor which thou takest under the sun. {10} Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest."

No, no, you’re not going to heaven. Sorry, you’re not going to hell; not going to purgatory. You’re going to the grave and in the grave there isn’t any wisdom, there isn’t any knowledge, there’s no awareness, there’s no love, there’s no hatred, there’s no joy, there’s no grief, which is why some people choose the grave deliberately and willfully. For all the joy and all the happiness has gone out of their lives anyway and there’s nothing but grief and they do know that in the grave there is no grief, only blessed oblivion.

That, my friends, is what waits at death. Oblivion, not heaven. Mercifully, not hell, just oblivion, until the resurrection. For it is the resurrection that gives a man hope, not the idea that he has an immortal soul for indeed the Bible puts the lie to the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. The scriptures that I have read to you successively are in the Holy Writ—the Holy Word of God. They cannot be denied. They categorically deny that there is anything in man that lives on beyond death, unless or until God gives it life and we’re told in the Bible when that will be. Acts 2:

Acts 2:31 "He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption."

What is this talking about? Well he is saying that Jesus Christ, of course, died and was buried, and the term "hell" does not mean a roaring inferno in this context. It’s "hades" in the Greek and it means, basically, the grave. His soul was not left in the grave, it was not allowed to stay there and to go into corruption. Then he goes on to say:

Acts 2:32 "This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. {33} Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. {34} For David is not ascended into the heavens:"

Why is that important? Well, because the Psalm that he had just cited about not leaving your soul in hell nor allowing it to see corruption was written by David and it would be an illogical assumption for someone to say well that was written about David, himself. Then he comes back and he says oh no, David is not ascended into heaven. David’s flesh did stay in hell. David’s flesh did see corruption and that, therefore, this scripture was not about David, but was, rather, about Christ. He said to him:

Acts 2:34 "… but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, {35} Until I make thy foes thy footstool."

Problem Texts

Now lets turn back to II Timothy the fourth chapter. In a moment, I’d like to take a look at some of what some people call "problem texts". I guess they are texts that are used sometimes to try to establish the idea of the immortality of the soul.

II Timothy 4:6 "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. [Paul is in prison for the last time.] II Timothy 4:8: "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing."

"At that day," what day? The day of his death. "Not to me only, but to all them also that love his appearing." The time of the reward of the saved, the time when Paul was to receive his crown and time when everyone else receives their crown is the time of the appearing of Jesus Christ and the resurrection.

Let’s go to Philippians 1:12 The apostle Paul is in prison again; seems like he was something of a jailbird. You almost get that impression, in prison is where he had time to write letters. He, I think, was out of prison more than he was in. He says:

Philippians 1:12 "But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; {13} So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; {14} And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear."

The reason the context is important is because, you know, when a man is in jail and when he has undergone a certain amount of persecution, and when he is not sleeping well and he is not eating well and there are tormentors around who try to make life difficult for him—these are the times when some people actually contemplate suicide, when they do become weary of life and when the burden of going on becomes almost more than they can bear; when their fear of life passes the fear of death, which sometimes can happen for people. He then goes on to say, well, it’s of course true that:

Philippians 1:15 "Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; [their motives of preaching Christ are really wrong] and some also of good will: {16 The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: [they actually tailor their message in such a way to try to make life more difficult for me!] {17} But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel. {18} What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretense, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice."

Even when the message was somewhat tailored, even when the message a little bit slanted to try to make things hard for him, even though it would have been better for some people to keep their mouths shut, he says, no, the best thing is that the gospel of Christ is preached, that His name is made known, that the things He taught are being spread abroad, even if it does make things hard for me.

Philippians 1:19 "For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, {20} According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. {21}For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."

To Live is Christ/To Die is Gain

Now it’s not difficult to see how a person who pre-supposes that the soul is immortal, who makes up his mind aforehand and assumes now if man has an immortal soul, who would read this scripture and say, "Aha! See here is evidence. The Apostle said to live is Christ but to die is gain." But that’s awfully thin stuff. You can’t make that out of this verse because it’s easy to explain another way, which I will in just a moment. You have to look at other scriptures, and when you pre-suppose or when you go back and you read Ecclesiastes and the Psalms and Genesis and you begin to see, no, no, when a man dies, he’s dead. His thoughts perish; he’s gone. Then you have to come back and ask yourself, what did Paul mean when he said to live is Christ and to die is gain? What he meant was, frankly, that, as far as he was concerned, he had a net gain by getting rid of the suffering and the pain, the humiliation, the torment, the fatigue, the sleepless nights, the fear.

Philippians 1:22 "… yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. {23} For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ [ah, now there you get one that is really going to be interesting]; which is far better. {24} Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. {25} And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith."

Now, as I said, if you assume to start with that man has an immortal soul, you will be lead to see what debaters call a "post hoc" reference to that particular subject and this. You’ll say, "aha, see now there is confirmation." But you see you might use this as confirmation if you had previously proved that man had an immortal soul but, now if you hadn’t proved that yet and you come to this scripture all by its lonesome, would you necessarily have to conclude that?

For one thing, Paul could easily be saying, "I have a desire to depart and to be with Christ" because he knows that if he dies at this point in his life, his calling and his election are sure. He has died in the service of God, he has died in prison for the sake of the word of God, his salvation is secure. He will be with Christ, and you can look at it another way: he could easily be saying, you know "here I am, I’m in pain a lot of the time, I’m not allowed to sleep at night, there are these other people around me moaning and groaning, we do not eat well, I’m not even able to preach the gospel—other people are but I’m not—it’s just the fact that I’m here, I guess in a way, that preaches it. Quite frankly, it would be a lot easier for me to just depart this life, because in the next moment of my consciousness, I will be with Christ." Because you see the oblivion—and it’s probably been a long time since any of us ever slept this way—you might very well remember a time though when you went to bed at night and the next thing you knew, it was morning. It was almost like someone had hit you in the head—you just were absolutely oblivious or unconscious of any intervening passage of time. You don’t know how long you slept necessarily unless you look at the clock to tell you.

Maybe you’ve been unconscious: an accident, a blow on the head or some other means over a period at some time in your life and you realized that that passage of time has absolutely no meaning. That oblivion, that peace is just as though you departed and were with Christ. Now you could look at this scripture. It could mean any one of three or four different things, perhaps. But you can only accept it as immortal soul if you can prove it someplace else, and there is no other place in the Bible to support it. In fact, as I’ve already shown you, there are scriptures that categorically show that man does not have an immortal soul. Therefore, Paul could not have gone immediately to be with Christ. For, had he done so, he would have preceded other Christians into the presence of the Eternal—gone to heaven as it were—left his body here upon the earth and the Bible doesn’t tell us that that’s what’s going to happen.

Absent from the Body / Present with Christ

Now there’s another interesting scripture, one that has been very puzzling to a lot of people, found back in II Corinthians the fifth chapter. I always used to particularly enjoy giving it to my Ambassador groups as a scripture question for them to answer in Club—a little test. Chapter five—I’m going to read the segment, then I want to ask you a couple of questions about it.

II Corinthians 5:1 "For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. [2} For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: {3} If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. {4} For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. {5} Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. {6} Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: {7} (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) {8} We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. {9} Wherefore we labor, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. {10} For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad."

Now, what does that mean? What is he saying? You should have heard some of the explanations that I’ve gotten out of students from time to time on this scripture. "Absent with the body" this is where I get them to focus in. We are willing to be absent from the body and present with the Lord, because you seem to have that kind of situation—you’re either in the body or with the Lord; you can’t be in the same place at the same time, therefore, when you die, you must go immediately to be with the Lord or, perhaps, to hell, if you were not a good person. Now, what does this scripture mean? It’s simple, really. It means precisely what it says, but it doesn’t mean what it doesn’t say and there is something in here that is a classic case, as a matter of fact, of assumptions leading you astray. In fact, virtually all these New Testament scriptures that people use to try to support this type of thing, read well if you make certain assumptions. And you may say, "aha, that does seem to confirm the immortality of the soul."

What is the assumption in I Corinthians 5? The assumption is this, listen carefully. If you assume that when you are dead, you are absent from the body, then absent from the body/present with the Lord means that when you die your soul goes to heaven. But where is the scripture to tell you when you are absent from the body? It’s not here. This scripture does not say that when you are dead, you are absent from the body and, in fact, Ecclesiastes and Psalms tell us that when you are dead you’re not absent from the body, you go—you, whatever you are—go right into the grave with that body and you stay there until you’re resurrected. When are we absent from the body? At the resurrection. At the resurrection of the just—at the first resurrection—because those who come up in the second resurrection, who come up in the flesh, are not absent from the body, are they? There you see an interesting case in point. If you believe that people who never have a chance to be saved in this life and go into the grave and wait, the second resurrection—when they come up out of the grave as a physical flesh and blood human being—as to use the examples of Ezekiel, with sinews and flesh and breath—those people are not absent from the body then. They were not absent from the body when they were alive before. The truth is they were not absent from the body in the intervening years, either. They, whatever they are, was in the grave with that body. They weren’t in heaven loving or hating or feeling or eating or knowing or seeing or participating in decisions, or looking and watching the things that are going on the earth. All these things we know the dead do not do! Nor were they in hell being tormented and enduring excruciating pain. They were just plain dead.

Now, take a look at this whole passage of scripture again not assuming, this time, that you’re absent in the body; not starting with the assumption that man has an immortal soul, but starting with the assumption that man is mortal. Because he really does, indeed, have to be mortal or immortal—I don’t know of too much other grounds there could be.

II Corinthians 5:1 " For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."

You can easily be talking about the human body being kind of like a tent and that analogy is not at all inappropriate, because we are temporary dwellers and one of the things that we learn from the Feast of Tabernacles is the reminder that we are temporary.

II Corinthians 5:2 "For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven."

As Paul puts it in another place [Romans 8:22], he says, the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now, waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God. The groaning for the time when the sons of God will be made manifest. Not that we want to be naked, he said, we want to be found clothed upon. In other words, it isn’t just that I want to be dead, not at this stage of his life, you know, with no body, I want to be clothed upon.

II Corinthians 5:4 "For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life."

What’s he saying? He is saying that we human beings are MORTAL and I want this MORTALITY to be made IMMORTAL and it doesn’t happen until a certain time. I am not an immortal soul—I don’t have an immortal soul. I am mortal! Now, II Corinthians 5:5 "Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. {6} Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body [this resurrection or the next one], we are absent from the Lord: {7} (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) {8} We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the [flesh and blood, this] body [of ours], and to be present with the Lord. {9} Wherefore we labor, that, whether present or absent [present in this life or absent from the body and present with Him in another life], we may be accepted of him. {10} For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad."

Scriptures Must Support Your Assumptions

You know, it’s really important in studying the scriptures, to be able to make the distinction—a very important distinction as a matter of fact—between those scriptures which will support your assumptions and those scriptures which create your assumptions. In other words, as you go along reading, if you are assuming that man has an immortal soul, you’ll find a number of places in the Bible that will seem to tend to support that. If you go along assuming that man does not have an immortal soul, you’ll find scriptures to support that. You have to distinguish between those scriptures—like these that I’ve just read to you, these two—which, if you assume that man had an immortal soul, would seem to click, and those scriptures that tell you whether he does have or not, because there’s no question of Ecclesiastes—those two particular references there, or the one in Psalms that says when he dies, his thoughts perish. It’s pretty hard to misunderstand the intent, and perhaps, harder than any of that to get rid of, is the concept that is more thoroughly developed in I Corinthians the fifteenth chapter and I want to turn back there for the last scripture — rather long scripture — that we’ll be making reference to today. I Corinthians the fifteenth chapter develops this concept very thoroughly; it’s a very important statement.

I Corinthians 15:1 "Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; {2} By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. {3} For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; {4} And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures: {5} And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: {6} After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. {7} After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. {8} And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time."

He talks about his apostleship and later he says in verse 12:

I Corinthians 15:12 "Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?"

Now this is kind of a funny doctrine that they seem to be teaching and you really wonder what sort of a doctrine it was. Because I would have to conclude, based upon my own knowledge and my background in a Protestant denomination, that there really was no need for a resurrection from the dead. The resurrection from the dead was a meaningless concept for the most part. For, what I was concerned about was not what happened at some far off future time when Christ came back to this earth, what I was concerned about was what happened the day I died. Now, Paul makes it very clear. I mean, he’s not that concerned about what happens the day he dies, except for the peace he is able to get from his own troubles. What he’s concerned about is the day Christ returns, the day of the resurrection from the dead. How is it that there are some people who say there is no resurrection from the dead? And, of course, the explanations of the resurrection by those who believe in the immortality of the soul, are kind of strange.

I Corinthians 15:13 "But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: {14} And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. {15} Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: {17} And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. {18} Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished."

Think about that one. They’re not in heaven. They’re not in hell. They are perished. Except for what? He says:

I Corinthians 15:20 "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept."

Now you know what that means? What it means is that the first person ever to come alive from the dead, was Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Now if you accept the idea of heaven and hell, you’ve got to then conclude that everybody who lived up until the time of Jesus Christ went to hell, because they couldn’t go to heaven. No man had ascended into heaven prior to Christ, that much is pretty much universally understood. The Catholic church understanding that has a place or had a place called Limbus Patrum or limbo to which the fathers went. That is, everyone prior to Christ was held in limbo until Christ’s ascension to the Father. That’s much is pretty simple; not difficult for them to understand. As I say, they—I think in many cases—have been more consistent in their doctrinal structure, more logical in it, in reasoning from their assumptions than have been the Protestant denominations, because once you accept the basic assumptions of the Catholic church, it is extremely difficult to maintain many of the Protestant positions—heaven and hell are one of them, with heaven and hell with no purgatory. Actually the observance of Sunday instead of the Sabbath is extremely difficult to maintain and not be a Roman Catholic—be a Protestant instead. Now, that’s another issue, I’d have to go into some detail to explain that but it would be very difficult indeed.

Now Paul continues to discuss the matter.

I Corinthians 15:21 "For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. {22} For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. {23} But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming."

There is really nothing in the scripture to tell us that people who are Christ’s are going to go to heaven when they die. The time when they are going to be resurrected is at His coming! Now he begins to develop the concept even more thoroughly and finally he comes down to verse 33:

I Corinthians 15:33 "Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. {34} Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame. {35} But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come? {36} Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: {37} And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: {38} But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body. {39} All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. {40} There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. {41} There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. {42} So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: {43} It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:"

What’s he saying? He is saying that that dead body that you bury down in the grave and throw the dirt down on top of, is not going to come back up out of the grave, ever. What comes up out of the grave will be something totally different. He draws the analogy of a grain of wheat. He said what you stick in the ground is not what you’re going to get. You put that grain of wheat in the ground and up comes a stalk that’s as different from the wheat as daylight and dark. You can have a caterpillar, goes into the chrysallis and what comes out of that chrysallis is a beautiful colored butterfly—nothing like what went into that thing and sewed itself up there in the first place. The old has died; the new is something totally different.

Now the problem that you have in this regard is that, if you believe that a human being who dies today, his soul goes to heaven and his body goes to the grave to wait for the resurrection, why is it and what is it that we’re going to be bringing up out of the grave when He returns? The rationale in this is very, very difficult to follow. For, you see, what Paul is here describing is easy enough to understand, if we realize that a human being, when he dies, he’s buried, he goes to the grave and to oblivion until the resurrection of the dead. He is not heaven, he is not in hell; he is in the grave! When Christ comes back, what comes out of this grave is not just what we put into it, but as different as the moon is from the sun! We put in a human being, we raise a god!

Now, it’s difficult sometimes to help a person to understand how irrational the idea is of having to bring that spirit being back and join it back together with this body, which is not the same body anyway. Because, presumably, if you go back to Paul’s example back in II Corinthians 5, where he talks about we want to get rid of this tabernacle; we have another tabernacle in heaven. Remember that? He said, we groan, we’ve got this tabernacle here, but we know there’s another tabernacle for us in heaven. We want to get this tabernacle off and get the other one on. Then why do I want to come back to this one again? There are little fine points in the rationale of this doctrine of the immortality of the soul; it just will not work. For if you have died and your body’s been buried—this old corruptible human flesh that goes back to the earth—dust it is and dust it returns to—and you go to heaven and are clothed upon with a new body, you don’t need the old body any more. Well, it’s hard to explain because it’s not true. That’s the reason it’s so difficult to rationalize. The truth is, as Paul puts it, you bury something in the earth. That something is a man; he’s dead, but what’s going to come up out of it later, is something totally different.

I Corinthians 15:44 "It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. {45} And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a [life-giving] spirit. {46} Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; [in other words, you start with the flesh and then you go to the spirit] and afterward that which is spiritual. {47} The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven."

The next part of this is a little hard to follow in the King James Version and not terribly relevant. Verse 50:

I Corinthians 15:50 "Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. {51} Behold, I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep [in other words, some of us are not going to actually die, he says, and Christ will return in the lifetime of some people—there’ll be Christians alive when he returns], but we shall all be changed, {52} In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed."

In other words, those people who are dead in the grave shall be raised. Those of us who are still alive shall be changed and, bang, all of a sudden we are all spirit beings, but notice again the subtlety of the wording of this. Paul doesn’t feel he needs to explain it, so he doesn’t go into details, but he says the dead are raised. What does that mean? If a Christian who died, his soul had gone to heaven and his body to the grave, would he have referred to them as "the dead"? Would he have referred to them as those who are asleep? No, I don’t think so. I don’t think so. In a moment, he says, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump, the trumpet shall sound, the dead shall be raised incorruptible and we shall be changed.

I Corinthians 15:53 "For this corruptible must put on incorruption, [and the last words of this verse are so important] and this mortal must put on immortality."

Immortality is not something we have, it is something we put on. We are called mortal. Mortal means we’re capable of dying, whereas, if we were an immortal soul, we could not die. He then proceeds to say:

I Corinthians 15:54 "So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. {55} O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? {56} The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. {57} But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. {58} Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."

You know, the idea of going to heaven is really a beautiful idea and it’s a shame in a way almost to try to take that away from a person, because you think well, here’s this loved one—this person that I loved—has died and we’ve buried his body and here I’ve lost him and all that it can be a tremendous comfort and a tremendous encouragement to believe that his soul has gone to heaven; that he right now is in the presence of the Lord and that he is sitting at the Master’s table and that he’s able to sing with the angelic choir…and it’s just a wonderful thing.

But, wait, there’s the other side of that, you see. There are those people who died out of Christ, not in Christ and, when you accept the doctrine of the "immortality of the soul", you don’t necessarily change the truth just by what you believe, but if that were true, those people are in hell. Do you have any idea of the sleepless nights, the tears that have been shed, the mental agony, the people that have gone very nearly crazy, because someone they loved died unchurched, out of Christ, as an infidel, and those people who believed that they have gone to hell, go through a hell of their own, right here and right now.

Yeah, I suppose there are some aspects of the doctrine of the immortality of the soul that might be real sweet and real encouraging and real uplifting for some people, but the truth is always better.

This article was transcribed from a sermon given by Ronald L. Dart titled: Immortality of the Soul

(Audio tape #8109.)     Transcribed by kdo 08/2005

For more information related to this topic - pick on the following links:

Are you Going to Heaven?

Lazarus and the Rich Man

Is there really a Hell Fire?

Ronald L. Dart is an evangelist and is heard daily and weekly on his Born to Win radio program. 
The program can be heard on over one hundred radio stations across the nation.

In the Portsmouth, Ohio area you can listen to the Born to Win radio program on 
Sundays at 7:30 a.m. and at 12:30 p.m. on WNXT 1260.

You can contact Ronald L. Dart at Christian Educational Ministries, P.O. Box 560 Whitehouse, Texas 75791 Phone: (903) 509-2999 - 1-888-BIBLE-44

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