Pristine Grace

Are You Afraid to Die?
by Don Fortner

     I have watched a lot of men die, some young and some old, some believers and some infidels, some with no hope, some with a false hope, and some with a good hope. I have seen some die in utter terror and some with great comfort, some in brazen blasphemy and defiance and some with peace and joy.

     How will it be for you when you come to death's chilly waters?

     I know a good many men and women who do everything they can to avoid visiting a rest home, a hospital, or a funeral parlour. They simply cannot face the fact that they, too, must soon die. Even now, the fear of death terrorizes them.

     I ask of you what Jeremiah asked long ago. If sickness and death torment you now, 'then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?' Are you afraid to die?

A reasonable fear

     The fear of death is a very natural thing to sinful men. And, the fact is - If you are without Christ, you have reason to be afraid. 'It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment' (Hebrews 2:15). Soon you and I must die. Long ago, a dying man requested that the words below be inscribed upon his tombstone. He wanted all who passed by his grave to be reminded of the brevity of life and the certainty of death. We would be wise to lay them to heart.

Please view my grave as you pass by,
For as you are so once was I,
And as I am soon you must be,
So make your plans to follow me.

     Because of your sin and guilt before God, you must die. But death will not end your existence. You will stand before a holy, just, and righteous God in judgement. And you will reap the exact penalty due for your sin, the infinite, eternal wrath of God in hell (2 Corinthians 5:10-11; Revelation 20:11-15). This is 'the second death', the everlasting death of your soul in hell. It is a torturous death that never dies!

A blessed deliverance

     For the believer, however, things are far different. In Hebrews 2:14-15 the Holy Spirit tells us that one great purpose of our Saviour's incarnation was that He might destroy Satan and deliver His elect from the fear of death. The Lord Jesus Christ came into this world for this purpose, that He might 'deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.'

     You and I who are washed in the blood of Christ and living by faith in Him should have no fear of death. Certainly, we must not expect to have dying grace until our time to die has come. Yet, we ought not live out our days on this earth clinging to the vanity of mortality and fearing its end. Christ came not only to deliver us from death, but from the very fear of death. He does so by effectually teaching us the gospel, giving us the blessed confidence of faith in Himself as our all-sufficient Saviour.

Deliverance from the fear of death

     There is no deliverance from the fear of death except by looking to Him whose death is the death of death. Our Lord has done many things to deliver us from this fear of death and its bondage.

  1. Christ has destroyed the power of death by dying in our place and rising again. Since all of God's elect were partakers of flesh and blood, under the dominion of death, Christ became a man to suffer and die for us. It was not possible for our Representative to satisfy the claims of Divine justice against us unless He lived and died in our nature. By His substitutionary death on the cursed tree and His triumphant resurrection, the Son of God destroyed the power of Satan and the power of the grave over us. We are now more than conquerors in Him. Why then should we fear death?
  2. The Lord Jesus delivers us from the fear of death by removing our sin. 'The sting of death is sin.' It is sin which causes men torment in death. But in Christ we have no sin. In Him we are fully forgiven. By His blood our sins are washed away. If we are born of God, we are in Christ; 'and in him is no sin' (1 John 3:1-5). Be sure you have the forgiveness of sin by faith in Christ, and fear death no more. To die forgiven, 'accepted in the Beloved', is not really to die at all. It is simply the departure out of this world into the Father's house.
  3. The law of God held us in bondage to the sentence of death and condemnation; but 'Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law' (Galatians 3:13). 'Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth' (Romans 10:4). He is the end of the law's power to condemn. In the book of God's holy law there is no legal claim of condemnation upon any believer. Christ satisfied that claim for us. Why then should we fear? If I am in Christ, I am dead to the law (Romans 7:4;8:1-4).
  4. The Lord Jesus Christ delivers us from the fear of death by changing the character of death. For the unbeliever, death is a horrible thing. For the unbeliever, anything short of death is mercy. But, for the believer, death is a great blessing. John Trapp wrote:

     To those that are in Christ death is but the day-break of eternal brightness; not the punishment of sin, but the period of sin. It is but a sturdy porter opening the door of eternity, a rough passage to eternal pleasure.

     Why should Israel be afraid to cross the swelling Jordan into the land of promise with the ark of God before them? The fact is, believers do not die in the sense that others do. Our Lord said, 'Whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die.' To the ungodly, death is the penalty of sin; but to the believer it is just a change of location. Death to the wicked is the execution of justice, but to the believer it is a deliverance from sin. To the worldling, death is the beginning of sorrows, but to the believer, it is admission into glory. To the rebel, death is imprisonment, but to the believer, it is freedom.

Would you be freed from the fear of death?

     Our Saviour has also taken the fear of death away from those who trust Him by assuring us that our souls will go to be with Him in heaven immediately. His word of promise is, 'Because I live, ye shall live also.' His prayer for us was, 'Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am: that they may behold my glory.' It is written, 'To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord!' Knowing this, I can no longer fear to die (2 Corinthians 5:1-9).

     Our Lord has delivered us from the fear of death by assuring us of the resurrection of our bodies (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). This body must die. But, blessed be God, we shall arise. This is my satisfying confidence: 'I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me!' With such a hope, the grave causes me no alarm.

     Would you be free from fear of death? Look to Christ in faith as your crucified Substitute, rising from the dead as your Representative, living and reigning in heaven as your Mediator, and coming as your King.

     If you would be free from the fear of death, think about death often and meditate on what it is to die in Christ. We know that those who die in the Lord are blessedly safe and happy. Even Balaam saw that and desired to die the death of the righteous.

What makes the death of the righteous so blessed?

  1. Death will bring us into the presence of many friends. Yes, death takes a wife from her husband, a child from its mother, and a father from his family. But we cheer ourselves with the prospect of a happy reunion in glory.

    It is true, above all else, that we will see Christ and be with Him. But it is also promised that we will sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When we die we will leave some behind, but we are going up to 'the general assembly and church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven'. And we shall know one another then, even better than we do now, even as the disciples knew Moses and Elijah on the mount.
  2. When, at last, we come to die in Christ our most earnest and constant prayers will all be answered. How often have we prayed to be free from our trials and temptations? When we close our eyes in death, we will leave this vale of tears behind. For the believer, death is the blessed funeral of all sorrows. Does your soul long to be free from all sin? It will be when this body lies in the grave. Oh, how our hearts long to be more like Christ! And we shall be perfectly like Him in glory when we have put off this body of flesh. We pray for a brighter and clearer vision of Christ in His glory. After we are no longer hindered by the sight of things in this world, our eyes will be opened to see the Son of God as He is. We should never weep for those who have died in the Lord. We might well envy them, but do not weep for them.
  3. The death of God's saints is accompanied with many comforts. Death can never separate us from the love of Christ. He will go with us through the dark valley. I am sure that the believer never has such full revelations of Christ's love, grace, glory, and greatness as he is given in the hour of death. The Lord will make His people triumphant over the last enemy in that hour. In that hour, all our enemies will be as still as a stone (Exodus 15:16).

     The Lord Jesus Christ, our great God and blessed Saviour, delivers believing sinners from the fear of death by giving us a foretaste of the glory that will follow it. It is written, 'Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.' Yet, He has given us His Spirit, which is 'the earnest of our inheritance'.

     We cannot comprehend this glory, but we can think upon it. In Christ, heaven is ours, the throne of Christ is ours, the glory of Christ is ours, the crown of life is ours, eternal joy is ours. God is ours. Christ is ours. Heaven is ours. If these things are so, and they most assuredly are, then death is not to be feared, but anticipated!

     If you would be free from the fear of death, live every day as though it were your last. Get into the habit of dying to this world. Let us die daily. Hold everything here with a loose hand. Learn to live in this world in the awareness that everything here is perishing. Live not for the perishing things of time, but for the lasting things of eternity. Live here as a traveller through this a strange land. Do not become too fond of it. Soon you will have to let it go. Be prepared at a moment's notice to do so.

     I exhort you to walk with God. 'Enoch walked with God: and he was not; because God took him.' Walk with God; and when you die you will walk into glory. Press as much as you can into each day for the glory of Christ and the service of His kingdom. We must soon die. We will be wise to put our affairs in order.

     Let us ever be ready for that happy day when the Son of God calls us home. When death comes, let us have nothing to do, but die. I try to think often every day of my last day. I cannot tell you what a blessing it is to do so comfortably. Until we are freed from the fear of death, we will never be free to live.