The Bible teaches that human death is a result of sin (Gen 2:17; Rom 5:12). God does not desire death for those he created in his image. Death is therefore the enemy of God as well as the enemy of the human race (1 Cor 15:26; Heb 2:15).

Results of Adam’s sin

Physical and spiritual death are not completely separate. When sin entered the world through Adam, it changed everything. All human life is now affected by the certainty of death (Rom 5:12-17). This involves physical death and spiritual death. The truth of this is demonstrated by the fact that the work of Christ, which reverses the effects of sin, brings the gift of spiritual life now (Rom 6:23) and in the end will bring victory even over physical death (1 Cor 15:21-22,44-45). Some may think that since human beings are creatures of the natural world, physical death is inevitable. After all, death was apparently part of the world of nature before Adam sinned – leaves fell off trees, fruit was picked, and animals lived by eating other forms of life (Gen 2:15-16; 3:1). But it is not death in general that is the result of Adam’s sin; it is human death. The truth that the Bible emphasizes is that human beings are not merely creatures of the natural world like the other animals.

They are related to God in a way that makes them different from all other created things. They are unique, for they are made in God’s image (Gen 1:27). If physical death were merely the end of existence, people would have no need to fear it. The reason they fear it is their awareness that, when they die, they do not escape the consequences of his sin, but go to face them (Heb 9:27; see also SHEOL). It has been suggested that, before Adam and Eve sinned, the spiritual life within them was so dominant that it prevented the natural physical deterioration that we today might expect. But when sin overcame them, it so changed human life that the spirit no longer had control over the body, and physical deterioration resulted. Physical death was at the same time completely natural and completely the result of sin (Gen 3:19b). Physical effort and bodily functions that should have brought pleasure brought pain and hardship instead (Gen 3:16-19). There is no need to imagine the chaos of an over-populated world had human beings never sinned and no one ever died. It is death, not the termination of earthly existence, that is the enemy; and it is sin that makes death so hateful (1 Cor 15:26,55-56). There are examples to suggest that God could readily have brought a person’s earthly existence to an end without the person having to pass through death (Gen 5:24; 2 Kings 2:11; 1 Cor 15:51; Heb 11:5; cf. Acts 1:9).

Present experience; future victory

The Bible uses the picture of an evil ruler to denote both death and the devil. Death is a sphere in which the devil rules (Heb 2:15). All people, being sinners, are slaves of sin and therefore under its power (Rom 5:14). They are not free to decide whether they will die or not. Physically they are condemned to death, and spiritually they are dead already (Eph 2:1,5; Col 2:13; 1 John 3:14). They are so under the dominion of death that their tendency towards sin is itself called death (Rom 7:24; 8:6,10). Sin cannot exist without death as its consequences (Rom 6:16,21; 7:5,13; James 1:15). To continue in sin is to continue in death; for sinners are in the sphere of death till they are saved out of it (Rom 8:23; 1 Cor 15:54). Although this connection between sin and death may seem natural and inevitable, it can be broken. People are not the helpless victims of mechanical laws, but the subjects of divine compassion. The same God who sends death as sin’s penalty can give life as his gift (Rom 6:23). Through the death of Jesus Christ, God has completely dealt with sin and death. Jesus died in the place of sinners to take away their sin and deliver them from the sphere of death (Rom 6:9-10; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 2:9,14; 1 Peter 2:24). Satan uses death to bind people in fear, but God uses death to release them from Satan’s power.

Christ came to conquer death, and he did this by means of his own death. All who by faith belong to Christ share the benefits of that death (Rom 6:3-8; 2 Cor 5:14; Col 2:12-15). All who refuse Christ die in their sins, and so ensure for themselves an unalterable destiny that the Bible calls eternal destruction, outer darkness, the lake of fire and the second death (Matt 8:12; 25:46; John 8:24; Rev 20:14; see HELL). Christ’s saving work means that believers need no longer fear death. They know that one day it will be destroyed (Rom 6:9; 1 Cor 15:26,54-57; Rev 2:11; 20:6; 21:4). Although they still live in the sphere of death’s influence, they have already passed out of death into life. They are free from the law of sin and death (John 5:24; Rom 8:2; 2 Tim 1:10; 1 John 3:14). Like other people, they may experience physical death, but they will never die in the sense that really matters (John 11:25-26; see HEAVEN).

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