The majority of people seem to spend little time thinking about death, or about their own nature. Such lack of self-examination leads to a lack of self-knowledge, and therefore people drift along through life, making their decisions according to the dictates of their own natural desires. There is a refusal - albeit heavily masked - to take on board the fact that life is so short that all too soon the finality of death will be upon us. “For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away”. “We will surely die and become like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again”. “Like grass which grows up; in the morning it flourishes and grows up; in the evening it is cut down and withers” (James 4:14; 2 Sam. 14:14; Ps. 90:5,6). Moses, a truly thoughtful man, recognised this, and pleaded to God: “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Ps. 90:12) Therefore, in view of life’s brevity, we should make our acquisition of true wisdom a number one priority.Man’s response to the finality of death is varied. Some cultures have tried to make death and funerals part of life, to lessen the sense of loss and finality. The majority of those bearing the name Christian have concluded that man has an ‘immortal soul’ or some element of immortality within him which survives death, going on to some place of reward or punishment afterwards. Death being the most fundamental problem and tragedy of human experience, it is to be expected that the human mind has been much exercised to lessen its mental impact; therefore a whole range of false theories have arisen concerning death and the very nature of man. As always, these must be tested against the Bible in order to find the real truth about this vital topic. It should be remembered that the very first lie recorded in the Bible is that of the serpent in the garden of Eden. Contrary to God’s plain statement that man would “surely die” if he sinned (Gen. 2:17), the serpent asserted, “You will not surely die” (Gen. 3:4). This attempt to negate the finality and totality of death has become a characteristic of all false religions. It is evident that in this area especially, one false doctrine leads to another, and another, and another. Conversely, one piece of truth leads to another, as shown by 1 Cor. 15:13-17. Here Paul jumps from one truth to another (notice “if...if...if...”).
To understand our true nature, we need to consider what the Bible says about the creation of man. The record is in plain language, which, if taken literally, leaves us in no doubt about exactly what we are by nature (see Digression 18 concerning the literality of Genesis). “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground...out of it (the ground) you (Adam) were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 2:7; 3:19). There is absolutely no hint here that man has any inherent immortality; there is no part of him that will live on after death.
There is a marked Biblical emphasis on the fact that man is fundamentally composed of mere dust: “We are the clay” (Is. 64:8); “man is of the earth, made of dust;” (1 Cor. 15:47); man’s “foundation is in the dust” (Job 4:19); “and man would return to dust” (Job 34:14,15). Abraham admitted that he was “but dust and ashes” (Gen. 18:27). Immediately after disobeying God’s command in Eden, God “drove out the man...lest he put out his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever” (Gen. 3:24,22). If man had an immortal element within him naturally, this would have been unnecessary.
The constantly repeated message of the Gospel is that man can find a way to gain eternal life and immortality through the work of Christ. This is the only type of immortality that the Bible speaks about and it follows that the idea of an eternity of conscious suffering for wrongdoing is without any Biblical support. The only way to gain immortality is through obedience to God’s commands, and those who are so obedient will spend immortality in a state of perfection - the reward for righteousness.
The following passages should be proof enough that this immortality is conditional, and is not something that we naturally possess.