Life Or Death
The Bible says that the wages of sin is “death.” This is not a reference to the first death, for all human beings die this death, including infants that have not sinned, and the Lord Jesus himself. The deprivation of life is the ultimate penalty for sin. The Bible teaches us that all will be resurrected, some to eternal life, and some will be sentenced to the lake of fire where they will suffer the second death. Some consider it blasphemy to deny the doctrine of eternal conscious torment (ECT), but one has to wonder why. I was taught ECT for most of my life. I was introduced to the doctrine of conditional immortality (CI) and I began to look at what the Bible teaches about God’s judgment. In my opinion, the biblical evidence is overwhelmingly on the side of CI, with the lost being sentenced to the eternal deprivation of life, or eternal destruction. Many Christians have taken this position. As the Bible says, the lost will perish, and will be no more, rather than burning in the lake of fire for all eternity. Even in human governments, the ultimate penalty for crime is the death penalty. No one would consider the perpetual torment of criminals to be a characteristic of a just government. Some of us wonder why God's punishment for the lost must be, in the mind of others, the worst possible form of punishment one could think of in order for it to be "just." Habakkuk prayed and asked God to remember mercy even in his wrath. God is just, but he is just as merciful. It is a poor argument for anyone to make that only ECT is "true justice." If God enforced justice along this line of thought, that it should be as bad as possible, with no mercy, none of us would be saved. The biblical idea of justice seems to include restoration, not in the sense of Universalism, but in the sense that in a coming day, all things will be in subjection to Christ. It is hard to see how this will be true if God is keeping a segment of his creation alive just to torment them. It makes more sense that the wicked will be eternally put out of existence, with no hope of this judgment being reversed. Punishment is necessary for those who refuse to repent, but the nature of this punishment has been debated by sincere Christians. Of the few obscure verses in the Bible that could be used to teach ECT, I have found an adequate alternative interpretation from the CI perspective to go along with the tremendous number of texts that seem to tell us clearly that the lost will ultimately be destroyed in the lake of fire. The eternal punishment that awaits the wicked will be severe in nature, there is no doubt. The following are some excerpts from Volume I of “The Conditionalist Faith of our Fathers” concerning the topic of death. This section begins with Leroy Froom referring to the consequences of Adam’s sin.
C. Encompassing Involvements of Death Penalty
Man, because of his sin, was now on his way to destruction. Without divine intervention he would have been doomed to return to the nothingness, or non being, whence the Creator had brought him into existence at creation. But divine mercy had already intervened. The promised Seed, or Saviour, was to come and exhaust the death penalty, and regain the lost life—eternal life—for man. The blow that in justice should fall on man was to fall on Christ. Death at the close of life's tenure, the return to dust, was to be simply a "sleep," from which all would be awakened by a resurrection from this initial, or "first," death. God set His attested seal upon the gospel of the resurrection by raising Jesus from the dead—His resurrection becoming the pledge of our own in due course. Otherwise there would be no assurance, no tangible guarantee, of life beyond the grave. But the promise and provision of Christ, the Redeemer, provide that assurance. Thus the light of the radiant gospel of life was injected into the impenetrable darkness of death at the very gates of Eden.
1. "DEATH" EMBRACES TOTAL PUNISHMENT FOR SIN
Death was the total penalty that was forewarned upon Adam by God as punishment for that primal sin. All that God purposed to inflict upon Adam and his posterity because of transgression was comprehended within that single word "death." "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die," was the solemn but all-inclusive decree (Gen. 2:17). That clearly meant complete loss of life, deprivation of being forfeiture of existence…..
…..The ultimate penalty for sins is the cancellation of life when the true objective has been lost (Eze. 18:4, 13, 18). And inasmuch as God gave life initially to the human race, He could by the same power withdraw that life if man sinned. And that is just what the death sentence means.
3. "SECOND DEATH" COMPLETES THE DEATH PENALTY
…..The first, or natural, death is not the penalty to be paid for our personal sins. Descendants are not punished for the sins of their ancestors, unless they persist in their ancestors' sins. The initial death that overtook Adam and Eve was not the end. The punitive death for unrepented sin is the second death, and does not come until after the second resurrection for the execution of judgment. That will be a death of both soul and body, which involves final and irretrievable loss of the total life (Matt. 10:28; Mal. 4:1; Rev. 20:14)…..
…..The second death, which will bring about the completion of the death penalty, will be executed only upon the obdurately evil. Let us consider it another way: The wicked die the first time in their sins, but the second time (after their resurrection, Rev. 20:5, 6), they die for their sins (Eze. 18:26). It is, appointed unto all men "once to die" (Heb. 9:27). All die the first time because they became mortal as a result of Adam's transgression. In the matter of this first death men have no choice. But it is a matter of complete and inescapable choice as to whether we die the first death in our sins, or are saved and safe in Christ. For if we die in Christ, then the second death will have no power over us (Rev. 20:6). And the second death, which is eternal, can be averted by accepting Christ's provision of salvation.
4. "SECOND DEATH" IS LOSS OF LIFE, NOT CONTINUANCE.
We would stress this point, that the second death—for unrepented of and unpardoned sin—is not to be confounded with the first death, which all men, whether saved or lost, undergo alike as the children of Adam. This is often misunderstood. The second death applies only to future punishment for the second death is the punishment for personal, unconfessed sin, just as everlasting life is the reward of individual righteousness, received through and in Christ. Thus loss of life was the doom pronounced against sin. But this loss of life is not simply implied in Scripture. It is definitively stated to be the punishment determined—"The soul that sins, it shall die" (Eze. 18:4, 20; cf. 3:18). The Old Testament explicitly and repeatedly describes this loss of life, or existence, as the reversion of the organized being into its original elements—reduction to what it was before it was called into being. Here are a few of the less-known texts: "The destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they . . . shall be consumed" (Isa. 1:28). "Prepare them for the day of slaughter" (Jer. 12:3). "The slain of the Lord shall be many" (Isa. 66:16). "They shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed" (Isa. 66:24). "He shall destroy them" (Ps. 28:5). "The transgressors shall be destroyed together: the end of the wicked shall be cut off" (Ps. 37:38). They shall be rooted "out of the land" (Ps. 52:5). "Let them be blotted out of the book of the living" (Ps. 69:28); et cetera. Every clear-cut Old Testament declaration on the punishment of the wicked states it to be loss of life, not continuance — dissolution of life into its original elements, as though one had never been called into existence as an entity. And while the redeemed are to have life immortal which knows no end, the lost will succumb to the second death, which knows no awakening.
5. DOOM APPLIES TO MAN AS A WHOLE
God's sentence declared, "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return" (Gen. 3:19). This pronouncement was more explicitly explained after man's transgression, as related to his person. But there is nothing in the context that minimizes or changes the meaning or force of the words or limits their all-inclusive application. There is no hint of a distinction between body and soul in the application of Adam's destined doom. The whole man sinned. And the sentence appearing in the Inspired Record applies to man as a whole. Accordingly, as with the sentence so with its execution — the man, without redemption, would at death utterly and forever cease to live. Such would have been the final, tragic outcome had it not been for the divine plan and provision of salvation. This involves man's being brought back to life, through resurrection, for pronouncement of sentence based upon a just judgment, and then for final reward or punishment.(1)
(1) Froom, the Conditionalist Faith of our Fathers, Volume 1, pg. 61-62