When I was little, I was afraid to close my eyes at bedtime because I might not wake up the next morning. I feared taking medications, especially new ones, because of the lovely warning labels every pill bottle wore. A few years later, I would thoroughly check my food for choking hazards, contamination, or anything that could be poisonous. Even now, in adulthood, I have Googled symptoms in fear that I might have some deathly ailment.
Although I can now laugh at my childhood (and adult) paranoia, many of us fear our own death. We consider this a normal fear—if someone didn’t share this fear, we might consider them odd. It’s instinctual to want to live and see death as only bad.
But does the Bible promote this attitude? Perhaps we should consider our fear and see what God’s Word has to say about it.
Paul’s Desire For Death
If anyone, Paul had a right view of death. He shared it in Philippians 1:20-26:
As it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
At the time of writing, Paul was under house arrest, chained to a Roman soldier, awaiting trial. Of all the things to think about, this was Paul’s dilemma: I want to be with Christ, but I know it is better that I remain and minister to the churches. Paul desired death, but wasn’t suicidal or depressed; he was joyful (Phil. 1:4,18). His overwhelming love for Christ made him desire death. He knew death was gain because it meant freedom from sin and seeing Christ in all his glory. He desired to be with Christ more than anything else.
Paul was also confident in God. What was there to fear about death? He knew the price for his sins was paid in full, so he had no fear of missing heaven. He was confident God was not only capable but also faithful to fulfill his promise of eternal life to believers. He proclaimed to the Thessalonians (who did question God’s faithfulness to grant eternal life): “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thess. 4:13-14).
As believers, we can cling to that same confidence—death is not the end or a pathway to further suffering, but the end of all suffering and the entrance to glory. Jesus promises he will not lose any that the Father has given him (John 6:39) and that he will see them to completion (Phil. 1:6). If you are truly saved, you can hold to this hope without fear. It was Christ who saved you when you were unable to save yourself, and it is Christ who will keep you when you are unable to keep yourself.
Checking Your Heart For Idols
Maybe you still struggle to have the same confidence Paul did. Maybe the thought of dying still strikes fear in you. If that is the case, you may need to search your heart.
If you are afraid of dying, you might have an idol stowed away in your heart. Paul’s lack of fear was founded in his love for Christ. He saw nothing on this earth worth remaining for. Perhaps that’s not the case for you. Maybe your fear of death stems from a fear of letting earthly things go. Here are a few possible categories of idols to consider:
Loved ones. There are people in your life (a spouse, a friend, a significant other, a child, a parent) you love more than God, so you don’t want to leave this earth and not be able to continue your relationship. While it is normal and right to love others, especially family, we need to make sure they do not become higher in our hearts than God himself.
A life milestone. Perhaps you have yet to fulfill some great longing or dream for your life (motherhood, marriage, graduation, publication, fame, career, riches) and you don’t want to die or see Christ return until you have. Do you value this dream more than God himself? Would you rather see this dream fulfilled rather than behold the glorified Christ?
Material things. Are you enjoying the gifts God has given you more than God himself? Do you see your home, car, resort, food, or pet as more satisfying? Do you see the description of heaven as more boring than the things God has given you on earth?
Unresolved sin. Have you indulged in a sin that brings you more joy than God? Do you love this sin so much that you don’t want to give it up when you die?
Maybe there is an idol in your heart I haven’t mentioned here. Whatever the case, I encourage you to do some soul-searching to see if perhaps this is why you can’t get past your fear of death. An idol keeps our eyes set on the things of this world rather than beholding God and his glory. We need to bring our gaze back to God.
Seeking Blessed Assurance
Some fear death because they do not know where they will spend eternity. They hope it is heaven, but part of them fears it will be hell.
Do you have doubts about your salvation? Do you doubt God’s love for you? Do you fear God took away your gift of eternal life? Do you fear you are a goat without knowing it (Matt. 25:31-46)?
No person can confirm your salvation because salvation takes place in the heart. Salvation occurs when a heart of stone becomes a heart of flesh; it is the creation of a new inner person who no longer loves sin but loves God. While someone transformed in such a way should bear the fruit of that transformation, it is also possible to masquerade as a believer when no change has taken place.
The assurance of our salvation must be placed in the gospel. Have you believed the one, true gospel? Do you believe you were a sinner condemned to hell, with no possible way of saving yourself, needing a savior? Do you believe Jesus Christ, the God-man, lived a perfect life of righteousness in your place, fulfilling the law you could not? Do you believe he died on the cross, enduring the wrath of God you deserved? Do you believe he rose from the dead three days later, paving the way for believers to be raised to eternal life?
Romans 10:9-10 says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”
The Spirit of Assurance
Assurance of salvation also comes from the Holy Spirit. “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:15-17).
Only true believers are given the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9), and God does not take away his Spirit from his children. Rather, he permanently seals them for the day of redemption (Eph. 1:13).
Although we are not saved by our works, our works show proof of our salvation. One who has been shown grace and changed by the power of God should be different. The book of 1 John emphasizes this and was written to help believers see the difference between genuine believers and those who are false. John writes that believers will love one another (3:10-24), will proclaim Christ as God (4:1-3), will continually put off sin (1:1-10; 3:1-10), and will not love this evil world (2:15-17). If your life looks more like that of a nonbeliever, maybe you do have reason to doubt.
If you are battling assurance of salvation, check what you believe about the gospel and assess your lifestyle. If you have no reason to doubt your conversion, then take hope in God’s promises to save his children.
Overcoming the Fear of Death
The solution to our fear of death is obvious: love and trust God. If we love him above all, if he is our joy and satisfaction, if he is our salvation, then death can only appear sweet to us.
All else falls away, all else loses its grandeur, when we consider the greatness of God.
And if we are confident of our salvation and trust him to fulfill his promise of eternal life, then we can face death boldly, confident of our joyous future.
Lara d’Entremont is a biblical counselor in training, and her desire in writing is to teach women to turn to God’s word in the midst of their daily lives and suffering to find the answers they need. She wants to teach women to love God with both their minds and hearts. Lara is married to Daniel and they live in Nova Scotia, Canada. See more of her writing on her website, Twitter, or Facebook.