Popular pastor Randy Frazee answers perennial questions about life after death with an accessible exploration of what the Bible has to say on the subject.
In both Christian and pop culture, there is a certain fascination with the afterlife. What happens after you die? What happens if you die with Christ or without Christ? What happens when Jesus returns if you have or haven’t accepted Christ? What exactly comes next?
Randy Frazee, popular pastor of Oak Hills Church and general editor of the wildly successful Believe and The Story programs, answers these questions and more. Born out of a deeply personal search for truth after the death of his mother, What Happens After You Die is a straightforward exploration of what the Bible says about life after death. From heaven and hell to the Lake of Fire and the actual presence of God, Frazee uncovers what is simply cultural tradition and what is truly biblical. He shows readers not only the death Jesus came to save us from but the life he came to save us for.
Based on a teaching series that has had more online views than any other series Frazee has done to date, What Happens After You Die is a guide to the perennial questions about life and death, what comes next, and how we should live until then.
Randy Frazee is the senior minister at Oak Hills Church, one of the largest churches in America, leading alongside author and pastor Max Lucado. A leader and innovator in spiritual formation and biblical community, Randy is the architect of The Story church engagement campaign. He is also the author of The Heart of the Story, The Connecting Church 2.0, and The Christian Life Profile Assessment. He and his wife, Rozanne, live in San Antonio.
Is Jesus Enough?
Hanging on to life by a thread, my mom asked me, "Is Jesus enough?"
When she'd prayed the Sinner's Prayer years before, she had acknowledged her sins; confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, who died and rose again on the third day; and requested that his work on the cross be applied as payment for her sins, to grant her a relationship with God that would last for all eternity. But at age sixty-two, with only three days more on this earth, she honestly asked her pastor-son if this decision and prayer was enough to get her to heaven.
My instant answer to her, as I shared in the introduction, was, "Why, of course, Mom!" But truthfully, I harbored some uncertainty in the back of my mind.
Could salvation really be as simple as receiving a gift, particularly a gift you do not deserve? Grace is such a mind-boggling concept. No other area of life gives so much and requires so little from the recipient. This might be one of those "too good to be true" offers — make sure you read the fine print; there must be a catch.
On top of that, there is that handful of scriptures that give us pause, such as "Faith without deeds is dead" (James 2:26). Faith is one part of the equation, sure, but so are good works. Now the question becomes, how many good works are enough? Or does God grade on a curve, comparing my works with yours?
In the past, I had laid side by side the steps in the process — or the formula, if you will — for how to obtain eternal life, as taught by each of the major denominations and expressions of Christianity. I considered the doctrine of the Lutherans, the Church of Christ, the Baptists, the Catholics, the Methodists, the Presbyterians, and the Reformed folks. Each church has its own opinion about the particulars.
Take baptism, for example. Some churches embrace the baptism of an infant, while others accept baptism only after one has personally made the decision to accept Jesus as Savior. Some are comfortable with sprinkling water on the recipient, while others demand full immersion in the water. Some baptize the individual backward in the water in the name of Jesus; others baptize the candidate forward three times in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Some see baptism as a step of obedience but not an act required to receive salvation; others see baptism as the essential act to secure one's salvation. Some groups believe the person who ultimately embraces Christ was elected in advance by God to receive salvation; other groups believe the decision is completely a matter of free will available to all. The list goes on and on.
While there seems to be an unlimited number of theological nuances in the process of receiving God's salvation, I noticed a very strong spine they all had in common: Jesus. No one seemed to struggle with Acts 4:12: "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved." At the end of the day, no one comes into a relationship with God without the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. The steps may differ from denomination to denomination, but at the core it is Jesus alone who saves us. This is a very helpful foundation from which to start.
But then there were those certain other passages of the Bible that had always bothered me — passages that seemed to challenge the notion that salvation is as simple as receiving a free gift. They seemed to say that works and perseverance have to be involved to solidify the transaction. In my early years of sitting in church, or even in college and seminary, the teachers of the denomination I was involved with simply pontificated with confidence that faith was enough. Feeling somewhat inferior to their intellectual prowess and years invested in study at the time, I shrugged my shoulders and hoped for the best. As long as death seemed a long way off, it was really an easy topic to ignore.
But not now. My mom was in grave danger, and I needed truth.
Over those next three days, I went to the Scriptures with a hurting heart and an open mind to discover the truth about salvation while there was still time. I had no interest in defending any denomination's position or in sugarcoating things for an upcoming funeral. This was a pure matter of life and death for someone I cared about so deeply that tears still come to my eyes writing about her now, fifteen years later.
I wasn't super interested in secondary passages that implicitly addressed the question of what it really takes to secure eternal life; I wanted to study the passages that explicitly provided the answer. When we come to the end of our days, is Jesus really enough? Does faith in him plus nothing else make us right with God?
These are questions we all need to dig into more deeply at some point in our faith journeys. We often are tempted to gloss over passages we can't explain or that cause us consternation, but that simply puts up a false front of confidence and leaves a damaging niggling in the back of our minds that becomes full-blown doubt when difficult circumstances arise. So let's walk a different path here and dive into some of those tensions and difficult passages together.
As we step into this story, we find Jesus in the heart of his ministry. People were swarming him from all sides for just a touch that might heal them, just a word that might free them from bondage. As he entered into the region of Judea, a rich young ruler approached him with our very question. Here's how the story begins to unfold:
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
— Mark 10:17
The rich man asked the $64,000 question (although the answer will prove to be worth much more than that): "What must I do?" or, in essence, "What's it going to take? How do I make sure I get to heaven? What is the key, the answer, the secret?"
In classic Jesus style, he asked the man another question before answering his inquiry. Jesus was a genius at getting people to think. People learn best in a dialogue versus a monologue — "talk with me, not at me" — and Jesus engaged them by following their questions with questions that prompted thought about issues at play that they possibly hadn't even considered. He was revealing the answer to the rich man's inquiry through the question he asked in return.
"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good — except God alone. You know the commandments: 'You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.'"
"Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."
Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
— Mark 10:18–22
Jesus wasn't trying to stump the guy or yank his chain. On the contrary, the passage says that Jesus looked at him and loved him. He really wanted the young ruler to get it. The answer seems straightforward from the very lips of Jesus. You want to inherit life with God? Do good works.
What? Isn't this contrary to everything we've been taught about grace? This is not the good news we've heard about Jesus; this is bad news, especially for those who are nearing the end, as my mother was when she voiced her lingering question. She had no time left to do any more good works. She certainly wasn't wealthy like the rich young ruler, but neither did she sell all she did have and give it to the poor. Neither have I, for that matter.
Was Jesus really saying that the key to inheriting eternal life is through an impossibly high standard of good works? Have we been mistaken all this time? If so, if this is the truth, let's face it head-on and get to work!
But before we strap on our tool belts and empty our bank accounts, let's look at the next passage that immediately comes to mind to compare and contrast its message with this teaching of Jesus.
Unlike any other organization at the time when Paul wrote the book of Ephesians, the church in Ephesus was made up of Jews and Gentiles coming together to form one unified body of Christ — or at least that was the intent. Racism then was as strong, if not stronger, than it is now, and the Jews and the Gentiles could not have been more different from each other. On top of that, the Jews really wanted to add some extra steps to the salvation process that required Gentiles to do some things they did as Jews, such as being circumcised and observing certain dietary restrictions.
But Paul was seeking to tear down the walls dividing the church and to unify them around the truth of the gospel message they should all embrace together. Without mincing words, he clearly and simply laid out the formula for eternal life for both the Jews and the Gentiles:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.
The path to eternal life, to being saved? Grace. It's a word that simply means we didn't earn it. The decision to make a way for us to have an eternal relationship with God is a gift. Read the entire second chapter of Ephesians, and you will clearly see the gift Paul refers to is Jesus' death as payment for our sins on the cross. Why do we need this payment? We all are imperfect and thus cannot come before a just God, but when Jesus, God in human form, who was innocent of all sin, died on the cross, he took the punishment we all deserved. His blood was the payment, the cost of admission for us to stand in the presence of God. It is the only sufficient payment for our sins. And the means by which we reach out and receive this gift is "through faith," understanding the deal God is offering us and trusting in it as the pathway to salvation.
What, then, must we do to gain eternal life? Place our faith in Christ.
The part that seemingly comes into conflict with Jesus' words to the rich young ruler in Mark 10 is where Paul goes on to make it clear that salvation is "not by works." If Paul had left this last phrase out, we could simply combine the two concepts together:
Faith (accepting God's gift) + Works (doing good) = Salvation (eternal life, heaven, etc.)
But instead, Paul overtly declared that works contribute nothing to a person's salvation. So how do we reconcile this seeming contradiction?
Let's take a look at another teaching of Jesus, found in arguably the most popular verse in the Bible.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
How does one take hold of eternal life? Believe in Jesus.
To ensure we don't misunderstand, Jesus repeated himself numerous times. (The emphasis in the following verses is mine.)
"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them" (John 3:36).
"Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life" (John 5:24).
"For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day" (John 6:40).
"Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life" (John 6:47).
Clearly, Jesus agrees with Paul. So what was he really saying to the rich young ruler when he gave him a list of rules to keep?
Consider this: He wasn't telling the guy to keep the law perfectly but was asking him to admit he couldn't keep the law perfectly. Jesus wanted him to give in and confess that eternal life was not within his power or ability. He was trying to get him to say, "I can't, but you can."
Remember when the man called Jesus "good teacher"? Jesus immediately replied, "Why do you call me good? No one is good — except God alone" (Mark 10:17–18). What point was Jesus making?
1. Only God is good.
2. By calling me good, you are unknowingly revealing that I am no mere human.
If the young, proud, self-sufficient man had humbled himself and said, "I can't," Jesus would have gone on to tell him what he told everyone else: "Yes, it is true that you are not able, but I am. Believe in me, and you will have eternal life." But this was too big a step for the proud young man to make. So, he walked away.
For those of us willing to concede that we are not able, though, and that we need Jesus' help, what follows is another crucial question: "How do I believe?" or in other words, "How do I place my faith in Christ?" This leads us to our next no-nonsense, give-it-to-me-straight passage.
If you declare with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
Paul gave us a simple, two-step process:
Step 1: Believe in your heart.
Step 2: Profess it with your mouth.
There must be an inward decision and an outward declaration.
Believing something from the heart means more than understanding it in your head. With regard to salvation, it means your mind has understood Christ's offer of grace and sent it to the heart, the executive center of your life, for a decision. When the heart believes, essentially it means your will fully embraces and trusts in the idea. What idea?
That we can't earn our salvation through good works
That Jesus' death on the cross provides full payment for our sins — past, present, and future
That Jesus' resurrection from the dead authenticates he is no ordinary man but is God
That embracing these truths is the only pathway to eternal life with God Paul said it starts in the heart, an inward decision, but there is one more step. We must declare it out loud with our mouths. We must profess publicly this inward decision. Jesus himself said:
What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
— Luke 9:25–26
In Peter's first sermon, he clearly expressed the same two-step process. After telling the story of Jesus from beginning to end, laying out all that had led to Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, Peter wrapped up his stirring message with these words:
"Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah."
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"
Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
— Acts 2:36–38
When the crowd asked what they needed to do, Peter offered two specific steps: (1) repent and (2) be baptized.
Repenting is the inward decision. The word repent means to do a 180-degree turn, to recognize you were going in the wrong direction. As Isaiah the prophet said, "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way" (Isaiah 53:6). Once you've recognized your misdirection, you abandon your course and start heading in a new direction, toward God and his kingdom. Repentance is not just an intellectual acknowledgment of your mistake, but also a decision with the intent to live differently.
Baptism, as a further step, is the outward declaration, the public profession of this inward decision to turn to God. Whatever the form of baptism — sprinkling or immersion — the event is intended to be a public declaration. When new converts were baptized in a public pool of water in the first century, people from the community, not just the church folks, lined the banks. They witnessed this external demonstration of allegiance to Jesus. It became public record. If you were accused of being a Christian and taken to court in those days of persecution, this evidence would declare you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Different expressions within the Christian faith use different words and ways to express this inward decision and outward declaration, but I believe, in the end, God looks at a person's heart. One can fulfill all the steps of catechism and say all the right words; go through the motions of taking communion every week for one's entire life to receive God's grace; and even be baptized by sprinkling or in a church baptistery or in the Jordan River; but if the heart has not genuinely embraced Jesus, the authenticity of the redemption transaction is in question. Only God can peer into the heart to see if the decision was truly genuine.
Excerpted from What Happens After You Die by Randy Frazee. Copyright © 2017 Randy Frazee. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Introduction: What's Next? xi
Chapter 1 Is Jesus Enough? 1
Life In Between 17
Chapter 2 What Happens If I Die Without Christ? 19
Chapter 3 What Happens If I Die with Christ? 31
Q&A on Life In Between 49
Are there such things as ghosts? 50
Are our loved ones in heaven watching over us? 53
Is there such a thing as purgatory or Limbo? 54
Are there different degrees of hell? 56
Can we earn wings? 59
Life Forever 61
Chapter 4 What Happens If I Don't Know Christ When He Returns? 63
Chapter 5 What Happens If I Do Know Christ When He Returns? 75
Q&A on Life Forever 93
Will rewards he given out? 93
Will there, be pets in heaven? 97
Will we keep our memories or regrets from Life Now? 99
Will there be marriages and family in God's new kingdom? 101
What will our resurrected bodies he like? 104
What will we eat? 107
What will a day in the life on the new earth he like? 110
Life Now 113
Chapter 6 Until Then 115
Q&A on Life Now 133
Do we have guardian angels? 133
Is it okay to be cremated? 137
What about people making predictions about the return of Christ? 140
What about life-after-death and near-death experiences? 143
A Word from the Author: Prayer Wall 149
Discussion Questions for Small Groups 151
About the Author 201