What is the relationship between physical death and spiritual death?
The Bible speaks clearly about both the physical and spiritual deaths humans face. Death began in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve sinned, and God's judgment involved death (Genesis 3). Physical death occurs when a person's body and soul separate. Physical life then ends, while the soul continues.
Spiritual death is a different, less visible matter. All people have sinned and fall short of God's glory (Romans 3:23). This sin separates us from God and eternal life with Him. The only sufficient way to provide spiritual life is found in the perfect Son of God, Jesus Christ. When a person trusts in Him by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), a person receives salvation or is saved from the consequences of spiritual death that would otherwise result.
To put it another way, physical death looks similar for all people. When there is no longer breath, a heartbeat, or brain activity, the person's physical life has ceased to exist. There are visible signs to indicate life has ended. Spiritual death is the result of sin. We are already sinners and spiritually dead. Ephesians 2:1-2 shares, "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience."
To overcome spiritual death, a person must be born again. Jesus taught, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). In order to be born again, a person must believe in Jesus: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
A person who is born again will experience eternal life with God and His people in heaven. In addition, being born again provides a better spiritual life during this physical life. In John 10:10 Jesus taught, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly."
No one can escape physical death (unless Jesus returns first), but an unbeliever can escape his or her spiritual death. In order to do so, a person must believe in Jesus as the resurrected Lord: "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" (Romans 10:9-10). This includes escaping the consequences of sin (eternity in hell apart from God) and the ability to live for God in this life.
First John 5:11-12 expresses the impact of this new life: "And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life."
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