Study 4: God and Death
The Nature of Man | The Soul | The Spirit | Death Is Unconsciousness | The Resurrection | The Judgment | The Place of Reward: Heaven or Earth? | Responsibility To God | Hell | Digressions (Purgatory, Ghosts And Reincarnation, With What Nature Are We Raised?, The "Rapture") | Questions

4.8 Responsibility To God

If man has an 'immortal soul' naturally, he is forced to have an eternal destiny somewhere - either in a place of reward or of punishment. This implies that everyone is responsible to God. By contrast, we have shown how the Bible teaches that by nature man is like the animals, without any inherent immortality. However, some men have been offered the prospect of eternal life in God's Kingdom. It should be apparent that not everyone who has ever lived will be resurrected; like the animals, man lives and dies, to decompose into dust. Yet because there will be a judgment, with some being condemned and others rewarded with eternal life, we have to conclude that there will be a certain category amongst mankind who will be resurrected in order to be judged and rewarded.

Whether or not someone will be resurrected depends on whether they are responsible to the judgment. The basis of our judgment will be how we have responded to our knowledge of God's word. Christ explained: "He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day" (John 12:48). Those who have not known or understood the word of Christ, and therefore had no opportunity to accept or reject him, will not be accountable to the judgment. "As many as have sinned without (knowing God's) law, shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law (i.e. knowing it), shall be judged by the law" (Rom. 2:12). Thus those who have not known God's requirements will perish like the animals; whilst those who knowingly break God's law need to be judged, and therefore resurrected to face that judgment.

In God's sight "sin is not imputed when there is no law"; "sin is the transgression of the (God's) law"; "by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom. 5:13; 1 John 3:4; Rom. 3:20). Without being aware of God's laws as revealed in His Word, "sin is not imputed" to a person, and therefore they will not be judged or resurrected. Those who do not know God's Word will therefore remain dead, as will animals and plants, seeing they are in the same position. "Man that...understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish" (Ps. 49:20). "Like sheep they are laid in the grave" (Ps. 49:14).

It is having the knowledge of God's ways that makes us responsible to Him for our actions and therefore necessitates our resurrection and appearance at the judgment seat. It should therefore be understood that it is not only the righteous or those baptized who will be resurrected, but all who are responsible to God by reason of their knowledge of Him. This is an oft repeated Scriptural theme:-

John 15:22 shows that knowledge of the Word brings responsibility: "If I (Jesus) had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke ('excuse', A.V. mg.) for their sin". Romans 1:20-21 likewise says that knowing God leaves men "without excuse".

"Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father...I (Christ) will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:44,45).

God only "winks at" the actions of those who are genuinely ignorant of His ways. Those who know His ways, He watches and expects a response (Acts 17:30).

"That servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes (e.g. by remaining dead). For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more" (Luke 12:47,48) - so how much more God?

"Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin" (James 4:17).

Israel's special responsibility to God was on account of His revelations to them concerning Himself (Amos 3:2).

Because of this doctrine of responsibility, "it had been better for them (who later turn back from God) not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them" (2 Pet. 2:21). Other relevant passages include: John 9:41; 3:19; 1 Tim. 1:13; Hos. 4:14; Deut. 1:39.

Knowledge of God making us responsible to the judgment seat, it follows that those without this knowledge will not be resurrected, seeing that they do not need to be judged, and that their lack of knowledge makes them "like the beasts that perish" (Ps. 49:20). There are ample indications that not all who have ever lived will be resurrected:

The people of the ancient nation of Babylon "shall not rise" after their death because they were ignorant of the true God (Jer. 51:39; Is. 43:17).

Isaiah encouraged himself: "O Lord our (Israel's) God, other lords beside thee have had dominion over us (e.g. the Philistines and Babylonians)...They are dead, they shall not live (again); they are deceased, they shall not rise...all their memory to perish". (Is. 26: .13,14). Note the triple emphasis here on their not being resurrected: "Shall not live (again)...shall not rise...all their memory to perish". By contrast, Israel had the prospect of resurrection on account of their knowledge of the true God: "Thy (Israel's) dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise" (Is. 26:19).

Speaking about God's people Israel, we are told that at Christ's return, "many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt" (Dan. 12:2). Thus "many", but not all, of the Jews will be resurrected, due to their responsibility to God as His chosen people. Those of them who are totally ignorant of their true God "shall fall, and never rise up again", seeing they are unable to find "the word of the Lord" (Amos 8:12,14).

We have now learnt that:

1. Knowledge of God's Word brings responsibility to Him.

2. Only the responsible will be resurrected and judged.

3. Those who do not know the true God will therefore remain dead like the animals.

The implications of these conclusions make a hard hit on human pride and what we would naturally prefer to believe: the millions of people, both now and throughout history, who have been ignorant of the true Gospel; the severely mentally ill, who are unable to comprehend the Bible's message; babies and young children who have died before being old enough to appreciate the Gospel; all of these groups fall within the category of those who not have had the true knowledge of God, and are not therefore responsible to Him. This means that they will not be resurrected, regardless of their parents' spiritual status. This runs completely against the grain of humanism and all our natural desires and feelings; yet a true humility to God's Word of ultimate truth, coupled with a suitably humble opinion of our own nature, will lead us to accept the truth of this. A candid examination of the facts of human experience, even without the guidance of Scripture, will also lead to the conclusion that there can be no hope of future life for the groups mentioned above.

Our questioning of God's ways in these matters is grossly out of order: "O man, who art thou that disputest with God?" (Rom. 9:20 A.V. mg.). We may admit incomprehension, but never must we accuse God of injustice orunrighteousness. The implication that God can be in any way unloving or in error opens up the horrific prospect of an all-powerful God, Father and Creator who treats His creatures in an unreasonable and unjust way. The record of king David's loss of his baby is helpful reading; 2 Sam. 12:15-24 records how David prayed hard for the child while it was alive, but he realistically accepted the finality of its death: "While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? Can I bring him back again?...he shall not return to me". David then comforted his wife, and had another child as soon as possible.

Finally, it has to be said that many people, on grasping this principle of responsibility to God, feel that they do not wish to gain any more knowledge of Him in case they become responsible to Him and the judgment. Yet to some degree it is likely that such people are already responsible to God, seeing their knowledge of God's Word has made them aware of the fact that God is working in their lives, offering them a real relationship with Him. It must ever be remembered that "God IS love", He is "not willing that any should perish", and "gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (1 John 4:8; 2 Peter 3:9; John 3:16). God wants us to be in His Kingdom.

Such an honour and privilege inevitably bring responsibilities. Yet these are not designed to be too heavy or onerous for us; if we truly love God, we will appreciate that His offer of salvation is not an automatic reward for certain works, but a loving desire on His part to do all that He can for His children, to grant them an eternal life of happiness, through their appreciation of His marvellous character.

As we come to appreciate and hear the call of God to us through His Word, we will realize that as we walk through the crowds, God is watching us with a special intensity, eagerly seeking signs of our response to His love, rather than waiting for us to fail to live up to our responsibilities. Never is that loving eye off us; never can we forget or undo our knowledge of Him in order to indulge the flesh, free of responsibility to God. Instead, we can and should rejoice in the special closeness we have to God, and so trust in the greatness of His love, that we ever seek to know more of Him rather than less. Our love of God's ways and desire to know them, so that we might more accurately copy Him, should outweigh our natural fear of His supreme holiness.