The continuity of selfidentity through death and resurrection

"If mortals die, will they live again?" is a question older than Job (14:14), but asked by every new generation. Not content with vague, impersonal generalities, Job persisted: "After my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God . . . and my eyes shall behold, and not another" (19:27).

The concept of resurrection may not have been clear in the mind of Job, but he clearly expresses the desire that his very own self (soul) would survive the destruction of his flesh so that he, in his body, should stand before God. It is his own self-identity -and not another - that must survive, not merely as an extension of his present life, but that he could finally confront God. It was not death itself that tormented Job, but the loss of God's presence and affirmation.

The majority of persons who believe in some form of life after death assume the existence of some form of a non-physical personal entity that survives, whether it is called soul or spirit. Biblical revelation supports the belief that personal self-identity continues after death, but that this is solely due to God's sovereign determination, not due to an immortal soul or mind residing in the human person. What is at stake is not only the belief that there is life after death, but whether or not that life is due to something resident in human nature or whether it is due to God's power and Spirit. The Bible views death as the end of human life in its totality, except for the sovereign power and determination of God; only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ do we have assurance of our own resurrection and continuing identity following death.

We must admit that the Bible does not provide an answer as to how personal self-identity continues through the death and resurrection process in such a way that it is the very same person who dies with a corruptible body and is raised with an incorruptible body, as Paul seems to indicate is the case. Paul's argument in I Corinthians 15 rests on the fact that the same Christ who died was raised again; and if this is true, then those who die "in Christ" will also be raised. The testimony of the disciples to the fact that it was the same Jesus that died who presented himself to them alive supports Paul's argument, even though he probably only had access to this information through their oral report. The written report which came after Paul's death confirms this truth (cf. John 20:19-29).

Where Scripture does affirm the stability and continuity of the self through death and resurrection, the basis is not the existence of an indestructible soul but the guarantee of the Spirit of God (II Corinthians 5:5). The assurance that self-identity will survive death is not based on some non-physical aspect of the person but on the bond between the risen Jesus Christ and the believer through the Holy Spirit. "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you" (Romans 8:11; cf. I Thessalonians 4:13-15).

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