We believe and teach
– that salvation includes the whole person, body and soul;
– that all bodies of the dead are raised in such a way, that the same bodies that die shall be made alive;
– that believers will rise with glorified bodies to eternal life, and the unbelievers into everlasting punishment;
– that eternal life is to see God and live with Christ in eternal joy and glory;
– that in eternity there are degrees of glory as well as of condemnation;
– that there is an election (predestination) of grace to eternal bliss, but no election to eternal damnation.
Salvation is of the whole person. In Christianity the body is not seen in a Gnostic sense as something evil or as the soul’s prison. It is created by God, is afflicted by death and decay for the sake of sin, but yet ultimately shall arise from the grave.
In its essence, death is a divorce between body and soul. The soul, man’s own self, will survive and its abode, the body, lies in the grave awaiting the Day of Resurrection, when body and soul are united again. This applies to all people. But there is a big difference between the believer’s and non-believer’s death.
When our sins are forgiven and we are children of God through faith in Jesus Christ, death has lost its terrible sting and instead becomes a gain. It does not send us away from God into eternal darkness, but home to God. The saved soul goes immediately at death into the joy of Paradise. The soul’s life in happiness is not described in particular detail in Scripture. It might be because it is an existence beyond time and space, which cannot be understood by our present limited senses. Our existence is described with words such as rest, joy, to see God and be with Christ, which suggests that the soul’s life there is a conscious life. To see God “face to face”, to experience God’s essence and loving, is viso beatifica, the beatific vision, the saved soul’s deep longing which is being fulfilled. There is no support in Scripture for the idea, that the souls are occupied with following life on earth – rather, the opposite is true (cf. Isa. 63:16, “though Abraham be ignorant of us”). The souls are liberated from the earth’s agonies. Nor do they return to the earth as messengers or the like, which spiritists incorrectly teach. Trying to make contact with the spirits of the dead or to invoke the saints and ask for their help is folly and idolatry.
The believer’s body shall on the last day arise in glory. Then God will restore the dead body’s decomposed or fragmented elements, down to the smallest, combine it all again and build up the body and free it from all weaknesses and defects which are attached to it because of sin. Resurrection of the body is characterized by identity and transformation. The Christians will rise with the same body they had on earth, but with a heavenly, transfigured and glorified body similar to that of Christ, when He arose.
Reverence for the body as God’s creation is also reflected in the Christian funeral custom that normally is burial according to Gen. 3:19: “to dust you shall return”. Even if God can resurrect the body also from ashes, the Christian Church has rejected cremation mainly for the reason that burning of the dead body often is associated with unbiblical and pagan beliefs, such as that man dies like an animal and after death ceases to exist or that only the spirit is saved but not the body.
Even non-Christian souls shall survive and their bodies arise. Hell is the opposite of Paradise. It is the damned souls' eternal prison, a condition characterized by “weeping and gnashing of teeth” in the anguished separation from God and bitter hatred of Him. The eternal fire is prepared for the Devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41), but also those who follow him will end up there. Hell is the ultimate consequence of man being created with responsibility for his life and his actions. When one today wants to abolish all notions of Hell, one robs man of his high position and lowers him down to the irresponsible animal level.
God does not want that any man should end in Hell. He wants everyone to be saved (1 Tim. 4:2). Therefore He sent His Son, who bore our sins, and who Himself suffered Hell for us. No one has taken eternal damnation more seriously than Jesus. He has done everything that we should avoid it. If someone ends up in Hell God is not the cause of it, but man himself who has rejected God's salvation.
No repentance or change of mind is possible after death. Then all is too late. God does not allow the evil to enter heaven, and for an unconverted man paradise would not be a paradise. Of the unbeliever’s bodily resurrection Scripture does not say much. Since the sin of them is not removed, this will somehow be noticed also on their bodies. According to the Book of Daniel, they arise “to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2).
Scripture teaches that in Heaven there are degrees of glory among the blessed, and also degrees of condemnation among the unblessed in Hell. The bliss is in Heaven the same for everyone, but there are degrees in glory, due to that God by grace promises His own different rewards for different measures of faithfulness and suffering in His service. Those who worked more than others for the kingdom of God may have greater measure of glory. Similarly, it is with damnation. Those who have committed more serious sins will get more severe punishment than others.
Scripture speaks of our salvation as an election or a gracious predestination from God’s side. Properly understood election is nothing but the gospel of salvation by grace alone without works. Election tells us that no part of the credit for salvation goes to us. Repentance, faith in the gospel and regeneration is solely the work of God and rests on His decision of grace to save us. The Lutheran Church teaches with Scripture no double predestination, one to salvation and one to condemnation, but one single predestination, namely to salvation. God, who wants all men to be saved, has not predetermined any one to damnation. If any man be lost, is it always due to his turning away from God’s saving hand and his rejection of the mercy of God. The doctrine of election is for the human mind a mystery that we are not able to solve in this life. If we try to, we end up either in denial of the will of God to save everyone (gratia universalis) or in denial of salvation by grace alone, without our own merit (sola gratia). Personal assurance of our election we get by faith in the gospel as it meets us in the God-ordained means of grace.
What the Holy Scriptures say
Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it. (Eccles. 12:7)
For the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. (John 5:28-29)
Jesus said ... I am the resurrection, and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live. (John 11:25)
Christ ... will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself. (Phil. 3:21)
I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God (Job. 19:25-26)
In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Ps. 16:11)
For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. (Phil. 1:23)
Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise. (Luke 23:43)
...that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me. (John 17:24)
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be. (1 John 3:2)
He who believes on the Son has everlasting life, and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides upon him. (John 3:36)
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. (Matt. 5:11-12)
He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. (2 Cor. 9:6)
But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. (Matt. 11:22)
Then He will also say to those on the left hand, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matt. 25:41)
And these will go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into eternal life. (Matt. 25:46)
Between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us. (The Rich Man and Lazarus, Luke 16:26)
He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. (Eph. 1:4-6)
But many are called, but few are chosen. (Matt. 22:14)
How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! (Matt. 23:37)
What the Lutheran Confessions say
Paul says, Rom. 8:10: The body is dead because of sin, i.e., it is mortified [more and more every day] because of present sin which is still left in the flesh. And death itself serves this purpose, namely, to abolish this flesh of sin, that we may rise absolutely new. Neither is there now in the death of the believer, since by faith he has overcome the terrors of death, that sting and sense of wrath of which Paul speaks 1 Cor. 15:56: The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the Law. This strength of sin, this sense of wrath, is truly a punishment as long as it is present; without this sense of wrath, death is not properly a punishment. (Ap VI, Trigl. p. 299)
Meanwhile, however, while sanctification has begun and is growing daily, we expect that our flesh will be destroyed and buried with all its uncleanness, and will come forth gloriously, and arise to entire and perfect holiness in a new eternal life. For now we are only half pure and holy, so that the Holy Ghost has ever [some reason why] to continue His work in us through the Word, and daily to dispense forgiveness, until we attain to that life where there will be no more forgiveness, but only perfectly pure and holy people, full of godliness and righteousness, removed and free from sin, death, and all evil, in a new, immortal, and glorified body.
Behold, all this is to be the office and work of the Holy Ghost, that He begin and daily increase holiness upon earth by means of these two things, the Christian Church and the forgiveness of sin. But in our dissolution He will accomplish it altogether in an instant, and will forever preserve us therein by the last two parts. (LC, Trigl. p. 693 f.)
Fourthly, in the article of the Resurrection Scripture testifies that precisely the substance of this our flesh, but without sin, will rise again, and that in eternal life we shall have and retain precisely this soul, but without sin. (FC SD I, Trigl. p. 873)
The eternal election of God, however, not only foresees and foreknows the salvation of the elect, but is also, from the gracious will and pleasure of God in Christ Jesus, a cause which procures, works, helps, and promotes our salvation and what pertains thereto; and upon this [divine predestination] our salvation is so founded that the gates of hell cannot prevail against it, Matt. 16:18, as is written John 10:28: Neither shall any man pluck My sheep out of My hand. And again, Acts 13:48: And as many as were ordained to eternal life, believed. (FC SD XI, Trigl. p. 1065)
Therefore, if we wish to consider our eternal election to salvation with profit, we must in every way hold sturdily and firmly to this, that, as the preaching of repentance, so also the promise of the Gospel is universalis (universal), that is, it pertains to all men, Luke 24:47. (FC SD XI, Trigl. p. 1065)
And this call of God, which is made through the preaching of the Word, we should not regard as jugglery, but know that thereby God reveals His will, that in those whom He thus calls He will work through the Word, that they may be enlightened, converted, and saved. (FC SD XI, Trigl. p. 1071)
And in this manner many are called, but few are chosen. Matt. 22:14
For few receive the Word and follow it; the greatest number despise the Word, and will not come to the wedding, Matt. 22:3ff. The cause for this contempt for the Word is not God’s foreknowledge [or predestination], but the perverse will of man, which rejects or perverts the means and instrument of the Holy Ghost, which God offers him through the call, and resists the Holy Ghost, who wishes to be efficacious, and works through the Word, as Christ says: How often would I have gathered you together, and ye would not! Matt. 23:37. - - -
Thus far is the mystery of predestination revealed to us in God’s Word, and if we abide thereby and cleave thereto, it is a very useful, salutary, consolatory doctrine; for it establishes very effectually the article that we are justified and saved without all works and merits of ours, purely out of grace alone, for Christ’s sake. For before the time of the world, before we existed, yea, before the foundation of the world was laid, when, of course, we could do nothing good, we were according to God’s purpose chosen by grace in Christ to salvation, Rom. 9:11; 2 Tim. 1:9. (FC SD XI, Trigl. p. 1077)
However, as regards these things in this disputation which would soar too high and beyond these limits, we should, with Paul, place the finger upon our lips, and remember and say, Rom. 9:20: O man, who art thou that repliest against God? (FC, SD, XI, Trigl. p. 1083)
We warn against
all kinds of false doctrines that contrary to the Scripture teach, for example,
– that only the soul is subject to salvation (Platonism, Gnosticism),
– that our dead bodies never arise, because resurrection means that God creates and gives us new bodies,
– that there is possibility of repentance after death,
– that the words of Jesus about eternal punishment do not mean that they are without end;
– that all people will ultimately be saved;
– that some people must be predestined to perdition, since everyone is not chosen to salvation (Calvinism);
– that those who are chosen to salvation have become so, because they in some moral or spiritual sense have been better than others.
Dear Father in heaven, you know that nothing good is in me. But I pray you, that you will turn your gaze to your Son, my mediator, advocate and Saviour, and that you will for His sake give me a blessed end and a joyful resurrection. Do not let the blood of Jesus Christ to be shed in vain, but let it work the fruit of repentance for the remission of my sins. Whenever you then call my spirit unto you, be it, O dear Father, commended into your hands. Take it up to you forever. Amen.