I was recently standing at the graveside of a dear Christian friend when the question crossed my mind: Why do Christians have to die? Why can't they just live and then go to heaven without passing through the experience of death? Although the wages of sin is death, and believers have certainly sinned, has Christ not paid the full penalty for our sins? So, why do Christians have to die?
The simple answer is, they don’t. Believers do not have to die because Christ has died in their place. There is not an atom of penalty left to pay. Therefore, God could translate Christians to heaven without their experiencing death, just as he did with Enoch and Elijah (Gen. 5:24; 2 Kings 2:11; Heb. 11:5) and as He will do with Christians who are living when Christ returns (1 Thess. 4:17).
So, believers do not have to die, as Christ has purchased deliverance from physical death and the redemption of our bodies. But, in most cases, the Lord has chosen to delay or postpone the application of these benefits until the final resurrection. The question remains, though: Why? If Christians do not have to die, why do they die?
The Heidelberg Catechism asks the same question: “Since Christ has died for us, why do we still have to die?” (Q. 42). Its answer: “Our death does not pay the debt of our sins. Rather it puts an end to our sinning and is our entrance into life.”
I want to expand upon that answer by demonstrating that although Christians do not have to die, God wisely allows the vast majority of believers to pass through death because of the immense spiritual benefits of the experience.
Dying brings us into communion with Christ’s sufferings. Christ’s death is different from the believer’s “penalty-free” death because Christ’s death was a penalty for sin—not His sin but our sin. However, dying reminds us of what Christ did for us. Like nothing else, it helps us understand the death Christ experienced for us, and so death brings us into closer communion with Him, increasing our love for Him (Phil. 3:10).