What Happens to Your Spirit (or Soul) When You Die?

What if death isn’t the end of a person’s existence? What if there is more to someone’s story after their heart, brain, and lungs cease to work? The Bible teaches that physical death is the end of one part of a person’s existence but the beginning of another. These topics make many people wonder what happens to their spirit after their body dies.

The Bible teaches that all people have an immaterial part of themselves called a spirit or soul, which survives physical death. This fact means that everyone experiences life after death in some way. Yet, what happens to a person’s spirit after death results from a person’s faith in Jesus Christ.

What does the Bible say about the soul and the afterlife? What does the New Testament say about heaven and hell? How can a spirit go to heaven? Why doesn’t God allow everyone to go to heaven? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.

Also see How Soon After You Die Do You Go To Heaven? to learn more.

What did Jesus say about life after death? See below

What does the Bible say about the soul and the afterlife?

The Bible teaches that the spirit or soul of a person has certain functions and abilities that the physical part of them doesn’t. For example, scholars often associate a person’s emotions, intellect, and will are often associated with their immaterial self. People may show their emotions with facial expressions; their intellect may manifest in their brains; they may communicate their will with words.

Yet these characteristics come from their spirit.

Spirit and soul in the Bible

The Bible uses the word “spirit” in different ways. Sometimes it refers to immaterial creatures like angels and demons (Mark 1:26; Heb. 1:14). At other times, it refers to the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit (Luke 2:26; Acts 10:45). It can also refer to a holy way of life as opposed to one that aligns with the values and priorities of the world (John 3:6). The word also describes the immaterial part of a person.

Some Christians distinguish between the soul and spirit (e.g., Heb. 4:12). Yet many theologians think the Bible uses the terms synonymously. For instance, after Gabriel told Mary that she was going to have a son, the mother of Jesus rejoiced, saying, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47, ESV). Most scholars think Mary is using soul and spirit interchangeably.

Life after death in Christianity

Whether a person believes that the soul and spirit are the same or different doesn’t change the fact that the immaterial part of a person survives physical death. Psalm 49:15 describes life after death: “But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for He shall receive me” (NKJV). Likewise, life after death was foundational to Jesus’ worldview, teaching, and purpose.

  • Matthew 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (ESV)
  • Matthew 22:32, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” (ESV)
  • John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (ESV)

Also see What Is a Familiar Spirit? to learn more.

Holy Spirit
Where do spirits go after the body dies? See below

Heaven or Hell: The Resting Place of All Spirits

The Bible teaches that there are two possible destinations for a person’s spirit upon death. The first is to be in the presence of Jesus in heaven. Jesus told his followers, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3, ESV). Life after death for Christians is being with Jesus in heaven.

Additionally, when Jesus was dying on the cross, he told the thief hanging next to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” after he expressed faith in him (Luke 23:42-43). Therefore, believers who die won’t eventually be with Jesus in heaven; they will be so immediately.

If anyone deserved delayed entry to heaven, it would be a crucified thief. Yet Jesus told him they would see each other later that day — in another world.

According to the Bible, hell is as real as heaven. Peter taught that hell is the abode of Satan and demons, eternal darkness, and judgment. “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment” (2 Pet. 2:4).

Jesus believed in hell, taught about it, and strongly warned people to escape it (Matt. 10:28; Mark 9:7).

Also see What Is Spiritual Warfare? to learn more.

Holy Spirit
What determines where a spirit will go? See below

How can a spirit go to heaven?

The destination of a person’s spirit after death is the result of their relationship with God on earth. If the person knew God and was in good standing with him before their body died, that status will continue in the afterlife.

On the other hand, if the person didn’t know God and wasn’t in good standing with him upon death, the afterlife would also be an extension of that status. So, how can a person know God and be in good standing with God?

All people sin

The Bible teaches that everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s moral standard regardless of gender, race, nationality, income level, political party, social standing, or any other identity marker. For example, Ecclesiastes 7:20 reads, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (ESV). Likewise, Romans 3:23 reads, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Sin separates people from God. For a person to know God and be in good standing with him, their sin must be removed, i.e., forgiven and punished. The problem is people can’t remove their sin on their own. They don’t possess the power or ability to do so. Moreover, they don’t have the desire to do so either until the Holy Spirit acts upon them. So how can anyone be saved?

The gospel of Jesus Christ

The word gospel means “good news.” According to the New Testament, the good news is that God has provided a way for sin to be removed and for people to be in good standing with him. John 1:29 reads, “The next day [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!'” (emphasis added).

Jesus is God’s answer to sin. God sent Jesus into the world to seek and save those enslaved to sin.

  • Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
  • John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
  • 1 Timothy 1:15, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”

How can a person follow Jesus? Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Similarly, Paul adds, “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. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Rom 10:9-10).

Why doesn’t God allow everyone to go to heaven?

1 Timothy 2:4 says God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” God invites all people to go to heaven, but some reject his invitation. A better question than why doesn’t God allow everyone to go to heaven is why anyone would reject his invitation? When people reject God in their life, that decision also extends to their afterlife.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “In the long run, the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell is itself a question: ‘What are you asking God to do?’ To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what He does.”

Also see How To Pray In the Spirit to learn more.

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Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see his About page for details.

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