Your First Breath After Death

Think about your first breath after death.

That moment has everything to do with this one (and every moment between now and then) — that first newborn inhale in heaven. Why will that gasp of air be any better than your last breath before death?

Will it be eternity’s freedom from everything you have to get done today? Will it be leaving behind besetting sin and guilt after decades of fighting for faith? Will it be the expiration of grief, pain, and anxiety? Will it be that the dark cloud of death has passed for good?

What makes being saved sweet for you? What makes heaven such a beautiful haven of happiness? Among millions of possible answers, only one is right. The best thing about that first breath will be that we are finally breathing face to face with our God. John Piper writes,

Christ did not die to forgive sinners who go on treasuring anything above seeing and savoring God. And the people who would be happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there. The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God. (God Is the Gospel)

Why did God save you? Not just so that you could escape hell, or relieve some shame and regret, not even so that you could get into heaven. God saved you for God, so that you would have God.

Forever Sinners

Isaiah 12 says the same thing about our salvation. God begins by giving his people a reason for hope, a promise of rescue, “you will give thanks” (Isaiah 12:1). But he quickly reminds them that on that day, they will remember his anger against their iniquity: “ . . . though you were angry with me . . . ” The salvation God brings does not minimize his anger due to our sin, or wipe it from our memory. In our first breath after death, we will remember our wickedness against him.

God had every reason to be angry with his people in Isaiah’s day. The prophet describes them as “a sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged” (Isaiah 1:4). And because of their sin, God punished them:

  • Foreigners devour their land (Isaiah 1:7).
  • God hides his eyes from them and refuses to hear their cries (Isaiah 1:15).
  • He withholds bread and dries up their source of water (Isaiah 3:1).
  • He places infants and women as oppressive rulers over them (Isaiah 3:4).
  • He strips their women of their outward beauty (Isaiah 3:16–17).

If Israel was not aware that they needed salvation, they would know very soon just how desperate they are. God would take everything away from them: land, wealth, peace, food, power, beauty, comfort, and security.

“You will give thanks — but you will not forget all the evil you did against me.”

God Is My Salvation

“Behold, God is my salvation” (Isaiah 12:2). The God of anger, wrath, and righteous judgment saves his people from himself, rescuing us from his own righteous fury. “He has become my salvation.”

But what kind of salvation is he? Is it relief from foreign oppressors? Is it returning to the native land from exile? Is it having food and water replenished? No, God does not merely bring salvation. No, he is salvation. He is the one from whom we are being saved, the one to whom we are being saved, and the one, himself, who saves us.

Salvation is not just relief from temporary, or even eternal, judgment. Salvation is being reconciled to the holy and sovereign God. Salvation is knowing that this great God is with you and not against you. It’s enjoying the unending and always increasing joy of knowing him and being known by him, having God in your midst and on your side (Isaiah 12:6).

In Jesus of Nazareth, that salvation was given a name (Matthew 1:21). Our only hope of salvation, the one who knew no sin became flesh, became sin, so that we might be saved. So that we might have a breath after death, but more than that, so that we would have God in that breath.

The Song of My Soul

But as Israel passes through judgment, a temptation arises to hope in a salvation from God that is not him. God’s people should not find hope or joy in God’s anger turning away because they’ll get their gold and silver back. Or because their women will have beautiful hair, jewelry, and perfume again. Or because they’ll have strong and wise leaders. No, God withheld all of those things so that they would no longer place their hope and joy in them.

Sin fools us into desiring things other than God more than God. We look to God as a cosmic Walmart for the things we really want. The truth is, though, if we’re seeking a salvation from God that is anything but God, we’re not tasting the fullness of the life and joy Christ purchased for us. It’s possible that we have not been saved at all.

Isaiah says, “God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song” (Isaiah 12:2). “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3). “Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 12:6).

In the end, our happiness won’t ultimately be in anything but him. It won’t be in still being alive and breathing for eternity. Fullness of joy is about his presence, pleasures found only at his right hand (Psalm 16:11).

A Savior, Not a Seatbelt

We tend to reduce salvation to simply preserving our breath. This is how most “saviors” function in the world: prescription medicine, CPR, surgery, and seatbelts. They have done their job as long as we’re still breathing. You get in a bad accident, and the seatbelt keeps you from being thrown from the car. After the car comes to a stop, you recover from the shock, and take your first breath: relief comes over you. I’m still breathing!

Certain pills might preserve breath, but they don’t give life. CPR might preserve another breath, but it doesn’t give life. In a bad car accident, a seatbelt might preserve breath, but it will not give you true salvation, the life that can only be found in and with God himself.

Do we really only need or want God to grant a breath after death? We could do all the things we love to do here — be with family, go to the lake, play golf or tennis, cook, read forever — without pain, without conflict, without interruption.

But that’s not salvation. The salvation we have in God is not a seatbelt salvation. God saves us for God. Don’t be satisfied with a breath after death. Seek a real joy-giving, awe-inspiring, eternally-satisfying salvation. Seek a salvation from God that is God. He will be what makes everything else truly sweet in the life to come.