Wednesday, June 22, 2016

What is Conditional Immortality?

God’s Word teaches us what to believe.  We learn specific truths from the Bible, sometimes called “doctrines”, or more simply “beliefs”.  The Bible also teaches us to think like God thinks.  The more we read and listen to His Word, the more our thought patterns become like His.  In this blog post I will write about a specific belief called “conditional immortality” and will also try to help you see how the Bible trains us to think in patterns consistent with this belief.

Conditional immortality is a doctrine based on the Bible which says that people will live forever only under certain conditions.  This doctrine can be seen quite clearly in many verses which discuss eternal life. In these verses a condition is either explicitly stated or else strongly implied.  After this paragraph are some examples.  Don’t rush through them.  This is God’s Word and you will benefit by reading them slowly and thinking about them even if they are familiar to you:

We can see from these examples that God, through His Word, conditions us to think of eternal life (immortality) not as something that all humans automatically have no matter what, but rather as a special gift from God which depends on us meeting a condition:  namely faith in Jesus Christ.

Sometimes, the condition given is that we live the kind of life and make the kind of decisions which demonstrate that we really do believe in Jesus.  In these cases, there is still a “condition” and there is still “immortality”, but the condition is stated as an evidence of faith in Christ rather than simply faith itself.  Here are two examples:

If you would like to see a few more verses where this pattern of conditional immortality can be seen, hold your cursor over any of the verses below.  After the verse pops up, see if you can identify the condition and the immortality:

John 3:15, John 4:14, John 6:47, Romans 2:7, Romans 5:21, Titus 3:7, 1 John 5:11

There are other verses, but you have seen enough to see how clear and consistent this pattern is.  We will live forever only by God’s grace which we receive only if we have faith in Jesus. Our faith is in a Savior who changes how we live.  Sometimes the condition focuses explicitly on our faith in Jesus and other times the condition focuses on the changes in our lives that come from faith in Jesus.

Now, we might wonder about the “negative side” of conditional immortality.  God holds out hope through gracious promises for those who believe in Christ. He also gives warnings of the tragic consequences for those who do not believe:

Consistency and Inconsistency

One of the many signs that the Bible is inspired by God is that it is consistent in what it teaches.  This is true even though, from a human point of view, the Bible was written by many authors over a period of more than 1,400 years. The doctrine of conditional immortality is an example of Biblical consistency. On the one hand, from Genesis to Revelation the Bible never says that all people are immortal.  It never says that the unrighteous will live forever.  On the other hand, the Bible consistently offers eternal life to those who put their faith in Christ. “Conditional Immortality” is seen consistently throughout Scripture.

While the Bible is 100% consistent, we are not.  The Bible is perfect, but our understanding of it is flawed.  Even as Christians who really believe the Bible is God’s inerrant Word, and who really have put our faith in Jesus, and who really seek God’s truth, we still have errors mixed into our understanding.  One sign of an imperfect understanding of the Bible is when part of what we believe is not consistent with the rest of what we believe.  Another sign of misunderstanding is when something we believe requires us to talk in ways that are different from the way the Bible talks.  Here is an example:

Can you see how the slogan on the t-shirt is inconsistent with the consistent Bible teaching about conditional immortality?

It’s not just t-shirts and bumper stickers that contain this inconsistent way of thinking.  Good, godly, Christian pastors, authors, teachers, and others often think in terms of UN-conditional immortality.  In other words, they believe and talk as if all people will live forever whether they are saved or not.

Seeing the relationship between the doctrine of conditional immortality and the doctrine of the final fate of the unrighteous clarifies the problem:

Questions and Resources

This blog post may raise a lot of questions in your mind.  In fact, I hope it does!

Here are some resources which may help you:

1.  My previous blog post on annihilationism, which is “the tragic side of conditional immortality”, might help.  This blog post contains links to a two part sermon I preached on annihilationism.

2.  The Rethinking Hell website has a lot of information on the topic of conditional immortality (also called “conditionalism”), including an excellent Statement on Evangelical Conditionalism

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .


  1. This tries to solve a dilemma that doesn't actually exist. It misunderstands what it means to be spiritually dead.

    Before I became a Christian, I was spiritually dead, I didn't have spiritual life, the wrath of God abided on me. But I still existed. Forcing the notion of spiritual death to be tied with the notion of existence makes out state of spiritual death before salvation impossible to understand Biblically, and creates an equivocation fallacy.

    1. Zach, is it really "impossible to understand" how one can be dead, alive, raised up and seated with Christ (Eph 2:1,5,6) in one sense (namely, spiritually), yet also in another sense actually alive, dead and resurrected?

      Remember also that an alternative explanation isn't a refutation. The right explanation will not be a function of disputation in the abstract, but of exegetical work and biblical theology.

    2. When your conclusion assumes the destruction of the image of God, rejects thousands of years of Christian theology, and insists that we make a distinction that the text does not point out via a logical fallacy, it is impossible for that perspective to pass exegetical muster.

      If the argument in play is not logical, it can't be Scriptural, and the argument at play here commits a fallacy of equivocation, so it's not possibly Biblically accurate.

    3. You haven't shown that a fallacy of equivocation has been committed. Instead you seem to have asserted that all instances of "death" should be read as "spiritual death." As I mentioned, this is an alternative explanation, but as such it needs to do more if it is to serve to refute.

      Here is an article on Apologetics Press discussing whether the death forewarned in Genesis 2:17 was "spiritual":

    4. I should say, you have implied that we should read both "life" and "death" in the Bible always as "spiritual" constructs. This isn't a given. As I showed, it is very easy to maintain both usages (you said it was impossible).

    5. By way of example, John 6:49-51 suggest standard usage of die and live in this context, given its implicit logic:

      // Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they DIED. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and NOT DIE. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will LIVE FOREVER. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. //

    6. It should be absolutely beyond dispute that the Scriptures tells us that we were dead in our trespasses in sins, and that we are made alive in Christ.

      Thus, we know for a indisputable fact that the Word of God refers to a state of existence for a human being as being spiritually dead.

      What this article, and your suggestion do, is they equivocate on that notion of spiritual death and insert a new definition that isn't Scriptural whereby the very image of God is destroyed.

      By the logic you are applying to these passages, we should look at all passages that talk about Jesus being the SON of God and read them with the assumption that all other examples of sonship we know of are those in which the father and son are different beings, and thereby reject Trinitarianism. Heretical groups that also hold to annihilationism do this very thing, because they are consistent.

      The list of illogical and unBiblical assumptions required to even make these ideas tenable are extensive:

      It cannot be honestly argued that spiritual death as part of a manner of existence does not exist in the Bible. Therefore, the burden of proof is on this minority view held by almost no relevant theologians in centuries of church history to prove that this second type of spiritual death is CLEARLY laid out in the text, and it simply is not, therefore, the case fails, and all attempts to suggest that the very image of God could be destroyed fail.

    7. Zach, my brother in Christ and my friend,

      Thanks for taking the time to interact with my blog post and with Peter.

      You bring up several objections to my understanding of conditional immortality. I’ll just address one of those objections here. You complain that according to conditionalism:

      “your conclusion assumes the destruction of the image of God” and “the very image of God is destroyed”

      By these statements, I think you are referring to the fact that all people are created in God’s image. Therefore, you seem to feel that it is not possible that people could be destroyed, as this would involve the destruction of God’s image.

      I certainly agree that people are made in God’s image. This is taught in several places including Genesis 1:26-27 and Genesis 9:6. However, I do not agree that people made in God’s image will not be destroyed by God. Here are several reasons:

      1. The Bible never says that God will not destroy people because they are made in His image. In fact, the Bible says that God will destroy unsaved people (Matthew 10:28). Your argument seems to be based more on a feeling that people made in God’s image could never be destroyed than on any scripture.

      2. The image of God as seen in people will exist forever in a vast multitude of redeemed people. Unlike now, we will reflect God’s image without distortion.

      3. The image of God in unrighteous people is severely distorted by sin. For those who are saved this distortion is corrected, partly in this life, and completely when we are glorified. But for the unrighteous the distortion remains as long as they do. Now imagine that twenty photographs (images) were taken of a person, but 15 of them were severely distorted so that they made the person look bad. Would it be wrong to destroy the distorted images? The Bible says that the unrighteous will be destroyed, and I can’t see why that is unreasonable.

      4. What is your alternative? You believe that the image of God (what remains of it in the unrighteous) will be tormented forever? How is that better? I don’t see how distorted images of God being tormented forever is an improvement over them simply being burned to ashes (and being burned to ashes is precisely what the Bible says will happen, see 2 Peter 2:6).

      Grace and Peace (even when we disagree, perhaps especially then),
      Mark (with Hope and Joy!)

  2. Very well-said, Mark. Clear, concise, and illuminating.

  3. Good post!
    To those who doubt, Mark brought up several pertinent Scriptures and explained them very well, but please keep in mind that these passages are a small fraction of what God has to say on the subject.
    There are over 100 passages explaining conditional immortality at
    (If this format does not support links, just go to
    Plus the Rethinking Hell website has many articles that explore the topic in depth.

  4. I only heard about this viewpoint for the first time a few weeks ago... sounds very interesting, whether I wind up in agreement or not! This at least gave me a taste of the explanation. But I agree with your most recent post -- it's hardly an essential issue that we all have to agree on to be brothers and sisters in Christ.

    1. I pray that God will guide your studies as you seek His truth on this issue and others! Feel free to contact me (here, or find me on Facebook if you're on it) with any questions.

  5. This seems a bit one-sided and incomplete presentation in that the scriptures given are only those which highlight the scriptural truth about what is offered to God's children, namely, "eternal life". It would seem a more complete evaluation should include the scripture where the eternal fires of hell are presented as well. (Matt 25:41, 46, Matt 3:12, Dan 12:2, Mark 9:47-49, Luke 16:23-24, 2 Thess 1:9, Rev 14:10-11, and Rev 20:10). A word of caution - struggling against the doctrine of hell has led some to go down paths which resulted in severe mischief (i.e., open theism, "Love Wins", etc.). Highly recommend Dr. Greg Bahnsen's treatment of the issue in his lecture "The Problem of Evil" (we may be found to be placing ourselves in judgement over God in attempting to resolve a dilemma manufactured by human evaluations).

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. This blog post was limited in scope and focus, and in that sense is one-sided. However, in other blog posts and videos I have addressed the verses you mention. I'll provide links:

      I address Matthew 25:41 here:

      I address Matthew 3:12 in this 10 minute YouTube video:

      I address Daniel 12:2 here:

      I address Mark 9:48 in this 10 minute video:

      I address the Luke 16 passage here (see problem #15):

      I address 2 Thessalonians 1:9 here:

      The two passages in Revelation I address in detail in a 7 part blog post series that begins here:

      I hope and pray that these resources will be helpful. Feel free to follow up.