Does the spirit return to God while we sleep in the grave?
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(All quotations from the King James Version unless stated otherwise).
We need first of all to define what the scripture means by the spirit that resides in man. Many churches teach that it is the conscious, immortal, inner being of man that ascends to heaven at death which, although lacking the necessary organs, can still see, hear, feel, taste, speak, walk, run, fly etc. This is false doctrine unsupported by the Bible.
When we die our bodies return to dust and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
Ecclesiastes 12:7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
Job 34:14 If he set his heart upon man, if he gather unto himself his spirit and his breath; 15 All flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again unto dust.
Isaiah and Zechariah confirm that God gives man’s spirit.
Isaiah 42:5 Thus saith God the LORD, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein:
Zechariah 12:1 The burden of the word of the LORD for Israel, saith the LORD, which stretcheth forth the heavens, and layeth the foundation of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man within him.
When Jesus died he commended his spirit to God.
Luke 23:46 And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost (expired).
When Stephen died he asked Christ to receive (or accept) his spirit.
Acts 7:59 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
James says that the body without the spirit is dead.
James 2:26 For as the body without the spirit is dead...
In the Old Testament, the spirit of a man is that God-given essence that gives man independence of thought from his maker. The human brain is a machine, but we are not pre-programmed robots. God has given us the capacity of independent thought. This capacity for independent thought is called spirit. The spirit in a man develops in his character or way of thinking as he matures in his life. It is not the man himself, or his consciousness, because when we die our thoughts perish and we have no further conscious existence.
Ecclesiastes 9:5 For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing,
Psalms 146:4 His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.
The spirit returning to God is the capacity for independent thought imprinted, as it were, with the character or way of thinking that we have formed in our lifetime and which determines whether we will be raised from the dead in the future. It has no separate conscious existence and without resurrection we ourselves remain unconscious in the ground forever.
Proverbs 21:16 The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead.
That the spirit of a man relates to his character or way of thinking is clear from the following:
Numbers 14:24 But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land whereinto he went; and his seed shall possess it.
Deuteronomy 2:30 But Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him: for the LORD thy God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate, that he might deliver him into thy hand, as appeareth this day.
1 Samuel 1:15 And Hannah answered and said, No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the LORD.
1 Kings 21:5 But Jezebel his wife came to him, and said unto him, Why is thy spirit so sad, that thou eatest no bread?
Ezra 1:1 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying,
Job 20:3 I have heard the check of my reproach, and the spirit of my understanding causeth me to answer.
Certain attributes of spirit are acceptable to God.
Psalms 32:2 Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.
Psalms 34:18 The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.
Psalms 51:17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
A rebellious spirit is not acceptable.
Psalms 78:8 And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God.
Character traits appear in Proverbs as attributes of the spirit.
Proverbs 11:13 A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.
Proverbs 14:29 He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly.
Proverbs 16:18 Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
Proverbs 16:32 He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.
Proverbs 25:28 He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.
Proverbs 29:23 A man’s pride shall bring him low: but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit.
The spirit of a good man leans towards God and understands that God has appointed a day in which he will set his judgments in the earth.
Isaiah 26:9 With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early: for when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.
In that day those still alive whose spirit is not right with God will be taught the truth.
Isaiah 29:24 They also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine.
God has promised that he will one day dwell with those who are of a humble spirit.
Isaiah 57:15 For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
Isaiah 66:2 For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.
Those in Israel were exhorted to change the way they thought so that they might be raised to eternal life in the day of restitution.
Ezekiel 18:31 Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
Malachi 2:16 For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.
The spirit of man is used in the same way in the New Testament.
Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The disciples were willing in mind but unable to match their willingness with actual commitment when faced with adversity.
Matthew 26:41 Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Both John Baptist and Christ are said to have developed strength of character as they grew to maturity.
Luke 1:80 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.
Luke 2:40 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.
We are emotionally affected by the way we think.
Mark 8:12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation.
Luke 1:47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
The disciples didn’t understand what characteristics Christ required them to develop.
Luke 9:55 But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.
Paul speaks of spirit as a way of thinking.
Romans 1:9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;
Romans 2:29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
1 Corinthians 6:20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
Having established that it is the individual’s spirit which returns to God at death we now have to sort out the difference between the Holy Spirit with which the apostles were baptised at Pentecost and the spirit that we all possess.
We see the difference between the spirit of Christ which was his own and the Holy Spirit which descended upon him at baptism.
Luke 2:40 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.
Luke 3:21... it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, 22 And the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him...
By the Holy Spirit Jesus could work miracles, but it was his own spirit which won the battle with sin. Similarly when the apostles received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they could speak in tongues and work miracles but the Holy Spirit did not prevent them sinning. The battle against sin has to be fought by the renewing of our own spirit through obedience to the word of God.
Romans 12:2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
Ephesians 4:23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;
Holy Spirit gifts were given to establish and build up the early church but they could not keep the recipient from sin.
Romans 7:18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. 19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. 20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. 22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
Holy Spirit gifts were given by the laying on of the apostles’ hands. When the apostles died, Holy Spirit gifts were no longer available.
Those who believe the gospel and are baptised into Christ today do not receive Holy Spirit gifts. The spirit which returns to God when we die is not the Holy Spirit, it is our own spirit which we have tried to bring to conformity with the spirit of Christ.
We are not ‘baptized in the Spirit’. The phrase does not occur in the Bible.
1 Corinthians 12:13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
1 Corinthians 2:12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Spirit teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. 16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
The mind (or spirit) of Christ is not the Holy Spirit but rather the way that Christ thought. We receive it when we understand and believe the scriptures which speak of him.
Philippians 1:27 Only let your conversation (conduct) be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;
We, by applying the scriptures given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, must bring our way of thinking in line with his.
2 Corinthians 3:18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
Timothy 3:15... from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
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I hope you have found this helpful.
May God bless you,