Body, Soul and Spirit



Much confusion about the difference between spirit and soul. Many seem to use the names interchangeably, but they are very different. Understanding the difference makes the Gospel of Jesus Christ more easily understood. To me this is the essence of Christianity. 

Thessalonians 5: 23-24


23 Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. 24 God will make this happen.


When your body begins it's formation in your mother's womb, God couples that body with a soul. The soul is the mind, the source of emotions, and your "personality".  

Think of the yourself as a sphere,  with the soul being a sphere within the sphere of the body.  Inside the soul is another sphere where God places your spirit.   Your spirit lives because God places a part of himself, the Holy Spirit within your spirit as a source of nourishment and support.  The soul with the spirit is the concept of being made "in the image" of God as we are all when children.

As our body grows and matures, our soul is exposed to the world. When/if we reject God, and choose the Enemy's seductions, the Holy Spirit departs and our spirit dies--even though our body and soul continue. When the body dies, that soul, without a live spirit departs for a terrible place.

If we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and follow him, we are "born again".  In other words, our spirit is reborn and the Holy Spirit returns to us to nourish and support our soul, allowing and helping our soul and personality to mature toward a holy life over time.  When our body dies, our soul, with a live spirit, is taken to Heaven.

John 3: 5-7

5 Jesus replied, "I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. 7 So don't be surprised when I say, 'You must be born again.'

When Adam rejected and rebelled against God's commands, his body did not die, but his spirit did. We inherit the rebellious nature of Adam, but Christ paid the price and penalty for our rebellion and offers all that follow him, a new spiritual life.  

1 Corinthians 15:22

22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life.

Unfortunately, not all will accept Christ...

Matthew 7:13-14

13 "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life , and only a few find it"


Love vs. Forgiveness--the Christian Mission

The two “greatest” commandments from God, in short are:

Love God with all your heart
Love your neighbor as yourself

Jesus taught, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments”  Matthew 22:36-40

Not unrelated, is the Gospel, the revelation of how God made it possible for mankind to be reconciled to Him, through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Those who are “saved” and are followers of Jesus Christ (Christians) owe a debt to God for this reconciliation and salvation that provides for eternal life in Heaven.

Surprisingly, there is some controversy regarding the “obligation” of Christians to “evangelize” or “preach the gospel”.  The Apostle James wrote: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” James 1:27

Of course, the most often quoted justification for Christians to evangelize is generally known as the “Great Commission”, written in Matthew 28:16-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” This commandment was given by Christ as his last instruction to the “eleven” disciples just before his ascension. Many Christians assume this to be an instruction that is “inherited” by all Christians today.

On the other hand, it is well known and understood that the “Body of Christ” has many parts and not all Christians have the “gift” of evangelism.  So perhaps the most practical instruction is from Saint Francis to “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”  (There is some dispute as to whether Francis actually said these words exactly. Some claim that his words were “convert the world by obedience to the Holy Rule rather by example than by word.”)

Living your life in a way that honors God and is an example to others is consistent with the first commandment as well as St. Francis’s advice. And, proclaiming the Gospel to others, by deed and words is consistent with the second commandment.  How could a Christian in good conscience withhold such glorious information from their “neighbor” who they are commanded to love?

Next comes the reality of the ugly side of living in a world that prefers to ignore or even rebel against this “glorious” information.

For those who choose to actively proclaim the Gospel in deeds and words one must be reminded of the instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples that he had “sent out” to preach…”And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them”  Mark 6:11.

After a time, you will have to decide to continue your efforts with a certain group or in a certain place, or to leave and move on.  Part of that decision will be related to your response to rejection and/or disparaging remarks made about you or what you are “teaching”.  

I find that in the minds of many, the concepts of forgiveness and love are misunderstood. The “new age” of humanism tends to teach that forgiveness is a requirement of being a loving and “good” person. After all, it is written that we are to “forgive as God forgives us”. 
In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask that God “forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors”.

So, walking away and shaking the dust off our feet seems a bit harsh and unforgiving. Is it counter to the command to “Love thy Neighbor”?

As is written in Luke 17:3-4, God does not promise forgiveness to those of us who are stubborn, self-righteous and who and refuse to repent. God requires repentance and so must we. Love is unconditional---Forgiveness is NOT.

So, you have given “your all” to a group, doing your best to teach them, influence them, and guide them in the hope that some, if not all will benefit from your “Preaching of the Gospel”.  And, they have ignored and perhaps rejected you and your message. Often, it is time to move on.

Don’t be discouraged.

There are two parables taught by Jesus that are important to remember. Both are written in the Gospel of Mark :

Parable of the Sower
and
Parable of Growing Seed

Mark 4:1-20 is the Parable of the Sower---a story illustrating that the “seed” of the Gospel when “planted” can fail to grow because the “soil” is not fertile. In other words, sometimes our efforts will not produce the desired results.

Mark 4:26-29 is the Parable of the Growing Seed---a story illustrating that God alone is in charge of making the seed grow into a mature plant, ready for harvest.

The lesson here is that many of us will be called to sow the seed of the Gospel everywhere, but what happens afterward is according to God’s will and action, and many times it will be another who is called to “water and nurture” the plant, with even another called to “harvest”.

The Christian Mission is to be obedient and honor our debt and show our gratitude that we owe to God for his Love and Grace. This requires us to keep planting and seeking his guidance through prayer to carry out his will on earth as Ambassadors for Christ.











What Must I do to Go to Heaven? The pitfalls of Theology.

Am I a “Bad” Christian because I disagree with “Doctrine”.  Will my failure to accept certain religious “teaching” or Bible interpretations (Theology) block me from entering Heaven?

What makes you a Christian, destined to have eternal life in Heaven with our Lord, Jesus Christ?

The answer to this important question is simple and clearly stated in the Holy Bible.
Believe (Trust) that Jesus Christ was and is the “person” of God (Lord) who lived on Earth with man, as a man, and died as a sacrifice for mankind’s rebellion against God…and that he was raised from the dead, ascending into Heaven, to live as the “Savior” of mankind.  Determine to “follow” Jesus, maintain a relationship with him, and submit to him as your Lord.

It is not enough to just “believe” that Jesus was “who he was/is” as even mankind’s enemy, Satan and his demons know who Jesus is.  We must also trust that Jesus’s sacrifice/death provides forgiveness for all past, present and future shortcomings/rebellion and enables all of mankind to live forever in Heaven and later, on a New Earth with Him.  Again, this is not enough, by itself as Satan and his demons also know this to be true. Finally, what is enough is our determination to “follow” Jesus, maintain a relationship with Him, and submit to Him as our Lord—following his two commandments: 1) Love God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) with all your heart,, body, mind, and soul; and 2) Love one another as Jesus loves you.  This is what the Bible speaks as being “born again” and is what makes us a Christian that has “received the Holy Spirit” that lives and dwells in us. The complete “story” of these three things: 1) Who Jesus is; 2) What was accomplished by His sacrifice, and 3) The consequence of our determination to “follow” Him; is what we call the “Christian Gospel”.

The history of man after the death of Jesus is full of men promoting “rules and regulations” of “religion”.   And, sad to say, these “rules and regulations” have been a double edged sword.  No doubt, the zeal that these religious “rules” created in their adherents have given energy to the spreading of the “Christian Gospel”.  They unfortunately have also led to violent conflict with others who have different “views”.  

Today, those that call themselves Christians have separated into many, many different segments with wildly different views on many subjects. Most Christians believe in the importance of the Holy Bible, and most accept that it is the “inspired” Word of God.  But, what the words in the Bible say, in other words, the “interpretation” of them or what is called Religious Theology is the source of much disagreement. Those that believe one way accuse everyone that disagrees to be “lost” or “victims of false teachers”.

A great deal of the early disagreements were “settled” temporarily when the Roman Emperor made Christianity the “official” religion of the Roman Empire.  Around a thousand years later,  the so called “Reformation” began---many new ideas began to be promoted---especially the ability of each man/woman to read and interpret the Holy Bible and maintain a personal relationship with Jesus, without an intermediary.

What I see as the major differences today:

A) Literal Interpretation of the Book of Genesis
B) Baptism
C) Marriage and Divorce
D) Church Leadership and Political Organization

Questions:
1)    Was the Earth created in six, 24 hour days?
2)    Is the Earth only 6000 years old?
3)    Was there a global flood at the time of Noah?
4)    Does saying “No” to the first three questions mean I think all the Bible is Fantasy? Does saying "No" to the first three questions mean that I must accept evolution as fact?
5)    Is Baptism by water required for Salvation?
6)    Is Baptism by water of infants ineffective?
7)    Does Baptism by water require complete “immersion”?
8)    Does Divorce and Re-Marriage disqualify you for Church Leadership?
9)    Do local churches need to be subservient to a central organization?


There are many so called Christians that are absolutely certain that a “no “answer to some or all of the above questions “disqualifies” you from being a Christian or at least taints you as being the “victim of false teachers”.

 A Franciscan Priest named Brennan Manning wrote:

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

While I believe that most Christians that judge others as “victims of false teachers” are well intentioned, I submit that their “self righteousness” is part of the “lifestyle” that the “unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

We are currently suffering a decline in the number of people in America that call themselves “Christians” and that are true “Followers of Jesus, destined to have eternal life in Heaven.”  I submit, a great deal of that decline is not a failure of the “message” or an indication that the message lacks power. I submit it is not because people fail to answer “yes” to the above questions.

Jesus was not particularly fond of the Pharisees who made "religious" theology and man made laws more important than a love of Almighty God.

Be very careful about being self-righteous. Jesus himself taught about that
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+18:9-14

Be very care also in regards to judging the salvation and hearts of others. There are those who question the salvation of those who do not "speak in tongues" and there are those who judge "backsliders" as losing their salvation. Jesus says:
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+10%3A28-30&version=NIV;KJV


God created the world. God created mankind, male and female in his image.  God created a man named Adam, formed from "dust", not from a beast. Nine generations later, Adam's descendant, Noah and his family survived a flood sent by God to cleanse the world. These "truths" are clearly and sufficiently revealed, as is the character of God also revealed in the Word of God. 

Accept the Christian Gospel and “Follow” Jesus Christ and his two “most important” commandments. Maintain a personal relationship with Jesus and allow the Holy Spirit to guide and assist you in your thinking and your actions.  Nothing else is required.
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Scriptures about Hope and God’s Rescue from Trouble

Hope regarding the future is important--especially during times of illness and/or troubles.

No matter what we are going thru, God promises to be with us, to give us strength to endure, and salvation with Eternal Life in Heaven for those that love Him.  Remember that God did not send you trouble--trouble comes from the Enemy here while we are on Earth. 

While going thru my journey with Cancer, here were two verses that provided great comfort to me and a "Peace beyond all Understanding":

Psalm 91 (New Living Translation)
Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
    he is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap
    and protect you from deadly disease.
……
14 The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.
    I will protect those who trust in my name.
15 When they call on me, I will answer;
    I will be with them in trouble.
    I will rescue and honor them.
16 I will reward them with a long life
    and give them my salvation.”

 And the blessing..
  
Romans 15:13New International Version (NIV)
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.



One Way to Enjoy Life More

One thing you will see regularly in automobile racing is collisions. Often, as a contestant, the other drivers involved seem to be either careless, self-centered, vindictive, or maybe just plain dumb and stupid. It is far too easy to become angry and then to hold a grudge. The anger is what takes the enjoyment away--not the competitor's action.

Competition can be a life adventure or a conflict. It all depends on your attitude. If you see it as conflict, and you are the winner, the result can be a temporary and fleeting sense of superiority. On the other hand, if you see competition as a conflict, and you are denied a victory, your attitude can turn sour very quickly.  And an angry man with a sour attitude can never be happy. 

Anger is a natural emotion. It can actually he healthy for short periods. But, if allowed to exist for more than a very short time it causes us to be imprisoned. Let anger go, set yourself free by forgiving others. 

Some will recall the terrible tragedy that occurred in 2006 at an Amish school house in Nickle Mines, Lancaster County, PA.  The most notable aspect of the story was that the families of the victims expressed forgiveness. Nickel MinesTradegy

Listen to Matthew West--Forgiveness

Link to Matthew West's song with lyrics

Like Matthew West sings, learn how to "love the unlovable".  Not for their benefit, but for your own happiness. It is one of the ways to Enjoy Life More.

Jesus taught this more than 2000 years ago.  And, St. Paul wrote:


Colossians 3:13New Living Translation (NLT)  "Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others."


What Happens When You Die?--Part 2

In my last article, I addressed the issue of our final state, after Christ's Second Coming. And, you must know, that not everyone agrees on whether the unsaved are tormented forever, or just destroyed and eliminated forever.

But, there is less disagreement in regards to what happens immediately upon our death, before Christ's Second Coming.

Jesus himself tells us.  The first time, He tells us through a parable in Luke 16:19-31 known as the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. (The Rich Man went to Hades and was in torment; Lazarus went to Paradise.) Then during the Crucifiction, in a conversation with the other two men on the cross (Luke 23:41-45) “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Two possible outcomes: Paradise or Torment.  We get to choose. 

Dr. Charles Stanley expands on it in his sermon:  (click on link)
Dr. Charles Stanley Sermon on What Happens after Death

This subject took on a special significance for me in March, this year (2016).  I was diagnosed with colon cancer.   After my diagnosis, I had to wait until my surgery to find out whether the cancer had spread or was contained. The question in my mind was: "Will I live a few more years, or is my death just a matter of a few months away?"

Unless our life is taken by an unexpected and tragic accident and/or our life ends suddenly, almost everyone will confront that same question. No matter what the answer, your mind will invariably focus on a more important question: "What Happens When I Die?"

The Bible answers the question. Whether you believe what it says depends on whether you believe Christ's own words. And the credibility of His words depends on which of the three descriptions you accept about Him:

X) He was a liar. Or the people who wrote the Bible made things up.

Y) He was a lunatic. Crazy. Out of His mind.

or.......

Z) Everything He said was and is TRUE!!! 


Happy to report that my cancer was contained and removed totally by the surgery. (Praise God!)  But, understanding where I was ultimately headed (as a Saved Born Again Follower of Christ) gave me great Peace and Courage. I was not afraid. Everything that Jesus said is true:


John 14:27New International Version (NIV)

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.


What Happens When You Die?-Part 1


As a Christian Chaplain and Christian Apologetic (Defender) I am convinced the the power of the Gospel comes from an understanding of what happens "after we die".   After all, if there is no "reward" for repenting of our sins and following Christ, then why not just have as much fun as we can here and now???..sort of the attitude, "We are here for a short time, so we should have a good time." 

Many Christians believe that it is the absence of "eternal punishment" of our Immortal Soul in Hell, that we seek. Sort of the reward is the absence of a terrible punishment. But the idea of a loving God condemning unbelievers to perpetual torture is one of the features of "religion" that cause many to reject it.  Almighty God is a God that values Justice. And, there is much in Scripture that argues for "destruction" rather than "eternal torture".

There is another view that "eternal life" and "immortality" is a reward conditional on our accepting and following Christ as our Lord. Those that fail to accept and follow Christ receive the punishment of  death and "destruction". 

David Reagan has written much about the subject. I am not endorsing Dr. Reagan, but I will say that his writing that I share here is a logical and Scripturally sound response to the question "What Happens When You Die?"  Not all will agree.

Carefully read your Bible. Find your own way. The Gospel is the Good News about how you can avoid Death and achieve Eternal Life. Not everyone will find the path (it is narrow) and the door (it is small). 
Here are a couple of links below to help you. Continue toward the end of the post for more commentary.
  


 What Happens When You Die?
Soul Sleep or Conscious Existence?
by Dr. David R. Reagan

If several years ago you had asked me what happens when you die, I would have given you a pathetic answer. I would have told you that when you die your soul goes to sleep until the Lord returns. At the return of the Lord, your soul is resurrected and judged, and you are either consigned to Hell or allowed to enter Heaven.
My conception of Heaven was that of a spirit world where the saved spend eternity as disembodied spirits, floating around on clouds, playing harps.

A Mistaken View

Needless to say, I couldn't get very excited about all that. I sure didn't like the idea of being unconscious in the grave for eons of time. Nor could I develop any enthusiasm for the prospect of being a disembodied spirit with no particular identity or personality. And the idea of playing a harp for all eternity was downright scandalous, for I had been taught that instrumental music in worship was an abomination!
You can imagine, therefore, the sense of shock I felt when I started studying Bible prophecy and discovered that all these ideas of mine about life after death were foreign to God's Word. But my shock quickly gave way to exhilaration when I discovered what the Lord really has in store for me.

The Biblical View

I learned from God's Word that when those of us who are Christians die, our spirits never lose their consciousness (Phils. 1:23). Instead, our fully conscious spirits are immediately ushered into the presence of Jesus by His holy angels (2 Cor. 5:8).
Our spirits remain in the Lord's presence until He appears for His Church. At that time, He brings our spirits with Him, resurrects our bodies, reunites our spirits with our bodies, and then glorifies our bodies, perfecting them and rendering them eternal (1 Thess 4:13-18).
We return with Him to Heaven in our glorified bodies where we are judged for our works to determine our degrees of rewards (2 Cor. 5:10). When this judgment is completed, we participate in a glorious wedding feast to celebrate the union of Jesus and His Bride, the Church (Rev. 19:7-9).

Witnesses of Glory

At the conclusion of the feast, we burst from the heavens with Jesus, returning with Him to the earth in glory (Rev. 19:14). We witness His victory at Armageddon, we shout "Hallelujah!" as He is crowned King of kings and Lord of lords, and we revel in His glory as He begins to reign over all the earth from Mt. Zion in Jerusalem (Zech. 14:1-9; Rev. 19:17-21).
For a thousand years we participate in that reign, assisting Him with the instruction, administration, and enforcement of His perfect laws (Rev. 20:1-6). We see the earth regenerated and nature reconciled (Isa. 11:6-9). We see holiness abound and the earth flooded with peace, righteousness and justice (Micah 4:1-7).
At the end of the Millennium we witness the release of Satan to deceive the nations. We see the truly despicable nature of the heart of Man as millions rally to Satan in his attempt to overthrow the throne of Jesus. But we will shout "Hallelujah!" again when we witness God's supernatural destruction of Satan's armies and see Satan himself cast into Hell where he will be tormented forever (Rev. 20:7-10).
We will next witness the Great White Throne Judgment when the unrighteous are resurrected to stand before God. We will see perfect holiness and justice in action as God pronounces His terrible judgment upon this congregation of the damned who have rejected His gift of love and mercy in Jesus Christ (Rev. 20:11-13).
Jesus will be fully vindicated as every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. Then the unrighteous will receive their just reward as they are cast into Hell (Rev. 20:14-15).

Witnesses of a New Creation

We will then witness the most spectacular fireworks display in all of history. We will be taken to the New Jerusalem, the eternal mansion prepared by Jesus for His Bride, and from there we will watch as God renovates this earth with fire, burning away all the filth and pollution left by Satan's last battle (2 Peter 3:12-13).
Just as the angels rejoiced when God created the universe, we will rejoice as we watch God superheat this earth and reshape it like a hot ball of wax into the New Earth, the eternal earth, the paradise where we will live forever in the presence of God (Rev. 21:1).
What a glorious moment it will be when we are lowered to the New Earth inside the fabulous New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2). God will come down from Heaven to dwell with us (Rev. 21:3). He will proclaim: "Behold, I make all things new" (Rev. 21:5) We will see God face to face (Rev. 22:4). He will wipe away all our tears (Rev. 21:4). Death will be no more (Rev. 21:4). We will be given new names (Rev. 2:17), and we will exist as individual personalities encased in perfect bodies (Phils. 3:21). And we will grow eternally in knowledge and love of our infinite Creator, honoring Him with our talents and gifts.
Now, I can get excited about that!

The Word vs. Tradition

Isn't it amazing how far we can drift away from the Word of God when we stop reading His Word and start mouthing the traditions of men?
As I kept making one discovery after another in God's Prophetic Word that ran contrary to what I had been taught, I began to wonder about the origin of the doctrines I had learned. It didn't take me long to discover that the source was Greek philosophy.
The first attempt to mix the concepts of Greek philosophy with the teachings of God's Word came very early in the history of the Church. The attempt was called Gnosticism. The Gnostic heresy arose among the first Gentile converts because they tried to Hellenize the Scriptures; that is, they tried to make the Scriptures conform to the basic tenets of Greek philosophy.
The Greeks believed that the material universe, including the human body, was evil. This negative view of the creation was diametrically opposed to Hebrew thought, as revealed in the Bible. To the Hebrew mind, the world was created good (Genesis 1:31). And even though the goodness of the creation was corrupted by the sin of Man (Isaiah 24:5-6), the creation still reflects to some degree the glory of God (Psalms 19:1). Most important, the creation will someday be redeemed by God (Romans 8:18-23).

The Gnostic Heresy

When the first Gentiles were converted to the Gospel, their Greek-mind set immediately collided with some of the fundamental teachings of Christianity. For example, they wondered, "How could Jesus have come in the flesh if He was God? God is holy. How can He who is holy be encased in a body which is evil?"
In short, because they viewed the material universe as evil, they could not accept the Bible's teaching that God became incarnate in the flesh. Their response was to develop the Gnostic heresy that Jesus was a spirit being or phantom who never took on the flesh and therefore never experienced physical death.
This heresy is denounced strongly in Scripture. In 1 John 4:1-2 we are told to test those who seek our spiritual fellowship by asking them to confess "that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh."

The Augustinian Corruption

About 400 A.D. a remarkable theologian by the name of St. Augustine attempted to Hellenize what the Scriptures taught about end time events and life after death. Augustine was very successful in his attempt. His views were adopted by the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. and have remained Catholic dogma to this day.
The influence of Greek philosophy would not allow Augustine to accept what the Bible taught about life after death.
For example, the Bible says the saints will spend eternity in glorified bodies on a New Earth (Revelation 21:1-7). Such a concept was anathema to the Greek mind of Augustine. If the material world is evil, then he reasoned that the material world must cease to exist when the Lord returns. Augustine solved the problem by spiritualizing what the Bible said. He did this by arguing that the "new earth" of Revelation 21 is just symbolic language for Heaven.
Augustine's views are held by most professing Christians today, both Catholic and Protestant. That means that most of Christianity today teaches Greek philosophy rather than the Word of God when it comes to the realm of end time prophecy and life after death.

The Intermediate State

Some of the greatest confusion about life after death relates to the intermediate state between death and eternity. Some people advocate a concept called "soul sleep." They argue that both the saved and unsaved are unconscious after death until the return of Jesus.
But the Bible makes it crystal clear that our spirit does not lose its consciousness at death. The only thing that "falls asleep" is our body — in a symbolic sense. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:8 that he would prefer to be "absent from the body and at home with the Lord." In Philippians 1:21 he observes, "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain." He then adds in verse 23 that his desire is "to depart and be with Christ." Paul certainly did not expect to be in a coma after he died!
If then our spirits retain their consciousness after death, where do they go? The Bible teaches that prior to the resurrection of Jesus, the spirits of the dead went to a place called Hades ("Sheol" in the Old Testament). The spirits existed there consciously in one of two compartments, either Paradise or Torments. This concept is pictured graphically in Jesus' story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).
The Bible indicates that after the death of Jesus on the Cross, He descended into Hades and declared to all the spirits there His triumph over Satan (1 Peter 3:18-19; 4:6). The Bible also indicates that after His resurrection, when He ascended into Heaven, Jesus took Paradise with Him, transferring the spirits of dead saints from Hades to Heaven (Ephesians 4:8-9 and 2 Corinthians 12:1-4). The spirits of dead saints are thereafter pictured as being in Heaven before the throne of God (See Revelation 6:9 and 7:9).
The spirits of the righteous dead could not go directly to Heaven before the Cross because their sins were not forgiven. Instead, their sins were merely covered by their faith. The forgiveness of their sins had to await the shedding of the blood of Christ (Leviticus 17:11; Romans 5:8-9; Hebrews 9:22).

Events at Death

So, what happens when you die? If you are a child of God, your spirit is immediately ushered into the bosom of Jesus by His holy angels. Your spirit remains in Heaven, in the presence of God, until the time of the Rapture. When Jesus comes for His Church, He brings your spirit with Him, resurrects and glorifies your body, making it eternal in nature (1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4). You reign with Christ for a thousand years and then live eternally with Him on the new earth (Revelation 20-22).
If you are not a child of God, then your spirit goes to Hades at your death. This is a place of torments where your spirit is held until the resurrection of the unrighteous which takes place at the end of the millennial reign of Jesus. At that resurrection you are taken before the Great White Throne of God where you are judged by your works and then condemned to the "second death," which is the "lake of fire" or Hell (Revelation 20:11-15).

Preparing for Eternity

One thing is certain: "Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that 'Jesus is Lord!'" (Isaiah 45:23; Romans 14:11). Your eternal destiny will be determined by when you make this confession.
If it is made before you die, then you will spend eternity with God. If not, then you will make the confession at the Great White Throne judgment before you are cast into Hell. To spend eternity with God, your confession of Jesus as Lord must be made now.
"If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved"
— Romans 10:9
 

Is this a "mainstream" view?  Billy Graham thinks so...."From my own study of the Bible, I’m convinced that when we die, we immediately enter the presence of the Lord. At some future time, we will be given new bodies, similar to the body Jesus had after His resurrection. But in the meantime, our souls are with the Lord, and we are fully conscious of being in His presence."
Finally, some thoughts about the "second death" and that "lake of fire".  Scripture clearly speaks to "everlasting destruction" for unbelievers who fail to follow Christ. Their soul and spirit is annihilated and they fail to exist again forever---they are not all tormented for eternity. (The punishment is proportionate--just as you would expect from a just God.) Every person will acknowledge Christ, either before the "first death" while here on earth, or at the time of judgement after resurrection. In order to enter Paradise and achieve eternal life in Heaven, you must acknowledge and follow Christ while here on earth. He is the WAY.
Link to resource for further reading about "after we die". 

So, there may be some disagreement about what happens to those that do not accept Christ, there is little disagreement about what happens to "born again" Christians--At the death of our body, our spirit immediately enters into the presence of the Lord in Paradise. At some future time, when  Christ returns to Earth, we will be given new bodies and shall return with Christ to live on a new Earth with Christ forever. The essence of the Gospel or Good News is that we can have eternal life with God forever.  That is the reward for becoming a follower of Jesus Christ. 

In addition to the book written several years ago by Randy Alcorn, entitled simply "Heaven", a new book has just been written by David Jeremiah. 

David Jeremiah Official - Revealing Mysteries of Heaven


In my humble opinion, Dr. Jeremiah's book is the best summary of what God has promised to Christians in regards to Heaven and Eternal Life.