There are three places in Scripture where the phrase "die in your sins" occurs. They are as follows.
- Ezekiel 3:20, "Again, when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I place an obstacle before him, he will die; since you have not warned him, he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand."
- John 8:21, "Then He said again to them, “I go away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin; where I am going, you cannot come."
- John 8:24 Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins."
From these verses, it seems that the phrase "die in your sins" means that the person will, upon his physical death, retain all the sin that he has committed along with the consequences and punishment due to those sins. The result of dying with one's sins means that the person will undergo eternal punishment. "Physical death separates the spirit from the body; spiritual death separates the spirit from God."1
Sin is breaking the law of God (1 John 3:4) and sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2). So, all who do not trust in the sacrifice of Christ will die in their sins. They will still have them held to their account. Note that it is not saying they will die of their sins, rather in them. Their sins will be retained and they will never be freed from them and they will never have eternal life.
In John 8:21 the word sin is in the singular implying, from the context, that the Jews will die with their guilt of rejecting Jesus. In John 8:24 the word is in the plural, sins. This implies they will die with all of their sins not just that rejecting Christ. It makes sense to say that by rejecting Christ, a singular sin, all other sins are retained.
Sin is a legal problem, though is not only a legal one. Since sin is breaking the law of God (1 John 3:4), when we sin we retain a consequence according to the law. Jesus was made under the law (Galatians 4:4) and he never broke the law (1 Peter 2:22). Our sin was imputed (legally transferred) to Christ on the cross (1 Peter 2:24). Since the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:24) and since Jesus died with those sins, thereby fulfilling the requirement of the law, the legal aspect of the debt of sin is satisfied in the sacrifice of Christ. So, all who would receive the sacrifice of Christ by faith will be justified by that faith (Romans 5:1). Justification is a legal declaration of righteousness before God. Therefore when they die they are not dying with their sins. They are dying without the legal consequence of their sin. But all who have not trusted in Christ by faith will retain the legal consequence of their sin and suffer the proper punishment according to the law.
- 1. Gangel, Kenneth O. John. Vol. 4. Holman New Testament Commentary. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.