God’s plan for all people is to resurrect them—to call them back out of their graves and give them life again—at the end of the age. This is accomplished in two main phases. The “first resurrection” takes place at the return of Jesus Christ and consists of “the saints,” which refers to those who are called into God’s Church at this time (see Revelation 20:4-6). Individuals in the first resurrection will be spirit beings who have eternal life and cannot die again (Revelation 20:6). After the 1,000-year reign of Christ, the “rest of the dead” will also live again (Revelation 20:12-13) but will not be immortal. The “rest of the dead” will be resurrected to a second physical life where they then have the opportunity to know God, receive His Holy Spirit and ultimately inherit eternal life in God’s Kingdom (Ezekiel 37:1-14).
In terms of God’s resurrection, the state of a person’s dead body has no impact on God’s ability to resurrect that person. Revelation 20:12 refers to the dead lost at sea being resurrected, while Ezekiel 37 refers to a multitude of people whose remains are nothing more than “dry bones.” God is able to resurrect a person no matter what has become of their physical body after death.
We can also say with confidence that what happens to a person’s body after death has no impact on their salvation. This is necessary because, while we may state our wishes for our remains while still alive, we have no control over what actually happens after we die.
Specifically, is it a sin for a person to request that his or her body be donated for research after death, which brings another matter to bear—what is sin? 1 John 3:4 defines sin as the transgression of God’s law, but Paul also writes in Romans 14:23 that “whatever is not from faith is sin.” This statement comes at the end of a discussion about violating one’s conscience on a matter that is not addressed in God’s law—it means that if we willingly do something that we believe to be sinful, then that is a sin for us even if the action itself is not otherwise sinful.
Paul’s specific issue in Romans 14 was about meat sacrificed to idols. Some members of the Church at that time concluded that it was a sin to eat meat because of the possibility that it had been sacrificed to an idol without their knowledge. Paul acknowledged that there was not a clear command from God’s law on the matter and encourages the brethren to bear with each other in love when they disagreed. However, this statement in verse 23, “whatever is not from faith is sin,” tells us that a person who believed it would be a sin to eat such meat would indeed be sinning if they ate it—that is, if they did something they believed was a sin, even though it was not, then it became sinful.
In relation to this question about donating your body to medical research, this means that if a person’s conscience is troubled and they feel it would be wrong to donate their body for research, then it would in fact be a sin for them to do so. Otherwise, there is no scriptural reason to conclude that it is a sin to donate one’s body for medical research.
For further reading about the state of the dead and the wonderful hope of the resurrection, please see our free study aid, “What Happens After Death?”