One of the most serious accusations against the God of the Bible is His allowance of evil in the world. “If God is all good,” popular culture says, “He should just put a stop to all the evil in the world.”
Of course, a proper reading and understanding of Scriptures can easily show the flawed foundations of such an argument, but the reality is that the “judge not Jesus” preached by many churches today is NOT the Jesus of the Bible.
When considering the evil in the world, the question of “deathbed conversion” actually comes up quite often.
It’s not the first thing we think of in an apologetics discussion, but it is something that should be addressed, and as Christians, we ought to have an answer for.
Deathbed Conversions—What are they, and are they possible?
A deathbed conversion, generally speaking, can be thought of in many different ways. But the reason for my writing this is an attempt to show that, in fact, there is only one way that works!
Let’s look at a few possible reasons why someone may claim to have a deathbed conversion experience.
- Remorse for wrongdoing. One of the most obvious reasons someone may claim to have this sort of experience is because they have lived a life of one terrible choice after another, or possibly even engaged in criminal activity. Often times, a pastor or preacher is called in to speak with someone on their deathbed, and it’s possible that the person may indeed come to see their need of a Savior. Or, at the very least, may come to see that the choices they made were wrong and harmful to others.
- Appeasement of family. It’s also likely that this person is surrounded by family at this time, and if the family has any believers, it’s possible that a person may claim to have had this sort of experience in an attempt to ease the mind of or appease his family members. In this case, there was never any real remorse—just a false experience meant to ease the conscience of those closest to him.
- Preservation of public identity. Perhaps this individual was well-known in the community and wants to have one last “hoorah” to his name. I suppose it’s possible that a person would claim to have a deathbed conversion if he thought it would do his family’s name good after he was gone, though this may be the least common reason.
- Imminence of death. Finally, I think a case can be made that someone who was perhaps either young, or in an accident, or for some reason is unexpectedly on his death bed could possibly claim this sort of experience because he realizes there is not much time left.
I think if enough research was done on the subject, one could probably find claims of deathbed conversions related to each of the above scenarios.
The real question is, if Christianity is true, do any of these deathbed conversions “count?”
Furthermore, is there any way to tell the difference between a legitimate deathbed conversion, and one that was faked for any of the above reasons?
While it is certainly impossible for us to judge the thoughts and intents of a person, it is not impossible for God! And, I believe there is a legitimate case to be made for a deathbed conversion, under certain Biblical conditions.
Let’s look at each of these principles set forth for salvation by the Bible. We can rest assured that if these principles have become a reality in the life of an individual who has claimed to have a deathbed conversion, they are saved and on their way to heaven with Jesus.
Principle #1: True Faith in Christ can Bring Salvation—Anytime, Anywhere
We, even as Christians, tend to be awfully accusatory towards salvation experiences. This seems contradictory, and can definitely be taken to an extreme, but I think there is a reason why we do this.
Simply put—we know the difficulty of the Christian life, and we know the consequences of a false conversion.
This is why at camp meetings when the Lord gloriously saves many, even hundreds of individuals, there are those who say, ”Do you really think all those teens got saved?”
The best response—“Every one of them who believed and called on the name of the Lord got saved, for sure!”
So while I can definitely understand how one might question the salvation experience of a large audience like that in this day, we must remember that is something we have seen recorded in the Word of God. Acts chapter 2 is a great example where thousands were saved! We don’t question God’s doing it then—why now?
We’ll talk about this more in the next point, but I think it’s because we attach too much humanity to the salvation experience.
I’m not a Calvinist, and I fully believe in personal responsibility, but salvation is of the Lord—not in any other.
And the truth of the matter is that is the prerogative of Christ to save whenever and wherever He pleases! This is not to say He randomly awards salvation in the same manner Oprah gives away Camry’s—rather, Christ is not limited by the temporal (time) or geographical (location) boundaries that we often place on the salvation experience.
Christ can save anytime, anywhere!
But not only is salvation not limited by the time or location of an individual, it is also not limited by the condition of an individual. Meaning, no-one has EVER been so bad that they cannot be saved. And, to get back around to the point, I believe this is one of the biggest stumbling blocks when looking at a deathbed conversion.
Atheists, rightly so, question how can an individual have been evil their entire lifetime, and then suddenly choose God at the end and make it into heaven.
Don’t miss this point, because I think this is one of the biggest misunderstandings on BOTH sides: Most of the time—they can’t.
In other words, if a person has lived a lifetime FULL of rejection towards God, it is likely that the Spirit of God is not speaking to them anymore, and a person CANNOT get saved without communication from the Holy Spirit. More on that in a bit.
What we must realize is that if God is still speaking and working in this person, and this person comes to see their need of a Savior (no matter how bad they have been), they CAN BE SAVED!
Is this unfair? Oh yes. It’s very unfair to God—because this person has spent a lifetime rejecting Him. But, I would say it is also unfair that Jesus had to give His life to die on a cross for you and me. SALVATION IS UNFAIR—to God. That’s why it’s called GRACE! God did for us what we could not do. He paid a debt we could not pay so that we could have eternal life.
The only requirement is to accept it. And, make no mistake—if a person accepts that free gift, FOR REAL, on their deathbed—they have eternal life on the authority of God’s Word.
Principle #2: Salvation is the Work of Jesus—NOT of a Man
Inextricably linked to the questioning of a deathbed conversion is, by implication, works-based salvation.
In other words, for an atheist (or anyone) to question a person’s conversion on their deathbed betrays a fundamental understanding of salvation according to God’s Word.
We touched on this at the last point, but the bottom line is it does not matter whether this person was as saintly as Mother Teresa or as cruel as Adolf Hitler—nothing done during the lifetime of the individual can bring salvation to their soul.
Now I realize many “Christian” groups do not believe this. But I follow the Bible, and the Bible tells us, in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (emphasis mine).
So while we may not be able to understand this fully, God reserves the right to extend salvation to any that He pleases! The reality is that He extends it to all. The question is not of whether or not God desires to see this person saved—rather, it is about whether or not the invitation is still open (see Genesis 6:3; Romans 1:28).
This is the most beautiful thing about salvation. There is absolutely NOTHING you or I can do to gain it, earn it, or even make God want to give it to us. Those are the hard parts, and they have all been completed through Christ! In fact, there is only one thing we can do to be saved—“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13).
This may sound like we are awfully dependent on God. And—we are!
And I’m glad it’s this way.
The truth of the matter is that you and I sin every day. James 2:10—“For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”
This ought to be a sobering thought. It simply means that just one sin, even in the smallest form, is guilty of the entire law.
If the responsibility rested solely in man there is no way we save ourselves—let alone to keep ourselves saved! I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to be honest. And honestly, I sin every day. I deserve hell all over again every day, despite how hard I try in my flesh to be a worthy sacrifice before God.
So, perhaps the next time you are close, in some way, to a deathbed conversion situation, it may help you to keep some perspective by remembering that only God can do the saving through His Son, Jesus Christ.
No amount of “good” done by the person could have paved his path to heaven anyway—might as well just rejoice that another soul escaped hell just in time!
Principle #3: Salvation Comes Only AFTER Conviction by the Holy Spirit
I may lose some of you here, but this is entirely biblical and you must come to understand this.
Not ONE person throughout the course of history has been saved without FIRST experiencing the convicting and prompting of the Holy Spirit. John 6:44 — “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.”
This means a couple of things when we consider deathbed conversion stories:
- They are entirely possible. If the Holy Spirit is drawing an individual to Jesus, even on their deathbed, there is still time to accept the free gift. Consider the thief on the cross. Frankly, he IS the biblical model for deathbed conversion. This man had lived a life of wrongdoing, but in his final moments, accepted Jesus as the Savior of the world. Jesus’ response? “TODAY thou shalt be with me in paradise.” There was no “good works” requirement, no “baptism” requirement—simple, gospel salvation.
- They are extremely easy to fake. It is no wonder to me that many are skeptical of such of conversion stories, because they are, indeed, so easy to be faked and inflated. Of course, we know that as Christians, the process of sanctification takes time and as we bear fruit for Christ, it becomes easier to tell a Christian apart from the world. But in a case when a person has just hours or days to live, this may not be so easy to tell.
The overarching principle to remember is that our opinion of what happened on someone’s deathbed is not important—nor does it have anything to do with the person’s true spiritual condition, even if they are a close family member.
I believe that as Christians, the best thing we can do is to make it a matter of prayer.
After all, the only way to know for sure that anyone has experienced true conversion is to wait until our faith becomes sight in heaven—why worry ourselves with something God has not given us the prerogative to know?
Allow me to leave you with a final thought and exhortation:
The clear path to salvation can be clearly seen in the reverse order of these principles:
- The Spirit draws.
- The unbeliever accepts Jesus’ finished work.
- The gift of faith led the unbeliever to this place—and it matters not where the gift was accepted.
Clearly, this means that we can specifically pray for the Holy Spirit to draw those who we desire to see saved! I think this is wonderful, and frankly, this is exactly the manner in which I pray for my little boys.
More than anything, when they are ready (and when God is ready), I pray for the Holy Spirit to draw and convict their hearts. They are not old enough yet, but they will be soon, and I desire for God to do a work in their hearts early like He did in mine. Does that mean He will?
Of course not.
But God will be glorified in all that He does, and He hears our prayers—you can be sure of that.
Questions? Feel free to comment below and start the discussion, or click the blue button on the right (desktop only) to ask a question with a voicemail. We will do our best to answer in an upcoming post. Thanks!