Are deathbed conversions authentic? Can a person be saved at the last moment? Are deathbed conversions fair and if so, are they real?
The Last Shall be First?
Jesus once gave a parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). In it, the “Master of the house” went into the streets to find workers to tend his vineyard. He agreed to pay them one denarius (which is about a day’s wages). The workers thought that this was fair and so they went into the vineyard to work for the day. Later, at differing times of the day, the Master of the house went and sought out other workers to work in the vineyard for the same wages. Then, late in the day (the eleventh hour) the Master went and hired yet more laborers. At the end of the day, the Master paid them all the same wages. The ones who had to work all day were angry that these late comers who had only worked for about an hour got the same pay as the ones who toiled in the heat of the day and worked all day long. The Master rebuked them and told them:
… ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Matthew 20:13-16
This parable reminds me of some believers coming to saving faith later in life and at first glance, this might seem unfair to a Christian who has been a believer for many years or almost all of their lives. Why should someone who is saved at the latter end, or in some cases, on their death beds, receive the same rewards as those who had to live the Christian faith for many years or decades? The wages that were paid with the denarius could be seen as the gift of eternal life and those who would be saved at the end would receive the same wages as those who were saved many years earlier…that of eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven. But wait; are those who have been faithful for many years really going to get shortchanged in the next life?
The Parable of the Talents
In the Parable of the Talents, each servant is given a different number of talents and two of the first double their talents, however the one who received only one talent simply buried his talent and did not see any return on it at all (Matthew 25:14-30). The Master came and was pleased that the first two servants doubled their talents but the one who simply buried it and had his taken away. The Master therefore said, “Take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:28-30). This could be showing believers that they will receive their rewards for the Christian life at Jesus’ return. We could also possibly see this as the last servant denying Christ. By burying his talent, it could have meant that he was simply embarrassed to live the Christian life and denied the Lord and so by burying it, no one would see that he believed in God but by denying the Lord, the Lord would end up denying him ( Matthew 10:32-33). For his unbelief, he would end up being eternally judged (Matthew 25:30). It seems to indicate that every person will be rewarded for their labor in their Christian walk according to what they did in their life but so too will the unbeliever but his reward will be everlasting condemnation (Revelation 20). This is because everyone will eventually be judged for everything, including every idle word, that they have ever done throughout their lives (Matthew 12:36).
Wood, Hay and Stubble
If you see someone come to saving faith on their deathbed or late in life, don’t think that they will have the same rewards as believers who have lived the Christian life for many years. I say this because Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3: 9-15, “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”
Paul’s point is that if we do works that glorify God, then our works will pass through the fire and we will receive rewards in heaven for all time but if we do works only to be seen by men (and even tell others), then we already have our reward by being seen by others and it will be burned up as wood, hay and stubble. Only those things done for His glory will pass through the fire. These are gold, silver, and precious stones.
Are Deathbed Conversions Authentic?
Truly, only God alone knows whether a person has been saved or not. A man who was saved many years ago by an elder in the Moody Church was scheduled to be baptized the next Sunday but was killed before he ever had the chance. The point is that no one can say with certainty that this man was not saved just because he didn’t get the chance to get baptized. Also, there are many who are in the church today that have not likely been born again and they have deceived themselves but will have a terrible awareness some day by Jesus Christ Himself that they are not saved. This is what Jesus means in Matthew 7:21-23 when He says that “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” How terrifying that will be. They say, “Lord, Lord” indicating that they thought they had an intimate relationship with Christ. Every place in the Bible where someone’s name is mentioned twice, it indicates an sign of intimacy, like Saul, Saul; Moses, Moses; and Martha, Martha. Many in the church are not really saved but these are what is called “tares” and not wheat. They will say, “Lord, Lord” but what does Jesus say? He doesn’t say that “I didn’t know you well, I really didn’t know you at all, or I didn’t know you as much as I’d liked too.” No, He says, “I never knew you!” When wheat and tares are growing in the fields together, even the farmer has a hard time deciding which is which but Jesus alone knows. He understand that there are tares in the wheat (Matthew 13:24-43).
Now, let me share an experience with you about the wife of our church elder’s father. He was saved as a child, yet showed no fruit bearing repentance or fruits of the Holy Spirit in all of his life. I had known him for many years. Due to illness and impending death, he was moved to a bed and his daughter, the elder’s wife, asked that he move in with her so she could better care for him before he died. He was told he only had a few months, at best, to live. He was weakening rapidly and we could tell he wasn’t going to live much longer. I had been visiting him for several weeks when it occurred to me to share the gospel with this dying man in the event that he was not truly saved. I asked him if he believed that Jesus Christ actually existed, if He was God before the earth existed, if He was born of a virgin and conceived by the Holy Spirit, if He lived a sinless life, if He died on a cross to save sinners like you and me, if He was resurrected on the third day and ascended to and sits at the right hand of the Father? I also asked him if he was a sinner and needed a Savior. He weakly said, “Yes” each time. Then, a small tear came out of the corner of his eye. He said that he believed. Not only did he cry, so did I and so did the man’s daughter. He was too weak to be lifted up out of his bed to be baptized but he testified with his weak voice that he believed and we know that the promise is that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
I truly believe this man was saved because he essentially believed and followed through on Romans 10:9-13, “If you declare with your mouth, (Jesus is Lord,) and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” I believe with my whole heart that this man put his trust in Jesus Christ to save him. We know that it is “by grace you have been saved through faith. And not of your own; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Christians “believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved” (Acts 15:11) and we “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24) because “It does not…depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Romans 9:16). If you believe this, then you too are saved…even if it’s on your deathbed. I pray that you will be saved today, before it is too late (2 Corinthians 6:2).
Have you walked the Romans road to salvation? Take a look at this article:
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