Yesterday I wrote about God’s ability to forgive sinners, even the gravest of sinners like Ted Bundy. He stated in his interview: “I know people will accuse me of being self-serving, but through God’s help, I have been able to come to the point, much too late, where I can feel the hurt and the pain I am responsible for.”
Are death-bed conversions genuine?
Like I said yesterday, while we can examine the fruit of another’s life, we can never truly know his heart. But we do know of at least one person who came to undeniable saving faith just moments before death: The thief on the cross.
“Now there was also an inscription above Him, ‘THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.’ One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, ‘Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!’ But the other answered, and rebuking him said, ‘Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he was saying, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!’ And He said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise’.”
– Luke 23.39-43
Bundy made a very normal observation: It sounds self-serving to live one’s entire life to his own end and only make peace with God on the way out. But in reality, salvation is self-serving. I know, I know, we exist for the glory of God (Rom 4.20, Jos 7.19, 1 Chr 16.35, and innumerable more). But Paul makes a really interesting statement when he speaks about the one who is following Christ. He says that the one who will inherit eternal life is the one who “perseveres in doing good seeking for glory and honor and immortality” (Rom 2.7). Are you seeking for glory, honor and immortality? When Jesus tells us to not live for the world, he says:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
– Matt 6.19-21
Notice that Jesus is not saying to live for nothing. He is not discrediting all treasures. He is saying work for the treasures that matter! The ones that last forever! The ones in eternity! We are seeking our own best interest, because if you work for those things that will rust and fade away, you are living a life of vanity. But if you live for those things that will last forever, you are living unto the ultimate happiness. Yes, all of salvation is self-serving. It is our eternal preservation through Jesus’ righteousness by faith through grace to enjoy God forever.
So then the question begs to be asked, is it more self-serving to live a life of sin and meaninglessness and get eternity covered at the very end? Or is it better for me to have much time on earth to store up treasures in Heaven and have abundant life (John 10.10) here on Earth, falling in love deeply with Jesus before I get to meet him face to face?
I would argue the latter.
John Piper wrote a book called “Don’t Waste Your Life”. I highly recommend the book to everyone! In it, he speaks of an elderly man who came to a realization of the meaning of life and salvation late in life and when he turned to Christ, in awesome sorrow he mourned “I have wasted [my life]”.
Faith is a matter of the heart. It is understanding sin and its consequence. It is understanding God and His holiness and our inability to appease His wrath. It is embracing Jesus and His righteousness as our only means by which we can by saved, and it is repenting from sin so as to bring glory and honor to God. One who is truly saved mourns lost time with the Lord and grieves over sin committed that dishonors Him. Faith is the only response of the heart that accords with grace (Rom 4.5, 20). And it is by faith alone that we please God and are saved (Heb 11.6, Eph 2.8-9).
Therefore I would argue that the way to test the sincerity of a deathbed conversion is the remorse for a life wasted. If someone purposes to live a life of personal gain and pleasure, only to say “Please save me” on death’s door, then genuine faith is not present. But I would also note that when one is staring death in the face, the reality of the vanity of worldliness becomes most clear. It is only when one realizes that everything for which he has worked will be left behind does he grasp the insignificance of anything temporal and the full value of knowing God. If one’s intention is to get to Heaven, but not to glorify or love God, he will not be saved. Fear of eternity alone is not enough. But to recognize the need of a savior, to understand sin and to embrace forgiveness and enter into a relationship with God through faith is enough. Anyone can do it, if the Lord permits.
“Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me.”
– Heb 13.5
If you hear His voice, be saved today! Because there may not always be tomorrow. And there comes a point where our hearts become so hardened that we can no longer be saved. And if you do come to your deathbed and God extends the grace of faith to you then, you can certainly be saved, but only at the cost of realizing a lifetime wasted and no treasures stored up in eternity.