Can a Deathbed Confession Really Get You to Heaven?
Let’s say someone who hasn’t accepted God waits until the last few moments of his life, choosing to opt for a deathbed confession and repentance of his sins. Should he expect to get to Heaven?
Last week, in response to my post about the “unspoken prayer request,” a favorite among some Christians, Aislínge asked an interesting question about the deathbed confession of sins and repentance:
“I often hear about a criminal in prison, on his deathbed, who suddenly wishes to recant his life of abject sins and receive absolution for whatever heinous crimes he has committed. And after speaking to a priest and giving up all of his crimes, he is given this absolution! This seems too often too easy and very much as when Indulgences were sold by the Church (the Catholic Church, I mean). Indulgences were one of the bigger items that the Church used to earn money that wasn’t warranted.”
Years ago, my childhood pastor, the man who baptized me thirty years ago, and who just recently passed away, gave a thought-provoking sermon in which he proposed the following scenario:
Suppose a man who hasn’t accepted Christ as his personal savior and has lived a life without God for all of his time now finds himself on his deathbed. He has time, as he waits for the end to come, to re-evaluate his life, and realizes, much to his surprise, that he was wrong. He is able to see God’s movement throughout his life and the lives of those close to him despite the fact that he’d have never been willing to admit it before. Now, he prays to God, begs for forgiveness of his sins and asks Jesus Christ to come into his heart and accepts Him as personal savior. Can such a person really be saved?
It’s liable to raise eyebrows among some Christians because it sounds like a very loaded question: Can we just do whatever we want, live however we want, and at the last minute, toss out a “Oh, yeah, sorry, God” and we still get to heaven?
Technically, that’s not exactly the question as it is asked. What’s missing in that simplification is the most critical part: the man on his deathbed is absolutely sincere in his desire to make amends and to trust Jesus.
It’s that critical part that changes everything.
As my pastor said, it’s entirely possible for that to happen. And if that man genuinely repents and seeks God, God will grant him eternal life through His Son, Jesus Christ. The keyword, it goes without saying, is genuinely, because God certainly knows whether we’re just faking it.
Here’s the catch: We never know when our deathbed is coming. Nor do we have even the remotest guarantee that when it does, we’ll have the time and coherent thought to make such an eleventh-hour conversion.
It’s an extraordinary gamble to wait until the last possible minute to seek God.
But that wasn’t the real lesson of the message.
The real lesson — and what’s even more important to remember as we seek to learn exactly who it is we worship — is that God would pour that grace over us. He loves us so much, beyond our understanding, that He’d still allow us to take advantage of the promise He made us.
As much as it would break God’s heart for us to decide to live our entire life without Him, it would break it even more for us to spend the rest of eternity apart from Him.
There’s something amazing in that truth: we face a level of love and understanding from our Creator that should give us hope.
If we’re willing to accept it.