18 June 2013

Deathbed Repentance?

Can you repent at the moment of death and still have the same salvation as someone who's been a Christian for many years?

That's a tricky question, but I think it's a fascinating one and certainly one that many people are concerned about. We talk about foxhole faith, when people cry out in desperate moments of crisis or postpone to their deathbed the moment of committing their lives to Christ. Some people say that it doesn't make sense for somebody who has been a Christian all their life to be in the same state as somebody who did as they pleased all their life and waited until the last second to get their accounts square with God.

There's a parable in the New Testament in which Jesus speaks about those who agree to work for a certain wage, and then at the last minute some other people are hired and only work for a few minutes but they get the same pay. The first group is really bent out of shape, and they say, "What's going on here? There's no justice in this!" Does the second group receive the same salvation? Yes and no. They are brought into a state of salvation; that is, they escape the punishment of hell and enter into the kingdom if indeed that last-breath repentance is genuine. The requirement for entrance into the kingdom of God is to repent and believe in Christ.

The thief on the cross did it in the last minutes of his life, and Jesus assured him that he would be with him in paradise. There we have Exhibit A in the New Testament of somebody who actually did that and who was promised by our Lord himself that he would participate in Jesus' kingdom. Certainly it's possible for a person at the last moment of their life to repent sufficiently, believe, and be justified and enter into all of the benefits of membership of the kingdom of heaven.

However, Paul speaks of those who make it into the kingdom by the skin of their teeth. I think a "deathbed" believer would be in that category. We tend to think that all that matters is getting there because there is an unbridgeable chasm between getting into heaven or missing it altogether.

Yet Jesus tells us to work and to store up treasures for ourselves in heaven because he promises emphatically that there will be rewards dispensed to his people according to their obedience and their works. You don't get into heaven by your works, but your reward in heaven will be according to those works, according to the New Testament. What that says to me is that although people can make it by the skin of their teeth by repenting in their last dying breath, nevertheless, their degree of felicity will not be nearly as great as that of those who have been serving Christ faithfully for many, many years.

~ R.C. Sproul, Now, That's a Good Question!


Matt said...

In regards to that last sentence, what do you think, Paul?

I agree 100% with the prior sentence about "works", but there is a parable that seemingly speaks to the opposite of Mr. Sproul's last sentence.

Matthew 20:1-16 (this conversation actually began in 19:27) lends itself that the last were paid first AND as much as those who had worked all day in that vineyard.

Your thoughts?

Rev. Paul said...

Matt, Jesus was speaking about day labor, but stated that if the owner of the vineyard agreed to pay the last hired just as much as those hired early, it wasn't anyone's business but the owner's, because each worker received what he had been promised.

That said, the Bible tells us to "lay up treasure for ourselves in Heaven", which sounds an awful lot like a bank account to me. And it does say that each person will receive rewards for what they had done during their lives, so sure - a faithful Christian will receive more than those who did little, or converted late. But that's God's call.

Does that answer your question?

Matt said...

Oh yes, I can see it both ways, but going father back in context I still tend to look at it as I mentioned in my first comment. :)

Personally, somedays I think I'll be glad to just get there in the end.

BTW, I appreciate these posts. These sort of discussions are far more uplifting than much of the other stuff that we all tend to kick around from time to time.

Especially, today, with the garbage I'm dealing with, it's been a most pleasant distraction from said garbage. I was extremely pleased to see this post pop up knowing it would help my mood.

Keep them coming.

Rev. Paul said...

That's why I keep putting these up, Matt. I'm glad you find them useful. :)

Six said...

I'm with Matt Rev. These posts light up my day and keep me thinking and, more importantly, doing. You are my go to guy Paul.

Rev. Paul said...

Thank you, Six; that means a lot to me.