One of the benefits of working at Wal-Mart — over and above the obvious things like making a living, having health insurance, and getting to watch with ill-behaved children & teens with no sense of social responsibility run amok while their parents are nowhere to be seen… *ahem*, sorry — is that one of my coworkers often provides me not only good ideas to blog about, but she also is not shy about asking questions regarding my faith, such as how I know I’m right in what I believe. (Hi, Sandi!)
I’ve never been a big fan of “confrontational conversation” — conversation in which I’d have to be defending what I believe and be thinking of evidence or reasons within just a few seconds. I much rather preferred to do such conversation on the Internet where I would have time to think out a response and even edit it later if it turned out to be worded poorly.
Thanks to Sandi’s curiosity, I am improving in that area. Still, I’m rarely satisfied with the answers I give her, and the past two days has seen several questions asked of me, which I’ll attempt to satisfactorily (at least for Sandi & I) answer here. Anyone is welcome to leave feedback on these, and Sandi, if you have any more questions — especially if I’ve neglected to answer one you’ve already asked — just let me know!
What about deathbed conversions?
Does how you live your life affect where you will spend eternity, or can you spend your entire life willfully sinning with the intention of converting on your deathbed, thereby going to Heaven despite your life? (Phew!)
That’s a very good question. At least one person has told me that he plans to live however he wants and when he is close to drawing his last breath, he will convert. When I was told this, I didn’t have much to say to that, for I was still very ignorant & naïve. Today, on the other hand, I’d like to point out a few problems with the deathbed conversion scenario:
- How do you know you will have a deathbed? You could die due to any number of reasons prior to even finishing this post. Quite frankly, tomorrow is not guaranteed to anyone, and God has declared that today is the day of salvation for all who will believe.
- How do you know that if you do realize you are close to death that you will desire to be saved? If you choose to live your entire life in opposition to God, He is certainly under no obligation to grant you faith when you think the time is right.
- God is not like life insurance. You can be close to death and still be genuine about taking out a life insurance policy. If you’ve spent your entire life in opposition to God, do you think God is naïve enough to believe you are genuine in your professed belief that you’ve reserved just for your deathbed?
I think deathbed conversions are a very dangerous idea which nobody should be counting on. People should be getting serious about their standing before God now and not later.
However, I want to clarify that I do not think that if someone lived their entire lives wickedly that they couldn’t convert on their deathbed. A true conversion is a true conversion, but they come only in God’s good timing.
We have a biblical example of this, actually, in that one of the criminals crucified alongside Jesus expressed belief in Him right there as he was dying, and what happened? Jesus did not tell him that because of his life of crime, a last-minute conversion wasn’t going to do him any good; actually, Jesus assured the believing criminal that that very day he would be with Jesus in Paradise.
Deathbed conversions work, provided it is God doing the converting. A “conversion” conceived out of a desire to live a life apart from God for as long as possible is no conversion at all.
But aren’t deathbed conversions unfair?
I was converted to Jesus when I was eighteen years old (quite possibly when I was seven or eight, but that’s another blog post altogether); assuming I live to be 82, I would have spent well over half a century as a Christian.
Isn’t it unfair that I put in so much time in going to Heaven, but someone who is converted just prior to death also gets to go to Heaven? Surely their lifetime of bad deeds would weigh too heavily against them, right?
Two things regarding this question:
First, I would have to point out that whatever good I may accomplish over the course of my Christian life, it is God who is credited with the works for they are His works through me, and He must receive the glory from them. Apart from those deeds, I am not so different from the person who spends their lives apart from God — all of our self-accomplished righteousnesses are worth nothing more than used menstrual rags ((The familiar translation of “filthy rags” doesn’t even come close to conveying God’s displeasure in the works of man!)) in God’s sight, so you can imagine how worthless and despicable our unrighteousnesses are!
It’s important to understand what it is that places both the lifetime Christian and the deathbed Christian on level ground for admittance to Heaven and the presence of God: grace through faith. Jesus made it abundantly clear that it is a believer which is saved and an unbeliever which is condemned. The Apostle Paul emphasized that salvation is only by way of God’s grace, and that He extends this salvific grace only through faith in Jesus Christ.
The Scriptures place no time limit, trial period, or probationary period upon faith — you either have it or you don’t. If I spend my entire life as a Christian and someone else is converted moments prior to their deaths, what can I do except rejoice exceedingly for another soul saved from the guilt of their sins?
My second point I wish to draw from a parable Jesus told. Go ahead and read the passage and you’ll likely see right where I’m going with this:
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ 5So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to th em, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ 8And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16So the last will be first, and the first last.” Matthew 20–16, ESV
Jesus is the “master of [the] house”; He is the generous employer. Just as the employer promised a denarius in exchange for working in the vineyard, so too does Jesus extend salvation from sins to all who place their faith in Him.
And it doesn’t matter whether He “hired” you early in the morning or late in the evening, the terms of employment were the same: Whoever believes on the Son of God will not perish but have everlasting life.
I like how Jesus wraps up the parable: What right is it for the employed to question the employer for keeping his word? Salvation is of the Lord — it is the same for everyone who believes, and while a lifetime believer may very well expect more than a deathbed believer, who is the lifetime believer to begrudge the generosity of God for extending saving grace to the deathbed believer, granting him the same salvation the lifetime believer has known so long?
Why wait so long, though?
Assuming the possible validity of certain deathbed conversions, why would God have waited until the end of someone’s life to convert them? Actually, what’s the point of the pre-Christian life at all?
Trying to find an answer to this question has proven difficult, but the best answer I have to “What’s the point?” is that God has decreed it so.
We can look at the Apostle Paul’s life, for instance; prior to his conversion, he was one of Christianity’s greatest mortal enemies — he persecuted and murdered Christians for their belief in Jesus Christ. The Pharisees conspired to have the Romans kill Jesus, but the Pharisee Saul (who we know as Paul) took matters into his own hands and sought to end the spread of this Christianity.
Why would God allow that to go on for so long, if He was planning to miraculously transform Paul anyway?
The answer, my friends, ((…is blowing in the winds…)) is that the pre-belief life of a Christian shows forth that God is in control. He is capable of turning even the worst human life into a believer in His Son.
It shows that no matter how things may have been before believing in Christ, God was still capable of loving, redeeming, adopting, and ultimately saving that person. In that, the pre-Christian life becomes a great comfort — “even a sinner as I…”
Paul was able to testify of his wickedness after he became a believer, and the change in his life became a witness to the power of the Gospel.
The pre-Christian life also grants the believer the opportunity to appreciate his salvation all the more; they know first hand the “broad path which leadeth to destruction,” and can testify from their own lives the power of the Gospel.
Given all of the above, I prefer to simply sum up the answer to the question thus:
It shows that God is in control.
I cannot remember where I read this, but I’ve heard God’s sovereignty explained thusly: If God was in control of everything in the Universe except for one single atom, then that one rogue atom would be capable of undermining God’s plans. Either God is sovereign over everything, or He is sovereign over nothing.
Unfortunately at this point I cannot recall any other questions that were raised Thursday at work, but this post is sufficiently long without them. Follow-ups, additional questions, and whatever else are more than welcome, from Sandi or just about anyone else.