Sandi’s Sundry Questions

"Question Everything" spray-painted graffiti on a tiled wall

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.

The End

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.

2 thoughts on “Sandi’s Sundry Questions”

  1. Heh, the me of a few years ago would have argued to no end with the me of today. Minds do change. :)

    I just appre­ci­ate the oppor­tu­ni­ty to answer ques­tions (at least, I hope I’m answer­ing them); hav­ing to think about things ana­lyt­i­cal­ly is won­der­ful brain exercise!

  2. Thanks for the post! I am not sure we will ever ful­ly agree on things, but the con­ver­sa­tion is great :)

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Rick Beckman