Deathbed Conversions are Useless!

   July 11, 2017 by Dale

We have been taught all our lives that the most important thing we can do for a dying relative or friend is to lead him or her to faith in Jesus before he or she passes into the next world unprotected. This scenario has been recently, and I must add, powerfully, set before us in the movie God is not Dead. In the last scene of the movie, the greatest antagonist against the belief in God is hit by a car on his way to a concert being helped by the protagonists who want to glorify God. While it is apparent that the antagonist is repentant and desirous of changing his ways as he makes his way to the concert, a minister, with whom he has had a couple of dialogues, sees him lying in the street during a pouring rain. He runs up to him and gives him a simple, last chance to trust in Jesus. And he does. The scene actually gives the viewer chills; it is so exciting. It did that for me at least.

Because of our training, our first thought is, regardless of how many lives he led astray and in spite of overturning the faith of many Christians who had taken his philosophy classes, he is now safe in the arms of Jesus and assured a place in heaven for all eternity. In our estimation, we escape the charges of injustice and unfairness because we have been taught that Jesus paid it all. His death paid for every sin that this professor would ever commit. And since He bore on the cross the sins of the whole world and the penalties which those sins justly deserved, an eleventh hour faith in Jesus is all that is needed to escape the divine judgment due to those sins.

But what if belief in Jesus doesn’t secure anything on the other side of the grave? What if believing in Jesus only deals with this life? What if the sins that can be forgiven and the penalties resulting from those sins are confined to this earthly life alone? What if Jesus’ payment for sins only deals with this side of the grave? What if the promise of eternal life is something that is enjoyed only here on planet earth? What if the salvation that is received upon believing in Jesus only involves this present life and not the afterlife as well? What if there is no gift of a perfect, permanent, righteous standing before God by believing in Jesus? What if all of Jesus’ work on the cross can be applied to this life alone? What if there is no one act of faith in Jesus that could deliver a person from hell?

What if, after we’ve gone back to the Bible to test all the doctrines that we have been taught for the last five hundred years, related to the broad topic of soteriology, they all prove to be unsupportable? How would that change our thinking about sharing Jesus with a dying person who had not trusted in Him for salvation, for eternal life, or for forgiveness of sins? Would we even have any rationale for urgency in the matter? If there was no escape from hell to offer him if there was no forgiveness of sins to be obtained that would free him from his own personal judgment, and if there was no guarantee of a heavenly destiny to promise him, why would you make such haste to share Jesus at that point? Of course, there are many, many other reasons to want to demonstrate our love for the dying one.

Our training has led us to place all people into one of two groups: either they are believers in Jesus or they are unbelievers, having never trusted in Jesus for eternal life. If they are believers, then they are good-to-go, right? If they are unbelievers, they have no hope regardless of what else they might have believed and how they lived their lives. This, however, is plainly not how the Scriptures present the matter. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament emphasize walking by faith, not coming to a faith (either in God the Father or in Jesus). If a person has not learned and implemented a walk of faith, he has missed out on God’s blessings in this life and will be shocked at his own judgment when he stands before Jesus in whom he has believed but with whom he has not walked.

It has often been assumed that the thief on the cross was a deathbed conversion. But if you look back at what is actually said about the thief, you will not see the term conversion or convert used. You will not find the word save or salvation used. There is not even the use of either of the terms justify or justification used (and these, unlike the others, clearly could have been). The various texts don’t tell us whether the thief believed in Jesus here for the first time. Apparently, he did not since he already knew about, and most probably believed, Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. Since Jesus was offering to set up the Messiah’s kingdom, He is either the Messiah or some nut case who was completely self-deluded. By evaluating Jesus’ life and ministry, His miraculous works and His marvelous words, the thief rightly concluded that Jesus was the Messiah and not a nut case. But these were beliefs that he held before he was ever hanged on a cross. He is not coming to these beliefs at this point in his life.

Furthermore, no one knows what kind of person he was; no one knows what kind of life he had lived. All that we do know is that he was rightly condemned for something that he and the other thief had done. But he might have lived a perfectly good life until he chose to commit a crime(s) worthy of death. Just as Judas experienced a horrible ending to his life, but had, only hours before, been commended by Jesus for his life and ministry (Lk. 22:24-30), and assured of his throne for ruling in the coming kingdom of Messiah, the thief could have been another example of a very praiseworthy life gone bad at the end for a multitude of reasons.    

Every judgment that the Scriptures describe centers upon what a person did, not upon what he might have believed or in whom he might have believed. The judgments evaluate his works, not the correctness of his doctrines. And since Jesus never simply and straightforwardly ~ i.e., explicitly ~ offered heaven for one’s belief in Him, we are propagating an unbiblical idea in the hope of getting someone to finally trust in Jesus. While that is indeed sweet, it actually achieves nothing at all because the life that Jesus offered while He ministered on earth was a life to be experienced while one lives on earth. It simply didn’t have anything to do with getting to heaven.

This life is not even necessary for heaven. In other words, people who never had the life Jesus offered may get to heaven in spite of that fact. It is clear that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all when to heaven (Matt. 22:32) and will be in the coming kingdom when it is set up (Matt. 8:11) even though the Bible never once declares that they had the life that Jesus was offering to those who believe in Him. And if that it true, and it obviously is, then there is no reason to believe that the same is not happening today in peoples all around the globe. Going to heaven is not dependent upon believing in Jesus for eternal life. If it were, then that truth would be clearly stated, and it is not.

Love the dying; care for them; encourage them in any way that is honest. But don’t promise them heaven if they would only believe in Jesus. From a straightforward reading of the Bible, it doesn’t appear to work that way.   

Comments (6)

  • Kyle

    July 11, 2017 at 04:54 pm

    Love it.
    Does an infant baby not have an innate knowledge to cling to its mother. Who can run from their creator God? He is inside of us, a part of us. God is outside of time and space. We are one Spirit; One in Adam; One in Christ...from the foundation of the world.
    "Later popular versions of this story state that the Jew who assisted Helena was named Jude or Judas, but later converted to Christianity and took the name Kyriakos."
    Is this not the same Judas that once betrayed Jesus perhaps? Once encouraged by Satan, only to defeat him later?...


    • Dale

      July 11, 2017 at 06:21 pm

      I whole heartedly agree that God is seeking all men to become worshippers in spirit and in truth. But not all men choose that response. Being "one in Christ" is something that happens to a person who has believed in Jesus. Those who haven't, aren't. That is the reason that in the Rapture only those who are "in Christ" are involved in the translation or in the resurrection (1Thess. 4:13-17). And I also agree with your take on Judas (see my book entitled Judas and Divine Grace). We have much to rethink in our faith.


  • Keith Call

    July 16, 2017 at 02:41 pm

    Pastor Greg Laurie will soon publish a book about actor Steve McQueen, who died of cancer at age 50 in 1980. Shortly before he died McQueen believed in Christ for eternal life. McQueen also publicly expressed his desire to share his new faith, but the cancer took him before his objective was actualized. Nearly 40 years later, McQueen's desires will be fulfilled as Laurie publishes the book. How would you interpret McQueen's deathbed desire in light of the new paradigm?


    • Dale

      July 16, 2017 at 11:03 pm

      Our God is an extraordinary! Pastor Laurie will get the blessing of impacting multitudes of people for Christ. While McQueen wanted to do something like that (in whatever venue your comments have not made specific), he didn't get it done. But by disclosing his new faith to this others (Pastor Laurie?), he will receive from the Lord his due reward (Matt. 10:41-42), but Laurie, putting in the "work" needed to pull this off, will get the larger reward since rewards are based upon works, not intentions.
      As far as McQueen's life is concerned, he must answer for everything he did. None of it gets "wiped out" by believing in Jesus.


  • Seth Meyers

    July 18, 2017 at 08:25 am

    "Going to heaven is not dependent upon believing in Jesus for eternal life."

    Then all those who are evangelizing the least reached peoples of the world may go back to the comfortable America from which they came. The people in the village in which I am planting a church don't need to believe in Jesus for eternal life?

    Are those who preach that the lost must believe in Jesus in order to have eternal life preaching a false gospel? Spurgeon, Carey, Taylor, Judson?

    This teaching, among other things, will kill missions.


    • Dale

      July 18, 2017 at 02:08 pm

      Seth, thank you for your comments. Of course, you ought to expect me to fully and completely disagree with you. I think this teaching will produce the most fruit Christian missions have ever had. (BTW: I believe this teaching is God's way of bringing in our next great revival!)

      You have made several assumptions in your comments. Let me broach them the best I can in a brief comment.

      "Going to heaven" and having "eternal life" have nothing in common with each other. Eternal life is not about eternity. It is about the age to come, namely, the millennial reign of Christ.

      "All those who are evangelizing the least reached peoples of the world may go back to the comfortable America from which they came." This comment demonstrates that the message of the Bible, especially of the New Testament, has been missed. But isn't it interesting that the Great Commission does not command us to convert people; it doesn't command us to make decisions for Christ. It commands us to make disciples. We are to teach and they are to learn from us. We are commanded to take the message about Jesus to the world. But NEVER is it said that we need to do that in order to show them the path to heaven. The message of the Bible is not about going to heaven. The task of this life is not about finding the path to heaven. It is about walking with God. The eternal life that Jesus offered and is still offering is an abundant life (John 10:10), a super-conquering life (Rom. 8:37), a life that produces practical righteousness (Rom. 8:4-6), a life that manifests the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-18, 22-23), and so on. It is a life that makes a person adequate in every situation to give the spiritual response that is pleasing to God. Apart from this life, Jesus said we can do nothing (John 15:4-5). This life handles all the anxieties, fears, depressions, anger, hopelessness, abuses, and trials of life. This life enables us to love as God intends for us to do; it grants a joy that is unspeakably wonderful; it creates a peace that no trial, affliction, or loss can take away. It instills a courage that can take us through lethal circumstances. Just to mention a few things it does.

      No one obtains eternal life except by believing in Jesus. That is abundantly clear in the Scriptures. But what is NEVER said is that this eternal life is synonymous to "going to heaven with I die," or with "salvation from hell." Actually, the Bible defines eternal life for us (John 17:3). To have any other view of it is the result of conjectures and assumptions. So "preaching that the lost (wrong term here because the term lost always refers to believers in the NT! Cf., Lk. 15 for starters.) must believe in Jesus in order to have eternal life" is not preaching a false gospel. It is perfectly in harmony with the Scriptures. But, having eternal life is never said to be about heaven. That is the Grand Spiritual Assumption! (The title of my third book of the Love of God Series).

      This teaching will make missions more fruitful. It will take away the barrier that people need to become "christians" in order to go to heaven. It will remove the necessity of making conversions, an extraordinary barrier to Jews and Muslims. Rather what we have to offer is a"free gift" through faith in Jesus. It will meet your needs and change your life. This life will bring meaning and purpose to your life. It is what you have been seeking all your life (assuming that you didn't already have it from believing in Jesus).

      There are assumptions in your comment, Seth, that must be researched. I pray that Jesus will grant you the courage to do it profitably. May God bless you and guide you in your mission work.


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