Deathbed Salvation?

Death Bed Salvation

Death Bed “Salvation”

Richard Hollerman

Many of us have heard sermons or read books and tracts in which the speaker or writer describes an experience of someone who lived his or her life in sin and at the moment of death, they uttered a “sinner’s prayer.” This sort of experience is given to assure us that it is never too late to be saved. Thus, God has always offered salvation—until the very end, until the very last moment of death! This is meant to offer comfort to those who are alive and those who have lost a loved one in death.

Just the other day I read of someone who describes a parent who died. This is what I read:

I know a believer that witnessed to their parent for years. Their parent accepted Jesus Christ but was to [sic] sick to get up and get fully immersed. The saint pour [sick] water over them and prayer. The parent accepted Jesus, seemed to have repented and died.

Facebook comment (Oct. 25, 2017)

Have you heard of someone’s salvation at the point of death? In many of these cases, we can “see through” what is happening, can’t we. It may be a man who has lived his life apart from God, separated from all spiritual interest, cold to the things of Christ, and sometimes even hostile to the mention of his need of salvation. Then this person comes down with an incurable illness and arrives at the point of death. An interested son or daughter, or maybe an eager preacher or priest, then tries to urge this person to “make a decision” for Christ. They point out that he will soon be judged by a righteous God, thus he needs to “call on the name of the Lord” for salvation. They emphasize that God won’t turn such a person away. With such urging, the terminally ill person may take the hand of someone at his bedside and then proceed to “repeat the sinner’s prayer,” following some well-meaning person’s urging.

Death Bed Salvation

We don’t want to minimize any of the good things in this sort of scenario, but sadly there are many elements that are less than good. Questions need to be asked: Did the person really understand the meaning of his sin, the extent of his sin, and the present and eternal results of his sin? Was the person broken-hearted and regretful for the years of indifference or false beliefs and practices? Did the sick person renounce the false church or religion he may have been part of? Did the person actually place his faith in God and in Christ Jesus? Did the person really understand the reason for Christ’s death on the cross and the significance of His resurrection from the dead? Did this person really intend to live differently after conversion—as a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17)?

Furthermore, did the person actually acknowledge Jesus as Lord, the rightful Ruler of his life and the Ruler of the heaven and the earth? Did the person choose to be baptized—actually immersed into Christ’s death and then rise to walk in newness of life in union with Jesus (Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:11-13; Galatians 3:26-27)? In regard to this, did the person speaking to this terminally ill patient, seek to make arrangements with the hospital staff to provide a place for the ill person to be immersed in water, and thereby call on the name of the Lord, as Paul did (Acts 2:38-41 with 22:16 and Romans 10:13)?

Did the person appear to be dying but then aroused and lived another week or two? Did the family member or preacher point out the difficult questions that might be asked of anyone in need of salvation? We refer to urging the person to repent of his bad language, his disinterest in spiritual things, his refusal to read and study God’s Word, his lack of desire for prayer, hatred toward another person and refusal to forgive such a person? Did the person repent of all sorts of worldly attitudes and behavior, holding down a compromising occupation or position, using money in a materialistic manner, doing hurtful things toward others? These are the kinds of things that we would want a person to repent of before death. Isn’t this correct?

Death Bed Salvation

We realize that if a person is physically declining and approaching death, he or she can’t very easily make restitution for all of his sins. This is what we would expect of someone who has the time for this important matter, but we grant that it might be somewhat difficult of one whose time is being shortened. But maybe certain things could be done—such as seeking to confess personal wrongs to a spouse, a son or daughter, or others. Or making some sort of restitution for wrongdoing such as repaying something stolen.

As for baptism, we do know that this is an important aspect of coming to Christ. When the sincere people on the day of Pentecost asked, “Brethren, what shall we do?,” Peter replied, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-38). We realize that the dying person wants to have the forgiveness of his or her sins and would like to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and this verse tells us that such a person needs to repent of his sins and his self-life and also be immersed in water for the forgiveness of his/her sins. Other verses would say the same. For example, Paul was told, “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His [Christ’s] name” (Acts 22:16). Thus, a person in sin is to be baptized to wash away his/her sins and call on the name of Jesus Christ. The “calling” is not to be done alone, but in conjunction with the immersion into Christ (and in water).

The interested reader should also read Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:11-13; Galatians 3:26-27; 1 Peter 3:21; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Acts 8:12, 36-39. These passages add to the verses we just mentioned above. Our Lord’s “great commission” should also be examined (Mark 16:15-16; Matthew 28:18-20). We need to ask how the truth in these passages can be implemented when the conditions are not ideal.

These are the kinds of questions that we should be asking. We are so indoctrinated with the so-called “Sinner’s prayer” that we just assume that coming to Christ is a simple matter—whereas what we generally mean is that conversion is a superficial matter! We encourage you to read our article, “Easy Believism and the Sinner’s Prayer,” on our website. ( Since people in America and all other countries are so deceived by the issue of salvation and conversion, assuming that it is a simple and superficial matter, we find that many (or most) people just think that the dying sinner can just acknowledge his or her sin and “repeat the sinner’s prayer” and thereby be assured of eternal life.

We realize that some people may dismiss this dilemma with this response: They may say that such a person had his opportunity for 20 or 40 or even 80 years, and this opportunity for salvation is now gone at the end of life. Others may say that the person may not be fully conscious or may not be rational at such a time, thus he or she cannot come to the Lord (for such a coming requires some degree of understanding). Others may just commit this to God with the realization that God will do all things well.

We know that God is the One who makes a decision regarding every person’s ultimate destiny. But we must not overlook the fact that He has already revealed His will about salvation and how to be saved. In other words, we must not just assume that God will dismiss what He has already shown us in His revealed Word about how one can be saved, forgiven, and born again. We are not God and don’t have the right to make “exceptions to the rule” regarding conversion and salvation. We must also remember that God is the Judge and He will always do what is right. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Genesis 18:25b).

Death Bed Salvation

One thing we can learn from this sort of situation is the extreme danger of postponing coming to Christ for His salvation. We know that not only is there the limitation of physical distress that surrounds the terminally ill person, but very often there may be drugs administered because of the pain (especially if there is cancer present). These drugs may make it difficult for the patient to even think and reason clearly. Because of this, even in the “sinner’s prayer” scenario, it may be difficult for one to bring the sick person to a decision.

This sober matter of “deathbed salvation” must not be taken lightly. We should come to Christ now—while there is time and opportunity—and not wait for some future time. This would be utterly presumptuous. “Now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2b).

Let’s remember that God is utterly compassionate and merciful. Yes, He is filled with righteous wrath toward one who is in his sins (Romans 1:18) and who refuses to believe and obey Jesus Christ (John 3:36). But still He is filled with mercy toward one who humbly comes to Him and pleads Jesus Christ. We believe that He will answer one who does come to the Lord and sincerely asks for a further opportunity to respond to God for salvation—as Scripture reveals. Further, if the terminally ill person knows a genuine Christian, that person also has access to a merciful God and may earnestly ask for His mercy and help in this time of need.  Let’s remember that God will do all things well!


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