Deathbed confession is generally understood to refer to that which is done by a person who is near death and feels the need to confess his sins to God. In determining whether or not a deathbed confession is an acceptable means of obtaining forgiveness of sins, let us analyze the inspired Scriptures. First of all, we ask, is the person who confesses his sins while in the process of dying an alien sinner or an erring child of God? Alien sinners are those souls accountable to God who have never obeyed the Gospel of Christ. These individuals are not in the spiritual family of the heavenly Father. An alien sinner is a person without Christ, God, or hope of eternal life (Eph. 2:12). Erring children of God are those who have obeyed the Gospel, but have become unfaithful.
There are two laws of pardon under the New Testament. One avenue of pardon is for the alien sinner, the other for the erring child of God. Since an alien sinner is not in the spiritual family of God, he or she needs to “be born of water and of the Spirit” (John 3:5). This is accomplished when a person obeys the Gospel of Christ (Rom. 1:16; 6:17–18). In obeying the Gospel to be saved, every alien sinner must receive the Word of God by either hearing or reading it (Jas. 1:21; Rom. 10:17; John 20:30–31), believing it (John 8:24; Heb. 11:6), repenting of sins (Acts 17:30–31), confessing his faith in Christ as the Son of God (Acts 8:37; Matt. 10:32–33), and being baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16). No one can bypass this law of pardon for the alien sinner, either by attempting to “pray through” for salvation or by any other means.
The erring child of God must repent, confess his sins, pray to God for forgiveness of sins, and resume faithfulness unto the Lord (Acts 8:18–24; 1 John 1:8–9; Rev. 2:1–5). No one should wait until dying before turning to the Lord. We should devote our entire lives to Him (Eccl. 12:1, 13). What motivates a person to do otherwise? One cannot look into the spiritual heart of a dying person who confesses his sins. Nevertheless, it is dangerous for any person to procrastinate until death is imminent to turn unto God. There is the danger that a person’s heart will have already hardened (i.e., with a “conscience seared”) because of his continually rejecting the will of God (Heb. 3:13; 1 Tim. 4:2). It is true that some in their sunset years of their life obey the Gospel. However, a “deathbed confession” is not a substitute for obeying the Gospel of Christ (2 Thess. 1:7–9).