David J. Riggs
A neighbor lady who had become a rather close friend to my wife, came into our home and said, “Do you believe in death bed repentance?” This was not the first time I had been required to give an answer on this topic.
My answer is, “I believe in one kind of death bed repentance, but not the denominational kind.” Any sincere Christian who repents, whether at death or before, God forgives, but He will not forgive the one who has never become a Christian. “Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him” (John 9:31). “One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination” (Prov. 28:9).
The issue, therefore, with our denominational friends and neighbors hinges on just how one becomes a Christian. This must be determined by the written Word of Christ. His Word is the only means by which we can have certainty concerning eternal life. John said, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life…” (1 John 5:13). We should not let the “death bed” thought add emotionalism and detour us from the issue.
Repentance alone is not what makes one a Christian. Acts 2:38 teaches that repentance and baptism are necessary for remission of sins. Mark 16:16 makes faith and baptism necessary. In Rom. 10:9 a verbal confession is essential. Thus, all of these things are required and since baptism is the last act of obedience for conversion, one is saved at its point, not before. This is all I have the right to say about one’s condition whether healthy, sick, or dying.
I know of an evangelist who while doing some preaching in the mountains of Virginia ran into several families who supposedly had been baptized into Christ but were completely unfaithful. He found that their problem was faith in death bed repentance. They thought there was no need to serve God a whole lifetime, just wait until the end, repent and be saved. One would be surprised at the immense number today who have likewise put their trust in this idea.
There is no passage anywhere that would uphold the faith and hope of such people. What makes one think he can be stubborn and rebellious to God’s laws all his life and at the last minute repent and God will accept him? What makes him think God will give him opportunity to repent? On several occasions in the Old Testament, God’s people were rebellious and would not listen to God’s reproof. When calamity came upon them, and they finally decided to call upon God, He said he would not hear them (Prov. 1:24-28; Ezek. 8:17-18). Death bed repentance is not taught in the Bible, but rather, “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth…” (Eccl. 12:1).
Someone will say, “What about those who were called at the eleventh hour in the parable of Jesus in Matt. 20, weren’t they rewarded the same as the others?” There is no comfort in this for those who trust in death bed repentance. All those in the parable obeyed and went to work when called. Death bed repentance is equivalent to the first hour man saying, “It’s too early; I’ll wait to the eleventh hour.” He would not have been accepted. Neither will we if we wait today.