“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God?’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.'”
There have been many “death bed confessions” of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior recorded through the last 2,000 years. You know how it goes: someone lives their life doing what they please no matter how wicked, then when they are at death’s door they express remorse over their sins and profess faith in Christ. Then they die. It sounds simple enough, but many of these end of life expressions of repentance and faith have been questioned, criticized, and dismissed as invalid. But should they have been? One famous case that comes to mind is that of Rodrigo Borgia, the infamous Pope Alexander VI, who set a standard of licentious behavior in the Vatican rarely equaled, who while dying of a fever made a full and detailed confession of his sins to his confessor and sought forgiveness from the Lord. Now many have stated over the years that his confession was “invalid” and of no use, but who are we to say? I wasn’t there, you weren’t there, and none of the naysayers were there, just the priest who heard his confession and, of course, the Lord Jesus. My point to all of this history lesson is that when someone expresses repentance and faith we are behooved to respect that and accept it, for only God can know what is truly in someone’s heart. But I have heard and read many who say that one of the problems of death bed confessions is that they aren’t sincere, that the only reason they were made is because the dying person knew their time was up and they were scared; they should be. But again we come to the fact that only the Lord knows what is in a person’s heart, and all we should do is rejoice that someone came to faith before it was too late. The other issue, perhaps the larger issue, that is often raised is that the dying person can’t really be saved because they did not have any opportunity to perform good works as a sign of the validity of their faith. Really? The obvious flaw in that notion is that it makes salvation faith plus works, when Scripture is clear that we receive God’s saving grace on the basis of faith alone. But the real refutation of that argument is found in the passage of Luke quoted above. The criminal on the cross next to Jesus had no opportunity to perform good works to validate his faith; he died on his cross within hours, which makes his profession of faith in essence a death bed confession. He confessed his faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior publicly, which was all he needed to do as far as acting on his faith went. As Paul said in Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”, with confession and belief being the important bits. There shouldn’t be a problem, but there seems to be in spite of Scripture. “But how is that fair to those who live righteous lives and work hard for the Lord?” people will cry out. Jesus seems to have foreseen just such an argument in the parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16 when the vineyard owner in the parable paid the ones who worked one hour the same wage as those who worked all day. The generous gift from the Lord is eternal life with Him, and through faith we receive that whether we have been dedicated Christians for decades or come to accept Christ as we are ascending the hangman’s scaffold. So the next time you hear or read of someone making a death bed confession of faith in the Lord Jesus, don’t reject it out of hand. Just accept it and praise God that one more lost sheep is coming home at last.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.