Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
I’ve heard a fair few people mention in their life plans to basically live how they want to and then on their deathbed to give their lives to Christ in order that they can go to heaven anyway. Much like a compulsive gambler, they seem to think they’ve found a strategy that can be utilized to beat the system. Let’s take a look at what the Holy Spirit had to tell me about such a plan.
I want to tell you that repentance doesn’t work like that. I want to tell you that you can’t live a life of sin, and then suddenly repent before you die. I want to…but I can’t. In truth, you can repent on your deathbed and go to heaven. Actually, while Jesus was on the cross he was hanging with two other guys; of them gave his life to Jesus before they all died. Luke 23:39-43 records the story,
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.”
This guy was a criminal, so theoretically he was living a sinful life before meeting Jesus. But to be sure that he was totally undeserving of heaven by any human standard check out Matthew 27:44, which tells us that “In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” So the guy who defended Jesus and asked for eternal life with Christ had just moments before been mocking Jesus- he’d lived how he wanted and made fun of the living Christ. But as death approached, he changed his heart and was given salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. So indeed, you can do a deathbed repentance scheme. But…
…It’s probably not advisable. Let’s consider a few scenarios that could play out. First of all, what if you don’t actually die on your deathbed? This is what happened to Manasseh, a Judean king. Manasseh was bad to the bone. Scripture tells us that, “He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had demolished; he also erected altars to the Baals and made Asherah poles. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshipped them” (2 Chronicles 33:3). So basically he undid all of his father’s religious reforms and reintroduced paganism to Israel. And that was just the beginning. History records,
He sacrificed his sons in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, practiced sorcery, divination and witchcraft, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, provoking him to anger (2 Chronicles 33:6).
Another part of the Bible notes,
Moreover, Manasseh also shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end- besides the sin that he had caused Judah to commit, so that they did evil in the eyes of the Lord (2 Kings 21:16).
And it’s not like any of this was done in a corner, the Lord watched and tried to get Manasseh to change his ways. We read,
But Manasseh led Judah and the people of Judah astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites,
The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention (2 Chronicles 33:9-10).
Finally, the Lord had had enough and decided to correct the situation. The story continues,
So the Lord brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God (2 Chronicles 33:11-13).
Manasseh was captured, in prison, and waiting to die. In his misery he called out to God and God rescued him. See, the problem with giving your life to Jesus is that he might actually want to you do something with that life afterward; and therefore save you. So, since he was now free from man but under God’s thumb, Manasseh had to make changes. History records,
He got rid of the foreign gods and removed the image from the temple of the Lord, as well as all the altars he had built on the temple hill and in Jerusalem; and he threw them out of the city. Then he restored the altar of the Lord and sacrificed fellowship offerings and thank offerings on it, and told Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel (2 Chronicles 33:15-16).
Yeah, you think you’re clever giving your life to God when there’s no hope left, “Oh Jesus, you can have my life.” Not so clever when he lets you live; because now your life has a debt on it. Ecclesiastes 5:4 tells us, “When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow.” Think of it, if God went out of his way to save your life, don’t you think he’ll move heaven and earth to make sure you fulfill your vow of life to him? If you ignore your promise, the Lord may make things difficult until you get on the right path- after all; you said your life was his. And a lot of times in this situation, before you can even reap the earthly rewards for your new life, you very well might die; for it is written,
I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavenly on men: God gives a man wealth, possessions and honor, so that he lacks nothing his heart desires, but God does not enable him to enjoy them, and a stranger enjoys them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil (Ecclesiastes 6:1-2).
The example of this is that Manasseh, for all of the religious reforms and great things he ended up doing after coming to the Lord for help, still ended up having a horrible reputation. Check out his introduction,
Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-five years. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites (2 Chronicles 33:1-2).
So in the end it seems you’ve basically wasted a lot of time and experienced the sufferings of life for no reason. Sure, in this scenario you get to heaven, but it’s probably accompanied by a crap life.
Another problem that comes up with the deathbed repentance scheme is the question of, “What if you don’t get the chance?” Amon, Manasseh’s son, tried to live his life like his dad. He’d do whatever he wanted and then eventually he’d repent. But things didn’t go quite to plan. Here is his entry in the Bible in its entirety:
Amon was twenty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem two years. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, as his father Manasseh had done. Amon worshiped and offered sacrificed to all the idols Manasseh had made. But unlike his father Manasseh, he did not humble himself before the Lord; Amon increased his guilt.
Amon’s officials conspired against him and assassinated him in his palace. Then the people of the land killed all who had plotted against King Amon, and they made Josiah his son king in his place (2 Chronicles 33:21-25).
Amon’s story is just a footnote to his father’s and an introduction to his son’s story. He didn’t get the chance to repent because he never knew when the end was coming; after two years as king his people killed him. Jesus told a story about another man who didn’t repent in time. The Gospel recalls,
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to himself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” (Luke 12:16-20)
The rich man didn’t consider that the Lord has control over everything, including everyone’s lives. So instead of giving the man a chance, he decided just to take it all away before he could suddenly repent. Therefore Solomon reminds us,
To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind (Ecclesiastes 2:26).
So perhaps deathbed repentance isn’t looking like such a good idea any more.
But there’s another thing to consider. What if you don’t actually believe in God and you just sorta fake give your life to Christ? Well, according to Romans 10:9-10, faith is a needed component for salvation; it reads;
…That 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. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
And don’t think that God doesn’t know the difference or that he doesn’t care. When the Lord looked on Israel’s fake faith, he made note of it,
The Lord says:
“These people come near to me with their mouth
And honor me with their lips,
But their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
Is made up only of rules taught by men.
Therefore once more I will astound these people
With wonder upon wonder;
The wisdom of the wise will perish,
The intelligence of the intelligent will vanish” (Isaiah 29:13-14).
The Lord isn’t pleased by empty words, as he looks at one’s heart. So, even if you do try to pull deathbed repentance; at least make sure you actually believe in God.
What if you do repent on your deathbed and go to heaven? Well, I suppose congratulations are in order. Paul talked about what happens when a person’s life only features the bare minimum version of salvation in it. He wrote,
If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or stray, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).
That is to say, if you put all your effort into worldly delights after salvation, you’ll find that there isn’t much waiting for you in heaven when you get there. That’s why Jesus taught,
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matthew 6:19-20).
The riches of this world mean nothing in the next; therefore you may want to save up for your time in heaven through obedience to the Lord rather than obedience to yourself. It’s up to you though, heaven is heaven; but if you want to be a high-level member up there you’ll have to do the work down here.
What I’m trying to get to in this article is this: Do or Do Not. If you believe in Christ, act now, don’t wait, because a life away from God is a waste anyway. The Bible tells us “Misfortune pursues the sinner, but prosperity is the reward of the righteous” (Proverbs 13:21). So why waste your life away with a deathbed repentance scheme when you can enjoy the best of God now and the riches of the Lord in heaven as well? Followers of Christ don’t just prosper in heaven; they receive many blessings here on earth as well. Things like peace:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).
Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven (James 5:14-15).
And a general easing of one’s day-to-day life:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentile and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).
What are you waiting for, don’t risk deathbed repentance and give your life to the Lord now!