I was thinking today about deathbed repentance. In the Bible, I can only find one example of deathbed repentance, the thief on the cross. As he was dying, the thief asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom. In the final minutes of his life, he acknowledged Jesus as his heavenly King. Jesus assured the thief that “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
What we have to acknowledge is that Biblically this is the exception and not the norm. One example in the whole Bible would not make this a normal occurrence. Did it happen? Yes! Is it normative? No! The danger is to take an exception and make it the norm. I know we want to cling to any hope we can for our loved ones but much of what is called deathbed repentance is in reality a last resort effort in hope of some supernatural healing and longer life.
I would say that the God who saves, can save anyone at anytime at his choosing. Certainly, God can save people on their deathbed. But the thrust of Scripture commands us to repent NOW! Repeatedly we are told to “repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” We are told “now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” We are told to “seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near.”
The danger, as I see it, is depending on the opportunity to repent on your deathbed. The idea is to live your life the way you want to and at the end you’ll repent, be saved, and go to heaven. I would strongly caution you against that for a couple of reasons. First, you might not get a deathbed. You might die suddenly without an opportunity to repent. Secondly, you can’t repent unless the Father grant you repentance and draw you to himself. There are no guarantees that God will do that on your deathbed.
Can we be saved on our deathbed? Yes, but I think it is a rare occurrence and not the normal event we see so often today. Remember, repentance is more than verbalizing a few words; it is a change of mind that only God can grant. Instead, obey the Bible, repent today, and strive to live your life in obedience to His Word and pleasing to him.
As Laurence Sterne wrote, “Whatever stress some may lay on it, a death-bed repentance is but a weak and slender plank to trust our all on.”