Links Daily Devotional

‘Deathbed Conversions’

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42, NIV)

After yesterday’s consideration of grace, faith and works, I want to be sure to give room for the important question: “What about deathbed conversions?” For if we find in Scripture—as we did yesterday—that one’s faith is demonstrated through the actions a person does, then we are sure to hear this inquiry.

Believe me, it’s not just a theological question! The personal experiences of many believers include friends or family members who have lived a life apart from Christ. Then, in the hour of their death, they “come to Jesus,” as we often say. That is, they recognize their sinful heart and profess a desire for Christ’s cleansing blood to be applied to their sin. Though they have lived their life ducking God, they want their eternity to be lived in His presence. And many are afraid that when we suggest the need for a demonstration of faith beyond a verbal assent, we are discounting such “changes of heart.” Are we saying, they wonder, that their loved ones may not be saved?

Let me put this as adamantly as I can: No! This is not what we are saying. Now here’s why:

To begin, we cannot dismiss the case of the thief on the cross. This man, who committed a capital crime (and more likely, a life of them), recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the only one who could save him in this dark hour. He rebutted his fellow thief’s mockery of Jesus and begged for Christ’s mercy. Jesus gave it to him.

There is much to be considered in that last little sentence. Recall that we began yesterday with this pivotal fact: Grace comes from God. It is His alone to give. While we can secure His grace through our faith, we cannot command it as though we are shipwright and captain. We are only passengers. We climb aboard by faith. This is precisely what the believing thief was doing. In faith, he attached himself to Jesus—because God had made it possible.

But grace is what saves us all, no matter when we come. In Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20), some came in the morning, others at midday, and even more in the eleventh hour. All were allowed to enter, by the master’s prerogative. And all received the same reward in the end, by the master’s prerogative. Come early, come late—the master receives you.

Yet this too is true of the parable of the workers: they were all given “kingdom assignments,” and they all worked. If they came in life—rather than at their hour of death—they knew that the fair exchange for the grace of the master was work that demonstrated their faith in the reward he was offering them. Faith drove their work; none would have worked if they did not believe the master had the ability to pay!

In review, then, here is what we find:

– The way for our salvation is made only by God’s grace, acted out by Jesus’ atoning death.

– The path to His grace is our faith.

– We walk that path, if we are at all able, through our actions.

Neither faith nor works means one thing without God’s grace, for we would not even have a road to walk. But once we spy that grace, we want to do all we can to run along its way, not just as one who speaks of running, but as one who goes all out, right to our last breath—however near or far away that breath may be.

Jeff Hopper

September 1, 2011

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