Don’t Count on Deathbed Conversions

Lots of people have remorse over their sinfulness, but that is not repentance that leads unto life

This reminds of when Mickey Mantle died back in the 1990s. There was news of his deathbed conversion and the evangelical world rejoiced. “We got one!” This has always bothered me because when you heard about what Mantle said concerning his faith, it wasn’t very comforting. Realize, I’m not saying that Mantle was not saved, just as you cannot say he was.

 

J.C. Ryle writes that Judas Iscariot’s repentance, after betraying Christ, was too late. In our day, we have become accustomed to thinking that one can repent at any time in our lives, but when we look at the life and death of Judas Iscariot, we see that his repentance was too late, and the remorse he experienced was not repentance unto salvation. Here are Ryle’s words:

It is a common saying, ‘that it is never to late to repent.’ The saying, no doubt, is true, if repentance be true; but unhappily late repentance is often not genuine. It is possible for a man to feel his sins, and be sorry for them, — to be under strong convictions of guilt, and express deep remorse, — to be pricked in conscience, and exhibit much distress of mind, — and yet, for all this, not repent with his heart. Present danger, or the fear of death, may account for all his feelings, and the Holy Ghost may have done no work whatever in his soul.

We must not think of repentance as a work that we perform. Unless the Holy Spirit is moving in our hearts, making us a new creation, all the remorse we can conjure up for our sins will do us no good. Repentance is a means of grace because it takes the Holy Spirit enabling us to truly repent (and believe) in the first place. Lots of people have remorse over their sinfulness, but that is not repentance that leads unto life. This is the example we see with Judas Iscariot. He was truly sorry for what he had done, but it was not repentance unto life and he remains known to this day as the son of Perdition (John 17:12).

This reminds of when Mickey Mantle died back in the 1990s. There was news of his deathbed conversion and the evangelical world rejoiced. “We got one!” This has always bothered me because when you heard about what Mantle said concerning his faith, it wasn’t very comforting. Realize, I’m not saying that Mantle was not saved, just as you cannot say he was. But what he was reported to have been saying, asking about salvation over and over again, asking to have the Bible read to him, and never really saying anything showing solid belief, led me to question the deathbed experience all together. (I’ve never actually read anything on this supposed conversation, just remember some pastors speaking about it).

Just compare Mantle’s lack of a clear statement to that of the thief on the cross. In faith, the thief said “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” The man made a pure statement of faith. There was no questioning the reality that He would come into His kingdom. The thief was asking Him to be a part of that kingdom that truly existed.

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