Imagine a person who was never approachable about spiritual things. He wouldn’t go to church. He wouldn’t accept prayers. He wouldn’t tolerate even a conversation. Now imagine that that same person nears death for whatever reason. Suddenly eternity is relevant. A friend or relative then approaches him about the gospel and he appears to trust Christ right at that moment. Did he mean it or did he not? Are deathbed conversions actually conversions?
Sometimes the answer is no. Sometimes that person is simply acting out of emotion. He might have no understanding of the gospel but mouths the words anyway. Sometimes the evangelizing believer didn’t make the gospel clear in such a way that the person near death even knew how to come to Christ. I ardently stress to believers everywhere, “Be clear! Be clear! Be clear!”
When a believer is clear in their presentation of the gospel, conversions are so much more likely to be genuine. In fact, I believe that those people make sincere salvation decisions more often than not. People near death see needs in a greater way than ever before. They are keenly aware that they are about to see their Maker face-to-face. All kinds of memories go through their minds—the times that other people approached them about the gospel, the times that they knew God was trying to speak to them, the loved ones who have gone before them who seemed to have no fear of eternity, or the many thoughts they have had about God in the past. They no longer want to take lightly what they should have already taken seriously. There on that deathbed with only a few moments or a few hours left to live, they sincerely come to the Savior.
What clearer example could we have in the Scriptures than the account of the criminal on the cross. Two felons were crucified with Christ, one on each side of Him. One criminal was only interested in blaspheming the Lord. The other—in those final moments before death—recognized that Christ was who He said He was. He said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when you come into Your Kingdom” (Luke 23:42). Such relief came when Jesus said back to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (43). Through Scripture, Jesus Himself acknowledges this man’s decision to be a genuine one.
I firmly believe that we will be surprised when we see certain people in heaven, people who did come to Christ on their deathbeds. The Bible calls that grace, the same grace that saves a child who may be 70 years from death.
As you share the gospel with those in their prime and with those on their deathbeds, share clearly. Be direct and don’t hesitate to ask them to settle their eternal destiny right then and there. It is not your responsibility to discern their hearts. It’s your responsibility to share yours.