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Deathbed Confessions and Conversions
Bible study on deathbed confessions.

I'm talking about the deathbed test this morning in the sermon, which brought me to think about false doctrines associated with deathbed confessions and conversions.

Deathbed Confessions
Deathbed confessions are generally thought to occur when a person confesses his sins moments before death.

Roman Catholics believe confession to a priest is the first step in preparation for death, followed by the priest conferring sacramental absolution (i.e., remission of sins granted by the Roman Catholic Church) upon the dying person.

So far as priestly assistance goes the first step in the process of preparation for death is the receiving of the patient's confession and the conferring of sacramental absolution. Indeed, inasmuch as it offers the ordinary means of reconciliation with God, it is the most indispensable factor in helping the soul to qualify for its departure from the body. The Roman Ritual (I, cap. iv, 8) indicates that the priest is to draw upon all the resources of his prudence and charity in order to obtain a confession from the sick person, even though the danger apprehended be as yet remote (

Deathbed Conversions
Deathbed conversions are generally thought to occur when an alien sinner is saved while on his deathbed.

False teachers differ in their beliefs as to how this can occur, but generally agree that terms of salvation as they teach it must be met, which may include a deathbed confession of their sins, and may include sprinkling or pouring water on the dying person.

To my knowledge, the first example of a false doctrine of deathbed conversion was in AD 251, which marked the departure from truth regarding baptism, and the beginning of affusion, which was administered to Novation in place of immersion because he was sick. After that time, sprinkling and pouring were erroneously practiced as "sick" or "clinical" baptism because it was only administered to people who were sick. But in AD 1331, affusion was recognized as a substitute for immersion in all cases by the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Ravenna.

Often times false teachers cite the thief on the cross and the parable of the laborers in the vineyard as authority for deathbed conversions.

Thief on the Cross
In truth, we cannot believe Jesus forgave the thief of the cross and saved him.

Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:17).

Since there is no evidence in God's word that Jesus saved the thief on the cross, we cannot believe that to be the case.

The thief could have been saved by God before he went to the cross. The thief could have offered sacrifices to God according to the Mosaic law, or been baptized by John the Baptist and Jesus' apostles. We simply do not know when the thief was saved and under what conditions.

Even if Jesus forgave the thief's sins during crucifixion, it means nothing in respect to our salvation today.

  • Jesus forgave people of their sins while He was on earth (Lk. 5:17-26).
  • When Jesus forgave people, it did not change the terms of salvation for anyone else. For example, Jesus forgave the paralytic (Lk. 5:17-26), but the other Jews still had to meet the terms of salvation stated in God's word.

Additionally, the thief lived during a different dispensation than we live. Thus, his salvation has nothing to do with salvation today.

  • People who lived prior to Pentecost (Acts 2) were saved under a different law than we are saved today. So, the terms of the thief's salvation means nothing in respect to our salvation.
  • We must obey the law of Christ to be saved, but the thief did not (Heb. 5:9). The law of Christ was not in force at the time of Jesus' crucifixion (Heb. 7:12; Col. 2:13-15; Eph. 2:13-16).

Laborers in the Vineyard
The parable of laborers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16) is about a landowner who called laborers to work in the early morning, agreeing to pay them a denarius for the day. Then the landowner called laborers to work at the third, sixth, ninth, and eleventh hours, committing to pay them what is right.

At the end of the day, the landowner had his foreman pay each man a denarius, starting with the ones who were hired last to the ones hired first. When the men who had worked longest were paid, they grumbled, and the landowner said, "Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?"

From the parable Jesus concludes, "So the last shall be first, and the first last" (Matt. 20:16).

False teachers use this parable to teach that deathbed confessions and conversions are authorized by God. But in doing so, they do not teach the truth regarding salvation, and in the end the one on his deathbed has not obeyed the Lord.

To put it plainly, we cannot believe that a person on his deathbed who believingly repents of his sins and confesses Jesus to be God's Son, but dies without being baptized into Christ, is saved (Rom. 10:17; Mk. 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:21).

Likewise, we must acknowledge that a person on his deathbed who renders obedience to God, including baptism for the remission of their sins, is saved.

I've been asked by unbelieving families to help their loved ones be saved, minutes before death, while on life support or even unconscious.

Though I feel sorry for the loved ones who are present, I cannot help the dying person obey a false religious doctrine, giving the family a false sense of hope.

Unfortunately, when it gets down to the last minutes of life, I've never seen a person who could be baptized into Christ.

Alas, it's too late.

Sad, sad, that bitter wail -- "Almost, but lost!"