I'm talking about the deathbed test this morning
in the sermon, which brought me to think about
false doctrines associated with deathbed confessions
Deathbed confessions are generally thought to
occur when a person confesses his sins moments
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 (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04660c.htm#section4).
Deathbed conversions are generally thought to
occur when an alien sinner is saved while on his
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
- 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
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,
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!"