If I Can Wait Until My Deathbed to Repent, Should I Just Keep Sinning?
- Deirdre Reilly deirdrereilly.com
- 2022 24 May
Does it ever feel tempting to live the life your human, sinful side wants to live - saving repentance for the last few moments of your life? Does it ever feel “unfair” that God will forgive someone who lives a very sinful life - as long as they get their repentance in “under the wire?” And is this even true?
The Lesson of the Thief on the Cross
Turning to the physical death of Jesus to develop our answer, we find one of the most touching, poignant parts of the New Testament; Jesus, enduring his own physical agony on the cross, forgives the thief hanging next to him.
Here is the moving scene, found in Luke 23:39-43:
“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’
But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’
Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’
Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’”
We need look no farther to understand Christ’s love and mercy. The thieves next to Jesus deserved their punishment, as it is related here. And yet, because the criminal asked, he was given entrance to heaven. How wonderful it would be to hear Christ say to us, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” And as believers, we trust and hope that we will.
We learn here that it is never too late to repent of our sins. This doesn’t mean, however, that we should wait.
Why We Need to Continue to Live Good Lives, Repenting Often of Our Sins
One of the sweetest parts of a Christian’s life is his relationship with the Lord, and with Christ. It gives our earthly life meaning, and helps us in our deepest sorrows. It also helps us to feel our joys more fully.
Picture some of your closest relationships. What if you ignored your children or your parents for most of their lives, and sought forgiveness or relationship only in your last days - or yours? Think of all the sweetness of life you would miss; the laughter, the adventures, the love.
It’s the same way with our relationship with God, and His son Jesus Christ. We don’t want to miss out on a lifetime of love, adventures, laughter, and even sorrow - with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit right by our side.
Having this relationship also charts the course of our life. If we are in relationship with God and His Son, we make decisions that are good for us that help us to create robust mental, emotional, and physical health.
Going back to the thieves on the cross, they did not have this relationship with God. And obviously, their lives had brought them there - punished in a painful and humiliating way for all to see. If you asked that thief if he wished he found Christ sooner - I am sure he would say a resounding “yes.”
A Christian Life Is Harder. Why Can’t We Wait, if We Receive the Same Benefit on Our Deathbed?
Delving a little deeper into the theme in the previous paragraphs, we discover that a Christian life is hard, at times. It is also very sweet. Nahum 1:7 reveals, “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.” We are never alone. We are in relationship with the Author of goodness itself, the Creator of heaven, earth, and the cosmos. Every cell, every atom, is knowable to Him.
Imagine the lives those thieves on the cross could have had if they had followed Christ?
There are rules that govern our behavior and our lives, as believers. These are rules that seem distasteful to those who have had mere glancing contact with what Christianity really is. A more seasoned believer understand that these rules are for our good, and for our happiness.
Matthew 7:13-14 reveals, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
If we apply this passage to our lives, we find solace and grace in taking the “narrower path.” Perhaps we can’t have that second or third glass of wine, or listen to that music with overtly sexual lyrics, or build up wealth and refuse to share it. On the surface, these limitations might seem annoying and suffocating. But, as you get closer to the Lord, you realize they aren’t limitations, but loving guideposts from God Himself to keep us healthy and sane.
God will not protect us from sorrow during our lives. It will come. But faced with the choice to have the sorrow and be alone in it, or have the sorrow and know you have the best friend and biggest champion ever - Christ himself - isn’t this better? Some day we will be in Heaven with him; a place stretching into eternity that is devoid of sorrow, strife, anxiety, and illness.
Is Deathbed Repentance Bittersweet?
You have probably heard the phrases, “there are no atheists in foxholes,” or “foxhole conversion.” These phrases show that when we are under great strain and fear, suddenly we do want the truth of this life, and the hope of a hereafter. Let me offer parts of this stirring poem about a literal foxhole conversion from a poem called “In the Foxhole” written in Normandy, France, by an unknown soldier, and subsequently published by Canadian hospital ship “Letitia” in 1945:
For the first time in my life I know
Your head hurt from a thorny crown,
And your tired bleeding Shoulders ached
When that heavy Cross weighed You down.
Those nails cut into Your Hands and Feet,
Every inch of Your Flesh was torn,
And Your bruised Body was weary;
My God, once You too were care-worn!
But You didn’t quit–You carried on
Until the grim battle was through;
And now I know You did it for me–
So I’ll go on fighting for You.
I want You to know I am sorry,
It was my sins put You to death,
And I’ll keep on saying I’m sorry
Until I draw my last breath.
Christ, I never knew war could be the means of saving my soul;
How little I thought that I would find You
In this muddy foxhole.
These stirring stanzas reflect the truth that came to this unknown soldier during what could have been his last moments. We don’t know what kind of life he lived prior to his heavenly realizations, but we know that truth was revealed to him: Christ died painfully for sin (including his — and ours), and he would “keep on saying I’m sorry until I draw my last breath.” What he is telling the reader is that his behavior, based on his new reality, would be lasting.
We can apply this to our lives today. To the person who sometimes puts off repentance, don’t waste a moment outside God’s grace. Stay in the joy and certainty of a merciful God, and let your last moments be lived as the rest of your moments were — in a love story with the Lord.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Gorodenkoff
Deirdre Reilly is a writer and editor, and her commentary has appeared on various websites including CBN.com, FoxNews.com, and others. Her new book, “The Pretend Christian: Traveling Beyond Denomination to the True Jesus,” details her own personal journey through doubt and fear into true belief. You can connect with Deirdre via www.deirdrereilly.com, or follow her on Twitter at @deirdrewrites.