032 – Death Bed Conversions

In the age old argument of whether baptism is necessary for salvation, our next objection is the “Hail Mary” of all objections. It is often employed as the last desperate effort of an anti-baptism proponent to reason out that baptism is absolutely not necessary for salvation. It comes at a pretty high cost when we think everything through logically. So, what is this final desperate objection?

“What about someone on their death bed?” This is an argument based on timing. This is an argument which appeals to emotion. Here’s what it says.

“It is inconceivable that a person on their death bed who makes a sincere commitment to Jesus, that Jesus would not recognize their inability to participate in water baptism and Jesus should therefore save them.” In other words, if someone is unable to be baptized, God should see their heart and make an exception. He should let them into heaven because they are dying and can’t be baptized. If we remove the timing aspect, we get down to the core of the argument… “God knows my heart and he knows I am a good person.”

It can get emotional!

This becomes a really emotional argument because we all know many deeply devout loved ones who were religious believers and have died but they were never baptized in any way shape or form. If we claim water baptism in necessary for salvation, it would leave these dearly departed in an unsaved state. We look a their pious life and reason out a way of salvation regardless of their ability to obey the Gospel. We know that our dear ol’ Aunt Katie was a true Christian because she never missed a church service.

This frames the first problem with this position. Without realizing it, we just made dear old Aunt Katie’s salvation based on her good deeds and works in her time here on earth. We don’t want to do that, especially when we so ardently proclaim that we are not saved by our good works. It does not matter how awesome Aunt Katie was or how she served the poor and ministered through her church to the orphans in Zimbabwe. We are not saved by works.

Think this through carefully.

Since this can be such an emotionally charged debate, we need to think about it carefully. In this argument we are saying that because someone could not do something before a particular point time, they would be lost. When we wrap it up in a death bed scenario, it gets really dramatic. But, at the core, this argument says that if a person can’t physically “do” something,,, in this case, they can’t get baptized… they will not be saved. Time is up and the possibility of a strenuous activity like baptism is out of the question for the individual on their death bed.

Here’s the second problem with this argument. It’s a pretty huge one. We say, “This is not fair. It’s not their fault they got sick. It sounds really black and white… even a little harsh! Is God that picky and hard line?” At this point in the game, we begin using our standards of judgement instead of the Bible’s standard. Without realizing it, we are actually attacking God! We reject God’s plan of salvation and substitute either our own ideas of how things should work or embrace the popular traditional plan which tells people; all they need to do is invite Jesus into their heart and you will be good to go.

But what if…

Let’s try something.

Let’s move the timeline back just a little bit and place this person, who is now healthy, in a wonderful church service, listening to a great biblical message. She decides to respond to the preaching in order to accept Christ as her personal Lord and Savior. She stands up in response to the preacher’s call… begins to approach the alter and suddenly chokes on a mint and dies right there in service! What a mess! This wonderful old lady dies right before she has actually accepted Christ as her personal Lord and Savior. Is she going to be lost just because he was unable to “do” something?

In this scenario, accepting Christ as the method or action for salvation is actually a works salvation event, isn’t it? Evangelicals tell people, “If you do not accept Christ, you will be lost.” In our other scenario, the issue was water baptism. In both cases, the lady was given an opportunity to respond to the Gospel but was unable to do so. We think God should see her heart and let her into Heaven, based on that.

So, what you are telling me is God could see her heart but He could not see the mint?

Shall we charge God with being unfair?

Do you see where this is going. It’s not a good argument. In fact, it’s probably a really sad argument for someone who believes in a loving, benevolent, omnipotent God who knows everyone’s heart and everyone’s future. Do we really want to believe that God does not provided ample opportunity for someone to respond correctly to the truth well in advance of their death or physical inability to do so? Do we really and truly want to accuse God of dealing people an unfair hand?

What is this really all about?

Now, there is one other problem with this argument. It’s a hypothetical. It’s designed to evade the real issue. And what is the real issue? It’s you. This is your defense. You are not defending Dear Aunt Katie. You have only used her as a surrogate! This is your protest against obeying the Gospel and you are not even on your death bed! You are able to respond. You are able to get baptized. This argument is an emotional protest against you yourself obeying the Biblical Plan of Salvation.

If we really wanted to know what God does for people on their death bed, why do we invent such emotional fabrications? Why not simply go to the scriptures and ask God. Look at 2 Kings 20. Hezekiah was on his death bed, he sincerely prayed to God and God gave him fifteen more years to live and get his life right! Somehow, I am pretty sure God knows how to save truly sincere people and provide ample opportunity for a good heart to respond.

Is it not strange that we cherish the “Sinner’s Prayer” for salvation and accept it as perfectly fine, even though it has no Biblical basis; but claim baptism is a work of man and yet there is so much written regarding baptism in the scriptures? In our scenario above, If this person did not do something before their death, there would be a consequence.

Why even reach out to the lost if God just lets people into Heaven based on the content of their heart? In both of the scenarios we have explored, a person had to respond to the Gospel. Which response do you think is scripturally correct? Saying a prayer for salvation, or having a faith that obeys?


Dana Haynes
Listen Now – Podcast 032 – Death Bed Conversions

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