The emphasis of the Bible concerning salvation is always 'today.' Quoting Isaiah, Paul said, 'I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation' (2 Corinthians 6:2). When Jesus saw the interest of Zacchaeus, who had climbed a sycamore tree to see Him, He told him, 'Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house' (Luke 19:5). As Jesus forgave the sins of the 'thief on the cross,' He said, 'Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise' (Luke 23:43). It is never wise to put off responding to God's love. Some, however, seem to be counting on waiting until they are near death to make things right with God.
The Book of Acts lays out God's law of pardon for our time, the Christian Age. The first offer of pardon under the Christian Age was made by Peter and the apostles at Pentecost. As the multitude understood they had crucified the Son of God, they realized they needed to respond to God's love. 'They were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost' (Acts 2:37-38). Other conversions in the Book of Acts follow this pattern. The Samaritans (Acts 8), the Ethiopian (Acts 8), Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9, 22), Lydia (Acts 16), the jailer (Acts 16), and the Corinthians (Acts 18) realized their need for conversion to Christ, and their faith in Christ moved them to repent of their sins, confess their faith, and be baptized. Not every conversion mentions each of these steps to salvation by faith, repentance, and confession, but every conversion account does mention baptism.
Does God change His law of pardon for the person on his death bed? There are no New Testament examples of such conversions, so there is no evidence to suggest that God has a different plan for those near death. The 'thief on the cross' is not an example we may follow to know 'how to be saved' because he lived under Jewish law, and was not subject to the new covenant of Christ (which came into effect after Jesus' death, Hebrews 9:15-17). He received the forgiveness of sin in the same way that others did under the public ministry of Christ. He was not subject to the commands of Pentecost, because he lived before the establishment of the church on that day.
None of us are in the position of deciding the eternal fate of others. We are all in the hands of a just and loving God. By the gracious sacrifice of Christ, God set in motion the means of our salvation. It is up to us to respond to His love in obedience. He has warned that the day is coming 'when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ' (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8). Now is the time to obey Christ and live for Him. As long as there is life, there is hope to obey God, but many who plan to repent on their death beds will never have the opportunity.
-Bob Prichard, P. O. Box 532, Morristown, TN 37815