By death bed conversion I am not only referring to people who are dying and then call for a minister, but also to those who ‘plan’ their time for Christianity sometime after retirement. When someone decides to follow Jesus it should be an exciting and happy moment, but there is something , at least to me, very unconvincing about a pre-planned salvation. It’s almost as if because they no longer enjoy doing what they want, or have done all they wanted to do, they might as well go ahead and convert. And why live like God wants with all the sacrifices and obedience that accompanies a walk with God if it can be put off till the end? The ‘thief on the cross’ is often used or misused as a proof text to justify such a plan.
Well, what about the thief on the cross? Does this passage, Luke 23:39-43, justify such a plan? What do these verses teach us about this man? Let’s see. He feared God, for he asked the other condemned man, “Do you not fear God?” He had wisdom, for he said, “Seeing you are under the same condemnation?” He saw the illogic of insulting a fellow who was also being executed as they were. He was like Job, for he accepted his punishment, as harsh as it was, without blaming God, for he said, “And we indeed justly, for we received the due reward of our deeds.” He judged rightly, for he said, “But this man has done nothing wrong.” Finally, he humbly called on Jesus, for he said, “Lord, remember me when You come into your kingdom.” The charges against Jesus were well known, and above Jesus’ head was written, The King of the Jews.
The fact that he was a condemned robber did not mean he was ungodly, because there were many Jews called zealots who took up the sword, believing they were serving God by opposing the heathen Roman government; kind of like Robin Hood. Remember, even David became an outlaw for a while, and God was with him [1 Sam. 22:1-5, 23:14]. He also lived when righteousness through Judaism was possible. Only when a Jew rejected Jesus as the Messiah did their standing before God fail [Acts 13:16, 45,46, 14:1,2]. From what we can determine about the ‘thief on the cross,’ he seems to have been a just man who knew the truth when he heard it. Repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus was not preached till after Pentecost and so not involved in his salvation. The circumstances this man lived and died under, especially being with Jesus, will not apply for anyone today, and certainly, this verse lends no support for someone to delay following Jesus till the end of one’s life.
There are many people who are putting off their opportunity for salvation, thinking that there is still plenty of time for that later. Just like Felix who said to Paul, “Go away for the present; when I have a convenient opportunity, I will send for you.” The problem is that there will not be another opportunity, because for them there is never a ‘convenient time.’ We do not know when we will die. Usually death does not give much warning. To plan your conversion for a more convenient time betrays a wrong motive and attitude that has no intention of changing. To delay was not acceptable, as Paul was urged by Ananias, “Why are you waiting?” and Peter, too, commanded response to the call of the Gospel [Acts 22:16, 10:48].
To delay following Jesus is to risk everything for no good reason. People who plan on an eleventh hour conversion often die at ten-thirty. As Paul wrote, “I tell you, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation” [2 Cor. 6:2]. Amen!