What about death bed conversions?
What does the Church of Christ believe about a "death bed conversion". What if I believe and pray the sinners prayer of repentance and die before I am baptized am I bound for Heaven?
Some preliminary observation must be made before this question is addressed. First, the question is addressed to what the “Church of Christ believes. What the “Church of Christ” believes makes no difference! The issue must always be,”What does the scripture teach?” This is not a rebuke. Rather it seeks to impress upon all that truth is not determined by what any man or group of men may teach. It is determined by Scripture and Scripture alone. Second, “Church of Christ” is generally understood to be a name. The proper designation is “church of Christ.” For a discussion of this subject please listen to the sermon on “The Undenominational Nature of the Church” and read and study the lessons on the church available on this web site. Thirdly, it is certainly possible that the Inquirer who sent this question may have simply forwarded a question that someone asked him. The term “Inquirer” is used here to refer to the ultimate “asker” of the question.
The unexpressed thesis in the question is that baptism cannot be essential to salvation because it eliminates death bed repentance as a means of salvation. Thus, it is an attempt to create a dilemma from which one who believes that the scripture teaches that baptism is essential to salvation cannot escape. If the question is answered “yes,” the essentiality of baptism is surrendered; if the question is answered “no,” prejudice is created against those who believe in the essentiality of baptism who are then perceived to be hard-hearted and unsympathetic to a dying person’s attempt to be saved.
This does not suggest that the question should not be answered according to the teaching of Scripture; it does suggest that the question ultimately must be answered based upon the teaching of Scripture. Moreover, if the Scripture does teach that baptism for the remission of sins is essential to salvation, then the attempt to place those who so believe in a dilemma is in reality an attempt to place God in a dilemma and picture him as hard-hearted and unsympathetic to a dying person’s attempt to be saved.
There is little difference between this attempt to place God in a dilemma and the same attempt made against Jesus: “15 1 Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. 16 And they sent out unto him their disciples with the 1 Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God 2 in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the 3 person of men. 17 1 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give 2 tribute unto Caesar, or not? 18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? 19 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a 1 penny. 20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? 21 They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's. 22 When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.” Matthew 22:15-22.
That said, the question deserves an answer from God (based upon a correct exegesis of His Word). The answer may be found in “Class: Questions, Lesson 3” and the many other questions related to baptism that have been answered and that are listed to be answered at “Questions and Answers,” of which this response is now a part. This material (and other material on this web site) establishes that the Scripture clearly teaches that baptism for the remission of sins is essential to salvation.
In fact, the inquirer here demonstrates that he understands that teaching, does not want to accept it, has no Biblical response to it, and seeks to find some way to excuse his failure to obey it. This conclusion is not unfounded. The Inquirer is not on his death bed (or at least was not at the time the question was written). He has had and presumably still has time to obey the gospel. He suggests a method of salvation, the sinner’s prayer, that is nowhere found in the scripture. Upon what basis does he assert that a method unknown in God’s word will save on or off of a death bed?
Perhaps the approach here should be that of Jesus on another occasion when he was asked a question: “23 1 And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what 2 authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority? 24 And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you 1 one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The 1 baptism of John, whence was it? from 2 heaven, or of men? And they 3 reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? 26 But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet. 27 And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell. And he said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.” Matthew 21:23-27.
Following that example, here is a question for the inquirer (this is the Inquirer’s exact question with changes in italics): “What does the Church (sic.) of Christ believe about ‘death bed conversion”. What if I were an honest unbeliever on the way to study the scripture with a preacher, and at the end of that study I would have become a believer, repented, and prayed the sinner’s prayer, but before I reach my destination and have that chance to believe, repent, and pray the sinner’s prayer, am I bound for heaven? To apply the Inquirer’s standard of salvation to this question demonstrates that hypotheticals can be used to protest the validity of any requirement for salvation. How much better it is to believe and obey the plain teaching of the Word of God. This is especially urgent when you consider that most folks who wait for 11 o’clock salvation usually die at 10. The Scripture is still true: “2 1 (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time 2 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.
God's Plan of Salvation
You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)
You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)
You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)
Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!
Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)