I hear stories of them, but haven’t found anything I can verify through research. You know what I mean: death bed conversions. Every so often a well-known atheist or agnostic dies and rumors are leaked that this person came to know Jesus Christ as their Savior in their last, dying breath, or something like that. There’s a problem with stories like that: they are next to impossible to verify. There may be only one or two people in the room at a time like that and we can’t know the heart of the alleged convert. There’s another problem with death bed conversions for a lot of Christians: it’s unfair.
These conversions are not like the story of the man who had been a life-long Southern Baptist who, knowing he was about to die, called a Methodist pastor and changed his religious beliefs because it was better to see a Methodist die than a Baptist. All kidding aside, Methodists and Baptists are both followers of Christ with a hope of heaven. No, these conversion stories deal with people who worked against the gospel of Jesus Christ, who sought to sway people to leave their faith, who, at the last minute decided that they weren’t right and apparently committed their lives to God. Why should they have the same hope of heaven that those who have lived all their lives for Christ have? Jesus talked about that in a parable: “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’” (Matthew 20:8)
This parable is extraordinary. In the story, a landowner needs people to work on his fields. He contracts with some to start working first thing in the morning for a denarius, He gets others a few hours later, and then some more a few hours later until just before sunset, he gets still more workers. The time came to pay the workers and the landowner made the people who had been working all day wait while he paid off those who came in last. When the landowner paid those who came last the wages that the first workers had contracted for, denarius signs lit up in the eyes of those first hired workers. They must have been thinking, “Wow, if he paid those guys a denarius for an hour’s worth of work, what is he going to pay us?” Imagine then, their disappointment when they got the same wages. Not only is this story unfair, it is a picture of the Kingdom of God, according to Jesus.
As my blood boils over this story, and how unfair God is, it occurs to me that it really does make sense. What do we get for following Christ? Our sins – forgiven. Our lives – changed. Our future – heaven. Our present-day lives – living in the Kingdom of God. When you think about our changed lives and the ability to live in the Kingdom of God while walking here on earth, death bed conversions don’t seem like such a bargain. Billy Sunday understood this idea. One night, after a revival someone asked him how things went. He told the questioner that there were two and a half conversions. When the questioner asked if that meant two adults and a child, Sunday replied with a huge grin: “No, two children and one adult.” The adult had wasted half of his life in living without Christ while the children had a full future in front of them that included living in the Kingdom for most of their lives. Sure it seems unfair for someone who has converted on their death bed to ensure a home in heaven, but never forget what they lost all along the way.
God, if following You were only about securing a home in heaven, I would think You were unfair to let those who came to You at the last minute secure their salvation. Thank You for being a God of the present – the current. Thank You for giving us a full and meaningful life from the moment we follow You.