Death Bed Repentance
One of the most comforting biblical stories is that of the thief’s conversion on the cross. He was a very bad man, a fact obscured by the label, thief. The Greek word used was much stronger. It equates to “terrorist”. This man was a terrorist. He had done evil and despicable things. As he himself confessed, he deserved crucifixion – the punishment reserved for the worst of the worst.
But even though he was so evil, he went to heaven! Right now he is in unbelievable glory for one reason only. On the death bed of his cross, the Holy Spirit opened his eyes to the truth that Jesus was his Savior. He believed! He believed that Jesus, at that very moment, was paying the price for all his despicable sins. So in the confidence of faith he asked Jesus to remember him in his kingdom.
Do you see the extreme boldness of that request? How could such a man like that dare to approach the King of kings, much less make this bold request? The last thing it seemed he would want is for the King to remember him! But that is what faith does. It makes us bold. It does that because faith rests not on what we do, but on Christ’s sure and complete work for us.
Much more than a story of bold faith, this is a story of incredible grace. It brilliantly illustrates that we don’t do anything – we can’t do anything to contribute to our salvation. It paints in vivid colors the truth that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.
Not so in Mormonism as is illustrated in the following two quotes.
“To the thief on the cross who asked to be remembered after death, the Savior responded to give him what hope he could: ‘Today shalt thou be with me in paradise, ‘ That is to say, today you shall be with me in the world of spirits, where you will be taught the gospel and your inquires will be answered. (See Smith, Teachings, p.309) Jesus did not lend any credence to a death-bed repentance or (sic) the malefactor. What Jesus did do was give recognition to the seeds of faith and repentance which were evidenced by a penitent man. As always, the Lord’s efforts were directed toward offering as much hope as possible to one who would turn from darkness unto that everlasting light.” (Life and Teachings of Jesus & His Apostles, p. 186, emphasis added)
The LDS Bible Dictionary says this: “For example, when Jesus purportedly said to the thief on the cross, ‘Today shalt thou be with me in paradise’, the Bible rendering is incorrect. The statement would more accurately read, ‘Today shalt thou be with me in the word of spirits’ since the thief was not ready for paradise.”
I especially want to focus on two things in those quotes. The first is the statement that Jesus’ words to the malefactor do not give any credence to a death-bed repentance on the part of the malefactor. I assume that this statement was made in response to the common Christian teaching that people can repent on their deathbeds and, as a result, enjoy living with Heavenly Father for all eternity. The second statement is the one from the LDS Bible Dictionary stating that the thief was not ready for paradise.
There is so much that I could point out even in just these two statements. But the singular point I want to emphasize is that these statements clearly prove that Mormonism teaches that people must work to earn God’s acceptance. In the case of the malefactor, he would have to do that in the spirit world. There, according to Mormonism, he is working out the LDS painful process of repentance. Without that he would not be worthy of God’s acceptance. And that won’t be easy or quick. In keeping with LDS teaching that could easily take him “eternities”.
As a pastor, I have had the privilege of ministering to people on their deathbeds – including some who had shown no interest, much less, faith in Jesus. But staring in the face of death does something to a person. On more than one occasion, I have had the extraordinary privilege of bringing such people the message that Jesus had paid for all their sins – that, through Jesus, they could live with Heavenly Father – that they were saved by grace alone. And the Holy Spirit moved them to believe and trust that! Through Christ’s work, they were ready for Paradise – the Paradise where all labors ceases – the Paradise of living eternally with Heavenly Father.
What completely different messages! Thank God that you know the truth that eternal life is God’s gift to you, based entirely on Christ’s work. Thank God by sharing that truth in love to all you meet. God can bring people to faith even when they are on their deathbeds. That is the reassuring message of the terrorist’s conversion on the cross.