Pastor John, can a sinner repent and be saved in their final moments leading up to their death?
Before the answer can be given to that question, we have to ask: Which sinner? Which might seem strange, I suppose. The sinner who can genuinely repent, genuinely trust, genuinely be changed into a lover of Christ who deeply regrets a life wasted, preferring the world to Christ. That is one kind of sinner who might try to repent. But there is little reason to think that anyone who puts off repentance and loves sin for a whole life time would ever become that kind of sinner at the end who genuinely repents, genuinely trusts, genuinely loves Jesus. Now genuinely hates sin, genuinely regrets a whole life of sinning. The mistake that so many make when the contemplate the possibility of putting off Christ is that they think it is like snapping their finger. It is like choosing to eat or not eat and it isn’t. You can’t choose to raise yourself from the dead. You can’t choose to stop loving the world, especially when you have loved it for 70 years.
I wonder if people who contemplate this possibility and wonder about it read Romans 8:7. The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law. Indeed, it cannot. That is why I said if you are going to ask can a sinner repent at the moment of death, I said: Which sinner? This one can’t. And the can’t is not God won’t let him, but he doesn’t have it in himself to change himself. I can’t. I am a lover of the flesh.
Or 1 Corinthians 2:14. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God. They are folly to him and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. So if a person thinks that they can come to that moment in life and just snap their finger and say: Well, now I can stop being a person in the grip of the flesh, stop being a person enslaved to sin. They don’t have that freedom to do that. They can’t just snap their finger and become a different kind of person after years and years. There is a hardening that a person can reach after which God won’t strive with them anymore.
Oh, I remember my father preaching on this to young people as a kid and telling the stories of young people who walked out of his services saying: Maybe later, pastor, maybe later we will get serious about Jesus and being killed by being hit by a train on the way home. And I watched the tears flow down my father’s face because it was a real story that he was talking about from one of his crusades.
But the answer that the person maybe asking is if my mom is 80, can she be saved. If she is going to die two days from now and she is on a respirator can she be saved after living all her life? And the answer to that is: The thief on the cross had lived his whole life in sin and he looked to Jesus in the very last hours of his life and he said: Remember me, please. And Jesus looked at him and said: Today you will be with me in paradise. Those are really sweet words for the person who has lived their whole life and now really, really regrets that hey have wasted it. And the reason it is possible for a person in the 11th hour to be saved is because by grace you have been saved. It is not your own doing. It is the gift of God, not of works, not a lifetime of works, not of works in the last hours, not of works, so that no one may boast.
And Jesus told a parable, didn’t he, about the workers in the vineyard and some worked all day and some worked just an hour at the end of the day and Jesus paid them all the same and when the people who had worked all day got angry Jesus said: Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? Is your eye evil because I am good? In other words, he is saying: I am free. I can show grace to people at the end of the day if I choose to do that. So be glad that you got yours and I will give what I please to whom I please. So I think the word to all of us in this is: Behold now is the fate of all time. And the now is for a 14 year old now or an 84 year old now. Now is the day of salvation.
And Hebrews three. Exhort one another every day as long as it is called today that none of you be hardened. So the question in the end is: Can or will God save the truly repentant in the last hour? Indeed, he will. And the question is: Will we be able to repent? And I would warn everyone. You can’t presume that you will be able to repent if you push Jesus away now.
Hmm, yes, thank you Pastor John. And thank you for listening to the podcast. Email your questions to us at askpastorjohn AT desiringgod DOT org. Visit us online at desiringgod DOT org to find thousands of books, articles, sermons, and other resources from John Piper all free of charge. … I’m your host, Tony Reinke. Thanks for listening.