What will happen to a Christian if he commits a sin just prior to his death? Will he be saved? It certainly is an intriguing question. It seems plausible that a Christian could curse just prior to his death say in an automobile accident. In light of James 2:10, does that mean his soul is eternally lost just because he slipped up just prior to his death?
If that scenario is possible, then we could easily think of many more situations where God’s mercy would be required to save us. By extension of that logic, if God is willing to grant us mercy for one unrepentant sin, He certainly should be willing to extend mercy to us for all our unrepentant sins. However, that would not be just if God extended mercy either arbitrarily or with partiality. So is it even possible for God to make exceptions to His law?
In order to properly analyze this hypothetical situation, we must be careful to address the subject by examining what is revealed in scriptures. It is very tempting for us to speculate on the outcome of a person’s conduct (Matt. 7:1-2). We should always allow the Bible to be our guide in this and any other important question. We should also respect the silence of the scriptures if it does not address the issue (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6; Rev. 22:18-19). We certainly do not want to make up our own rules for God’s judgments.
We cannot be certain what decisions Christ will make on the Judgment Day unless He reveals it to us. “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For “who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:11-16). The apostle Paul continues these thoughts when he wrote, “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy” (Rom. 9:14-16). God’s judgment will be righteous and God will have mercy on whomever He decides to have mercy. Obviously, God’s mercy is conditional. Just because we live as a Christian does not mean God will automatically extend His mercy. John asked a good question that illustrates this point well. He wrote, “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 Jn. 3:17). In light of James 2:13, it would seem such a merciless individual does not deserve any mercy even if his only other transgression was committed just prior to his death.
Christ is not a respecter of persons (Deut. 10:17; 2 Chron. 19:7; Rom. 2:11; Gal. 2:6; Eph. 6:9; 1 Pet. 1:17 ). “But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality” (Col. 3:25). The fact that a person is a Christian does not skew His judgment. How we feel about a matter does not change the truth (Prov. 3:5; 28:26). Just like in math class, how we feel about the problems has no bearing on the answers. Human logic that suggests God will forgive unconditionally is not the kind of justice God will use on the Judgment day.
God has revealed that He expects obedience (Lk. 6:46; Jn. 14:15, 21; Rev. 22:14). We must keep ourselves pure (1 Tim. 5:22; 2 Tim. 2:22; Jas. 1:27; 1 Pet. 1:22; 1 John 3:3). For the Christian, this is accomplished through confession and repentance of our sins (1 John 1:5-2:6; Lk. 17:3-4).
One unrepentant sin could cause us to lose our souls (Jas. 2:10). One misspoken word subjects us to judgment (Matt. 12:36; Jas. 5:12). Hating our brethren will prevent salvation (1 John 3:14-15). A Christian that teaches a false doctrine will be accursed (Gal. 1:6-9; 5:4; 2 Pet. 3:16-17). God is not even going to cut any slack to a weak brother whose sin was caused by a more knowledgeable Christian (1 Cor. 8:11-12).
Ananias and Sapphira were Christians. They lied just prior to their death (Acts 5:1-11). Will they be saved even if they prayed for forgiveness of all their past sins just prior to the events that took their lives? Remember, it was Christ who said, “All liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone” (Rev. 21:8). If we say Christ will be merciful to all Christians for a few unforgiven sins at the Judgment, then Ananias and Sapphira should be safe. But then again, who would dare to make such a judgment since we aren’t God?
Many will ask, “What hope of salvation is there if God is so strict (Heb. 12:29)?” Peter provides the answer. “As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:4-11). Peter is saying if we give all diligence to these things we will be fruitful, productive, obedient, forgiven at a moment’s notice to God. However, if we aren’t obedient in our diligence to these things, we are blind perhaps even thinking that we can’t keep ourselves pure because we are so wicked.
God gives time for repentance. Longsuffering means patient endurance. It is a quality of God toward all mankind (Rom. 9:22; 1 Tim. 1:16; 2 Pet. 3:9). “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance” (Rom. 2:4)? This doesn’t mean God tolerates sin. It means God gives us an opportunity to repent (Matt. 7:7-11; Lk. 11:9). God knows our hearts and will give us time to repent (though it may not be for long). He gave the churches in Asia time to repent (Rev. 2:4-5, 14-16). Ananias and Sapphira had their moment just prior to their death to repent. However, it appears they didn’t take that opportunity nor was that opportunity extended for very long.
Notice how quickly Peter rebuked Simon the Sorcerer and the reason for the rebuke in Acts 8:18-24. Despite the fact that Simon is a new convert committing a sin in ignorance the Apostle required immediate repentance. There is as much urgency for us to repent of our sins as there is to be baptized once we learn the truth (Acts 16:25, 33; 22:16; 2 Cor. 6:2; Jas. 4:14).
Sin is a choice. When we are tempted to sin, God not only gives us a way out but He won’t allow a temptation beyond our ability to resist. “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13). If we sin just prior to death it is because we allowed it to happen. Once we recognize our error, we must immediately repent as we might not have much time remaining.
God is as long suffering as he is merciful. When you think about it, the scenario where a person sins just prior to death is really a hypothetical situation that is unlikely to ever occur to any true Christian. If we are living our lives as we should, we will take every opportunity to repent of our sins. The Lord doesn’t wish anyone to perish (2 Pet. 3:9). It doesn’t make sense to think that God would allow our death to occur in a manner in which no opportunity for repentance exists. We can take comfort in knowing that God will give all of us an opportunity to repent of our sins; even for a sin that occurs just prior to our death.
By Steve A. Hamilton