It bothers me. A famous person dies. While they are not known for their Christianity, they may have made a significant contribution to their local community, or even the world, and everyone of faith is so eager to support the notion that they have gone to heaven. Sure, they may even have contributed a great deal to curing cancer for small children, but how do you make any sort of judgement either way? What actually gets a person into heaven?
We could take a look at certain aspects of their life. Every few years they divorce and remarry, they make foolish sounding boasts in the media about ridiculous goals which they are most definitely not going to achieve. They join religious groups which are known for weird practices… Yet they are known for having a vague sort of faith and that seems to be enough in the eyes of the adoring masses.
Is it enough to just have faith? Is it fair to judge, even hesitantly, based on media reports alone?
Now look, it seems obvious to me that the details of the paragraph above are fairly indicative. This does not sound like a born again believer to me. It doesn’t sound like a person who was saved and is being discipled towards being more like Jesus.
Granted, you can never know for sure, and who knows what has run through a person’s mind immediately prior to death. However, we know that the number one purpose of salvation is to glorify God. That’s why he saves us. He saves us to show his saving power and his character in forming a people who will represent that character faithfully.
The mark of a person who is saved is their growth in Christ-likeness, their practice of righteousness which trains them to become more holy. If that doesn’t come through in their life it is highly unlikely that they have the Spirit at work within them. It is unlikely that they are saved.
Yet again, that is ultimately God’s domain so I won’t go quite so far as to undercut all hope. But there isn’t much. Seriously.
I don’t believe that true deathbed conversions are common or reliable for the same reasons. God wishes to show his glory by changing people – not just by ticking up numbers for the kingdom.
I urge you to look at the fruit of a person’s life by the standard that scripture sets. I urge you to look at the things that a person is known for believing.
If the Spirit of truth is teaching them and revealing truth to them, if he is growing godly character in them, then you can have a measure of certainty. But at the same time, we can’t make an absolute call in this direction either. It’s a matter of confidence and a weight of evidence.
Consider these scriptures:
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:19-24 ESV)
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:1-5 ESV)
I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. (1 Chronicles 29:17 ESV)
May God bless your thinking on this matter.