It doesn’t seem fair that a person could lead a wicked life, never change their ways and keep on sinning right up until their last breath. Why should they be allowed to repent, receive Jesus as their Savior, and go to heaven within moments of their death?
Many people feel strongly that those people deserve to go to hell because they didn’t put in the work to get to heaven. The truth is, we all deserve hell. Remember that salvation is not based on our good works. According to the Bible, we all are evil in God’s sight. It is only repentance that brings salvation, and repentance can happen at anytime for anyone.
Look at the two thieves on the cross. The one said, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” The other rebuked him saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:40–43).
The one man was humble and knew he deserved his punishment. He also knew Jesus was God. He called on Him at his last moment, and Jesus saved him. That is how loving our God is. You and I might not always be that loving, but God is. The other thief now has all eternity to know that he was right next to the only One who could have saved him from hell but he didn’t believe it. What an eternity of the deepest regret.
In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus shares a parable about workers in His vineyard. The workers are hired at different times during the day. Some are hired at the end of the day, yet they receive the same wages as the ones who began their work early in the day. They had each agreed for a denarius for the days work. At the end of the day, when the landowner paid them each their denarius, the workers complained about the one at the end of the day receiving the same pay. Jesus said in verse 13, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?”
God’s goodness was displayed in paying all the workers the same, regardless of when they began their work. The Lord grants salvation to the one who repents from their heart at the last moment, just as He granted salvation to the one who has been serving Him many years. Understand that salvation is not based on our efforts or good works, but on God’s mercy and grace. The gift of salvation is offered to everyone who believes in Jesus Christ with genuine repentance. This doesn’t mean they both will obtain the same rewards in heaven. Rewards are based on what a person has done throughout their life for the kingdom of God.
I’m not suggesting people can live any way they want and then get saved at the last moment. God knows the heart, and only genuine repentance with a sorrowful heart brings salvation (2 Cor. 7:9). We also don’t know if a person will have an opportunity to get saved before they die. Many people die suddenly. Many people who are now in hell did not know it would be their last day.
When God saves an extremely wicked man on his deathbed it only shows how loving and forgiving our God really is. His love is far beyond ours (Rom. 5:8; Eph. 3:19). He is not trying to keep people out of heaven but to get them in. We need to get it clear in our minds that no one earns their way to heaven. Salvation has nothing to do with being good.
Then we will fully understand that God can save any wretch, any sinner, at the last moment.
“If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).
Bill Wiese is the author of New York Times best selling book, 23 Minutes In Hell, the story of his life-changing visit to hell in 1998. Bill has since authored six additional book titles, and continues to share his experience around the world. He and his wife Annette founded Soul Choice Ministries in late 2006 and have dedicated their lives to reaching the unsaved. For more information about Bill Wiese and Soul Choice Ministries please visit us at: https://soulchoiceministries.org/. You can find more of Bill’s teachings at: https://www.youtube.com/user/BillWieseTV.