Can you live your life however you want, and then get into Heaven with a deathbed prayer? Does the Bible say anything about salvation for those who put off repentance until the last minute?
Has anyone ever asked you this question? I have heard it from quite a few people. Most of them asked it in a mocking way – as in the question “How bad can I be and still get into Heaven?” For them, I would say no. Galatians 6:7 tells us “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” God can tell the difference between a prayer that comes from true repentance and one uttered by lying lips and a hard heart. A prayer for salvation is not some “magic mantra” that will open the gates of Heaven for you if you can get it in before you draw your last breath.
That being said, there is Biblical precedence for deathbed confession of repentance and faith. The gospel writer Luke gave us an account of the conversation between Jesus and the criminals who were crucified with him.
The first criminal did ask Jesus for salvation. He hurled insults at Jesus, and then asked: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39) Luke doesn’t tell us where that guy ended up spending eternity, but that doesn’t sound like true repentance. The passage goes on to record the promise Jesus made to the other man, who confessed his sin and his belief that Jesus was the source of salvation:
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
(Luke 23:40-43 New International Version)