This is a question over my 44 years as a Baptist Minister which has been asked me. Known as ‘death bed repentance’ - how many sports stories are there when in the final few moments victory comes. Might this also apply to Salvation?
The thief on a cross of crucifixion acknowledged Jesus' innocence and the response by the Lord has rung down through history as recorded in the Scriptures – Salvation was his, at the death bell as it were.
This came to mind when reading an article a few years ago from The New Daily which listed the 10 closest sporting conclusions after the North Queensland Cowboys last second win over the Brisbane Broncos.
Literally, with one second to play in normal time of play after 80 minutes of heavy duty Rugby League Grand Final the Cowboys touched down in the far corner bringing the scores to 16-16.
For those out of the sporting circle the Cowboy's captain Jonathan Thurston missed the 'conversion' kick and the game went into golden goal extra time where Thurston this time found his mark with a drop kick field goal.
The first one I don't recall, a Michael Jordon NBA goal. The second I do recall, the 2005 Leo Barry's Sydney Swans mark and goal in the AFL grand final. Australia's 1999 World Cup Cricket win over South Africa – this I recall. The South Africans mucked it up when Lance Klusener went for a suicide run.
I even remember the 2003 Rugby World Cup win with Johnny Wilkerson's drop goal with 26 seconds to go. The Wallabies were devastated. And Debbie Flintoff-King's Gold Medal 400m hurdles at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. A hair breath was in it. The others I have little or no recollection.
So this brings me to the many stories of men and women making decisions for Christ at the very end of their lives, perhaps not that dissimilar to the thief on his cross as detailed above.
Perhaps the best known cinematic expression of this was in the mid war years, a period piece, Brideshead Revisited. I have this DVD set and have enjoyed it several times.
It has been described as the Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder is a novel by English writer Evelyn Waugh, first published in 1945.
Waugh wrote that the novel "deals with what is theologically termed 'the operation of Grace', that is to say, the unmerited and unilateral act of love by which God continually calls souls to Himself". This is achieved by an examination of the Roman Catholic, aristocratic Marchmain family, as seen by the narrator, Charles Ryder.
It is all bought to a head on the eve of WWII with the ageing Lord Marchmain, terminally ill, returns to Brideshead to die in his ancestral home. Appalled by the marriage of his eldest son, Brideshead, he names Julia heir to the estate, which prospectively offers Charles marital ownership of the house.
However, Lord Marchmain's return to the faith on his deathbed changes the situation: Julia decides she cannot enter a sinful marriage with Charles, who has also been moved by Lord Marchmain's reception of the sacrament of spiritual rebirth.
The story centres around the theological remits of Catholicism within this family and in the final analysis when a sinner opens their heart, even in the final moments of earthly life, there is rejoicing in the faithful.
If that is the cinematic version, what of real life - when loved ones who are committed believers in Jesus Christ and hold true to the Scriptures whereupon anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord Jesus will be saved – and pray earnestly for 'dad' (or whoever) on their death bed to gives their lives to Jesus.
I have witnessed this and have heard so many such stories, that there are inevitably a number of theological issues involved.
Jesus in Matthew 20 tells the parable of the workers who are offered a payment for work in the fields, where even the one who started work at 3.00pm received the same payment. The murmurings were answered - that it was the owners field and he decided the terms.
But there is another angle to this whole scenario. Those who come to genuine Salvation in repentance and forgiveness in the twilight of years, their remorse is great and full of grief and sorrow, how they squandered their lives in hedonism and opulence rather than serving their new found wonderful Saviour.
This newly revealed and discovered life in Christ now becomes the focal point in their lives and sometimes they over compensate for their wasteful living. Family members begin to wonder whether it was easier to live with the former ..... we might jest a little about this, but these are equally valid considerations.
This is the stuff of conversion stories. The transformation can be great. The change can be of mammoth proportions.
At the same time, should the repentant have been the 'good person' all their lives: helpful, charming, good natured, well mannered ... the change might be minimal in outward appearances, but a roaring tirade happening inside where remorse and sorrow for a life wasted in for their Lord.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 25 books, and enjoys writing. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand. Dr Mark Tronson’s Press Service International in 2019 was awarded ‘The Gutenberg’ - the Australasian Religious Press Association’s premier award. In September 2020 Summer Moore presented her commission portrait of Dr Mark Tronson holding the Gutenberg plaque. He and David Chang editor of Christian Today together bought the young writer ministry into fruition in 2009. In 2011 Mark established Laguna Quays Respite (Whitsundays) for missionary respite and replicated at Aldinga Beach 2016 (Adelaide) and Greens Beach Bass Straight (TAS). His ministry is honoured all these years by Christian philanthropist Mr Basil Sellers AM. He is married to Delma (44 years), with four adult married children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/dr-mark-t.html