What if a person dies after accepting God but before he can be baptized?


I have a question about baptism. People always ask what if a person is about to die and accepts God into his heart, does he go to heaven or hell? My response is two things:

  1. I tell them the guy had chances before, so God would be just in condemning him to hell. Even if he hasn't heard God, it would be just to condemn him because he has sinned.
  2. I am not the judge, so I can only say what the Bible tells me and that alone. I don't give what if situations because the Bible is the reality and not what-if situations. God's law doesn't change no matter what the situation is unless stated in the Bible.

Is there a better response to a what-if situation dealing with faith alone people? I have always used this but was wondering what you would say.


You are correct that attempts to imagine a situation where the rule might be broken does not invalidate the rule. People imagine the possibility of a person believing in Christ but before he can act on it he is killed. "What will happen to the poor man?" they moan. They want someone to say, "he will be saved," so that they can say, "See, you can be saved without baptism!"

As you noted, we can't say that because it isn't what God said. "If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen" (I Peter 4:11).

What they don't realize is that they are diminishing the power of God. "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9). If a man turns his heart to God, God is not going to take his life at the last second so as to prevent his salvation. The Lord God is not like that.

I often ask such people, "Can a person be saved with confessing Christ?"

"Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:32-33).

"But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that 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. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Romans 10:8-10).

"But what," I then ask, "will happen to him if he dies before he has a chance to open his mouth and make a confession?"

And what about repentance? Can a person be saved without changing their life?

"I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3, 5).

"Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before" (Acts 3:19-20).

Now some want to blur the lines and say that faith, confession, and repentance are all the same thing. But I always point out that you believe in your heart, but confession is made with the mouth and repentance means doing things differently. "... that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance" (Acts 26:20). What happens to a fellow who doesn't have a chance to do works befitting repentance?

The answer is, if it ever did happen (and I have more confidence in God than that), then it would be God's decision, and fortunately not mine, but in the meantime, I must teach the will of the Father and He says that hearing the word, faith in Jesus, confession of Christ, repentance from sins, and washing away sins in baptism are all necessary to be saved from sins. Therein is the key problem. People talk about salvation, they see the goal is to get to heaven, but they neglect to see that they are being saved from something -- sin! It is as if they think they can be saved from drowning while remaining under the water.

However, we know that the early disciples understood the importance of being saved. When Saul was taught by Ananias, "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). When the Philippian jailer wanted to be saved, "So they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household." Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized" (Acts 16:31-33). And this even though Acts 16:25 said the events started around midnight.

Why the urgency in obeying God's commands? Because the people knew that the future is uncertain. "Whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away" (James 4:14). They did not risk the possibility of not having another opportunity.

"For He says: "In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you." Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (II Corinthians 6:2).

Frankly, when people truly believe God and are willing to do as He commands, the gap between belief and baptism isn't all that great. The possibility of dying before obeying is slim, and I'm confident that the Lord watches over those who are His.

When the Ethiopian asked, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?" The answer was, "If you believe with all your heart, you may" (Acts 8:37-38). There is nothing preventing salvation but a person's own heart.

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