This is the message of faith that we proclaim: if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. With the heart one believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses, resulting in salvation. Now the Scripture says, No one who believes on Him will be put to shame, for there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, since the same Lord of all is rich to all who call on Him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
When I read this I think of the argument against Christianity that I’ve heard often on the basis that Christianity doesn’t expect enough from those who have done great sins and then turned to faith to escape punishment, like a child who throws rocks then cries for forgiveness when his mother catches him to avoid a spanking.
I hear this complaint most times concerning death row confessions or death bed confessions. “Can a man live his life however he wanted and then right before he dies say a prayer to God and be saved?” I’m asked, like I’m sure you have been as well. Let’s clear this up: Yes and No.
Yes, a man who is on his death bed who genuinely comes to believe and accept Christ’s sacrifice and atonement for our sins will be saved. Consider the same chapter in Romans a little further on:
And Isaiah says boldly:
I was found by those who were not looking for Me;
I revealed Myself to those who were not asking for Me.
So the man who lived his life however he wanted was clearly not looking for God but if he finds Him then it is God’s will, and that sinner’s salvation is complete even on his death bed because he has come to believe.
However, No, a sinner who sins on purpose through his life and says a token prayer near the end, or really at any time – which should make us pause in introspection, will not be saved. Paul says that the person who is saved confesses and believes. But if the prayer for salvation is about merely escaping Hell or making himself feel better about his impending doom, then the man, no matter what he says with his mouth is not an actual believer and is not saved.
Salvation is not a magic incantation.
But words backed up by a heart change and a genuine belief that Jesus died for us can and does save. Whether we’ve lived the life we should have or not, and no matter how long we’ve had to live that life.