Does God Give Us a Second Chance to Repent After Death?

Image by Kenny Orr. Adapted for Redemption of Humanity. Used under licence.

The Bible’s Answer

The Bible’s answer to this question is no; God gives each person in the world plenty of chances to repent and thereby make themselves friends with God in this lifetime, as he himself wants everyone to come to repentance (2Pet 3:9). But he does not give us any more chances to repent after we die. The Word of God declares:

… But as it is, [Jesus] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:26b–28, ESVUK)

As the above passage clearly says, all people will “die once” only, and after we die “comes judgement”, which refers to God’s final and just verdict on whether we will end up with him or apart from him in eternity (Mt 25:46). This will take place, according to the Apostle Paul, at the judgement seat of Christ (2Cor 5:10), who is to come on an unknown day and hour (Mt 24:42–44) as the Final Judge of the living and the dead (2Tim 4:1).

Who Are Those Who Eagerly Wait for Jesus?

When Hebrews 9:28 says that Jesus will come to “save those who are eagerly waiting for him”, it’s not talking about just any person who might be pleased to see him—but those who actually believe in him. This requires some explaining.

Ordinarily, every person would be condemned at God’s judgement, because we are all sinners who violate God’s commandments on a daily basis and fall short of God’s glory (1Ki 8:46; Rom 3:10–12, 23), making us his enemies (Rom 5:10) and worthy of eternal punishment (Mt 25:46). But because Jesus, in his infinite love, bore our sins in his body on the cross and died the death we deserved (Heb 9:28; 1Pet 2:24), each person in the world is given a chance to receive full forgiveness from God in this life on Earth and avoid the judgement that they deserve. The Lord Jesus Christ explained how to avoid this judgement that comes right after death in the following words:

21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. 22 The Father judges no one, but has given all judgement to the Son, 23 that all may honour the Son, just as they honour the Father. Whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgement, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:21–24)

As Jesus said, referring to himself as the Son, anyone who listens to him and believes what the Father says about him—for the Father affirms everything that the Son says (Jn 5:37–38)—”does not come into judgement”, but has passed from death to eternal life. In other words, when we believe the central truth about Jesus, that he died for all your sins personally on the cross to save you (Ti 2:13–14), and rose again from the dead on the third day (1Cor 15:3–4; Rm 10:9), we receive the redemption from sin’s consequences that Jesus won for us (Col 1:13–14). We may no longer fear death, because Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life (Jn 11:25–26), in whom there is no condemnation (Rom 8:1). Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life—the one and only way to God the Father (Jn 14:6). Jesus then says:

28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgement. (John 5:28–29)

Those who believe in Jesus are sanctified by the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in their hearts (Jn 14:23; 1Cor 3:16–17; Eph 3:16–19), which is how they are able to do “good” despite being sinners, whereas those who disbelieve continue to do the “evil” that all people by default do (Rom 8:7–8). Hence, those who refuse to believe that Jesus is their crucified and risen Saviour are, in Jesus’ own words, “condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (Jn 3:18).

Where Does Repentance Come in?

We spoke about faith (or belief) in Jesus earlier, but that’s not quite the full story. The fullest expression of the way to salvation is summed up in the word “repentance” (Lk 24:46–47), which is not a righteous act, but a change of attitude, with God at work in our hearts (2Tim 2:25), consisting of both contrition and faith (Mk 1:15; 2Cor 7:10). We repent when we are truly sorry for our sins and believe in Jesus as our only Lord and Saviour (Ac 4:12; 16:31). The result of repentance is a changed life, which revolves around loving and serving Jesus (Lk 3:8; Jn 14:15). A person who repents is, from that moment on, a Christian (Lk 15:7; Jn 1:12).

The simple reason for why repentance is necessary, is because evil is incompatible with God (1Jn 1:5–6). God is holy—that is, separate from evil, and those who dwell in his presence must also be holy (1Pet 1:15–16). It’s true that the Lord Jesus Christ gives Christians his holiness, by the power of the Holy Spirit, so that we can stand in God the Father’s presence (1Cor 1:30). But because of original sin, we still sin and fall short of God’s holiness every day, which is why repentance must be a daily event (Ps 38:3–4, 18; Mt 6:9–13). We must daily die to sin (Rom 6:6–7), so that we can continue to receive God’s mercies (Pr 28:13–14). The good news is that God is faithful, and has promised to forgive all those who do repent from the heart, as the Apostle John teaches:

7 But if we walk in the light, as [God] is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:7–9)

But we can only repent in this lifetime. It’s too late to change our minds about sin and Jesus after we die, and stand before the judgement seat of Christ (2Cor 5:10). If we die in unbelief, then we have sealed our own fate to eternal damnation in Hell (Mk 9:43–48), despite the fact that God mercifully calls all people to repent to be saved (2Pet 3:9). So, don’t provoke God by putting off repentance and assuming you will live another day (Ps 32:6; Mt 4:7). If you have not yet repented, do so right now, by confessing your sins to God, and putting your faith in Jesus as the only Son of God and the Saviour of the world, who died for you, rose again, and ascended into Heaven (Lk 24:51), so that you may live with him in Heaven forever (1Th 5:9–10).

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