John 17:17: Jesus prayed for his disciples, "Sanctify them in the truth; your Word is truth."
Before your death you can expect the devil’s attacks. He is a murderer and the instigator of death. His greatest glee is robbing God’s people of life--physically, spiritually, and eternally. During the hours before death you can expect him to try to control your thoughts to rob you of spiritual and eternal life. He may attempt to turn your mental image of the Lord from a gracious Savior into a horrible ogre and vengeful judge, who does not love you but who hates you and will consume you in his wrath.
As death approaches he may magnify your sins a thousand times in your mind. He may make your most trivial misdemeanor look like the vilest offense. He may make one missed worship service appear to have been a life-time of despising God and his Word. He may hold up an angry word you spoke on one occasion to make you look like you had been a despicable person all your life.
The devil may even try to twist your fruits of faith and acts of love into selfish acts that sought your own benefit and glory, making them appear like the most detestable things you had ever done. He may try to make the good look bad, and the bad look worse, to make you think you never did anything good.
If he can have his way, he will not give you a moments peace of mind. He will parade your sins before you until you want to cry out in horror: Im a wicked wretch! Look what Ive done! I have been so evil. God will never have mercy on me. There isnt a spot in hell deep or hot enough for me.
The devil may try to prevent your finding comfort in the Lords having elected you in eternity for salvation through faith in Jesus. He may attempt to raise this doubt in your mind about your election: How could you think you are one of Gods elect, you sinner? Out of the billions of people in the world, why should God have chosen the likes of you! You are too puffed up with yourself! You are conceited! Such evil pride proves you could never have been chosen for salvation! You are fit only for damnation!
To fight the devil’s temptations to dwell on your sins, by faith concentrate on the mercy, love, forgiveness, and salvation of our Lord. Behold your sins in the rays of God’s grace in Christ. The light of salvation emanating from the cross will block the fear of punishment. Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your salvation, who assumed the guilt of all your sins, for which reason Isaiah 53:6 states: “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 says: “He (God) made him (Christ Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin for our sake, so we should become the righteousness of God in him.” 1 Peter 2:24 states: “. . . he himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that having died to sins we may live to righteousness; by his wounds you were healed.” And Isaiah 53:4, 5 tell us: “But surely our sicknesses he (Christ Jesus) took upon himself, And our pains he bore them; Yet we considered him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; The punishment for our peace was upon him; And by his stripes we are healed.”
Concentrating on the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper can ward off the devil’s condemning you for your sins. In your baptism the Triune God placed his name on you to claim you as his own and to label you as a member of his family. With the water by his Word he washed away all your sins, restored you to a pure state of innocence such as Adam and Eve had at their creation, and blessed you with eternal life. This is true, for Titus 3:4-7 tells us: “Now when the kindness and love for mankind of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works which we have done in righteousness, but according to his mercy, by the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we may be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
The devil cannot afflict you with the guilt of your sins while you reflect on the forgiveness of your sins, the salvation from hell, and the eternal life, which the Lord gave you in your baptism. Possessing these blessings, you can tell that deceiving spirit, I have been baptized! This historical fact you cannot undo! Through it the Lord made me his forgiven child. Therefore you cannot frighten me with guilt and punishment. I no longer have any guilt! I am no longer subject to punishment! My baptism is my guarantee. So trouble me no more with your drivel about sin and guilt! To my death I will cling to my baptism with its assurance of my forgiveness and salvation!
What is more, the devil cannot frighten you with guilt and punishment, so long as you embrace the many times you received the Lords Supper during your life. Each time you received it, Jesus gave you his body and blood that he gave and shed on the cross for your sins. Each time he told you that you were receiving his body, which he had given for your benefit to save and to redeem you. He also told you the cup you were receiving was the new covenant in his blood, the very blood he shed on the cross to put Gods covenant of forgiveness and salvation into effect for you. Together with his body and blood he gave you the forgiveness of your sins, salvation from hell, and life everlasting. So long as you cling to these blessings Jesus gave you in the Lords Supper, the devil is powerless in your dying moments to frighten you that you are a guilty sinner who is on your way to hell. Your Judge, Jesus, will certainly not condemn you after he has repeatedly given you his body and blood for your forgiveness and salvation. Having this assurance, you can die in peace.
Your dying hours are the time to take comfort in Jesus having died to pay for your sins. “He was delivered for our transgressions,” Romans 4:25 says. Ephesians 1:7 says: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” His death redeemed you, that is released you from the guilt of your sins. You had been a guilty sinner subject to the punishment of God. The devil is apt to convict you of this in your dying hours to destroy your faith. But he will be directing your thoughts to your former status before Jesus died for you. You are not such a guilty sinner any longer. Your status before God changed after Jesus carried your sins to the cross, where he gave his life to pay for them. Because his death paid for your sins, God remembers them no more.
Hold onto your forgiveness through Jesus atoning sacrifice, like the hound that sinks his teeth into a fresh steak his master set in front of him. No amount of coaxing will convince the dog to let go of it. Likewise, no matter how much the devil may convict you of your sins, pay no attention to him but hold onto the gifts of Gods forgiveness and salvation Jesus has given us. These are yours. The devil cannot take them from you. With faiths strong teeth, hold onto them, devour them for your spiritual nourishment during the dark hours of dying, and digest them so they become a part of you.
Clinging to Christs redemption and his gifts of forgiveness and salvation, the devils attempts to burden you with guilt and the fear of punishment will fail. What is more, Christs gospel will give you the strength to rebuke him: Devil! You cannot accuse me of sin and guilt, neither before God--for you were thrown out of heaven when Christ defeated you on his cross, nor in my conscience--for the gospel of forgiveness and salvation assures me that I have been, and am, saved by Jesus death. You cannot accuse what God has forgiven! You cannot condemn what Christ has saved!
Furthermore, devil, you are a liar. Your being so all the more assures me that my salvation is certain. Since your natural language is only falsehoods, your accusing me of sin and telling me I am condemned assures me the opposite is true. The more you scream that I am guilty and condemned, the more I know that I am forgiven and saved. I would fear you more if you preached the gospel to me, assuring me I am forgiven and on my way to heaven, for I know you lie all the time. I would be convinced the opposite were true. Now stop trying to torment me with your lies! You will not tear my soul from the truth. Any moment angels will carry me on their wings through the heavenly gates amid shouts of victory over you. I will then leave you behind to suffer your just torments where you belong--in the eternal lake of fire.
Going to your death remembering that God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ have given you grace and peace will empty the devil’s threats of wrath and punishment. Your heavenly Father--who reconciled you to himself through the cross, and your Savior Jesus--who is your judge, send you their grace and peace to sustain you through death into everlasting life. Since they send you their grace and peace, when the devil asserts they have only wrath and punishment in store for you, you know he is lying. He is portraying your dear Father and beloved Savior as a terrifying judge and executioner, when actually they hold out only grace and peace to you. There is a greater chance for a snowball to remain frozen in hell than for the grace and peace of our Father and Savior to turn into wrath and punishment against you, who have believed their gospel of salvation.
Your Father’s and Savior’s grace and peace shield you from the devil’s accusations and threats, enabling you to die at peace with God and within yourself. The devil’s outcries against you will fall on your deaf ears as your heart remains filled with Jesus’ assurance that in him you have peace. In John 16:33 Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but be of good courage; indeed I have overcome the world.” And in John 20:21 Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” When his peace fills your heart, the devil can make no room in it for the Lord’s wrath. Jesus’ peace excludes his wrath as his light excludes Satan’s darkness. They are incompatible. Jesus’ peace and wrath cannot both be yours in the same instant of time. You can, therefore, lay back in peace, putting yourself in his gracious hands to take you when he is ready without any fears of hell to plague you.
Hell is a real place where the damned are forsaken by God, separated from his mercy and blessings, and left to the fury of his unrelenting wrath. This hell can lay no claim to you, a believer in Jesus, even though your sins were as black and cold as the back side of the moon and more plentiful than snow flakes in a two day blizzard. For through faith you are in Christ. Being in Christ, hell already laid its awful hands on you when Christ cried out in your place on the cross that God had forsaken him. Being in him, you already suffered the torment of being forsaken to God’s furious punishment when Christ, our dear Savior, suffered it for you. Having already suffered it in him, it is finished as he said on the cross. Being finished, you cannot, and will not, suffer it again. You no more need to fear hell than you need to fear a dead foe. Its power is gone. It can never harm you again. Being in Christ, who ascended into heaven, your life is now in heaven with him. Being in heaven with him, you cannot have a foot in hell with the devil, no matter what that lying spirit whispers in your dying ears. Hell is his home; heaven is yours. In this confidence you can die at rest with only the Lord’s blessings to look forward to.
For as long as your dying hours might last, your mind may be assured that your Lord’s blessing rests upon your death, if you but remember the countless times his blessing was pronounced over you by your pastor at the end of your church's worship services:
The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The Lord look on you with favor and give you peace.”
Week after week, month after month, year after year, our Lord has placed his blessing on you through this benediction. Will he in your dying moments withdraw his blessing from you, to leave you die under his curse, as the devil would try to make you believe? Impossible! Jesus says in Matthew 24:35, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words shall absolutely not pass away.” The sun will fall from the sky, the moon will disappear, and the earth will slip out of existence, before this blessing of our Lord on you will come to an end. So in death you have nothing to fear. Our Lord’s blessing rests on you.