I recently had the unfortunate experience of attending a Christmas Eve service at a local church (No, I won’t name the church). Actually, 98% of the service was quite good. We sang Christmas songs. We heard solo performances in both song and speech. We had a great time fellowshipping with like minded folks who are brothers and sisters in Christ. Then, at the end of the service, we had to sit through one of the worst ‘sinners prayers’ during an alter call, that I have ever heard.
Let me just state for the record that I think the ‘sinners prayer’ is not biblical. It’s not un-biblical either; it’s just not found in the Bible. The sinners prayer is nothing more than “leading” a sinner through a series of words that mean absolutely nothing if the person repeating those words is merely mimicking what he/she is hearing. Sometimes when I’m out street witnessing I will hear people say, “I prayed the prayer when I was younger”. When you press them about it, they really can’t remember what they prayed only that they “asked Jesus into their heart” when they were seven or eight years old. After you talk with them awhile you learn that they are un-churched, they do not pray regularly, they do not read the Bible daily, etc. Does that sound like a conversion to you?
The ‘sinners prayer’ can only be effective if the person understands what he/she heard from a Gospel presentation before the prayer was cited and if the person is truly repenting and trusting Christ to save them. What I mean to say is this:
Before the prayer was there…
· A clear presentation about sin: Sin defined; who has sinned, why and how we sin, the consequence and penalty of sin.
· What did God do for us to deliver us from the penalty of sin.
· What should we do in response to what God has done for us.
In other words; A clear and precise understanding of sin and the Gospel before any prayer is offered.
Back to the sinners prayer I heard at the Christmas Eve service. Before the prayer was prayed there was a very minor mention of the word ‘sin’. There was no definition to what sin was. There was no definition to how or why we sin. The only mention of the penalty of sin was the proverbial “separation from God” blurb that fails miserably in conveying the severity of spending eternity in the Lake of Fire if one dies in their sins. The Pastor did talk about what God did for us so that we would not have to be ‘separated from God’ but failed horribly as to what our response should be. In fact, the Pastor said at least twice that if one were to pray the following prayer, that the sinner would have eternal life. Actually, Pastor, everyone ever born has eternal life in once place or another; Heaven or Hell. That’s it.
Here was basically the prayer:
With every head bowed and every eye closed, repeat after me; “Dear Lord Jesus, I admit that I’m a sinner. You died on the cross for my sins. I know that you are standing at the door of my heart and knocking and all I have to do is open the door for you to come in. I accept you as Lord and Savior. Come into my heart and give me eternal life. If you prayed that prayer, please slip your hand up so I can see. No one is going to come to you or make you feel uneasy. We don’t want to embarrass you. Good. Thank you. You may put your hands down now.” The Pastor goes onto say that if you prayed that prayer, congratulations, you are now in the family of God.
Let me say one thing first; can God use a botched sinners prayer to save a sinner? Yes. If the person praying the prayer was repenting of their sins and trusting Christ to save them from their sins on the day of wrath. God knows the heart. God knows if a person is merely parroting a prayer versus truly repenting and trusting. But, on the other hand, if a person is merely feeling a little guilty about some of the things he/she has done and prays this type of prayer thinking it’s all good now, signs the card, gets baptized, joins the church and then attends for a few months and slowly fades away from the fellowship….did that person get saved? Are they just backsliding a bit? Or, could it be, that they were never born-again like Jesus said we must be? The ever so popular sinners prayer has claimed another victim.
Let’s break down some of the above ‘sinner prayer’.
“With every head bowed and every eye closed” – Why? Why must every head be bowed and every eye closed? If a person has heard a clear and concise biblical message about sin, repentance, God’s Grace and trusting Christ to save them, they should be running to the alter! I certainly did. No one could hold me back when I heard what God had done for me in spite of my sins.
“I admit I’m a sinner” – Yes, that’s a good start. But admitting you’re a sinner and repenting of your sins are two different things. The Bible says that you must repent for remission of sins (Acts 2:38). Jesus said in Luke 24:46-47, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” In fact the first words recorded in Mark at the start of Jesus ministry was “Repent and believe the Gospel.” The word ‘believe’ is better translated ‘trust’. Like one would trust a parachute to save you from the law of gravity. You must repent and trust Jesus to save you from God’s Law. God will enforce His Law on the Day of Judgment and the only thing that can save you is the atoning blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
“I stand at the door and knock” - Some Pastors use incorrectly Revelation 3:20 that say’s “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” Jesus is not ‘knocking’ at the door of a sinners heart in this context of Scripture, He is knocking at the door of the church. Jesus is speaking to the church (believers, not un-believers) in Laodicea. This church had grown ‘lukewarm’ because of their works. Look at what Jesus says to this church in response to their ‘lukewarm-ness’ in verse 19, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.” Because Jesus loves the church (the believers) He rebukes and chastens them. Jesus tells these believers to get zealous for Him and repent for being lukewarm. To use Revelation 3:20 as an evangelism verse is to clearly take out of context what Jesus is saying to the church. At best using this verse for a sinners prayer is pure ignorance of the Scriptures and at worst performing eisegsesis (taking from Scripture and applying ones own idea).
“Accept Jesus as you Lord and Savior” – Wrong. We need Jesus to accept us. And He will, if we repent and trust Him.
“Come into my heart and give me eternal life” – We already have eternal life. What needs to be asked of God here is that, after repenting of your sins, you trust Him to forgive you. He will do so and give you eternal life in Heaven.
There are many other things a Pastor may say and even might have some soft heart tugging music being played while all this goes on. But here is all that needs to happen:
Jesus said in John 3:3, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Jesus said we must be 'born again.' Why? Why must we be born again?
Simple - You have broken God's Law's. You know, the Ten Commandments. If you are honest, you will say that you have lied (9th Commandment), you have stolen something sometime in your life (8th Commandment), you probably have coveted (10th Commandment), looked with lust at someone (7th Commandment), probably have taken the Lord's Name in vain (3rd Commandment).
These are just Five of the Ten Commandments. If you have broken just one of them, you are guilty of breaking them all.
Because you have broken God's Law's, you will have to answer for that one day when you die. And you will die won't you? Hebrews 9:27 says, And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment."
You are going to have to stand before a Holy and Righteous Judge on judgment day; God. And it's not just you either. The Bible says in Romans 3:23 that, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”
When your standing there before God on judgment day, your are going to have to pay for your sins (breaking the Law). The Bible says in Romans 6:23. "The wages of sin is death...." This 'death', is not just only an eternal separation from God, but eternity in hell where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth in the lake of fire.
But there is hope my friend. 2000 years ago, God did something truly amazing. He sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, born of a virgin to be a sacrifice on your behalf. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, "For He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
There it is!
We need to be made righteous before God. How do you do that?
Repent of your sins. Acts 17:30, "Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent" Repent and turn from your sins. and call on the name of Jesus. Acts 16:31, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." Romans 10:13, "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Pray to the God who gave you your first life to give a second life. This is the only way to have everlasting life with God. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."God's Word is true.
Repent of your sins and call upon the name of the Lord and you will be saved. Do it from you heart and not from some man-made prayer.
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