Thursday, June 25, 2009

The sinners prayer

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.

A lot of times at a lot of services I attend or hear before the 'alter call' prayer was prayed there is hardly a minor mention of the word ‘sin’. Sometimes there is no definition to what sin is. There is sometimes no definition to how or why we sin. Sometimes 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.

For the most part some Pastors do talk about what God has done for us so that we won't have to be ‘separated from God’ but usually they fail horribly as to what our response should be. In fact, a common plea during an alter call is that if one were to pray the following prayer, the sinner would have eternal life.

Actually, Pastors, everyone ever born has eternal life in once place or another; Heaven or Hell. That’s it.

Here is basically the 'sinners' 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 may go 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 eisegesis (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.


Steve Martin said...

"Repent of your sins and call upon the name of the Lord and you will be saved."

I do it everyday.

The life of the believer...repentance and forgiveness.

Dying and being raised.

Over and over and over again.

Steve Martin said...

I said, :"I do it everyday."

That really is not accurate.

'He does it everday' is better.

He leads me to repentance (through His law and gospel) and forgives my sins I live in a dynamic relationship with Him.

Steve Martin said...

I'm sorry, I do not mean to monopolize the comments, but this post is very pertinent to the topic at hand:

Tracy Wagman said...

Very important message!!! This should be made into a tract and distributed. Are there actual tracts that address the magical sinner's prayer thing? I 've learned about this through the Way of the Master and I'm familiar with some of their tracts.
God bless you!

Wayne Dawg said...

Comment all you want Steve! I'll check out the link.....

Tracy - Good question. I don't know that I have ever seen a tract talking about the sinner's prayer.

Maybe it's time to make one!

Jonathan said...

Steve has it right with his "everyday" comment. Christians are still sinners, still sin everyday. That's the one message I think most unbelievers don't understand. Christians aren't perfect, though most in church spend quite a bit of energy trying to show the world how "good" they are.

Wayne Dawg said...

Good points Steve and Jonathan -

When a Christian sins he hates his sin. He wants to repent and move on knowing that he has offended God and wants to be back in a right standing before God.

A Christian doesn't wake up in the morning 'planning' out his sin.

The Christian stumbles...slips. He doesn't dive into sin like the world does.

Ike said...

The problems with the Sinner’s Prayer are compounded when joined to the concept that our eternal security is finally based on the personal experience of faith. For, in the Southern Baptist circles in which I was raised, the sincere praying of the Sinner’s Prayer was closely identified with the personal experience of faith. So that when someone considered whether he or she was truly, eternally saved from God’s wrath, he or she was reminded of whether the Sinner’s Prayer had been prayed with sincerity. This situation leads to at least two discernible, negative results. First, I have spoken with many people who are leading lives entirely contrary to God’s Word, yet they are sure that they are saved from God’s Wrath because they have sincerely prayed the Sinner’s Prayer at some point in the past; in other words, they have a false assurance of salvation. Second, those who are more spiritually sensitive and realize something of the deceitfulness of their own hearts live in constant doubt of their salvation, considering the fact that they might be wrong about their own sincerity when saying the Prayer, or that the Prayer may have been worded incorrectly and thus be doctrinally unacceptable to God. In his sermon on election Dr. Russell Moore gives a great, personal illustration of this second negative result:

I remember growing up in a congregation in which every single time that a visiting revival preacher would come by and talk about praying the Sinner’s Prayer with sincerity in your heart, I would go back home and wonder, “Did I have enough sincerity in my heart the time I prayed it the first time?” and I’d pray it again. And every time that I would hear the Sinner’s Prayer worded a different way, I would re-word it that way, “Lord, I know that I’m a sinner, and my sin separates me from You…” and I would word it exactly the way that evangelist had worded it, and I would try to scrunch up all the sincerity I could possibly have, and I would end it, not just with one, “In Jesus’ name,” but with several: “in Jesus’ name, in Jesus’ name, in Jesus’ name…” and somehow that sincerity is just going to hit in there and God was going to recognize it.

Dr. Moore also presented how the doctrine of election is the solution for the turmoil mentioned above:

My problem [in the moment I was fearfully praying the Sinner's Prayer for the umpteenth time] is, that I’m not recognizing and seeing what God is saying here [in Romans 8:26-9:6a]. He is saying that God wants you here [at this point of crying out to Him for salvation]. God is bringing you here. You are not here by accident. You are here because God has a purpose and God has a plan, and God is going to continue that plan to the end.

The one who is concerned over his or her eternal destiny should not look to his or her own sincerity, nor to the form of a scripted prayer not found in the Bible. The one who is aware of his or her sins and seeks freedom from these sins, and pardon from God’s Wrath, must look to God, who delights in justifying the ungodly. The sinner who, like the prodigal son, comes to himself, realizing his sins and desiring to serve God rather than sin, can expect to find God running to him as a loving father, rejoicing to embrace His lost child. The sinner coming to Christ in faith does not need to fear God’s rejection, because Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44 ESV). This truth is foundational to the doctrine of election, a doctrine which gives us great hope- a hope based in what God has done, is doing, and will do for His elect- so that we are moved to worship him more deeply.

- Andrew Lindsey

Raggedy Lamb said...

Good stuff here, Wayne. I think one of the problems with the sinner's prayer is that you think you're going to experience a dramatic and instantaneous alteration in your life. And then you find out that you're not much different than you were before. Until one sees how utterly hopeless you are to be perfect (or even anywhere close!), you will not be looking at Christ on the cross. You will stay curled in on yourself and wonder why things never go the way you think they ought. (As if God owes us anything!)

Carolyn said...

Good post Wayne, and one that needs to be taught everywhere!!! I've heard that same "speech" that you descibed (perfectly too! especially about closing one's eyes to pray) 2 thoughts I had while reading this and the excellent comments. One, this is too much like the church I grew up in- Anglican. I never really actually said a prayer all through my growing years which wasn't a repeat of something I was either taught or the minister's prayer. I think that's a big problem, and part of what you said about well, not in so many words- but a false conversion? Which may be why there are so many ear tickling churchs these days. Second point (sorry to always ramble) is that when the pastors or anyone who leads someone in these kinds of prayers, why have the eyes closed? Is it to avoid embarrassment of some kind? Maybe that of church friends or family who thought you were already saved? Is a person embarrassed or ashamed to admit they need Jesus? If they are embarrassed just to be seen in their church, how will they have the courage to CONFESS WITH THE MOUTH that JESUS IS LORD?
Just wondering. Thank you Wayne~ God Bless

Da Bomb said...

Hey Wayne,

I'm new to this blog but I saw your post and I thought you had many great points!

Like the one about Christ knocking on the door. You are only the second person I have heard to teach this :)

Are you familiar with David Pawson? - British guy.

My views on salvation may be a bit different but you guys may be interested. All good thinking about it :)


Right not that is over LOL!

I see the balance between Calvanism and Arminianism.
Imagine someone (us) drowning in a stream and we are in trouble (our sin).
God throws us a rope (salvation). We can choose to grab it or not.
If we grab it, God will pull us to shore. We cannot say "We saved ourselves", that would be untrue. God saved us. But then also we had a part to play in our salvation by choosing to grab and hold on tight to God's rope.

Also I have come to consider the point that the Bible brings out. To become a Christian it is not about a line you cross but a way you walk. Or the WAY you go.

For example:

Jesus said that if we loved Him we would follow His comands. If I am a Christian I will follow and continue to do what God tells me. Though when I stumble and yet still have a genuine heart after God He will pick me up.

Psalm 37:
23 The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, And He delights in his way.
24 Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; For the LORD upholds him with His hand.

Ps 51:17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise.

I see this in regard to baptism also which I only saw until recently. (I will be very controversial)

Mr 16:16 "He who believes and is BAPTIZED will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

1Pe 3:21 There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

If I take this as it says, it means what it says.
If I love Christ then I will go on to do these 4 things...Have faith (trust in Jesus), Repent (not just regret but actually turn from our ways), Be baptized, and be filled with His Holy Spirit.

Though regarding baptism, obviously the theif on the cross could not get baptized and people in the desert don't have much water so they sprinkle it. God understands the heart as you said earlier. But

If we are able to get baptized and don't, then I question whether we are saved?

Food for thought.

We need to remember that James said that Faith without works is dead but we are not saved by our works but by faith through Jesus' sacrifice. Without that then all the rest (works) are vain.

I hope you are following?

I really liked what you thought about the sinner's prayer being inadequate.



Wayne Dawg said...

Hello Da Bomb -

Thanks for visiting and commenting!

"If we are able to get baptized and don't, then I question whether we are saved?"

I don’t disagree with that DB…..We are called to be obedient. If we profess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and do not listen to His voice, how can we be part of the fold?