March 31, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Against the "Sinner's Prayer"

Throwback Thursday is a series of posts, wherein I will on (some) Thursdays post a piece of writing from back in the day. Generally not from this blog. I will edit lightly for readability, but my intention is to allow each piece to stand basically as written. Over the years my mind has shifted on many things, as my knowledge of life, the Scriptures, and myself has grown. I'm not in the business of hiding this fact, so these will probably (at least on occasion) contain some things which even I think are crazy.

Originally Posted on Facebook as: Some musings on Salvation...
February 9, 2010
Just to preface, well...I was going to write a disclaimer trying to explain where I'm coming from, mostly because I'm assuming there will be a lot of people (many of whom I respect and look up to) who disagree with me on this; but it's not worth it to write a disclaimer, haha. Get mad at me if you want, I don't really care. I just hope it gets you to thinking for yourself what Scripture actually says on this subject instead of just leaning on how you've always "felt" or been told, or whatever. Cause whenever I bring this subject up I get a lot of opposition based on people's notions of how they think God would feel, or what's fair, or whatever. I'm saying junk that, and just read the Book. Let Him tell you the answer. I'm just here to get ya thinking.

I'm pretty sure everyone has heard an "altar call". Heck, I've made altar calls "come foreword, confess you're a sinner, and Jesus will save you from Hell"...really? Now before you start screaming heresy and tune me out, keep reading. The more I read and study Scripture, and the more I look back over my own life, the more I question the whole idea of the "sinner's prayer" being necessary for salvation. And here is why-I don't see it in Scripture. I just fail to find where there is anywhere that the Bible tells us to pray a salvation prayer. There are calls for repentance, and calls for confession...but what is the context? Let's look at two of the main passages that people use to support this nearly universal assumption among believers...both being found in Romans chapter ten.

Romans 10:9 (NIV)-That 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.

Romans 10:13 (NIV)-for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."

Now that right there sounds pretty pro-sinner's prayer. Confess and believe, call on the Lord. The basic elements of your cookie cutter confession. But how does that fit with the context, not just of the passage, but of Scripture, specifically the NT, as a whole?

Now it really does seem cut and dried without the context of Romans ten, so lets look at what that is. The context is, Paul is speaking about there being no distinction between Jews and Gentiles. The church at this time was deeply divided along racial lines, with many Jews claiming that as God's chosen people they were better than Gentile believers, or that they even had exclusive rights to Salvation, with Gentiles being left out in the cold. Paul quotes the OT book of Joel here, to make the point that all are equal through the blood and redeeming work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Another key to understanding this passage is that terms here for "confess" and "call" are deeper than a simple cry of desperation or panic, but a deep seated acknowledgement of Christ's Lordship. I.e., Jesus isn't a life preserver we throw on to save us from Hell, He is an Almighty God to whom we pledge our allegiance. Crying out to Him and confessing our need of His redeeming work is a result of that.

So what does the Bible say about this? I want to focus on two passages here. First,

Romans 8:28-30 (NIV)- And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

We usually stop at verse 28 here, for the benefit of our Hallmark card Christianity, and it's a nice comfy verse for use in many different areas. But I think when we relegate it to that we miss out on a lot of its true power. First off it's not just saying for those who love Him. It says "those who love Him, who have been called"...thus implying that in order to truly love God, one must first be called of Him. In verse 30 it gives us an "order of events" so to speak, predestined, called, justified, glorified. Nowhere in here is there a mention of our need to accept a gift, no mention of our "participation", if you will, at all. Keep that in mind as we examine the next passage.

Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV)-For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

By grace, through faith...that is not of ourselves. Interesting. Here it says it is faith that saves us, but we don't have that faith. Even the faith itself comes from God. And not of works, lest anyone should boast. And the more I think about it, the funnier I find it. People who insist on a prayer will still insist that it's by grace and we can't do anything for it...well what is prayer but a work? It may look a little different, but really, if it's what we're counting on to save us, what is the difference between that and giving money to good causes, donating time, helping the needy, etc? I think the moment we start placing our Salvation in our own hands, even to such a "small" extent, we are treading some gravely dangerous ground. And again, I just don't see any evidence of it from Scripture.

So how does that affect us? I suppose what I've presented here is a somewhat Calvinist argument, and one of the major issues people have with many Calvinists is that the don't do evangelism. They are content to just sit back and watch people live horrible lives without sharing the hope of Christ because "their fate is already decided". Two issues here.
One-to anyone who is sitting on their hands and watching life go by in the name of "trusting God"-get off you lazy butt and read your Bible. Then do what it says, because you are in sin.

James 1:21-25 (ESV)-Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

James is calling Christians out here, to not be people sitting on the sidelines but (I love how the English Standard phrases this one) a doer who acts. Doer who acts. Get it in gear, God has called you to a lot more than a life of complacency. This is where works comes into play, not as a means of Salvation, but a result of it. The very LEAST that we owe Christ is a life turned over completely to Him living in submission and humility.

Second issue...I question evangelism as it stands today, in the general sense. And you might ask, but isn't that what the great commission is about? it really? Modern evangelism is usually centered around organized events aiming for crowds and numbers, trying to draw people in to "make commitments" for Christ. Well here's a simple truth-in our human state we can't commit to Christ. Not until we have His presence in us is that possible. (1 John 4:9,10) So what does the great commission say?

Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)-"...Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
And here's what I want to focus on here-He says make disciples. Not converts, disciples. Baptizing them and teaching them everything He commanded. Interesting. Maybe Christians need to quit worrying about holding giant evangelistic events, and instead of focus on building relationships with people so that if God does choose to reveal Himself to them, we will be in a position that we can encourage and disciple them. So that's what I've been thinking about. Maybe, just maybe, if we quit trying to get people to say a prayer, and instead lived transformed lives for Christ and in turn disciple those around us in order that they might do the same we would quit getting empty commitment and start seeing some life change.
AMPing up the Bible study.  Heck yes.
AMPing up the Bible study.

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About Me

Follower of Jesus. Husband of one. Father of four. Pastor at Remsen Bible Fellowship (