Friday, September 19, 2014

Is The "Sinner's Prayer" Biblical???


I was perusing one of my social network news feeds today when I came across a post from someone I've been following for a while. One click brought me to his web site. The main portion of this page consisted of his version of the "sinner's prayer." At the end of this prayer were words similar to the ones I've used in the past myself. To paraphrase: "If you prayed this prayer with a sincere heart, then congratulations!!! You are now part of the family of God!!!

In the past, I had included my own version of the sinner's prayer and a congratulatory word of encouragement on my personal blog sites and in a self-published booklet I created. At the time, I believed it was a necessary part of witnessing. One day, when reading my own version of the sinner's prayer, doubt hit me and the questions came...

What is the "sinner's prayer?" If someone's repeating what I say they need to pray, is it coming from their heart or is this individual looking at this prayer as some sort of "incantation" that will assure him/her of their salvation? Why do Christians feel that this prayer needs to be recited when you become a born-again believer? Is it scriptural, or is it a Christian tradition that has crept into the church? 

These are the kinds of questions that ran through my mind in the past and were once again triggered when I read my Christian brother's web site post. What I had once taken for granted was true had become something that I began to distance myself from.  

I haven't made a big deal out of this when fellowshipping with my Christian brothers and sisters. I sometimes keep these things to myself because I feel as if I'm perceived as someone who is trying to rock the boat or someone who has "the spirit of division" (yes, someone actually said that to me concerning another issue). Since it has once again been thrust upon me, I guess I need to share what I see as an unnecessary addition to witnessing for Christ.

What is the "sinner's prayer?"

I've been instructed since I was a young Christian that one of the most important acts you can perform is to recite the sinner's prayer or to lead someone in the sinner's prayer. It's not a prayer of specific words like those recited in other religions, including Catholicism, but is rather an expression of your acknowledgement of your sinful state, and an acknowledgement of who Jesus is and what He has done for you. It's also a confirmation of our repentance and our decision to lay our lives down, take up our cross and serve Him for the rest of our days, being lead by the Holy Spirit. 

That's what it's supposed to be, anyway. But what is the sinner's prayer, really? Since the words aren't written in stone, they can vary from person to person. Oh, the basic concepts are there and the key words and phrases are used, but the "formula" for this prayer is pretty loose. To the person repeating this prayer, it would seem that his/her salvation is resting on reciting just the right words that will complete this transformation from sinner to saint. You and I both know, it doesn't work that way.

What the sinner's prayer really is, is a rehashing of what the repentant believer already knows. It's useless because what it's meant to do has already taken place. The heart has already changed. The individual has already believed and repented. So what's left to do? If not the sinner's prayer, then what???

Let me give you an example of what I have found. Here is a portion of scripture where Philip witnesses to an Ethiopian, who then receives Jesus as his Lord and Savior.

An Ethiopian Receives Christ
26 But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) 27 So he got up and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” 30 Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this:

“He was led as a sheep to slaughter;
And as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
So He does not open His mouth.
33 “In humiliation His judgment was taken away;
Who will relate His generation?
For His life is removed from the earth.”

"The eunuch answered Philip and said, 'Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?' 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. 36 As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, 'Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?' 37 And Philip said, 'If you believe with all your heart, you may.' And he answered and said, 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.' 38 And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing." Acts 8:26-39 (NASB)

Look at verses 36-38. Then focus on verse 37. Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." Then the eunuch made a confession of belief, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God," and Philip baptized him in water. There was no sinner's prayer, only a confession of belief... of faith. This reminds me of another portion of scripture that says, "that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation." Romans 10:9-10 (NASB)

With the heart a person believes and repents, resulting in righteousness (a transformation of the heart) and with the mouth, he confesses, resulting in salvation. It's the outward confession of the inward change that completes the transformation from lost sinner to newly born saint. Confession of our faith in Christ is important. Why? "And I say to you, anyone who confesses Me before men the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God" Luke 12:8 (NASB)  When we confess our faith in Christ before men, Jesus is then able to confess our name before the angels of heaven, declaring us as one of His adopted children. Oh, and such a moment that is! "I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance." Luke 15:7 (NASB)

I can find no example in the New Testament where anyone was lead in a form of sinner's prayer leading to their salvation. Sinners were instructed to believe and confess. Belief is followed by repentance and confession of Jesus as Christ. There is no other standard set down by Jesus or the Apostles by which we are to include in this most personal act between the repentant sinner and God. To say that there is something more to do in order to receive salvation would be to add to the word of God something that just isn't there.

So, to answer my own question, "So what's left to do? If not the sinner's prayer, then what???" The answer is to request a confession of faith.  
You: "Do you truly believe that Jesus is the Son of God sent to save you from sin's curse?"
Them: "Yes, I do."
You: "Are you willing to live a life of obedience to God?"
Them: "Yes, I am."
You: "If you truly mean that, then God has given rebirth to your once dead spirit and you are now part of a larger family of born again believers. Now let's talk about how important baptism is to your public confession of faith."

I hope I've given you something to think about. It's never easy to have a long held belief challenged, especially when it comes to our Christianity. I'm speaking from experience. What is important is that we take what we think we understand and hold it against the light of God's word. Does it hold up? If not, it's rubbish and needs to be excised from your life and tossed in the bin.

Here is a video by Paul Washer that you may find helpful. 

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Repent and be forgiven! Believe and be saved!

1 comment:

  1. Acts 2:37-40 HCSB

    When they heard this, they came under deep conviction and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles: “Brothers, what must we do? ” “Repent,” Peter said to them, “and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” And with many other words he testified and strongly urged them, saying, “Be saved from this corrupt generation! ”