Friday, July 27, 2007

The Sinner’s Prayer: Biblical or Practical?

One of the greatest tools in modern evangelism is referred to as the Sinner's Prayer. This prayer is essentially viewed as the official mark or moment of salvation. So the question I pose is this, "Is the Sinner's Prayer supported by evidence of use in Scripture and is leading another in this prayer necessary for their actual salvation?" One problem with the concern over the Sinner's Prayer is that it causes zealous Christians who mean well to offer salvation to those who are not ready to receive it. The promise for joy and a better life sounds like a good trade just to admit that God exists and to "ask Jesus into your heart." Sadly for these new "converts," Christ tells us that there are two problems with this idea. First, just saying that you believe in God doesn't make you a Christian (Matthew 7:21, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter."). Second, there are four types of responses to the preaching of the Gospel. In the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23), Christ explains seed (the Word of God) being sown (preached) and what happens to that seed. First, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it (the response of those not understanding the Word of the Kingdom of God and the devil coming to snatch away what has been sown into the heart). Second, some seed fell among the rocky places where it immediately sprang up due to lack of depth of soil and when the sun came out scorched the plant causing it to wither away (the response of those who hear the Word and respond with joy, but upon persecution or affliction for the Word's sake they immediately fall away from the faith). Third, some seed fell among thorns and the thorns came up and choked them out (the response of those who hear the Word, but the concerns of the world choke it away to unfruitfulness). Finally, some seed fell on good soil that yielded varying multitudes of crops (the response of those who hear the Word, understand it, and bear fruit in response). All but this final response are inauthentic and do not produce true conversion to Christianity. So, if there are different responses to the preaching of the Gospel, how can we know if we are effectively producing true converts? This issue raises an argument between human responsibility (free will) and the sovereignty of God (divine election). If we can influence people to just say the Sinner's Prayer, they will be saved, right? Romans 8:29-30 tells us, "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified." So if God's part of the deal is to choose who to save (predestine/elect), justify those whom He saves, and ultimately glorify those whom He saves, what is our job? Matthew 28:18-20 tells us, "And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Our job is to preach the Word of God in order to make new disciples, baptize those new disciples in obedience to Christ, and teach them His commands. So if our responsibility is to preach and teach the Gospel, and God's responsibility is in effecting salvation, where does free will come into play? Romans 3:10-12 gives us some insight: "as it is written, 'There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one." Here we see that our free will is to never follow God, but rather our own sinful desires. While the human capacity is freedom of choice, human depravity never chooses God. Because of this, God in His sovereignty chooses some for Himself, adding desire to their hearts that they may follow Him. We freely choose the God who has sovereignly elected us. Although the limits of the human mind find this as well as other Scriptural doctrines (e.g. the Trinity) hard to comprehend, human responsibility and God's sovereignty are both fully true and fully inseparable. So, if we know that we are individually responsible to God for not following Him, yet He has elected unto Himself some for salvation, is it truly necessary to get a person to repeat after you in order for them to be saved? Lastly, is there any Scriptural example where Christ, the Apostles, or other disciples ever instructed the necessity of praying a prayer to be saved? Granted, prayer is our means of communion with God, however, perhaps achieving another completion of the Sinner's Prayer by one to whom we are witnessing is for our comfort in winning a numbers game rather than in their best interest as to not provide a false sense of security to those who have not been converted, thus hardening their hearts against further evangelism? Just some food for thought…is God sovereign or isn't He? Has Christ lost any whom God has appointed unto Him for salvation (see John 6:37-39)? Is the Sinner’s Prayer a Biblical mandate or a mere evangelistic tradition? As an afterthought, the Biblical emphasis upon baptism confuses some into believing that it is a necessary element of salvation. Dismissing this myth, perhaps this emphasis, rather, is related to a public display of faith which has been replaced in purpose and popularity by the Sinner’s Prayer in 21st Century modern evangelism. After all, baptism is Biblically an act of obedience used by the new believer to identify with Christ.

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