The “Sinner’s” Prayer
A couple of weeks ago we had a visiting singing group come and perform at our morning worship service and again that evening for our community. The group did a fantastic job of sharing the message of Christ through song, and it was indeed a great blessing to have them with us. There was one thing however about their performance that I had to take issue with, something that I have witnessed on countless occasions at events such as this. At the end of the performance they offered an invitation, something that we do every Sunday morning at church, but then instead of presenting the gospel plan of salvation they simply asked those who wished to accept Christ to bow their heads and repeat a prayer, which often goes something like this…
“God, I know that I am a sinner. I know that I deserve the consequences of my sin. However, I am trusting in Jesus Christ as my Savior. I believe that His death and resurrection provided for my forgiveness. I trust in Jesus and Jesus alone as my personal Lord and Savior. Thank you Lord, for saving me and forgiving me! Amen!”
This method of conversion has had far-reaching effects worldwide as many have claimed this prayer as the basis for their salvation. The issue here is that there is much more to receiving the salvation that Christ offers each one of us than simply praying a prayer. Although the thoughts and attitudes expressed in this prayer are acceptable indeed expected of one wishing to accept Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, we must not neglect the other aspects of the salvation process presented to us in scripture, those being repentance, confession, and baptism into Christ by immersion.
It seems that today that “repentance,” is viewed as a dirty word. It’s one of those words that tend to make us uncomfortable, which cuts to the very core of our soul. In relation to our salvation, to “repent” means that we not only acknowledge that we are sinners separated from God, but that there is the presence of “true sorrow,” for those actions, which leads to us asking God for forgiveness. This in turn should lead to the determination within us to live a life apart from sin, a life that is pleasing to God. True repentance is turning from one direction to another; this change also involves restitution being made where possible (consider Zacchaeus Luke 19:8). Repentance is something that individuals must do for themselves, it isn’t something that can be done vicariously, and scripture clearly states that for salvation to be possible in our lives we must repent (Acts 17:30)
We are also told in scripture that we are to confess Jesus as Lord of our lives. This confession isn’t to be confused with the act of going to “confession,” which is practiced within some denominational groups. Confession is simply where we, like Peter (Matthew 16:16) stand before our peers and state publically for all to hear that we believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God. In this action we vocally and publically agree with what God has said concerning His Son. This act according to Romans 10:10 also plays a key role in our accepting that great salvation we have been offered. When asked, “Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior?” The believer can and should boldly respond, “YES, I have, and I belong to the Son of God Who loved me, and gave Himself for me!”
Baptism is now and I believe will always be a point of consternation when it comes to understanding its role in the salvation process. Much ink has been spilled over the centuries on this topic and now the blogosphere has kicked in full force on the issue, and I myself have even ventured into the battle, having a conversation with a gentleman that has now lasted well over two months… and what an enlightening experience it has been. Baptism has been called “the waters that divide,” and I can sadly see the truth in that statement. Most Christians would agree that a person should be baptized, Christ gave us the example and scripture states that we should be baptized. The argument comes as to the meaning of baptism. Most in the evangelical world teach that baptism is an outward sign of an inward grace, a symbolic gesture presenting to the world that a person belongs to Christ. This in itself isn’t wholly wrong, for there is indeed a symbolic nature to baptism, in that it symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. This being said, we must never relegate baptism to a merely symbolic action, for there are several passages of scripture that link baptism and salvation together. Baptism isn’t just a suggestion… it’s a command, and it’s for the “forgiveness” of sins (Acts 2:38 Acts 22:16, 1 Peter 3:21) in every verse in scripture that mentions baptism…it’s always connected to the salvation of man. We are saved by the grace of God, through faith, in baptism, for good works.
Three times in scripture (Acts 2:37-42; 9:1-11 &22:12-16; Acts 16:25-34) the question was asked, “What must I do to be saved?” This is a question that as individuals we must all ask at some point in our lives. Scripture is far from silent about what is required to obtain the gift of salvation that is freely offered to us. God gave us the pattern laid out in scripture, and we have no place altering that plan which God has ordained. Our methods of ministry can and must change to meet the times in which we live, but the message that we are to carry, has not and must not change. If we are changing the message to fit our methodology, we are not doing that which we have been commanded to do, and a re-evaluation is seriously in order. While most that propagate the “sinner’s prayer” method of salvation I believe most do this unknowingly, only repeating what they have been taught. Well-intentioned people the world over are skewing the picture of conversion with a nonsensical practice, fitting the mold of what C.S. Lewis once described as “a great cataract of nonsense,” where a modern idea replaces the clear teachings of scripture.