Friday, June 20, 2014

Sinner's Prayers in the Hands of an Angry Blogger

I believe I’ll end up spending a sizable portion of my life combating the disastrous effects of easy believism and the reduction of salvation to the recital of a superstitious prayer found no where in the Bible. The typical bent of my writing is to correct the rampant error of seeker-sensitive theology that scoffs at the notion of a narrow gate. This putrid theology is not merely limited to the likes of Rick Warren and Andy Stanley and others who have established themselves as invincible structures because of hugely successful books, massive churches and name recognition. This theology is widespread. Consider how many of the people you know consider themselves to be Believers and base it upon statements like this:
“I prayed the prayer at age 3.”
“I prayed the prayer at age 5 and then again at age 9.”

Whaaaaatt???? What are you saying? That’s how you know you’re a Christian??? Because you recited a prayer verbatim when you were a little kid? No repentance? No conviction over sin? No desire to obey God?

The irony of this whole situation is that all the wrong people are certain of their salvation and all the wrong people have no assurance. We have people who think they’re not going to spend an eternity in hell because of something they were emotionally manipulated into doing as a child -- long before they had the cognitive capacity to know exactly what they just did. There’s no brokenness over sin in their life now. No desire to obey God. No effort to serve Him. They love the things He hates and hate the things He loves.

Here’s where the whole theological disaster gets even messier: genuine believers are under the impression the only thing they should feel guilty about is feeling guilty.
“Grace, man. Jesus is all about grace.”
“Jesus died for your sins, man. No need to beat yourself up.”

What? You don’t think someone should be upset that they keep sinning? When our sin is why God had to send His Son to die? God poured out His wrath on His perfect Son as a propitiation for our sins and we should NOT be broken over our sin??? All of our sin should upset us. And when our sin upsets us we know that we are God’s children. When we begin changing and becoming more like Christ we know we are God’s children. When we keep wondering why God chose us it’s not a sign that we should pray the prayer again but a sign that we are genuinely confused why a holy and just God would choose such a wretched sinner.

This, dear friends, is the real sinner’s prayer:
Luke 18:13
But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’

What a contrast between that man and the sinner’s prayer! Oh the irony of how the sinner’s prayer now doesn’t even mention sin! This isn’t some factory where every church is required to meet a quota or they get fired. These are people’s lives we are messing with when we base salvation on the prayer. Don’t we see the danger? Don’t you think it’s dangerous to tell someone they’re a Christian based upon one emotional moment? Do you know how many people I saw pray the prayer growing up or have told me they prayed the prayer growing up only to find out decades later they were never truly saved? Let’s put it this way, I barely know of anyone who didn’t pray the prayer.

Clearly people pray a prayer at some point similar to the tax collector’s and I mean not to suggest that everyone who prayed the prayer is not saved. My intention is remind us that not everyone who prays the prayer is actually saved. Much like Jesus says that not everyone who calls Him Lord actually means it.

Praying a prayer you were manipulated into at age 4 does not save you. Being manipulated into being baptized at age 4 does not save you. I get that we all want children to be saved and we want the joy of knowing our kids and nieces and nephews are Christians but they’re still kids. They do a lot of stuff to make their parents happy.

“Tim, are you saying my kid is not a Christian?”
I have no idea but I am extremely uncomfortable saying any and every kid is a Christian because he or she prayed a prayer years before he or she began truly thinking for him or herself (pardon my P.C. language I think it’s as terribly not fluid as you do). Do you get what I’m saying? Was your faith your own when you were 6? Mine wasn’t. I didn’t get baptized until I was in high school but I prayed that prayer several times as a little kid. I had no personal cognition of my faith when I was a little kid. I wasn’t aware that I had offended a holy God and needed to repent of my sins and plead for forgiveness until I was much older. This logically leads to a discussion about when is an appropriate age to baptize people but I’ll save that for another time and I doubt it’s hard to deduce where I stand on that issue.

AW Tozer was asked how many people he thought got saved after one of his evangelistic sermons and his reply is as deeply profound as much of his writing, “I don’t know, ask me again in six months.”
Amen? Yes that gets an amen! Emotionally manipulative altar calls produce false converts in mass. If the false circumcision of Philippians 3 is anything today it is the prayer.

My charge is not to prevent people from praying to God for salvation or to discourage any of us from praying with people in regards to their standing with God. I am terrified and brokenhearted about how much stock we put into superficial and superstitious prayers. People’s eternal dwellings are at stake. We don’t just assume they’re on good terms with the God of the universe because they recited a prayer. We judge their salvation the way we judge our own: Do we love what God loves and hate what He hates? Do we love His word? Do we love being with the church? Are we full of joy? Are we broken over our sin? Do we seek forgiveness when we sin? Is our heart longing to see Jesus? Do we display the fruits of righteousness? Are we different than who we were one year ago? 2 years ago? 10 years ago?

“Tim, are you saying we should judge whether or not people are saved??? That’s awful!”
Yes I am indeed saying that. We HAVE to. It is necessary unless you never plan on witnessing to anyone. How can you witness to someone without coming to a determination that they need Christ? Hence, you’ve judge whether or not they are saved. And think about how dangerous it is to affirm the salvation of a non-believer! Seriously, think about it for a long time. It is far far far more dangerous to affirm the salvation of a non-believer than to doubt the salvation of a believer. We know we can’t lose our salvation so it’s not like me questioning the salvation of a friend is going to cause him to no longer be a Christian. It should cause him to question whether or not he’s in the faith.
Of course we need to be discerning in doing this. I don’t advocate or think it’s right to go around tapping people on the head and saying, “No, no, yes, no, no, yes, yes,” like it’s a game of Duck, Duck, Goose. There are people we all know well enough where we can’t in good conscience call them a Christian despite their claims to the contrary.

I am pleading with you to not manipulate people into salvation. Salvation belongs to the Lord. Present the Gospel to people. Bring them to church. Talk with them. Do not manipulate them. Do not reduce God’s sovereign act of salvation to some man-made hocus pocus superstition. We are the farmer sowing the seed in loyal obedience and trusting an infinitely wise and holy God to grow every last crop He intends to grow.

1 comment:


    What is the meaning of calling on the name of the Lord? Many assume that believing in Jesus and saying a form of a sinner's prayer constitutes, calling on the name of the Lord. The problem with that theory is none of the conversions under the New Covenant support that assumption. Not one time is anyone ever told to believe and say the sinner's prayer in order to be saved.

    The apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost quoted the prophet Joel, Acts 2:21 And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." (NKJV)

    The apostle Peter preached the first gospel sermon under the New Covenant. Peter did not tell the 3000 converts to believe and say the sinner's prayer.

    Peter preached the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. He preached Jesus as both Lord and Christ. When they heard this they asked Peter and the rest of the brethren what they should do?(Acts 2:22-37) Peter told them what to do. Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.(NKJV)

    How did the 3000 on the Day of Pentecost call on the name of the Lord and become saved?
    1. They believed that Jesus was both Lord and Christ.
    2. They believed that God raised Jesus from the grave.
    3. They repented. Repentance is a change of heart. Repentance means to be converted so that God may forgive your sins. Repentance is to make the intellectual commitment to turn from sin and turn toward God. (Acts 3:19, Acts 2:38)
    4. They were immersed in water (baptized) so that their sins could be forgiven.

    How did the 3000 on the Day of Pentecost not call on the name of the Lord?
    1. They did not say a sinner's prayer.
    2. Not one person was asked to pray for forgiveness.
    3. Not one single man was told to be baptized as a testimony of his faith.
    4. No one was told that water baptism was a just an act of obedience.
    5. No one was informed they were saved the very minute they believed.
    6. Not one person was told that water baptism was not essential for the forgiveness of sins.
    7. Not one person was told to be baptized so they could join a denominational church.

    Jesus said he that believes and is baptized shall be saved. (Mark 16"16) Jesus did not say he who believes and says a sinner's prayer shall be saved.