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Thoughts on the “Sinners Prayer”


This is long and is kind-of a rant and not a well organized post but I had to express this and be done with it.   I have written on this before several times but it keeps coming up.

Thoughts on the standard “sinners prayer” used today.

I heard a question once about whether someone who has prayed the typical “sinners prayer” can be saved.  Some think not, as there is no mention of repentance, without which, no sins are forgiven, and thus no salvation has been granted.

I think the “sinners prayer” can lead to true life change/salvation, but only with Biblical information before the prayer.  (And today, the way this “incantation” is used, if someone gets saved, it’s not because of it but mostly in spite of it.)  This information could have been childhood training or a tract or any number of things God can use to woo sinners to Himself. That is all internal before-the-fact work.  And then, yes, the prayer can be sincere and life changing, death to life.

But the prayer itself has nothing in itself but an allusion to Jesus’ statement in Rev. 3:20, which is ripped out of context, since Jesus there was talking to a church, not an individual.  And if we don’t expand hugely on this little prayer beforehand, then sinners have no idea what they have just done.  I think at times God may redeem useless things to do His work in people, sometimes in spite of our flimsy, at times, conscious efforts to get people saved without offending them or making them feel uncomfortable.  But that is no reason to be presumptuous that He will bless our carelessness.

I have heard quoted many times, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Or “believe with your heart and say with your mouth Jesus is Lord.”, and that’s all that’s needed. Well, exactly what are we to believe about Him?  We can’t isolate this text from the rest of NT teaching.  The “eternal destiny” fact is usually left out.  Simply believing isn’t enough.  It’s what one believes in, not the belief itself.  Unbelievers do not need a Savior, only lost people need to be found, and sick people need a Doctor. Saying “I believe Jesus to be the Son of God and God raised Him from the dead” is not enough. satan and all his evil ilk sincerely believe it, know it to be fact, not faith  (I have heard that he has perfect theology). He gets it.  But it’s not life saving because there is no action on those words, no expectation of life change. It’s just “well, I believe this”.  But where does sin and repentance come into this whole paragraph?   It’s nowhere to be seen.  The most loving thing we can do is point out that people are desperately lost and that they can’t find or save themselves and they desperately need a Savior. Without these crucial facts, the “prayer” saves no one.

And why would we not cry out the simple facts of the Gospel before any time the “prayer” is given?   It’s mind boggling to me that anyone would condense what Jesus did on the Cross to “ask Jesus into your heart”.  It’s a mockery to what He did and sacrificed for dead worthless sinners.  But we have become sophisticated in our day and have improved on the plain teachings of Jesus, John and Paul.  We imply we can just come to Jesus just as we are, no repentance needed, which means no intention of forsaking sin and no thought of throwing all at the foot of the Cross.  It belittles the total deadly seriousness of sin and the total need to be saved from it. Why would we not preach that, especially every time an altar call is given?  Jonathan Edwards wept in front of his people over their lost condition.  We don’t, because we don’t think being lost is that big a deal, since we call the unsaved, “unbelievers.”

I wonder what would happen if someone like Jonathan Whitefield were to come and preach in your town? Would you say he was extreme?  That he offends people with his hell fire and brimstone preaching?   We even scoff and laugh at that saying, “fire and brimstone”, like that was for unschooled unsophisticated back-woods country bumpkins way back then.  We’re more refined now.  They said that about him then, and when he preached at a church, he wasn’t asked back because of what he preached.  And what did he preach?  Sin and salvation, repentance and Savior.  Simple, pure Gospel.  How would you react?  Would he ruffle your sensibilities?  Would your church ask him back to preach another Sunday?  Or would the power of God come down and you would have to have the church doors open until 3a.m. to handle the outpouring of God in that place?  Yes, people, all kinds of people, would be weeping before God because of their sins and begging mercy and forgiveness.  And real life change would happen in your town. The Body would no longer be the same.

May I be so bold as to say that most Protestant churches, (maybe even your church?), have a weak Gospel, no matter who is preaching?  This may seem offensive to you but in the final analysis, it is true.  I am careful to listen for the complete Gospel given, wait in anticipation….. Yes, yes, yes…”accept Jesus in your heart/life…..If you prayed that prayer you are now a Christian”.  Oh no!  Not again…..  I want to stand up and cry out “NO!!! That’s not it!”  No mention of sin except for a passing reference to forgiveness in the prayer, no mention of total life altering repentance (with emphasis on forsaking all sin), no mention of the Lordship of Jesus that’s required.  Just “accept Jesus” and you’re in.  It’s like it’s more important to get them in than to inform them of what they are doing to get in and what’s supposed to happen to them afterwards.  It’s more about what they will get (peace, love, hope, heaven) than where they were headed and why.  Why don’t we clearly preach the full gospel every time? I don’t get it….

If God did nothing more for me than save me from hell and my sinful self, it would be enough. But we emphasize the perks of salvation and so that’s how we live, looking for perks. That’s why “deny, die and follow Me” are such radical thoughts for the modern Christian because we are not told ahead of time that’s part of the curriculum, part of boot camp, epitome of the Christian’s life.  How many would sign up if they knew that death, sorrow and suffering would be the lot of anyone who was to follow Jesus, that the narrow path is hard, strewn with sharp boulders on hard hills to climb and blood and sweat and hardship, loss and death, including our own?

We are told to “count the cost” but we don’t couple that with the salvation message.  What if we were to lay out the whole package, tell people all this and then tell them to think on it for a week and then come back to do business with Jesus?  How many would return?  “The gate is small and path is narrow, and few find it.”  It seems we want to do some remodeling on that narrow gate to make it just a little bit bigger and obscure the view of suffering that will take place for the saved in order to get more people in, when if the real truth were told, how many would stay on the wide road, “I don’t need that in my life, thanks anyway”?  Well, a year or two from now, they end up there anyway, because we didn’t tell them. We didn’t show them where the wide path leads, we didn’t plead with them that the smooth river is headed for a waterfall, that the wide road leads to death.  We emphasize a wonderful life, and when times get tough (and it will ), they fall away back into the river.

Jesus said some hard stuff and the crowd left Him.  He turned to His disciples and asked “You gonna leave too?” They replied, “Where would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”  Do the new “converts” have enough of these words to keep them?  Have they been brought from death into life, converted (now that’s a word you don’t hear these days), changed irreversibly? Conversion: one thing changes into something completely different, metamorphosis, worm to butterfly, tadpole to frog.  Is that what we see around us on a regular basis?  In 5 years, is it still happening in their lives?

Jesus drew crowds of people, not by hiding their destiny but by preaching hard truth and then saying He was the way out of it.  He said more about hell than heaven.  He said more about trouble in life than pleasant life.  And who hated Him?  The religious leaders….seems George Whitefield was in good company! We need to be alarmed if the all people say well of us. The Gospel is offensive to the lost, but is salvation to those who hear the real deal and repent. But we have an inoffensive gospel; our gospel won’t offend anyone.  It’s the worm without the hook, the cheese without the mouse trap. It’s a bloodless Gospel and God have mercy on us for preaching it….

Do we truly believe there is an eternal hell where people will suffer for their sin forever? Do you?  Really?  Because if we really really did, then we would be running in the streets begging all to come to the Savior of men’s souls.  And every time a group of people gathers (like church) we would make the Gospel so crystal clear and concise that no one leaving could possibly doubt where their eternal destiny lies and what they could do about it.

In the Great Awakening, there was such huge emotion and weeping and crying out from those who heard the Gospel that you could hear it from outside town.  Many criticized this.  Jonathon Edwards answer was that if you had just learned your eternal destiny was a real burning hell and the only way not to go there was to repent, you would shout and cry and scream too!  And once you had, you would be rejoicing so loud, the neighbors would hear.

People used to weep over their sin.  There used to be something called “praying through” which could take all night.  They used to have what was called the “mourners bench” where people convicted of their sin would come and be ministered to one-on-one.  But we are more sophisticated than Edwards and his “unwashed masses”, so we discourage this by our somber invitations and light music playing and raising of hands, all the while demons are clinging to the chairs whispering in the ears of those being convicted of sin (maybe in spite of our efforts) not to respond.  And people leave no more informed of their eternal state than when they came in.

I read recently, “Somewhere along the line, Christianity got tamed.”  So true.  We have our nice programs and our nice church buildings and our nice schedules, all the while nice people are going to hell and that’s not on the list of things that are important.  We concentrate more on Christian living than we do on becoming one. The saved need to be reminded of where they themselves came from so they will be more apt to tell their neighbors.  But if the only flaw in their neighbors is “unbelief” then it’s not so bad, not so desperate, not so life threatening.

One of the things the “sinner’s prayer” (often an oxymoron as no sin is mentioned) does is it invites Jesus in to be a part of your life, instead of throwing our rotten selves at His feet and begging Him for mercy to take us into Himself.  The first part does not require a full life change, He just becomes another segregated part of our lives, we have the secular and the sacred, and “ne’er the twain shall meet”.  I would much rather be “in Christ” than have “Christ in me”, although both are true. I would rather He carry me in Himself than me carry Him around as a part of my life.

The question is, why do we wait after salvation before we tell people all this?  It’s like Nancy Pelosi telling the American people, “We need to pass this bill so we can find out what’s in it” (Obamacare…true quote).  We figure if we can just get them in the gate, we will let them know afterwards what they just did.  Well, just maybe, when these people find out they must forsake sin and be whole hearted towards Jesus, “deny, die, and follow”, they will fall away, first in their hearts and then in their lives.  We are all the different types of soils (as in the parable of the sower and the seed), and one soil is when the trials of life come along, they fall away, wither up and die.

It is often said that Jesus preached with His life; we like that part because it requires nothing of us but some pious living.  And somehow we can muddle through that.  But will our neighbors, while they are marched off to the fires of hell, cry out to us “you said you loved me…..why didn’t you tell me this was my destiny?”  The most loving thing we can do is tell them about their eternal destiny and what needs to happen to insure they don’t go there.

Jesus and John came preaching the Gospel of repentance and somehow we think we can improve on that; we have calmed it all down, lowered the fever pitch a little, declawed the Gospel so it’s more acceptable to current culture. George Whitefield was kicked out of the church of England for just such hard hitting Gospel preaching.  And hundreds of thousands heard the gospel out in the fields and thousands were saved. There is a huge problem when the real true unwashed gospel can only be heard outside the church. It seems those days are again upon us.

I am sure there are many that would tell me to chill, calm down, relax, don’t be so radical and judgmental.  Jesus was radical and judgmental and was in people’s face about their error to the point of being offensive.  But today, we are told to be nicer than Jesus….so we have nice church, nice people, nice programs, nice nice nice.  I’m not too sure Jesus is into “nice”.

There will be no one in heaven that did not repent.  There’s no slip-sliding in. No way around it.  Either one has repented of their sin or they haven’t.  And if they haven’t, then they are not saved.  It all starts at sin, and ends in salvation, and all the steps in between. Without repentance, then it’s not about sin, and there will be a lot of people in hell who thought they were saved because they said a prayer and when they doubted their salvation, someone, instead of asking about a changed life since then, asked them if they had  prayed a prayer.  And not questioning them about a changed life led them to believe the prayer was enough.

We are told to “examine ourselves”.  We would be eternally smart  to take up that advice.  When was the last time you heard the word “conversion” used in reference to salvation?  The very word means change. And in Biblical meanings, the change is permanent.  I was dead, now I am alive, and kept that way by the Holy Spirit.

I heard recently “If you were dead and are now alive, how is it you still live like a dead person? Unless….”

Also, “If you are truly saved, what you love and fear will be forever changed.”  Which covers pretty much all of life.  If one still loves this world and does not fear God, then there hasn’t been internal change.

There is an excellent handling of this in a book called “Hells Best Kept Secret” by Ray Comfort.

Go here for a short excerpt:

I recommend the whole book but the first chapter is worth the price.


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