Devotional - The Deception Of The Sinner's Prayer

Discussion in 'Thoughts for Today' started by anthony wade, Jul 1, 2013.

  1. Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. - Acts 2: 38 (NIV)
    In the course of my writing I often refer to the sinner's prayer as some of the worst theology ever constructed. Leonard Ravenhill once quipped that it has sent more people to hell than all of the bars across this country combined. That is because the person in the bar can still come to the realization that they need God but the one who thinks he already has God but does not is living in an unspeakable darkness:
    But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is! - Matthew 6: 23 (NLT)
    The most pervasive darkness we can experience is when we have fooled ourselves into thinking it is light. Yet that is exactly what we see across the churches in this country today. Congregations being sold false theologies, false saviors, and ultimately false conversions. During the course of many devotionals, we often find ourselves drawn to discuss the flawed and heretical theories of modern church growth and the immeasurable damage they are doing to the Body of Christ. I would wager that upwards of 80% of churches in this country use one or many forms of such secular teachings to operate their ministry. But underlaying all of it is the most widely accepted belief of them all, the sinner's prayer. As with many of the things that corrupt, I am sure it started with good intentions. We have a generation of believers however that think God cares about our intentions. He does not. He cares about our obedience. The fact that so many Christian like to espouse the "God knows my heart" defense to excuse poor behavior while not knowing the Scriptures which state that the heart is wicked and deceitful above all things, indicates how wide the chasm may be between what is accepted in the church and what is Biblically accurate.
    The sinner's prayer itself is not that old, with its origins probably no more than 500 years ago as an over reaction to the meritorious works salvation taught by the Catholic church. In researching the disagreements over the centuries, it became apparent that it is has always been too easy to get hung up on minutia while trying to sort out the critical things of God. I do not want to fall prey to the spirit that enjoys swallowing camels to strain out gnats. At the same time however, I think it would be hard for anyone to argue that this subject is not crucial doctrinally, since it is often the genesis point for a new believer. As with everything, I turn to Scripture to find the answers and clarification we all seek. The key verse today represents the single most important salvation experience recounted in the Bible. This is on the day of Pentecost after Peter had delivered the first sermon of the new church. Scripture teaches us that many were cut to the heart by the preaching of Peter and asked what they should do. The key verse is the response from Peter. We also know that after this, 3000 people were saved! Let us look then at the elements within Peter's answer for what we need to do today when seeking salvation.
    The sinner's prayer needs to always start with, be focused on, and finish with the need for repentance. I think when we trace back the roots of the sinner's prayer we will probably find a greater emphasis on repentance and sin. But over the years as we have entered into the mega church era, we see more and more compromise entering into the leadership in order draw more numbers and feel more successful. The Billy Graham model of the sinner's prayer. according to Wikipedia. goes like this:
    "Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name. Amen."
    No less than four references in the one little prayer to sin and repentance. Is this perfect theology? No. Is it anywhere in the Bible? No. But I would argue it is the right starting point for someone to be seeking Christ. A pure recognition of their sinful state before a holy God and the need for God to forgive them. Look at the onus being put upon the sinner. They are stating that they will turn from their sins, trust God and follow Him. Again, not perfect but it is too easy to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Nothing is ever going to be perfect that man has a hand in. The problem is that this version of the sinner's prayer is all but gone in America today. It has been replaced with a seeker friendly, purpose driven, watered down, sugar coated, secularly derived, pseudo-prayer that has the ability to save no one. Don't believe me? One of the foremost Christian bestsellers ever was the Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, with sales approaching 50 million copies. Entire congregations read this book together when it was first published. The topic of salvation is addressed only one time in the entire book, on page 58-59 and here is what "America's Pastor" had to say to the unsaved:
    "Wherever you are reading this, I invite you to bow your head and quietly whisper the prayer that will change your eternity: "Jesus i believe in you and I receive you." Go ahead. If you sincerely meant that prayer, congratulations! Welcome to the family of God!"
    Jesus I believe in you and receive you? That's it? Comparing the Warren faux-prayer to Billy Graham's gives us a precise insight into how far Christianity has fallen over the past 40 years. I believe in you and receive you? What is missing from this equation beloved? The first word uttered by Peter to those seeking salvation on the day of Pentecost - repent! Where is the acknowledgment of sin and repentance? Where is the discussion of following Jesus? The blood? The cross? The resurrection? Hear me well, unless someone goes up for altar call because the weight of their sin has finally become unbearable then there is no salvation. I use myself as an example. In 1998 my life was in disarray. I watched an infomercial at 3 am where a prominent baseball pitcher who was born again spoke about the need to be saved. He led me in the sinner's prayer through the television and even sent me a Bible. I promptly put the Bible away and when God restored my life, I promptly went back to my old ways of living. I knew I had made a deal with God but I didn't understand my part of the bargain. There was no regeneration of my heart. I was sincere when I said the sinners prayer but all that means is I would have been sincere on my way to hell if God had required my life before I actually was saved; in 2002. That was the year I stepped into a Pentecostal church and by the time my pastor was done preaching, the sheer weight of my lifetime of sin was so overwhelming, I knew i had to crawl to the altar and beg God to take it. Not only the weight of my sin but the enormity of the grace of this God who was willing to take it. I am sure we said the sinner's prayer that day as well but no prayer has the power to save anyone. Only a heart that has genuinely repented and is now willing to follow Christ leads one to salvation.
    For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death. - 2Corinthians 7: 10 (NLT)
    In 1998 I had a worldly sorrow beloved. It was real and I wanted God to take it away from me. It did not however result in repentance. I liked my sin and as soon as my life smoothed out - I went right back to my sinful lifestyle. The result is that if I had died between 1998 and 2002, I would have been spiritually dead. I was not saved despite sincerely saying the sinner's prayer. And that prayer had sin and repentance in it! What we see today is a seeker friendly-purpose driven sinners prayer that says "just believe and receive!" Nothing is required of you! There is no sacrifice required! God is grace! Just bask in the finished work on Calvary! It does not work like that beloved! Any discussion of salvation needs to start with one word - repent. It is the same message John the Baptist had for us. It is the same message Jesus Himself had for us. It is the same message Peter had for us on Pentecost. The message has not changed throughout all time. The messengers however, they have changed. In an effort to fill the seats and appear popular and successful, many leaders have traded in what is right for what is expedient. The Gospel should never be tossed aside for the cause of expediency. The result as Paul Washer once famously said, is you end up with a congregation filled with goats and you are trying to teach them to act like sheep.
    The second thing Peter says is they must get baptized in the name of Jesus Christ! While the modern Pentecostal churches get baptism mostly right, there seems to be a disturbing trend amongst believers. I used to serve in the Baptism Ministry and every time we had a service there would be multiple people who claimed salvation decades earlier but were "finally getting baptized." That is not the way these verses read beloved. Repent and be baptized. I think sometimes we downplay baptism in our theology. We allow this "you can always do it later" thinking. There is a great story in the Book of Acts where Phillip is sent by God directly to witness to an Ethiopian Eunuch. Here is the immediate response from the Ethiopian to his own salvation:
    As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?” He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. - Acts 8: 37-38 (NLT)
    Our true regeneration and salvation should result in a desire to be baptized. One of the unintended consequences of the modern day heresies are false conversions. If someone is falsely converted, then that would explain why baptism may not mean much to them. People come into seeker friendly churches every week and hear watered down faux-Gospel messages that focus only on what a great buddy God is and how much He wants to bless you. Then they stage an altar call, say it will only take a few minutes of your time when it really should take the rest of your life. People go up because they are asked questions like - do you want to go to heaven, or do you want to invite Jesus into your heart? Well who wouldn't? As Washer once said, most people want to go to heaven, they just don't want to see God when they get there. After saying a sanitized bloodless sinner's prayer they are welcomed into the family of God just like Warren teaches but Baptism? Well, maybe next time. Before they can understand anything spiritual they are put into the purpose driven model, plugged into ministry and before you know it you have a church filled with Marthas who have no idea that Mary does not exist inside of them.
    Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Why? For the forgiveness of your sins! There is no gift of the Holy Spirit without this according to the key verse. Beloved, Christianity is not about your best life now. It is not about being purpose driven. It is not about drawing circles in the sand or any other heretical idiocy man can come up with. It is about one thing and one thing only. We are sinners. It is not that we are wrong. It is that we are sinners before a holy God. According to the characteristics of God there is a price to be paid for our sin and that price is death. Spiritual death that lasts eternity. An eternity separated from our Creator. That great big hole we all feel in our hearts is shaped like God because that is what is missing. In the world we try to fill it with fame and fortune. Career and fleshly pursuits. Drugs and alcohol. But only God can fill it.
    Yet despite our wretched condition before God He still was willing to save us and bring us back to Him. That is the amazing grace of God. That while we were still sinners, He sent His only Son to hang on an old wooden cross for our sins. There can be no discussion of grace alone because there is no grace without the sin we need the grace for. As sinners, we needed a Savior beloved and His name is Jesus Christ. He only ministered three years on this earth yet He turned the whole world upside down. There is a peace in Christ the surpasses all understanding! There is a love in Jesus that is indescribable. There is rest for the weary and burdened. These are the blessings of God. Not more money and bigger houses. If this is your best life now then by definition you are going to hell.
    Some will argue that I make salvation more difficult than it need be but I have the Bible backing up my argument. Salvation is easy but it is not an empty gesture that many modern day snake oil salesmen have turned it into. It is not ask and receive. It is repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins. It is the single most important decision anyone can ever make in their life. It deserves to be taught right. The result can be eternally devastating. Remember, not all who say Lord Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven! But preacher, he has 45,000 people in his church - well, broad is the path to destruction and narrow is the gate that leads to eternal life. Don't use worldly measurements to try and gauge spiritual success. Don't use carnal and human logic to try and dumb down the Gospel. There were three thousand salvations on the day of Pentecost and none of them said the sinner's prayer. I am not saying that it cannot be used. I am saying it cannot be used as a band-aid when a tourniquet is needed. Some have even stopped calling it the sinner's prayer for fear of scaring would be congregants away. Now some call it the salvation prayer. That's fine because the person needs salvation. But without a central discussion about sin and the need for repentance, the prayer is empty and the salvation false. The Savior is always ready and willing to save but we need to admit that we need saving.
    Reverend Anthony Wade - July 1, 2013
  2. Yup....This whole piece is a great meat...a Sunday roast beef for those who are hooked on strained baby-food...
    anthony wade likes this.
  3. I think the most controversial sermon I ever preached was about this very subject. In a way, it has become a central message for me. My stance was always that "we have enough people who think that they maybe, might be saved. We need more people LIVING IT!"
    anthony wade likes this.
  4. Too many think that salvation is getting the Gospel Train ticket; they just stand at the station and will not get on board.
  5. tbh, although I'm far from a living example (in fact many would see me as the worst example of living well...), I really think 3/4 of Christians delude them selves. If you've been in the pits where I live, you will know most can fire some line of the bible at you and feel good about it. Someone may even tell you to turn to God but hey that's why you are asking a Christian in the first place?

    One thing I have found in my own pits of dispare that there are people who will help you and the ones that stick by you are Christians, usually quiet ones who just get on with it. It's a small number but there are those rare Christians amongst the wider bunch and you (at least I) really do respect them.
    anthony wade and Rusty say Amen and like this.
  6. You got that right, jonbanjo: religious talk is cheap...Only by their "fruits", the doers and helpers, can you know the true from the pretentious, IMO.
    anthony wade likes this.
  7. One can't just turn on and off the work of the Holy Spirit like a faucet, by reciting a formula. There needs to be an inward work of the Spirit of God if someone is going to be truly born again.

    anthony wade and Rusty say Amen and like this.

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