Tuesday, October 07, 2008



Since the 1950's most of evangelical Christianity has nearly totally embraced a theological concept that has come to be known as the "Sinner's Prayer." There are so many varieties of what this prayer is, but basically it is a prayer event where a person acknowledges he/she is a sinner and needs the Savior. Many believe Jesus requires that everyone must pray such a prayer in order to have salvation. That simply is not true. It's a myth!

One of the first questions that must be asked is, "Where is the sinner's prayer in Scripture?" It's just not there. There are two that have become most popular. One is the scene in Luke 18:9-14. It's where Jesus tells a parable where two men are observed praying-one a sinner and the other a religious Pharisee. Let's look at it: And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. "The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 'I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' "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!' "I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."

This is a great comparison between a humble sinner and a prideful Pharisee, but it is not a universal special prayer that somehow must be prayed for salvation. Jesus just doesn't mean it for that reason.

The second common passage used to illustrate what a sinner's prayer might look like is in Revelation 3:20: 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.' Although this has a great imagery to it, the context for this verse has to do with those who are already believers, but they are not fellowshipping with Jesus-maybe not walking with Him as He would like.

The damage of believing there is some sort of magical happening or prayer that one prays that will automatically bring about salvation is to miss what salvation is all about. You might call it "accepting Christ" or "meeting Christ" or "receiving Jesus as your personal Savior", but this just isn't what Jesus taught.

You might site Paul's encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus as the norm, but that experience is hardly the norm. It's very unique. Or, you might site the 3000 who were added to the early fellowship in one day in response to Peter's message on the Day of Pentecost. That's recorded in Acts 2:41: So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.

But when you closely examine what is said about the 3000, you will discover a phrase that may give us the key to what really is going on. Later in that passage Luke says, They were praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. NOTE "those who were being saved". "Being saved" is used elsewhere and this offers a way to debunk the myth that there is required some eventful prayer-the sinner's prayer mentality-that will bring a person into salvation.

Let's take the 3000 and analyze what happened to them. FIRST-They received the message of Peter about Jesus. They agreed with the Good News message of Jesus.

SECOND-They were baptized to identify themselves as followers of Jesus. This was a Jewish tradition-to be baptized into whomever you are following. They were baptized into Moses, they were baptized with John's baptism and now here they are being baptized as followers of Jesus.

THIRD-The Lord added them to the fellowship of Jesus to follow Him together. They practiced discussing the teachings of the apostles, praying, eating and enjoying fellowship together. No one was pushing anyone into participating in this Jesus fellowship. This was a God-thing!

FOURTH-They were BEING SAVED. They weren't saved, but being saved. The way I see it this action of responding to Peter's message and being baptized was the initial step of being saved. The act of believing enough to respond in this way was the beginning of the process of being saved.

There are several illustrations of this initial step today. There is the altar call where people go down front in response at the end of a service. There is throwing a stick in a campfire and expressing one's desire to follow Jesus. There is the method of the "I Believe!" part of a service where a person stands to his feet and says out loud, "I believe!" All of these methods of response don't bring you salvation in and of themselves, but they are each an initial step in salvation of BEING SAVED. The problem comes when you are expecting that this initial response is the entire closed-out event and you are in!

FIFTH-Note there is no prayer in this response of the 3000 at all-not the sinner's prayer or any other kind of prayer.

There was a time that I tried to count how many times I had gone forward or responded to God in a public way, looking for a life-changing experience. I was looking for a climactic event where I finally meant it and actually got it all from God. I counted 42 times, but none of them delivered what I was looking for. It's because I was looking for the wrong thing. I was caught up in what our church's traditions and teachings were. I just didn't understand what Jesus wanted me to do.

So, there just isn't a clear "sinner's prayer" or climactic spiritual event in the teachings of Jesus that indicates any kind of requirement. Instead, Jesus simplifies what the prayer or the action must be for anyone who is leaning into following Him. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30: "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

NOTE Jesus is all about each of us simply "coming to Him"; it's a relational matter with Jesus. This is why His continual requirement is clearly "Come to Me!" or "Follow Me!"