The Sinners Prayer Part 1: Sad Stories

29 04 2014

I want to address a very controversial subject and that is the idea of a so called sinner’s prayer. I was raised around easy believism and anyone who prayed a prayer and signed a card was declared saved regardless of the absence of faith or interest. I will approach this subject from different points of view in several lessons but I want to start by sharing a few stories concerning the sinners prayer. Keep in mind these are only a few of hundreds more I can share.

I worked in a hospital where we saw a lot of gang violence. It seemed every time a gang member was shot and killed a pastor would come in and say how thankful he was that so and so prayed and accepted Christ as Savior at Sunday School or Vacation Bible School. I asked myself could all of the robbers and murderers in Bakersfield really be Christians? The answer of course is no they are not.

Often I have tried to witness to people many of whom are prostitutes, or drug addicts who thank me and tell me “well I did that already.” The problem is salvation is not something you did but something you are. What they mean is that they repeated some prayer in the past and they believe because of those words that they will go to heaven one day.

I spoke to a pastor one time who spoke of leading this lady to Christ and when he tried to get her to come to church to follow up her profession she refused because she had yard sales all the time and she didn’t want to quit that. He said to me “I believe she was sincere in her prayer though.” My thoughts were “really? I mean honestly?” With no signs of actual sincerity she was declared saved even though she is the closest example in modern times that I have seen to the rich young ruler in the Bible.

When I worked in a children’s church once my partner and I decided not to coerce the children into praying prayers so we let them respond on their own if they chose to. I walked over to the primary church room where the youngest kids, I mean just out of the nursery were being taught. The teacher would speak in a loud scary voice and talk about the fires of hell and how those who go there burn and burn forever and ever.

No mention of sin, spiritual death, the cross or anything. He would then say “now who wants to burn in hell forever?” When no one would raise their hand he would ask, “Okay then who wants to go to heaven with Jesus?” The entire room of barely out of the nursery children who were just told they would burn in fire forever raised their hands. He had them line up and he would kneel down and have them come up one at a time. He would take them by the hand and start to pray and have them repeat what he said. He would tell them they were saved and not to let anyone tell them differently.

I was out evangelizing with someone not too long ago who himself has a poor grasp of the Gospel but was sharing it with some children. I believe children are easily led down certain paths and we must be careful when witnessing to them. He came back claiming all 3 kids were saved even though he admits the boys in the group were making fun of what he was saying and only the girl was listening.

He said that when he led the girl in a prayer that the boys joined in and so they are all saved. Much of what transpired in this event bothered me but none more then all of the adults around him saying, “Well amen, praise the Lord they were saved.” It made me question their salvation and their grasp of the Gospel. It’s not some magic words that save us and those boys jumping in to repeat words did not save them.

Perhaps the adults just didn’t want to discourage his evangelistic fervor. Well maybe that’s true but the failure is their own. You are not discouraging someone to correct them so that they understand the truth especially concerning salvation. By letting him think this way they are putting at risk the souls of each person he witnesses to because he may be giving lost sinners a false hope in some words they repeated. They may be 10 times harder to reach in the future because of this hurried prayer.

I have been out witnessing with one lady in particular who would simply walk everyone she talked to through a prayer. She would then say “Well so and so at that house prayed the prayer.” What do you mean prayed THE prayer? Is there a prayer in the Bible that is to be repeated thus granting salvation? Of course not. She would tell people that they don’t have to stop being whatever false religion they were they just had to pray the prayer. She would assure people that if they only prayed after her they would have the assurance of heaven.

Then of course there are the myriads of people who pray a prayer over the television or radio and encourage others to pray along with them assuring them they are saved if they really meant it. I have even been to churches and I mean supposedly Bible believing churches that led the entire congregation in a sinners prayer. One church I attended even encouraged the already saved people to pray along out loud so the unbelievers praying didn’t feel awkward.

These stories sound crazy but there are actually many more examples that I could give of this false assurance of salvation. I know many parents whose children have walked away from the faith but they seem unconcerned because they remember when as a 4 or 5 year old child they asked Jesus in their heart. It doesn’t seem odd to them that there was never a change or a desire for the things of the Lord even though we are told that those who are in Christ are new creations.

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

And we are told that those who go out from us only prove they were not of us.

“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” (1 John 2:19)

I find it difficult to witness to people who openly live in sin but believe themselves to be saved since they repeated a prayer and someone assured them they were saved and urged them to never be convinced otherwise. It has become a sort of sedative of the masses to the Gospel message. This alone does not make a sinner praying in repentance towards God wrong but it should give us cause for concern and cause us to closely examine any use of such a sinners prayer in our dealings with the lost. In part 2 of this series I will look at the Biblical basis for the sinners prayer.

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