Cynicism and The Sinner’s Prayer- Initial Misgivings

June 9, 2009

Jesus said, ‘You may ask Me for anything in my name, and I will do it.’ (John 14.14)

Therefore, if you pray sincerely, asking Him this:

“Lord Jesus, please come into my life
and be my Savior and Lord.
Please forgive my sins,
and give me the gift of eternal life.”

– He will do it now.”

(The Bridge to Life tract, by The Navigators)

To start out this look at The Sinner’s Prayer I think it would be best for me to be upfront about what initially makes me uneasy here.  Simply put, I’m a Calvinist.  Not that I ascribe to a set of beliefs known as Calvinism, but that when I look at Scripture I cannot help but see the doctrine of salvation spoken of in the way that is popularly called Calvinism.

I believe that man is totally depraved, wholly unable to do anything (anything!) to reconcile himself to God outside of God’s merciful work of regeneration.  I believe that God chose all that he would save from before time, not according to any merit of their own but solely through his electing love.  I believe that Christ then came to die for the atonement of those elect and that through this sacrifice the Trinity works to justify all and only the elect, preserving them eternally for the inheritance of salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

So, why does that matter?  Because, as a Calvinist, I cannot see any grounds upon which The Sinner’s Prayer is justifiable for use in the salvation of men.  The whole premise of The Sinner’s Prayer is that through some cute illustration we have recognized that we are separated from God, but not so separated that we can’t grab a hold of Jesus’ “promise” in John 14.14 (or other places) and ask God into our hearts to save us.  In fact, we are guaranteed by the prayer that if we ask for this, or at least if we ask for it “sincerely,” then Jesus will certainly do it.  Thus, we are told that salvation is not about God’s will but about ours, that we would will for Christ to come into our life, and so he does.

How disgusting!!!!

The picture that this idea paints of Christ is absolutely appalling!  In it Christ is no more than an impotent by-stander, totally bound by the whim of sinful humanity to choose him and wholly dependent upon the power of men’s cunning to convince sinful humanity to make such a leap.  Christ’s brutal death guarantees the salvation of no man and our assurance comes not from the Spirit of God testifying within us, but from our own sincerity in asking!

Paul says in Romans 1.16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”  The gospel is “the power of God for salvation,” the ‘dynamis‘, the thing bearing the strength to save men.  Even more, in 1 Corinthians 1.18 we see that, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  Again, the ‘dynamis‘ is in the word of God.

But The Sinner’s Prayer teaches that our asking for salvation is the power for salvation!  The ability to save rests fully upon our asking for it!  Clearly there is a contradiction here.  This is not a fine tuning issue or an exegetical misconstruing.  This is a fundamental disagreement about the source of our salvation.  Either it is birthed by God’s power through His word or it is granted by our “sincere” petition upon Christ’s “promise.”  For what it’s worth, I think we should go with the Bible on this one!

Next time we will begin to look further into Scripture to see what it has to tell us about the conversions of the early Christians and the teachings about salvation delivered by those who knew Christ personally.