Cynicism and The Sinner’s Prayer- Jesus’ Instruction

June 16, 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)

Finally after spending a few days perusing the teachings of the apostles in the New Testament as accords with salvation, we have come to consider the primary source of all instruction on the gospel, Jesus Christ himself.  Because the words from Jesus on this matter are numerous, we will only hit a few prominent teachings today (if you feel like I skip something important please let me know) and then close out with a look at the promise which The Sinner’s Prayer lays claim on made by Christ in John 14.14 tomorrow.

The first place I think we should look in considering Jesus’ instruction on receiving the gospel is the most obvious: John 3.  Here we find Nicodemus ask Christ explicitly, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (v.4), which is in reference to the being “born again” which is necessary to “see the kingdom of God” and thus for salvation (v.3).  Christ’s response to him is anything but telling him to pray a prayer:

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (vv.5-15)

Now, maybe it’s just me, but one would likely think that if Jesus wants for us to ask him for salvation then when Nicodemus asks him effectively, “How does one receive salvation? how is one born again?,” then Jesus might have responded, “Ask me for it.”  But he doesn’t.  Instead he tells him “that whoever believes in [the Son of Man lifted up] may have eternal life” (v.15).  Interesting.

What about another famous statement from Jesus concerning salvation, the Great Commission as found in Mark.  Here he tells the eleven, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16.15b-16).  Notice how what he says here corresponds well with his further elaboration to Nicodemus (cf. John 3.18) and again seems to give the same instruction on how to properly respond to “the gospel” which the disciples are to “proclaim” “into all the world“: believe and be baptized.  To avoid confusion, know that I have handled whether baptism saves before (it doesn’t).  Nonetheless, conspicuous by its absence is any direction to lead people in praying a prayer that lays claim on a promise of Jesus.

One final place I think we should look in Jesus’ instruction on receiving the gospel is in John 6.  An aspect of The Sinner’s Prayer that I have mentioned but not dwelt on much is the implicit assumption here that man is providing the will to lay claim of this “promise.”  The quote of the prayer that we have been using says, “Therefore, if you pray sincerely, asking Him this . . . he will do it now.”  But what does Christ say in John 6.44?  ”No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”  If the salvation is gained through asking in prayer for Christ to fulfill his promise then anyone could do this, whether or not God has granted it (and we know he has not granted it to everyone, cf. John 6.64-65).  Maybe it is simply that caveat, “if you pray sincerely,” which gives the loophole here?  But still, does this not emphasize the sincerity with which we personally pray, while yet what Jesus says is that no one can muster that sincerity on their own?  This must be given by God.  So now we have to say, “If God has granted to you to pray this prayer, then do so and you will be saved.”  But is that Jesus’ conclusion here?  No.  What he says, once again, is “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6.40).  Look and believe.  Still no prayer.  Still no “Name it, Claim it” promise.  Only belief.

At this point we have shown through Peter, Paul, and now Jesus that no New Testament teacher instructs people to pray a prayer upon Jesus’ promise in order to be given salvation.  All we see is belief.  This then leaves us with one last question that we shall look at tomorrow, wondering, Does Jesus even have in mind salvation when he makes the promise of John 14.14, which is the backbone of all The Sinner’s Prayer rests on?