Acting by Necessity- Understanding Sovereignty Distinct from Compulsion with Basil Manly, Sr.

August 7, 2009

One of the loudest criticisms of Calvinist soteriology comes in the realm of understanding the working of the Effectual Call.  Many would declare a God who sovereignly chooses whom he will save and then effectually calls them to salvation as an abomination, as one who is infringing upon the free will of man to choose as he wishes for or against Christ.  They talk about ‘determinism’ and how this is inconsistent with the necessity of faith for salvation.

Now, first of all, I reject these criticisms.  However, in saying that I do not plan on giving an extended explanation of why I believe such at this time.  Sufficed to say, if you really must know, I follow the same argumentation used by Edwards in The Freedom of the Will and contemporary Calvinists such as Bruce Ware, where they argue that the fundamental place of God’s working is not in our actions but at the level of man’s desires, out of which flow all of man’s actions.

No, I do not plan on going into much further detail.  Instead what I want to do is share a succinct accounting I found on this issue in the wonderful little book, Soldiers of Christ: Selections from the Writings of Basil Manly, Sr. & Basil Manly, Jr. The argument comes from the pen of Basil Manly, Sr., key member in organizing the Southern Baptist Convention and father of Southern Seminary co-founder Basil Manly, Jr.  Here is what he has to say:

Necessity in human action is not the same as compulsion.  If God works in us to will and to do, there is a necessity that we should will and do; but we are not compelled either to will or do.  The act is obliged to be; but the man, in acting, is free. . . .  In regard to salvation, so far from compelling a man, against his will, the very thing which God does is to make him willing to act right. . . .  The Christian is willing, and chooses to do right; because a divine operation has made him so.  He feels free; he is conscious that he is as heartily free in now trying to serve God, as when he went after the vanities and follies of his unconverted state. (p.124)

This is probably not as clear as it can be on first reading; but take some time, read over it again, and then meditate on what he says.  The argument is subtle but makes an important distinction, and few of the men I have read on this subject say effectively as much in as little as Pastor Manly manages to do here.  Enjoy!


A Wizard with Words – Placing 2 Corinthians 5.11 within Context

July 28, 2009

Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.” (2 Corinthians 5.11a)

This is a difficult verse which is often used by those of a non-Calvinist mindset to justify highly produced and/or overly dramatic “gospel calls” from the pulpit.  And taken without context one may seek to have as much liberty with the idea of ‘persuasion’ as seems right to a man.  However, approached in context, or at least with an eye to what has been said before, this liberty must be restrained.

Recall that in 2 Corinthians 2.17 Paul remarks,

For we are not like so many, peddlers of God’s word . . .

Therefore, though in chapter 5 he admits “persuad[ing] others,” this must be properly balanced by his earlier statement.  The key to this is what remains in 2 verse 17,

. . . but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

So, three things:

First, they speak “as men of sincerity.”  Their persuasion is not a show; it is a desperate plea from an earnest heart which lives to fulfill the Great Commission and see Christ glorified in the salvation of the lost.

Second, they speak “in the sight of God.”  Since it is knowledge of “the fear of the Lord” that motivates their persuading, so is it the knowledge of standing in the presence of God that motivates their restraint.  At no time should our actions attempt to steal away God’s glory– for that is the definition of sin– but even more in the presence of God should our concern be in honoring him appropriately.

Finally, they speak “in Christ.”  Though it is Paul who speaks we must not forget that he is the same man who wrote, “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2.20).  Thus, when he speaks, Christ comes out.  And when it is Christ the focus cannot be upon glorifying Paul or utilizing Paul’s power in conversion.  No.  The focus must surely be upon glorifying the cross and the great salvation which Christ earned there.

Persuasion must always be tempered with these thoughts, esle the preacher will rest too highly on his own presumed ability to “win souls” and fall into gross evangelistic sin.


Salesmen for Jesus? – Questions Arising from 2 Corinthians 2.17

July 21, 2009

For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 2.17)

Let it never be said that I am a “peddler of God’s word.”  What an awful thought, that God’s word could be to me as some means of gain or as some gimmick to promote a human agenda!

Are there yet ways that I could be a peddler while still desiring to see men saved?  What of my theology of salvation?  Am I a peddler if I use persuasive means to “get decisions”?

Where is it that I stop and God starts?  Is that not right from the beginning?  If I am “speak[ing] in Christ,” then at no time is my dependence upon my own skills or means.  yet clearly methodology matters.  Peter spoke differently between Acts 2 and Acts 11.  So did Paul from Acts 13 to Acts 17.  How do I discern what is and is not appropriate?

How do I not become a peddler?


Cynicism and The Sinner’s Prayer- Jesus’ Promise in John 14.14 and Conclusion

June 17, 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)

Because it is what The Sinner’s Prayer claims itself as being the justification for using this means for response to the gospel, it is only fitting that we take a look at Jesus’ promise in John 14.14 before closing out this series.  We will begin looking at this verse as it is used (as a prooftext that is) and then look at it within its larger context of John 14.12-14.

Here is how John 14.14 actually reads in the version we use here, the ESV (the stated version above is the NIV): “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”

So, the working assumption for the purposes of The Sinner’s Prayer is that this ‘you’ in this verse is a universal, ubiquitous ‘you’ meaning ‘anyone at anytime.’  But we must ask ourselves, can anyone at any time ask for something in Jesus’ name?  i.e. can anyone at any time pray to God and be heard?  Well, only a few chapters earlier in this gospel of John, and drawing off of a well established Old Testament understanding, we are told that, “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him” (John 9.31).  If this be the case, if a man who is a sinner, or as Psalm 66.18 puts it, who “cherishe[s] iniquity in [his] heart,” cannot pray to God, then how can someone pray for the forgiveness of their own sins?  If they are a sinner, “dead in [their] trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2.1), then how can God hear them?  God does not qualify this remark, there is no exception saying, “God cannot hear your prayer unless you are praying for X.”  It just says he can’t hear the prayer of a sinner.  Period.

Moving further out into the context of John 14.12-14 makes this even clearer, proving that the ‘you’ in verse 14 is not a universal, unqualified anyone.  John 14.12-14 says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”  What was that?  ”Whoever believes in me . . .”  That is who Jesus is addressing here.  So, in verses 13 and 14 when he says “Whatever you ask . . . ” and “If you ask . . . ,” he is here talking to those who believe in him.  Those who have faith.  But, as we know, it is “by grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2.8) and that it is “with the heart [that] one believes and is justified” (Romans 10.10).  Therefore, the prerequisite to asking God for your salvation, if we take The Sinner’s Prayer as truth, is that you be saved.  Absurd.

So, in conclusion, after looking at the teachings of Jesus, Peter, and Paul, as well as the testimony of Paul, we have seen beyond the shadow of a doubt that the evangelical staple The Sinner’s Prayer, a prayer to God laying claim on a promise of Jesus in order to ask for and receive salvation, has absolutely no merit.  Does this mean no one has ever been saved through The Sinner’s Prayer?  Of course not.  God can use all means of foolishness for his purposes.  But does this mean that for the sake of all those lost and confused souls in our pews lacking genuine assurance we should abandon The Sinner’s Prayer as a method of response to the gospel and pursue a richer biblical understanding of what it means to have faith and to manifest that belief in a life “live[d] by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2.20)?  Absolutely!


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?


Cynicism and The Sinner’s Prayer- Paul’s Instruction

June 15, 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)

After spending a post looking to the apostle Paul’s testimony for any evidences of The Sinner’s Prayer being used in conversion, we now will look at the words he gives in instruction to see if this shows up something.

Similar to our look at Peter, a great deal can be gleaned from how Paul handles preaching and how he calls the nonbelievers that he speaks to into response.  As The Bridge to Life tract and other evangelical resources direct us to repeat a prayer in response, Paul also has his own directives of response to the gospel.  The first time we see this explicitly is in Acts 13.38-39 where Paul instructs the crowd at Pisidean Antioch on how to receive the salvation of which he proclaims:

Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.

Belief.  Simple belief is all Paul asks for from the people.  Paul says, “Believe and you are freed.”  There is no direction to pray a prayer, and there is certainly no direction that this salvation comes through asking for Christ to grant it.  It is there.  Believe and it will be applied.

Of course, Paul’s instruction on response only gets clearer as we look further into his journeys.  The next place I would want us to look is probably the most transparent statement of our necessary response in Paul, and on par with Peter’s declaration to the Jerusalem crowd (Acts 2.38) and Jesus’ response to Nicodemus (John 3.14ff).  It comes from Acts 16 and is the well-known story of the conversion of the Philippians jailer.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. (vv.25-34)

We look here at the whole story, but our focus of course is upon vv.30-31.  The Philippian jailer comes and asks, “What must I do to be saved?” and once again the ball is in the apostle’s court.  Will he tell him to pray a prayer? to “name it and claim it”?  No.  All we get in reply from Paul is the same tired refrain we have seen all along: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”  That’s all.  That’s all!

Lastly, leaving Acts, let’s stop by what is likely the best known statement on how to be saved in Scripture outside of the gospels.  It is Romans 10.9-10.  Here we find Paul teaching the Roman Christians, contrasting the new idea of righteousness based on faith with the old one of righteousness based on the law and he sums it all up for them in this:

Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

Confess with your mouth, believe in your heart.  This is about as close as we have got to a teaching on The Sinner’s Prayer yet.  Finally we see the New Testament teaching something said as a proper response to the gospel.  But alas, whereas The Sinner’s Prayer says to pray laying claim upon Jesus’ promise, requesting that he be Lord, Paul tells these would-be Christians that there salvation comes from declaring Christ as Lord which is rightly accompanied by faith in the gospel (which alone is what provides the justification necessary for redemption).  So, even though there is speaking involved, the essence of what’s to be said is totally different and there is no more evidence for The Sinner’s Prayer here than we find anywhere else.

At this point we have done a fairly thorough analysis of Christ’s servants in the early church and what they taight on how to respond to the gospel in a saving way.  Now, to close things out, we must turn to the greatest teacher on how to be saved, our Lord Christ Jesus himself– which we shall begin doing tomorrow.


Cynicism and The Sinner’s Prayer- Paul’s Testimony

June 12, 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)

Yesterday we looked at the instruction given by Peter in the book of Acts as it pertains to the receiving of salvation and found no Scriptural evidence for the use of The Sinner’s Prayer as a means to laying hold of Jesus’ promise so that one might gain forgiveness of his sins or the redemption of his soul.  Today we will look at what Paul has to bring to the discussion.

Unlike with Peter who it is hard to pin down quite when he was saved, the book of Acts gives us a clear telling of Paul’s conversion from sinner damned by God to saint redeemed in Christ.  Picking it up in Acts 9, we find the unbelieving Saul wandering down the Damascus road on his way to persecute himself some Christians, when all of a sudden “a light from heaven flashed around him” and he fell to the ground (v.3ff).  At this point the risen Christ begins to speak to him, saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (v.4), to which Saul replies, “Who are you, Lord?” (v.5).  Jesus then instructs Paul what to do, where to go, and Saul, now blinded, responds in obedience to this direction.

From here the Lord goes to a disciple named Ananias and instructs him to go to Saul and restore his vision so that he may go forth from there to perform as Christ’s “chosen instrument . . . to carry [his] name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (v.15).  So Ananias does this, coming to Saul and saying, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit” (v.17).

Now, if at any place we might find evidence for using The Sinner’s Prayer, this seems like it would be it, but alas, nothing!  Ananias could easily have said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.  So now, if you will just follow me in this simple prayer you to can have eternal life.”   But he doesn’t.  Instead what we read is that following Ananias’ words, “immediately something like scales fell from [Saul's] eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized” (v.18).  Thus, Saul is now counted among the redeemed, and not a Sinner’s Prayer in sight.

This is not all however, as the remainder of the book of Acts provides us with two more accounts of Paul’s conversion, in chapters 22 and 26, each time as a part of Paul’s testimony while presenting the gospel message.  Do either of these allude to him needing to pray a special prayer for redemption?  Not at all.  In fact, the language Paul uses comes down even more heavily in favor of my own reformed convictions about soteriology.  Acts 22.14-16 gives a second telling of Ananias’ instruction to Paul, saying, “The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.”  Wow!  There is not even a call to response here, it’s just, “God chose to save you.  You are now saved.  Get in the water!”  Then in chapter 26 we once more hear from Paul, this time recalling Christ’s words to him as, “Rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you” (v.16).  Again, no call to response, no “if you prayer this prayer sincerely then I will appoint you.”  Christ comes in, has a purpose in saving Paul, and its’ done.  Now, of course Paul responds in obedience through faith (cf. 26.19ff), but never do we hear of a prayer or of claiming any promise for himself as being the means of Paul’s being granted eternal life.

So, analyzing the testimony concerning Paul’s conversion as it is presented in Acts 9, 22, and 26, we still have not found any evidence supporting the use of The Sinner’s Prayer for gaining entrance into God’s heavenly kingdom.  The next place we will look is through Paul’s teachings in the epistles of the New Testament.


Cynicism and The Sinner’s Prayer- Peter’s Instruction in Acts

June 11, 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)

As we begin our look into the New Testament teachings on salvation we will first go to the apostle Peter and his words on the day of Pentecost to see if he provides any enlightenment on whether or not The Sinner’s Prayer has any place in the conversion of lost peoples.

In Acts 2 we find the 120 gathered in one place when the Spirit with “a sound like a mighty rushing wind” fell upon them and filled them with it’s power (v.2ff).  As a result the early church spills out into Jerusalem, teaching in tongues to the Jews celebrating the Pentecost.  This is all capped off with Peter and his sermon presenting the Jews with their guilt and the gospel of the good news of redemption in Christ.  Finally in verse 37 we are told that the people “were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’”  To which Peter replies, “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” (v.38).

Repent and be baptized.

Is that all?  Yep.

What about Acts 10, when Peter goes to Cornelius and the Gentiles?  He preaches to them once more declaring the good news, saying at last, “To [Jesus] all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (v.43).  We are then told that, “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word” (v.44).   Does that mean they had received salvation?  Apparently so since Peter declares, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (v.47).  Later he also tells the church at Jerusalem that God had given to the Gentiles “the same gift . . . he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ” (11.17), which they recognize as meaning that “to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life” (11.18).  Yet, what once again is conspicuous by it’s absence?  That’s right, any sign that the apostle had instructed the new believers to petition God for salvation through prayer.

In fact, if we look back to Acts 10 and 11 once more, we see that the believers don’t even appear to be the primary actors in their salvation.  We are told that “the Holy Spirit fell on” them (10.44) and that “God . . . granted [them] repentance” (11.18).  The Trinity is doing the work.  No one is praying a prayer, no one is “naming it and claiming it.”  All we see is God working mightily through the faithful proclamation of the gospel.

Therefore, after considering our first subject, the apostle Peter, I do not believe we have any evidence in favor of The Sinner’s Prayer as a necessary or effective means to salvation.  Tomorrow, we will begin a look at the ministry of Paul to see what he has to contribute to this endeavor.


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.


Cynicism and The Sinner’s Prayer- Introduction and Reflection

June 8, 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)

This week I plan on taking a look at what is commonly known as The Sinner’s Prayer for Salvation.  I have been thinking of doing this for awhile, and finally I feel compelled to do it after watching it employed full force from the pulpit of my church this past Sunday.  Over the next several days I will go into my initial misgivings about The Sinner’s Prayer and then scour the New Testament for evidence supporting or denouncing its use in the course of Christian evangelism.However I wanted to start off with a confession.

My confession is that I hate seeing people saved using The Sinner’s Prayer.  Okay, that’s too strong.  Better to say, if people are being genuinely saved, I love seeing that.  But, when people are saved under the preaching of someone who asks them to pray The Sinner’s Prayer, who tells them, “If you pray this prayer and really mean it then you will be saved forever,” I get this feeling in my gut that resembles a mixture of ‘Can I trust this person?’ and ‘What did I just eat?’ and I hate it.  My God is a big God and he can use all types of folly to save people.  Still, there is nothing in this world that scares me more than false assurance, and when I see this sort of evangelism used to “win souls” my mind immediately turns to Matthew 7.21-23.

The problem is, what should I do when “souls are won” this way?  Yesterday three young men came forward saying they prayed the prayer and had committed themselves to God, and I struggled to rejoice.  I should, I know I should, but every part of my body wants to cry out, “Have you truly believed?!?”  I earnestly pray that these men have, and the last thing I want to do is stunt their spiritual growth by questioning their salvation experience.  Yet, is it responsible not to probe deeper?  They were told to pray a prayer and they did, they are “saved.”  Am I not the ultimate jerk for doubting that?

The Sinner’s Prayer.  I hate it.  Should I?  That is what we will be looking at in the days to come.