Resource Saturday- Recalling T4G 2008

August 1, 2009

Okay, so I didn’t get to go to the last one, but the other day I was thinking about how next spring the 2010 Together for the Gospel conference will be making its way into my new residence of Louisville, KY and it got me to listening to the messages from the 2008 gathering.  And you know what?  They’re not that bad.

Seriously though, it’s hard to see how anyone could not benefit from what was taught in Louisville in 2008.  One particularly good message is John MacArthur’s defense of the doctrine of absolute inability.  Often times I can find plenty to pick on with MacArthur, and even this message has a diatribe at the end where I feel Johnny Mac gets carried away preacing against contextualization, but for the first 40-or so minutes of the sermon he gives a good explaination and exposition of what he calls “the most attacked” and “most despised” doctrine in evangelical churches.

So, if you, like myself, cannot wait until next April and the messages coming about The (Unadjusted) Gospel, try to satiate yourself for a few hours with the wonderful offerings already put forth by these great theologians.  See you in Louisville.

Proof of Authenticity- Validating the Faith in 2 Corinthians 6.3-4

July 31, 2009

We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way.” (2 Corinthians 6.3-4a)

One of the toughest challenges in Christian apologetics is proving the truth and reliability of our message.  Men may agree that what we say is in line with Scripture, but then dismiss Scripture as being false and so leave us with nothing.  However, the power of a faithful Christian witness can defend us against this.

I am not talking about a witness in the popular evangelical way.  In this way it is just another word we have coopted to mean yelling a cold, lifeless, ineffectual spiel at someone.  No.  By witness we should mean a life lived.  It is not the evangelist who is witnessing; it is the lost who are witnessing him!  They witness how what he does backs up what he says.  They witness a breathing example of the message being fulfilled.  Paul stakes the whole call upon his faithful witness, knowing that the commendation of his life will only give that much more evidence for the gospel that in 2 Corinthians 6.2 he claims is so urgent.

How and Why- Evangelism Cues in 2 Corinthians 5.20

July 30, 2009

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5.20)

Two things stand out to me here: “God making his appeal through us” and “On behalf of Christ.”

First, we hear that the evangelism of Paul and his partners is not the words of a man trying to get people saved.  It is God’s appeal through human instruments.  God has chosen to make his message known by the preaching of the gospel (cf. Romans 10.17).  Thus, our preaching is of necessity while at the same time being guaranteed.  God will get his message heard, his appeal made, and it will be by human messengers.

But, this preaching is neither man powered nor solely obedience.  Once again, return to Galatians 2.20:

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

The man that is crucified to self, living in the flesh by faith in Christ and Christ through him, willbe moved to evangelism.  Nothing is sheer will, everything is by the heart.  And God will guarantee the making of his appeal by controlling the heart of his evangelist.

Second, the call to reconciliation is made “on behalf of Christ.”  By the power of God I may love my neighbor and weep, if necessary, over his lostness, but the drive to evangelize him is not wrought of my own benevolence and love but of the will of Christ to reconcile them to God.  I alone dictate nothing.  God works sovereignly, either sovereignly with me or sovereignly against me.  Whichever way, it gets done, even is this may be by way of exposing my own pride.

You are the Gospel!- Rob Bell and the Anathema of “The Resurrection Rescue”

July 27, 2009

Clicking a link to something called “the Good News according to Rob Bell” is like hearing an episode of Friends is on TBS– you’ve already seen the show a hundred times but you watch anyways just in case.  So, I clicked it, pretty sure what I’d get, but attentive to see if there was anything redeemable.  Alas, it’s the one where he says Rachel’s name at the wedding again.

The video opens with Bell doing what he does best: standing still in Weezer-glasses, giving a “history lesson” on Judaism and the Roman Empire, denying all of the things evangelicals say and playing the tune of oppression of the poor and powerless.  Actually, it ends pretty much the same way too.  However, I did grab a bit of the transcript just for us to look at:

The gospel is the good news that God hasn’t given up on the world, that the tomb is empty and that a giant resurrection rescue is underway and that you and I can be a part of it. And so yes, this has a deeply personal dimension to it. Jesus is saving me. He’s saving me from my sins, from my mistakes, from my pride, from my indifference to the suffering of the world around me, from my cynicism and despair. The brokenness I see in the world around me is true of my own soul, and so he’s rescuing me, moment by moment, day by day, because God wants to put it all back together—you, me, the whole world. And so he starts deep inside each of us with our awareness that we need help, that we need saving, that we need rescuing. And then he begins to show us step by step what it looks like to put flesh and blood on this gospel. Because we all fall short, and that’s the beautiful part. Broken, flawed, vulnerable people like you and me are invited to be the hands and feet of a Jesus who loves us exactly as we are and yet loves us way too much to let us stay that way.

I believe. I believe because I see. I see the resurrection all around me. If people only had your life and they were asked the question, “Has Jesus risen from the dead?,” how would they answer? Has he? May you be a “yes” to the question, “Has Jesus risen from the dead?” And may you come to see, may you understand, that you are the good news. You are the gospel.

Where to begin?  Well, let’s start at the beginning.  ”The gospel is the good news that God hasn’t given up on the world, that the tomb is empty and that a giant resurrection rescue is underway and that you and I can be a part of it.”  I wonder where he got that from?  Empty tomb?  Okay.  God hasn’t given up?  Sure.  Resurrection rescue??  No atonement??

Rob Bell amazes me.  In a day when everyone wants to attack the atonement and what was accomplished on the cross, he just avoids altogether.  Honestly, I have listened to Bell enough to know that to him Jesus’ death on the cross was just a way to get him dead.  Nothing else.  At times he tries to add some sort of atonement in there, but it’s never very sincere.  Nope.  For Bell, the rescue is accomplished at the resurrection, and now that Christ is resurrected, “[he] is saving me.”  That’s funny, since Hebrews 10 tells us that,

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (vv.11-14)

So, who’s right?  Is it Bell who tells us that Jesus is raised from the dead to go around saving us “step by step”, or is it the Bible which says that Christ offered “a single sacrifice for sins [and then] sat down at the right hand of God” waiting for the second coming?  Is our salvation is “moment by moment, day by day” rescue, or is it the case that “a single sacrifice has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified“?

Clearly for Bell there are only two options: either he out and out denies what the Bible says about the atonement and Christ’s completed work of redemption, or . . . wait, I guess there’s only one option.  If our rescuing requires Christ’s continual work, then Hebrews is false and salvation is not secured by the cross.  Is that a bet you wnat to take?

Which of course leads into my other issue, namely that “You are the gospel.”  Really?  Is that what we’re told to do?  Are we supposed to be pointing to ourselves to lead people to God?  Are the claims of the Bible only as good as my witness?  I’ll concede that there may be good intention here, but the execution is very poor.  Right from the beginning the point is to minimize ourselves and point to Christ (cf. John 3.30), so to place the final emphasis on the believer and not somewhere more biblical, like say, Christ on the cross (cf. Galatians 2.20), is probably a bad course of action.

But like I said, what do you expect?  Everyone knows they we’re on a break, and everyone knows that each new Rob Bell production brigs us one step closer to universalism.  At least he looks cool distorting the gospel though.

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?

Election Empowers Evangelism- Mark Dever on God’s Sovereignty and Soul-Winning

June 19, 2009

I love unconditional election.  I love evangelism.  At this point, I have now confused about 80% of Southern Baptists.  Thanks to the years of ignorance taught through sermons by revered Southern Baptist leaders most of the SBC pew sitters only know of election (no need of calling it unconditional since conditional election is clearly not what Scripture teaches) as ‘that doctrine that says we can’t do anything.’  Honestly, I have trouble finding Southern Baptist’s who both (1) disagree with election, and (2) know what the doctrine of unconditional election says in accord with the whole of Calvinist soteriology– and that is a problem.  (Note: see here for Grudem’s handling of the misunderstandings.)

With this in mind, I want to turn to a quote from Mark Dever in his excellent book The Gospel & Personal Evangelism to deal with the question, Are a zeal for election and a zeal for evangelism mutually exclusive?

Have you heard it said that the doctrine of God’s choosing some for salvation (the doctrine of election) undercuts evangelism?  It didn’t in Paul’s life.  As he . . . wrote to Timothy, “I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ jesus, with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2.10).  Romans 10 contains Paul’s clearest and most impassioned plea for Christians to send out people to preach the gospel because it is the only way people are saved; but this impassioned plea comes after what many consider Paul’s plainest teaching about the doctrine of election in Romans 9.  He didn’t see any inconsistency that a sovereign God is also a saving God.

Somehow, Paul found the doctrine of God’s sovereignty an encouragement in his evangelism.  Do we need to recover this confidence in a day of increasing opposition to the public preaching of the gospel?  I think we do.  I fear that much of today’s evangelism will soon end.  As evangelism becomes more and more unpopular, I fear that some Christians will simply dilute it, water it down, alter it, or even stop sharing the good news altogether.  I think a better understanding of the Bible’s teaching on God’s election would help them.  I think it would give them confidence and joy in their evangelism. (pp.104-105)

Interesting.  He calls the doctrine of election a thing which can give “confidence” to our evangelism.  What could that ever mean?  Well, elsewhere Dever notes how when Paul was in Corinth, he became so frustrated in his gospel preaching with some who “opposed and reviled him” to the point that he “shook out his garments” and left them (Acts 18.6).  However, that night the Lord came to Paul in a dream and said to him,

Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people” (vv.9-10)

This in turn encouraged Paul and empowered him to spend the next 18 months sharing the gospel message with the Corinthians (v.11).

Yep, the knowledge that God had elected “many in [Corinth as his] people” really sent Paul packing didn’t it?  He just threw up his hands and said, “Well, if God’s chosen them then there’s no need for me to preach,” didn’t he?  No!  This charged him.  He knew that God had chosen people to be saved and that he would be faithful to save them through the preaching of his word.  Paul understood that this meant, regardless of the opposition, God had fruit that he was going to bring forth.

In fact, without an understanding of election, there is no confidence!  If it’s all on you then there is no hope that your preaching is not in vain.  How could there be?  If God cannot awaken men’s hearts to repentance and faith, if it is solely up to them to choose faith in Christ, then nothing is guaranteed and all of your labor in the fields of evangelism might be useless.  It is only this promise that God already “[has] many . . . who are [his] people” and that he is powerful enough to “[cause them] to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1.3) that we can have any hope whatsoever in our evangelism!

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- 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.