[Having reflected on this article for several days after writing it, I realized that I may have left the impression that we can only be saved if we keep the law! Nothing could be further from the truth! None of us is able to keep the law perfectly, even as born-again Christians! So I have edited it, and added some clarifications below. I hope this article is a blessing to you. Dan]
Have you ever been to a church, or an evangelistic meeting, where they teach the “sinners prayer”? It goes something like “Dear Jesus, I am a sinner, please forgive me and come into my heart/life, and make me yours”, or words to that effect.
As a child I attended a church like that with my parents, (Fellowship of Evangelical Baptists in Canada) and prayed that prayer many times.
People would get up and give their testimony, which went something like “When I prayed that prayer the whole world seemed so new, and I felt so clean!” The implication was that when you said this prayer that you would be saved and life would be easy, and good!
But that wasn’t my experience! I would be on an emotional high, but after a few days I would sin again and then I would think that maybe I had said that prayer wrong! Maybe I wasn’t really saved, and so I said it again! (It wasn’t the experience of those who made those claims, either! Over the years I have seen many of those same people walk away from their marriages, and even from God!)
Eventually I got to the point that I just gave up; I married an unchristian woman, and determined to live like the world. For a couple of years I stopped attending church at all. It wasn’t until my wife asked me to leave, (we were living with her parents) that my world came crashing down around me, that I began to examine myself, and where I was going.
At that time I repented and truly began to trust Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. And that’s when my troubles really began, but I’ll spare you the gory details!
As I began to study Scripture in earnest I discovered verses that contradicted what I had been taught as a child! Here’s one of them;
Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. John 14:23
So, according to this verse, when does the Holy Spirit enter into people, and live with them? Is it when they ask Him in? No!
Isn’t it when we take Him and His commands seriously, and begin to follow Him? Isn’t the indwelling of the Holy Spirit a result of saving faith?
He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. John 14:21
If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. John 15:10
For some this seems like a contradiction, because there are many places where the bible says that we “are not under law”. I know Christians who just do what they feel like, and then claim “grace”, but that was not Jesus’ intention!
Here, however is what the Scripture says;
But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Galatians 5:18
9 Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,
10 For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; 1 Timothy 1:9-10
You see the goal of the Christian life is to become like Christ. Jesus never broke the law, not because He was under the law, but because the law is an expression of His character. It is the goal of the Christian to develop the character of Christ within themselves. So when it says we are “not under law” it means that there is no condemnation when we sin, but the righteousness of Christ is still our goal.
When we sin we confess our sin to God, dust ourselves off, and keep moving in the direction of Christ-likeness!
But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. Romans 13:14
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Galatians 3:27
My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, Galatians 4:19
The bible does indeed say that “all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved”, but you shouldn’t take that statement out-of-context. It does not refer to those who say “the sinner’s prayer” and then carry-on as if nothing had happened. You have to read the rest of Scripture to find out what it means to “call upon the name of the Lord”.
Don’t forget Paul also said
And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Acts 17:30
This does not mean simply to repent from (change your mind about) sin, but really to change your mind about everything! Change your mind about yourself, and your abilities. Change your mind about, and toward, God and Jesus Christ. Change your mind about the world’s system.
Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Hebrews 6:1
Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. Acts 20:21
Revelation 3:20 is often used to justify the sinner’s prayer;
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20
Think for a minute about how these preceding verses tell us to “open the door” to Jesus; Do they not tell us to “believe Jesus and what He claims to have done on the cross, and to obey Him.” Yes they do! If you want Jesus to come into your heart, you need to read what He has said, believe Him, and obey him.
Before I go, I just want to give you a couple examples of people who were saved without the sinner’s prayer. We need to see what Scripture teaches and not follow traditions of men…
Phillip preached Christ to the Ethiopian Eunuch, and he was saved;
And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?
And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. Acts 8:36-38
Note that verse 37 is missing from some of the modern versions, but I can assure you it was there in the beginning! People who want to baptize their unbelieving children are responsible for its omission! The only baptism that God recognizes is the baptism of those who are already believers!
So, no sinner’s prayer, but only the confession that he believed that Jesus is the Son of God. This is the qualification for baptism, and if you were “baptized” before you believed that Jesus is the Son of God, but you now do believe, you should get baptized again!
Peter was called to preach to a gentile centurion, Cornelius, and to his family and friends in Acts chapter 10. While he was preaching, without a word from them, the Holy Spirit fell upon those listening, and they began to prophesy and speak in tongues, as had happened to the Jews in Jerusalem in Acts 2;
44 While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.
45 And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.
46 For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,
47 Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days. Acts 10:44-48
So again, there is no evidence of the sinner’s prayer being prayed here, the hearers believed as Peter was preaching, and they were saved. Not only this but these people received the Holy Spirit before they were baptized, as had the Jews in Jerusalem in Acts 2! In both cases these groups of people received the Holy Spirit, not only before baptism but also before they had a chance to obey the Law!
No doubt these believers were baptized AFTER having received the Holy Spirit, because it is commanded, and it is a witness both to other believers as well as to the unsaved! It is the same with obedience to God’s law; we first get saved by grace through faith-Alone, and then we are able to keep the law, so long as we remain attentive to the leading of the Holy Spirit!
Having said this it is abundantly clear that no Christian has ever walked completely without sin from the moment of Salvation! This is why John says;
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:8-10
These verses are not only for the unsaved, but also for the saved, for our entire life here on earth! What did Paul say on the same subject?
21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. Romans 7:21-25
So Paul called himself “wretched” and “the chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15), not because he lived a life of debauchery, but he regretted even the occasional, unintended sin. He is talking about the fact that all Christians still have the fleshly nature at war with the Spiritual nature that God gives us at Salvation. We all slip and fall at times, but don’t give up; confess it to Jesus, repent, and keep on moving forward in Christ!
I hope I am making myself clear; Once you believe that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, and believe that His blood shed on the cross was for your sins, and that God raised Him up from the dead, you are a Christian! Tell somebody about it, and rejoice in Jesus Christ! Realize that it is the Holy Spirit who leads us to this point!
Christianity does not have a magic incantation that makes you a Christian! When I said the “sinner’s prayer” my focus was on myself and on subjective experiences. This was wrong; our focus needs to be on Jesus Christ! Christianity is based on knowledge of Jesus Christ, and not on experiences!
You will struggle with sin, all Christians struggle with sin because Satan will attack you if you truly believe, and the closer you are to God the more he will attack! So don’t worry if you sin occasionally, confess your sin, repent continuously, and move forward in Jesus Christ!