Monday, December 25, 2006

What about a sinner's prayer?

The question has come up as to why we don’t use the sinner’s prayer when we are witnessing to people. Especially those who seem to have been convicted and seem like they are open to Jesus. Let me say that I have never felt comfortable in leading someone in that prayer. My experience with it left me feeling like I had left something unfinished or that I hadn’t quite closed the encounter just right. I did a little research and I can’t quite pin point when this became part of the evangelism encounter though it looks like it’s only been around about 150 years or so. We certainly do not find it in the bible, and that is where I think the problem lies for me . In any case, it’s safe to say that it is a method with an honest intention of helping lead people to Christ, which may include the danger of leading someone into a false assurance of salvation. It is safe to assume that the perspective of this modern tool is the result of recent tradition and not from any biblical precedence.

Some treat it as the authoritative formula for conversion. That is “If you say this prayer, and really mean it, you’re saved.” We know of course that it is the act of repentance and faith. Coming before God with the knowledge of our exceeding sinfulness and need for a savior is the required “heart condition” for true conversion. Actually, as an evangelist, the realization of this freed me from the pressure of feeling like I wasn’t doing my duty without a neatly packaged close. Lately, it would not be unusual for me to simply plead with someone to really think twice about letting another day go by without carefully weighing the truth of the Gospel message, thanking them for their time and leaving it at that. I can trust the Holy Spirit to do the converting. If I suggest any prayer model at all, it would probably be Psalm 51 which is an excellent model of repentant prayer. But I would not read it aloud and ask them to repeat it. I would present it as an example of repentant prayer and that if they wanted to reach out to God this way, they certainly could.

I don’t know what is going on in a person’s heart during a witness encounter. I can observe body language and tone of voice, but ultimately, it’s between them and God. What I’m observing may be emotions, feelings or even misunderstanding of the Gospel. We are called to preach the Word and call people to repentance and faith but nothing is said about “closing the deal.” Todd Friel of Way of the Master radio, states it like this: “Our theology informs our methodology. We preach the Word clearly trusting that God is going to do the converting and if He is indeed saving them, they are going to find a quiet place where they can repent and trust in the Savior.”

No one has to pass a theology test to become a Christian. I am sure that many have begun their Christian lives with a sinner’s prayer and have gone on to serve God faithfully. But the truth remains that this would be the result of a right understanding of the Gospel and a trusting faith in the Savior and not because of a prayer in and of itself.




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