My Love/Hate Relationship with the “Sinner’s Prayer”

I love the sinner’s prayer.

Usually at the end of our services at Waters Church we end with the opportunity for people to come to faith in Christ. At that time we ask them to raise their hands, or come down to the front and pray with member of our Small Group Leadership/Elder team. We lead them in what is commonly referred to in Church circles as the “Sinner’s Prayer.” Please note you will not find this prayer in its totality in Scripture. But that does not make it unfit for use in the Church. Most of the elements come straight out of Scripture: A general cry for salvation is found in Jesus’ parable of the Tax Collector and Pharisee in Luke 18. The prayer leads the person to confess with their mouth that they are a sinner who needs forgiveness and that only by faith Christ Jesus as Lord through His death, burial and resurrection can they be saved (according to Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23; & Romans 10:9-13; 1 Cor. 15:3-4). Conveniently, all these scriptural truths are composited in a simple short prayer to God.

We have had several baptism testimonies in our church mention that moment of our services as THE moment they truly came to Christ. Some of them confess their heart was warmed, they felt a strange and welcoming sensation, and they knew in their heart something dramatic had changed. I love to hear these stories. And for these reasons, I love the sinners prayer.

I also hate the sinners prayer.

Don’t stop reading! I will continue to use it because I see the effectiveness of leading people to a life-changing moment of salvation. However, I also see it leading others to a “one-stop” shop for eternity the Bible never promises. I’m talking about those who put the hand up, say the prayer, receive our literature, and then never darken the doors of our church again. While some may indeed have truly been converted, it is often hard to tell for sure. The sinner’s prayer inadvertently sends the message that people are “all set”, case closed, job finished, “see ya in the afterlife.” I feel profound disappointment with this sentiment.

Jesus never commands anyone to pray the Sinner’s Prayer. Rather, He calls them to come, follow and believe – in that order. Come to church, to small group; be around Christian people and Gospel preaching, learn, grow and hear (Romans 10:17). Secondly, follow Jesus. Start doing the things He says. Forgive, love your enemies, seek peace, do justice, hunger for righteousness, freely give. These commands are so essential to the Gospels we tend to ignore them under the shadow of one singular prayer. Finally, believe Christ. Do not simply believe what He says, believe WHO he is (John 6:68-69).  Our lives are not always going to “get better in every way” when we follow Christ. That’s when we trust WHO He is! He is the peace of God (Eph. 2:14). He is the author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:1-2). He formed us and owns us and ransomed us back to God (Romans 11:36)! Believing is always present tense, never a singular moment.

This is why I hate the sinner’s prayer. You must never sum up your faith with an emotional nod to God one Sunday in your life. If He is who He said He is, everything changes, sometimes slowly, sometimes dramatically, but there’s no denying the difference. You don’t END with Christ, you BEGIN with Christ. All things are new!

I will continue to use the “Sinner’s Prayer.” I believe it leads people to Christ. But I will continue to pray Jesus’ words from John 17 over those who come to Waters: John 17:3 (ESV) And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.  

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Why We are Here

God is on a mission. I know that sounds simplistic but it’s all over the Bible. From the call of Abraham way back in Genesis 12 we find a particular theme at work – God is moving forward in redeeming creation from the tragedy of sin and its effects. God does this because God is good and creates good and promotes good.

Psalm 145:9 (ESV) The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.

Jesus preached a famous sermon we refer to as “The Sermon on the Mount.” It has a lot of hard things for people to grasp, such as a blessing for the broken and those who mourn. It also challenges our notions of sin by equating lust with physical adultery and anger with physical murder. The root of the problem is our heart, the actions only share what is already within us. But at the heart of that passage is this comment: Matthew 5:16 (ESV) let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Paul will echo this statement in Ephesians 2.
Ephesians 2:10 (ESV) For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Now think back to God’s original commission for Abraham:
Genesis 12:1–3 (ESV) “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

God’s mission is to spread God’s goodness throughout nations and all creation. Christ was the ultimate fulfillment of that promise but only the beginning of it’s reality for all nations. In acts 2 the Church Jesus started is filled with the Spirit of God and people from all nations are there to hear and respond. From there and throughout the book of Acts the Gospel crosses cultural barriers and reaches the center of the world – Rome itself. Eventually, the Bible narrative ends with a grand picture of this promise fulfilled before the throne of God:

Revelation 7:9–10 (ESV) After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

God is up to something big and something good and we are a part of it. What an honor.

September is coming and it’s time to get back in the routine of our calendars. I want to take this opportunity to challenge you to see your life as a blessing to those around you. God’s mission of spreading His goodness is also the reason why our Church is here.  Last night we had several people feeding the poor in Providence. We have a small group that buys groceries for strangers, we have another that visits prisoners. Wonderful acts of goodness are spreading from Waters Church to our community. But there’s much more in our future!

God’s mission includes you. We want you to be a part of the goodness of God in our community. You can do good by serving in our Children’s program and making disciples of the next generation. You can do good by helping people feel greeted and at home. You can do good by connecting with others in a small group and serving in practical ways to people around you. You can do good by sitting in the front and parking way in the back so newcomers can slip in and out very comfortably for the first time visit.

You are made to do good. It’s in your DNA as a child of God. You’ve come to church – wonderful. Now be the Church - even better!

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Not Fit for Service

Do you ever feel like you’re not “fit” to do something significant for God?

Perfect. That’s the kind of people He tends to use most.

Consider the first person to preach the Gospel. It’s not Peter. It’s not Paul with all his Jewish heritage and great learning. It is not even a man. It is a woman. And it is not Mother Mary. It is Mary Magdalene. This notorious woman is the first person to hear the message of Jesus’ resurrection and then deliver the news to His heartbroken disciples (see John 20:1-18).

Consider the facts. She was a woman and in the first century. This was a time when a woman’s testimony was considered invalid in court. Women were not considered to be reliable witnesses. In most ancient cultures the practice of female infanticide was commonplace. Women were second class citizens. As bad as that sounds, Mary Magdalene was no ordinary woman. She had a horrible past. Luke describes her as, “Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out” Luke 8:2 (ESV). Seven demons used to be in this girl. Seven! Her condition was that of a mad woman, someone literally out of their mind.

So the first witness to the most important message the world has ever heard was a former insane woman who had literally no social rights or standing in a context in which even “normal” women were considered unworthy of such a responsibility.

And you thought you had excuses?

The point is this. The Gospel breaks the rules of social norm and order. The Gospel levels the playing field to “whosoever will” because the Gospel is not up to you. The Gospel is the power of God (see Romans 1:16). It is the message of a gloriously powerful Savior for a hopelessly wounded race. No one can present to God a reasonable resume, so stop trying. Have a horrible past? You’re not alone. What you don’t have is a good reason to stay quiet about what God has done in your life.

Share the story of Jesus in your life! The world needs to hear. One of the ways we want to help you do this is through baptism. Baptism testimonial videos are the most powerful part of our weekend experiences. We want to hear what God is up to in the individual lives that come to Christ here at Waters Church. Your story and they way you say it matters to someone else and could make a powerful difference in someone’s life. If you haven’t considered getting baptized yet, what’s stopping you? Check out our online forms and take the next step.

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Pastor – Waters Church – N. Attleboro