This post is inspired by a question from a church member.
If there’s a Guinness Book of Records for the amount time we Christians pray the “sinner’s prayer,” I am sure many of us would have broken it—including me! My life was a cycle of doubt and assurance. I always wondered whether or not I would or could really know Jesus. I’d pray the prayer again and wonder if I had done it right and repented truly.
And countless millions of people, especially products of American churches, have no desire for God, no fellowship with Him, and no connection to the local church and believe themselves saved and going to heaven.
Why? Because one time someone led them in a prayer to pray and “ask Jesus to come in.”
This is a problem that is common among Christian churches. And it springs from a deficient way of how we share and understand the Gospel.
So what is the “sinner’s prayer”?
Generally, it involves a preacher, pastor, or evangelist—or a layperson, too—exhorting someone to pray a prayer or to “ask Jesus to come into your heart.” Other phrases include “Ask Jesus to enter your life” or “Allow the Lord to take control.” Sometimes it comes at the close of a worship service or sermon. Sometimes it is done in private.
What does the Bible say about the “Sinner’s prayer”?
Simply stated, asking Jesus “to come into your heart” isn’t found in any nook, cranny, or specific place in the Bible. None of the apostles or Christ Himself went around asking, “Won’t you please come and ask Jesus in your heart?” The Gospel message has always been, “Repent and believe the Gospel!” (Matt. 3:12).
Many people are simply missing the life of Christ. Much of it has to do with what we sold them as the Gospel – pray this prayer, accept Jesus into your heart, and you will be saved.
Shouldn’t it concern us that there is no such prayer in the New Testament? Shouldn’t it concern us that the phrases like “invite Jesus in your life” or “Accept Jesus in your heart” aren’t in the Bible? Such sharing of the Gospel is built on sinking sand and runs the risk of disillusioning millions of souls.
Indeed, we ought to be concerned that it’s a very dangerous thing to lead people to think they’re a Christian when they’ve not biblically responded to the Gospel. If were not careful, we will take the lifeblood out of Christianity and put Gatorade in its place and give it to the crowds. It is not just dangerous – it is eternally condemning.
When we think of people coming to Christ, we’ve been trained to think, “It is just getting people to pray this sinner’s prayer. If we just spread this – we’ll be good and so will they!”
No, let’s give them a full picture of the Gospel and show people the greatness of God. Yes, He is a Father that loves us and who will save us … but He is also a wrathful judge that may condemn us for eternity if we don’t go through His Son alone.
Remember, the evidence that someone has truly opened their life to Christ is continued fellowship with Christ, not just that someone has prayed a prayer.
What about Revelation 3:20?
Revelation 3:20 is a verse used by many evangelists. However, it is written to confessing Christians. This is not an image of a visitor stopping by and knocking. This is the Master returning to his house. The servant is to throw open the door wide and welcome Him – the house is his! We as a church want to hear the words of Christ. We want to recognize the word of God as the truth we need to hear and know, and acknowledge.
Hearing is the way to eternal life. Each message includes a final exhortation—to hear and take to heart. This is to be read and received as the word of God in all the churches.
If you are not a Christian, know that though we are separated from God due to sin, God became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. He lived a perfect life – deserved no penalty. When he died, He bore the wrath of God against all who would trust in Him. To let us know this is true, God raised Him from the dead, He ascended into heaven. The way to have eternal life is by turning from your sins – repenting – trusting in the righteousness of Christ.
The Laodiceans had gold, medicine and wool in plenteous amounts, but Jesus tells them they must rely on Him. Hearing is the way to eternal life.
How would the Laodiceans know this if they were not told by the messenger? No one realizes their state unless they hear the message. You can see the glory of God in the heavens – but the heavens do not communicate the Gospel. Christians must be speaking the good news to our neighbors.
We have no right to expect popularity in this world for speaking the Gospel. The Gospel contradicts people on their desires – their sin. One cannot repent from what you’ve never been told is a sin. Eternal life begins with hearing.
It all goes back to conversion!
4 Reasons Why Getting Conversion Right is So Important
As the church, we don’t simply have a social or religious interest in conversion. Our understanding of conversion is essential to our concept of Christianity.
In fact, “conversion” isn’t considered civil in our politically correct world—it smacks of intolerance.
And, more often than not, we tend to think of ourselves on a spectrum of spirituality. After all, we’re all spiritual beings. But some of the most supposedly “spiritual people” in today’s time have admitted they don’t know and have not seen God.
Yet the Bible says that people throughout history have known God. How is this relationship possible?
What is conversion?
“Conversion” literally means “to turn.” It is the act of turning from sin and turning to Christ in faith.
At conversion, Christ becomes the center of our universe, the source, the purpose, the goal, and the motivation of all that we are and do. Conversion isn’t like a multiple choice question in which you can check Jesus as Savior, but pass over His lordship
Conversion is a work that God begins and perfects. It is for His sake that He begins the work & for His praise that He sees it through. Conversion is a miraculous work of God that transforms a man’s nature, producing righteous affections that move him to keep God’s commands. Conversion is a supernatural and miraculous work whereby God changes the very heart of the sinner.
If the Gospel is grace alone–and it is–then every conversion is a miracle. Paul’s conversion is a great reminder that no one is beyond the reach of Jesus.
Conversion is distinguished from the rebirth Jesus talks about in John 3. We contribute nothing to our rebirth, but our God-given faculties are engaged in conversion.
How does conversion happen?
Thinking clearly about conversion will result in clear thinking on the Gospel.
We are called to repent of our sins and believe in Christ (Isaiah 30:15; Jeremiah 31:19; Matt. 3:2; Acts 3:19, 26:19-20; Romans 2:5; 2 Pet. 3:9, etc.). This thread is consistent between the Old and New Testaments; a walking away from old ways in order to obey God. Faith is trust in Jesus’ ministry and work alone as the perfect Son of God. True repentance always accompanies saving faith.
If we are to be saved, God must give us the gifts of repentance and faith. God promises to write His Word on His people’s hearts in the Old and New Testaments. People give thanks to God for their conversion (Ephesians 2:1-10).
God uses means to give the gifts of repentance and faith. The fundamental means is the Gospel (John 17:20). The summary of Christian ministry is that “faith comes by hearing” (Rom. 10:17). Local churches help us apply the gospel to our lives through membership and discipline. These practices and doctrinal teaching, taken together, are indispensable.
Why is conversion important?
For our church. Membership is a local church’s external affirmation of a person’s spiritual conversion. This is why we have high expectations of each other in biblical church membership. If you are a member of our church, we assume that you are sorry for your sins and want to grow in Christ. This is a key point in determining how apparently and overtly exclusive we should be as a local body of believers.
For our own assurance. 2 Corinthians 13:5 reminds us that we must shed any sense of cultural Christianity and examine ourselves. The evidence that a man has truly repented unto salvation is that he continues repenting throughout the full course of his life, not that a person simply “prayed a prayer” and got his or her “Jesus flu shot.” 2 Peter 1 and the entire book of 1 John says that struggling believers can have assurance that their salvation is secure. Enjoy a full sense of what your conversion means. If you struggle in this area, recall what God has already done, how your heart stands affected before God, and what God has done in Christ.
For our identity. Perhaps you are not in a crisis of faith, but you have taken your identity in Christ for granted. When we are converted we become more fundamentally Christian than anything else we might have in common. Meditate on this amazing truth. And remember: Biblical assurance is not based merely upon an examination of our conversion, but also upon an examination of our life from that moment on.
For non-Christians. If you don’t yet believe, know this: Paradise was lost at the beginning of the world. Yet God had drafted a plan of redemption before the very foundation of the world! And, what’s more, understanding conversion is essential to obeying God’s call to repent and believe. One will not seek salvation until he knows that he is lost—he will not flee to Christ until he knows that there is no other Savior. You are not beyond God’s reach; the Gospel is our hope for salvation. Christ has given himself for all those who repent and trust in Him. Will you repent and believe?
Our greatest need before conversion is the Gospel. Our greatest need after conversion is the Gospel.
How, then, should we evangelize?
By sharing, preaching, and telling the Gospel—telling the good news. How do we spread the Word? Not everyone is going to come to church to hear it.
1) Share lovingly, forthrightly, and boldly that it is only by repenting and believing the Gospel that a person is saved and it comes a great cost (Mat. 3:2; Matt. 10:38) that if they repent and believe they will be saved—but it will be costly. We have to share with everyone that they are, by nature, sinners and are alienate from the thrice-holy God (Rom. 3:10-18; Eph. 2:1-5). We can’t sugarcoat it. We can’t cover it up. The only truly biblical Gospel presentation tells the honest truth and doesn’t just trump-up the positive aspects of our faith that people may want to hear,
2) We have an urgent message. And this must be shared! Time is short. People must repent and believe by faith alone in Christ alone to be saved. There’s no better deal coming. There’s no other Messiah coming. Jesus is the only way (Acts 4:12; John 14:6) and we don’t know today or tomorrow holds. There’s only one way, and we don’t know that tomorrow is ours (Luke 13).
3) We can assure that in the name of the God-man, Jesus Christ, when a person truly repents, he or she is saved.
4) Take your Bible, and remember to pray, for salvation is all a work of God. Our job is to be faithful and share and trust this sovereign God to work in the person’s life.
The Gospel isn’t “pray this prayer and be saved.” The Gospel isn’t “we’re ok.” The Gospel isn’t just God is a God of love. The Gospel isn’t Jesus wants to be our friend or are example. The Gospel isn’t just a message that we should live right.
The Gospel is news, has a cognitive content, and it’s true (unlike these errors). Do you know the Gospel?