Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Ramen Noodles And Why The Sinner's Prayer Is Sending You To Hell

I love ramen noodles, but I'm not so much a fan of the broth. Usually I cook up my noodles and then dump most of the broth out into the drain. Inevitably I dump a few noodles out with the broth, but of course I don't dump out all the noodles with the broth. That wouldn't make sense.

Recently I've seen a backlash against the "Sinner's prayer." Through a little research I've found that this denouncement isn't new. It has been going about in certain circles for a long time. It wasn't until the passed year or so that I really started seeing tweets, status updates, and blogs calling it out. I'm probably behind the curve on this, but as always I write about what is currently on my heart.

So, apparently, many would have us think that if we prayed a sinner's prayer we aren't saved from the fires of Hell. That's a hugely broad statement. Who are you to tell someone they weren't saved when they prayed to God for salvation? How would that person propose one talks to God, by a cell phone? Maybe they think that the unsaved should ease into a relationship with God? Is it at baptism? Do people dangle by a string between when they desire to be saved and pray a sinner's prayer and when they're baptized?

Some of the things I've read seem to propose that evil sinner's prayer is sending people to Hell. Hmmm, I always thought it was their sin. I might be misconstruing the argument, and my fellow pastors will claim they aren't saying that... except that's almost exactly what I've heard. One pastor even said that nothing has sent more people to Hell than the sinner's prayer. It's a shame that people wage war against the sinner's prayer rather than sin.

Those who are against the sinner's prayer say things like, "They think a little magic prayer can save them?" I can't help what they think, but I can tell you what I do when presenting the Gospel.

The sinner's prayer doesn't save anyone. Only Jesus saves. I hope people that present a sinner's prayer don't believe it's the prayer doing the saving (Out of the many pastors I know that do, I can't think of one that thinks the actual prayer saves anyone). The sinner's prayer simply expresses the desire a person to be saved.

I interviewed a Pastor on this subject, I'm paraphrasing, but he said that if Jesus came back in the moments between when someone desired to be saved and when they prayed the prayer those people would be raptured. He went on to say that it's not the prayer that saves you; the prayer only expresses the desire of a person's heart. Finally, we ended our conversation by him saying that we confess with our lips but live it out with our lives.

Can people misunderstand the prayer? Sure, but that is why it's so essential for pastors to help those praying this prayer understand its point. I cannot tell you what every pastor does, but this is what I do.

1) I clearly lay out the Gospel message.
2) I say something along the lines of, "If you understood this message for the first time today and you want to make Jesus Christ the leader and forgiver of your life, I want you to pray with me.
3) Before I start the prayer I go on to say, "Prayer is simply the way we talk to God. This prayer isn't a magic prayer that gets you into Heaven. The words mean nothing if you're not truly giving your life over to God."
4) "You can repeat after me, or talk to God on your own right now."
5) Dear Jesus, today I realize that I am a sinner. I realize I have gone against your laws. Today I'm asking you to be the Leader and Forgiver of my life, my Savior and Lord. Today, God, I'm doing a 180. I turn away from the evil things I'm doing and turn to You. Forgive me of my sins. I believe that you died on the cross in my place and rose from the dead three days later to conquer death. And I want to follow you with all of my life. Amen.
6) I ask them to raise their hand if they prayed the prayer so I can pray for them. Usually a few raise their hands, and I pray for them.
7) Then I remind them that the prayer has no magic powers and if they really meant business with God they need to come to the front and tell everyone about the decision they made.
8) For those that come forward I talk to them a little and see if they understand what they've done.
9) For those that I don't think truly understand I set aside more time to talk with them, but for those that it is obvious the Holy Spirit was speaking and they responded we present them to the church that day or night.
10) We schedule a baptism as soon as possible.

"But Ivey," you say, "it might give them a false sense of salvation." Yes, it might, but those people who find their false salvation in a magical prayer would easily search for it in other magical ways. Maybe through a magic dunking booth, through their Christian parents, or through a snack of crackers and grape juice.

Again, there is nothing wrong with the prayer. The fault lays in the hands of preachers that don't properly express what the prayer is. Many people who have prayed a sinner's prayer have been saved. Don't preach against a prayer, preach against sin. People that were not sincere about what they prayed will realize their insincerity when they look at their life and examine themselves.

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith. Examine yourselves. Or do you yourselves not recognize that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless you fail the test. 2 Corinthians 13:5

I prayed the sinner's prayer. I did it when I was 3 years old. That little prayer never gave me a false sense of security of my salvation. I knew I was lost. I was scared to death. It wasn't until 14 when I finally got it right. I, again, prayed a sinner's prayer. Did the prayer change in any meaningful way? Nope it was pretty much the same ol' Baptist prayer, but my heart did. I knew what I was doing, and I knew I was a sinner on my way to Hell, and I need a Savior. I wasn't saved by a prayer. I was saved by Christ and that prayer was a simple way for a child to approach his Heavenly father.

Should a Pastor be careful not to promote an easy Christianity that says to pray a prayer and live however you want? Yes, but really, who does that? I'm sure their are people on the fringes, but seriously, come on. Obviously, the sinner's prayer should never be where an encounter with God stops. It should be an entry point to a life changed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9

Jesus said, “Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you." Matthew 7:7

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God — God remains in him and he in God. 1 John 4:16

If you can tell me some other way of confessing, knocking, and asking God for salvation besides prayer, I'm open to listening. Everything I read in the Bible tells me that prayer is how we speak to God. So, until you can show me some other way of speaking to God I'm sticking with getting people to pray and ask for forgiveness and salvation from their sins.

The sinner's prayer can be a great tool for helping people take that first step. Let's not throw all the ramen noodles out with the broth.