Is the sinner’s prayer Biblical? Many of us have been instructed at some point in our lives to, “repeat after me, eyes closed and no one looking at others.”
The truth of the matter is that it is biblical to pray to Jesus to ask Him to forgive us our sins. But without true repentance, there can be no regeneration. That’s why it is not biblical to say someone is saved “because of reciting the Sinner’s Prayer.” We must put our trust, hope, and faith in Christ and His sacrifice on the cross, but to give someone assurance of salvation based on reciting a prayer, or thinking the words in our heads as someone else says them, does not produce saving faith.
I recently received a letter from a mom who gets it, and who, unfortunately, had no idea that her children were being subjected to a few leaders who do not. Before I share it, understand that there are over-zealous children’s leaders, and under-zealous ones. While both kinds can be fun and nice and well-meaning, both may also produce false converts. Unfortunately, stories like this one happen in churches across the world. The question is, what will you do about it?
Be sure to read to the end:
As parents, we take our responsibility to train our children to grow in grace and knowledge of their Lord and Savior very seriously. We understand that it’s our job to teach and share the Gospel with our children, but it’s not our job – or our church’s job – to “save” them.
So imagine my shock when a friend told me that’s exactly what my children’s leaders were attempting to do last Wednesday night. While the adults were taking our Bible study classes, our children’s’ leaders were cheerfully working to coerce the children into praying the sinner’s prayer.
I learned that after the teachers gave a very man-centered gospel (“Don’t you want to go to heaven?” “It’s like being at your favorite place all the time!”), with no mention of repentance or sin, they were taking the children aside, one at a time, and asking them if they had prayed to ask Jesus in their hearts. If the kids said no, the teachers were instructed to make them pray the prayer. And if the kids didn’t want to pray it, the teachers were told to pray the prayer for the kids, while the kids prayed silently.
After that, the teachers took the children’s Bibles and wrote Wednesday’s “saved” date on the front. Thankfully, my 9 year old son wouldn’t let them do that to his Bible. I didn’t realize the full extent of what was going on until after class, or I would have gone in right then and pulled my children out.
Needless to say, I’m angry, upset, and frustrated. Our son had already been growing so much lately, puzzling through the question of what must he do to be saved. This assurance that this prayer, prayed by his teacher, not even by him, could bring salvation to him, confused him terribly.
My husband and I were left with the horrible task of trying to undo the damage these “well-meaning” women caused to my son, while trying not to discourage the growth we’ve seen in him and his desire for salvation. And, at the same time, we were trying not to degrade his teachers in front of him, because we must still be respectful of people even when they are teaching false doctrine.
We’ve sent an email to our leadership about this, and we know we are not the only parents who are upset about what occurred. There is already a time set up to meet with the children’s ministry director and the elder over the children’s ministry. We want our leadership to be more involved in being sure that the teachers are solid; these teachers were given far too much freedom without any supervision, and the result is the creation of dozens of cute little false converts who think they have fire insurance and who think that heaven is like hanging out at the park on the swings, and they have no need to repent or do anything else. Ever.
This has to stop. Our people are being led astray and our pastors are afraid of being too harsh so they won’t call out false teachers, trying to struggle against the tide of false teaching by sharing the positive, and avoiding the negative and that leads to what I experienced last night. We have to stand up, to call on our leaders to be proactive, to stamp out dangerous yeast as soon as it starts to spread, to take people to the Word for everything, and to firmly (and, yes, graciously) correct false doctrine when it comes into our churches.
I pray for these women who led this class. They will be held accountable to God one day for what they did and they don’t even know they are in danger of His wrath for leading these little ones astray! And I also pray that I will be gracious with them, because my mama heart does not want to! Yes, that’s a sin. I know it. That is why I’m submitting fully to my husband in this matter and allowing him to deal with it with our church leadership because I know I won’t be as gracious as he is. He is protecting me from sinning by taking the reins on this, and I’m thankful for that protection.
But most of all, I pray for the precious souls who were there Wednesday night, the ones who don’t live in my house. By God’s grace, my husband and I have our eyes open to the dangerous trends in the church at large, and have been watchful and careful about what we say and how we say it to our children, but even so, last night? That was a conversation we have feared having to have with our sons. We shouldn’t have had to have it because of something taught in our church, where the leadership knows better, but isn’t teaching the teachers correctly. What about those children who were there? Who will go home, thinking they are saved…because the teacher prayed while they listened? Now, I know God can use that, but there was no profession of faith there. There was no understanding of the gospel, no call for repentance, just a promise of good stuff if they’ll say the magic words. Have we really reduced the gospel to that
We know the very real danger of raising good, righteous, moral sons who think that is all there is to being a Christian and have no actual love for Christ.
Toward that end, we have taken steps. We have always kept our children in worship with us. They need to learn to worship with the corporate body of Christ, not be shunted off to play while the adults learn. From the time that they could read simple words, they have had to fill in a sentence or two about the sermon each Sunday and draw a picture about what they heard, too; as they’ve grown older, the questions have gotten harder and they know they need to find those answers from the sermon or in the Bible. We try very hard to ground everything in Scripture, avoiding loose language and avoiding giving our sons false assurance of salvation, too. The very last thing I want is for my sons to think that, because mommy and daddy are saved, then they automatically are too. Or to think that they are better than other kids and that God is lucky to have them. Or to think that their profession of faith in Christ must be done to make mommy happy. False conversions are rampant in our churches, many times because of well-meaning but biblically illiterate people, who honestly think that the “sinner’s prayer” is in the Bible. (It’s not.) Or who think that “inviting Jesus into your life” is a biblical concept (it’s not). The reality that we have striven to teach our sons is that we can do nothing to save ourselves for we are all of us unrighteous. That all we can do is cast ourselves on His mercy, and plead for Him to rescue us from our sinful state. That we must repent of our sins, (which isn’t just changing your mind, but is agreeing that what you did was sin, stopping the sin, and turning and going the other way) confess Christ and believe with our hearts. (Romans 10:8-11) And? After all that? We have emphasized to them that we must watch each other, carefully, for the fruit that only true repentance and the Holy Spirit can bring. (John 16:5-11) A profession of faith as a four year old means nothing if there is no fruit of God in that child’s life. We don’t want to squelch our children’s joy, but at the same time, we don’t want to give them assurance that “that prayer” prayed on “that date in their Bible” means that they are saved.
Now, before I go further, I must say this: I know that our church leadership also believes this. I know that they know it is not biblical to “invite Jesus into your heart” and I’ve been in trainings where the children’s ministry leader has specifically told the adults who would be working with the children to share the Gospel, clearly, with the children, but to avoid formulaic prayers and “magic incantation” like language. Time will show whether the profession of faith was true or not. I know they believe this. However? They have failed in communicating clearly not just what Scripture DOES teach, but what it does NOT teach.
In case you are reading this and think “Uh oh. My kid did that,” or even “I did that…you mean I’m not saved?” let me please take this moment to remind you what the gospel actually is. To put it simply, we all have a problem that we are born with. A sin problem. Because God is who He is, He cannot tolerate sin or be around it at all, so our sin problem? Has eternal consequences. The wrath of God is upon His enemies (Romans 1:18) and guess what? That’s all of us, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23-25) Before time began, however, God knew this would be a problem, and He already had the perfect plan; the only plan that would work! See, the wrath of God must be satisfied. When we sin, the most offended party is God. We owe Him a debt we cannot pay. We come to Him in our sin, and no work, no good deed that we do can even come close to “balancing” out what we owe Him, because none of us are good, not even one. (Romans 3:10) We needed a perfect sacrifice, someone who could live without sin, and who would willingly take on our sin and God’s wrath, so that His justice might be served, while giving to us His righteousness. (2 Corinthians 5:21) That’s what Jesus did. That imputation, where He took on our sin, paid the debt we owed, and gave us His righteousness? That’s what we needed. All we can do now is admit that we need a Savior. That we are sinful people. Repent and plead with Him to save us. (Acts 2:37-39) Turn from our sin, and turn to Him, trusting that He can save us. And when we stand before God, we will still say, “I have done nothing that you should let me be with You in glory. But your Son paid that debt for me, and I have been clothed with Him, by Your grace, through faith in Your Son.” And God, who is both just and the justifier (Romans 3:26), will not exact the same payment of you that His Son has already paid. The only way to enter into glory is to enter in covered by His blood. Those who truly love God? Will obey His commands. (John 14:15) Not because it is a list to cross off, but because you know that you have been rescued from hell, given grace when you deserved justice, and your life has been paid for by someone else. Repent. Call out to Him. Bow before Him and submit your life to Him. And offer yourself as a living sacrifice to Him. (Romans 12:1)
Guard your children, folks. This is going on in many churches where it is encouraged; I’m thankful that is not the case in my church, but disgusted that it still happened anyway. Know your Bible. Know the Gospel. All of it. And know what your children are being taught, even at church. The consequences are, literally, nothing short of eternal.
What are your thoughts?