Wednesday, March 6, 2013

My Child and The "Sinner's Prayer". Is it the "sinners prayer" that saves us?

Will my child profess Christ? What do I do when my child asks to be saved? Does my eight year old understand the gospel? Is he old enough or mature enough? I doubt my salvation, what should I do? Can someone know for sure they are saved? I prayed the sinner's prayer 20 times and I still don't have a confident assurance of my salvation...
How should Christian parents handle these questions? The easy answer that has become popular since the mid 1800's is to lead our child in "the sinners prayer". The better answer is much longer but more in line with Scripture. Keep in mind, the Bible gives us a clear answer to these questions.

Leading a child in a "sinner's prayer" in a moment of emotional crisis may be the catalyst for a lifetime of spiritual doubt and confusion.

In fact, children are not the only ones with questions about salvation and assurance. Many adults who have been raised in Christian homes and who have prayed "the sinners prayer" multiple times still find themselves without assurance. They doubt their own sincerity and so they pray "it" again and again hoping to finally find confidence and comfort.
Let me just say at the outset that I am aware of Romans 10:9-10 which seems to teach this idea of a sinners prayer.  However, many people profess belief in the elements listed in these verses but still lack the saving faith necessary for salvation.  The point of these verses is not only belief but what happens when one truly believes on Christ.  IF I believe Romans 10, what does this  really mean?  The demons believe and tremble (James 2:19).  Belief in these things is critical but an intellectual belief and saying some words is not what the passage is teaching.  We all know people who have done this and who have no desire to follow God or know him. So, this is not a formula to be followed.  In Romans 10, Paul is teaching that I must be willing to submit to Jesus' Lordship in every area of my life.  It is a deep personal conviction of without reservation that Jesus is my own master and sovereign.  Hence the term Lord Jesus in the passage.  It is teaching that submission to Him is what I am signing up for.  An individual whose heart has been penetrated by the saving Grace of God is one who willingly submits to this.  We see this idea in other passages as well (Luke 9:23-26, 14:26-27). Only God can do this work in a human heart.
 So, what is wrong with "the sinner's prayer"?  History has part of the answer.

Charles Finney (1792-1875) was an attorney by profession and ministered in the wake of the "Second Awakening," as it has been called. Finney one day experienced "a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost" which "like a wave of electricity going through and through me ... seemed to come in waves of liquid love." The next morning, he informed his first client of the day, "I have a retainer from the Lord Jesus Christ to plead his cause and I cannot plead yours". At that time, Instead of applying himself (Ezra 7:10) to the study of Hermeneutics, Church history and Theology, at Princeton Seminary, or any seminary, he decided to begin conducting revivals in upstate New York right away (Red Flag!). One of his most popular sermons was "Sinners Bound to Change Their Own Hearts." This was typical of his man centered theological system. Can man change his own heart (Matthew 5:8; Ephesians 2:1)? He was a convincing orator but lacked background and understanding of the Attributes of God and Scripture. Finney used persuasive tactics to coax thousands of his listeners to "come to the altar" and "make a decision for Christ".
The “sinner's prayer” was born.
"Just ask Jesus into your heart” the saying goes. No repentance. No understanding. Just a decision that makes mom and dad the preacher feel better. Prior to this time, sinners were given Scripture, counsel, and left to the Holy Spirit until finally they cried out to God for forgiveness. They came to an understanding by the aid of the Holy spirit.  They were given time and allowed to be illuminated as to the severity of their sinfulness against a holy God. Finney's persuasive speech yielded thousands of professions of faith but when examined later these professions were nothing more than temporary, emotional responses which left the sinner unconverted and unrepentant. Under Finney’s teaching of Self Reformation, many decisions were made but few persevered. Church buildings were built only to sit empty just a few years later. If few persevere, few were converted (Mark 4:17). We cannot reform ourselves.
The new birth is induced by the Word of God (1 Peter 1:23).  It is a monergistic work (the work of God alone) brought about by the power and working of God, not by human ingenuity or emotional persuasion. It is a work which God begins (Philippians 1:6) and completes on our behalf (John 1:13). We cannot take credit for something God did in our life, we're not that special :) (Romans 3:10-18). However, when our will is regenerated, we do repent, we do believe and cry out to God for Mercy and salvation. 

But the "why" we call  out to him is the critical factor.  Again, it goes back to Philippians 1:6.  He  begins this work on our behalf and we simply respond to His gentle but effectual wooing.
The Church for centuries had no “sinner’s prayer”. They responded by faith and repentance to the conviction of the Holy Spirit and called upon the Lord for mercy. Prior to Finney, preachers did not ask people, especially children leading questions like: “Do you want to go to heaven when you die?” Or, “do you want to spend eternity with Jesus?” Every child will answer these types of questions in the affirmative.
Dig deep  (Proverbs 20:5)
When your child says: "I want to be saved mommy!" Our first response should be a series of questions. Why? From what? When did you start thinking this way? We want to gauge their understanding of sin and God. Are they being motivated by simple self preservation or do they thinking clearly and rationally about sin and God?  Questions are a great way to try to understand their thinking. (Proverbs 18:13)
If your child asks something similar to: "will I go to hell when I die?" We could respond with "Why do you ask that ?" or "tell me what you know about that".  They may reveal that they lied or committed some other mischief. Do not flat out tell them "NO" because at that point they would be trusting your word instead of going through the process of beginning to trust God and His word.  If you try to ease their mind they will not have developed the discernment they will need later in life to look at the fruit in their life and compare it with the fruit mentioned in Scripture. This conversation with your child may reveal that God is convicting them of sin. We do not want to try to make them feel better by telling them they are "OK". We want the Comforter to do that in His time through His word.
Do not be the source of your child’s comfort. Rather, direct them to God's word and the ministry of the Holy Spirit for comfort.
Parents must know the Scriptures. What does good fruit look like in the Bible? Am I seeing this fruit in my child or young person? Are they making decisions that are not motivated by selfish desires but by a desire to honor God's word? Are they suffering for righteousness' sake? Do they hunger to learn God's word?
Prolonging, or not forcing a "decision" is far from detrimental if we use this time to point them back to God's word and His Character.  Patience.   Allow them to formulate a deeper understanding of God.  Teach them what repentance looks like in Scripture.  Show them examples of David (Psalms 51:1), young King Josiah (2 Kings 22:1-20 ), King Saul's bad example of repentance etc. They should already be exhibiting repentance in your home by the age of 3 or so.  A child should see mommy and Daddy modeling this by asking forgiveness. We must be growing in our walk with Christ which serves as a model for our children.
Your child May come to you and say "Daddy, I just asked Jesus to save me". That is wonderful. What a blessing. rejoice with her. "What prompted you to do that?" Ask more questions.  But, here is the critical point: I do not want to continually point my child back to a decision they made when he is feeling doubts about his salvation.  Nor would I do this with an adult. I want to point them to Scripture and teach them to examine the fruit in their life. Scripture, in some cases was written for exactly this purpose, to give assurance to the believer (1 John 5:13).

If an adult doubts his salvation, point him to Scripture as his source of assurance. We never want to convince him that he was sincere when he prayed  a prayer.  His assurance comes from God's word and the work of Christ, not the sincerity of a prayer.

What Bible verses would point us toward assurance of our salvation? Click here for marks of a true believer. There are obviously many more but these are a start.
The Christian life is a life of transformation and growth. Ask God for grace to walk with him in obedience and humility. Be teachable as you are exposed to the word. Humble yourself and refrain from imposing your views upon Scripture but allow Scripture to formulate your views. Assurance comes through obedience to God's word. Assurance comes as we examine the changes that God is making in our life and our conformity to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).   Biblical assurance does not come from questioning the sincerity of a prayer.

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