Pray the Prayer

One practice I've called into question in recent years is the "Sinner's Prayer". I've questioned whether presenting Christianity as "Pray this prayer and you're on our team! You have your ticket to Heaven!" is the way to go- and this seems like what I heard at various events in high school. Now, it rubs me the wrong way. I'm not the only one critical of it, either.

Imagine my surprise when I was reading Hosea last weekend and came across a God-ordained "sinner's prayer":

Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God.
Your sins have been your downfall!
Take words with you
and return to the LORD.
Say to him:
"Forgive all our sins
and receive us graciously,
that we may offer the fruit of our lips.
Assyria cannot save us;
we will not mount war-horses.
We will never again say 'Our gods'
to what our own hands have made,
for in you the fatherless find compassion"

-Hosea 14:1-3

God gave them exact words to pray to Him for repentance, to avoid the wrath described in the preceding chapters. How is that different than presenting tracts that say 'Pray this prayer (and mean it) to be on God's side' to sinners today?

I still believe that 'becoming a Christian' isn't a moment when you said magic words, but a decision and a relationship stretched out over a long time. I'm sure, in Hosea's day, God wanted changed hearts as well, not just these words.

Hosea finishes the chapter (and book) with these words:
Who is wise? He will realize these things.
Who is discerning? He will understand them.
The ways of the LORD are right;
the righteous walk in them,
but the rebellious stumble in them.

What do you think of the 'Sinner's Prayer'? Is it a 'ticket to salvation'? Is it the best way to explain to unbelievers the way to enter a relationship with God? What has been your experience?


Scrawny Mommy said...

I do agree with you: both in your earlier cynicism and in your "coming around." I do not feel, however, that the relationship with Christ must be "stretched out" over a period of time, as you suggested. I do believe that as soon we've submitted our hearts to His, we are saved. Of course, once you have submitted your heart, there is always, always room to grow.

Becca said...

I come from a religious background that scoffed on salvation being so "simple." However, now I can truly ask you to really think about the "sinner's prayer." Think about the words. If they truly are the words your heart is speaking, then it is most certainly a sinner's prayer leading to salvation.

I understand your point completely, but for me it's like singing an old hymn and then having it come to life. Wow! A real person wrote this song and what did it mean to this person? Is it truly "well with my soul"? Or am I just singing what's before me?

James Kubecki said...

Is it a ticket to salvation? No, it is by grace you have been saved, through faith...

The biggest issue with the Sinner's Prayer is that the "and mean it" gets underemphasized, parenthesized (is that a word?), and neglected.

And, as you say, God wants changed hearts. He wants those who not only "take words with them and return to the LORD," but recognize that "the ways of the LORD are right" and walk in them.

Matt said...

James pointed out a funny article to me on Tom in the Box that has a "trick sinner's prayer" that reminds me of the game Mad Gab:
"I know Imma. Send her. I can fuss. I need four. Give Ness. Irene Pent and Bea leave. Common tomb. I hurt." It exposes them problem with the idea that you can have someone recite words and suddenly they're "in the club".

But, can we say there's no such thing as a moment of repentance upon which salvation is received (or if that's too arminian for you, upon which salvation is recognized)? I think the one really valuable thing about the sinner's prayer is the assertion that yes, if you relate to this prayer and it is the cry of your heart, you really are completely justified by faith.

No Christian I've ever met has ever claimed to be mature or completely renewed in the image of Christ. They all recognize that they are a work in progress, and they need to die to sin daily to keep pace with the Spirit.

But many, many Christians I've walked alongside have really struggled with the question of whether they're actually saved or if they still don't believe enough. The sinner's prayer is valuable because it assures the believer that their belief in Christ as their redeemer is sufficient for salvation, and all the other struggles and doubts are trials that are part of maturing as a fully redeemed child of God.


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