Now I could have been a bit more explicit, but would rather not alienate…..so will leave it at that. For those not in the know, the “Sinner’s Prayer” is given to people usually in the context of a meeting when a response is called from a message outlining the need to be saved from one’s sins and commit one’s life to Jesus. It goes a little something like this:
“Dear Lord, I confess that I am a sinner and in need of your grace. I repent of my sins and turn to you for salvation. I ask that you would take me and make me yours. In Jesus’ name Amen.”
Of course the wording differs depending upon the person leading the prayer. Now this is the very first problem with this prayer, it’s actually not in the Bible! For a people so dedicated to the Book, it’s strange to think that a foreign prayer would then be created that is almost a cut-and-paste from several different areas of the scriptures, don’t you think?
So why am I going on about this now? I was thinking yesterday about how I came to be a follower of Jesus. Back in the early 90’s I attended a youth meeting at the request of a friend. A very strange event at the time, looking around and seeing all these people singing along to the band. Soon later it went from being odd to absolutely captivating as a grey-haired minister shared with the audience about the love of God towards broken people – and I could certainly relate, being a victim of mass bullying at high school. I was drawn to respond, almost moving magnetically towards the stage and following the crowd in raising my arms in the air.
The minister then spoke in a rather foreign language asking who wanted to be born again. I didn’t respond to that since I didn’t have a clue what he was on about. Yet I knew that I had already had an experience of God. There was a buzz about me that did not quickly go away. The following night I attended church, and was asked if I would like to pray the “sinner’s prayer”. I did, and it made no sense to me. There were no sparks, not a difference in my experience. I had already had a touch of grace; nothing else needed to be added.
Eventually I came to learn what the prayer was all about. Did I ever get comfortable with it? Never! And I’m glad to say that now I completely reject it. There are only two requirements that are given repeatedly in the New Testament for those seeking to be followers of Jesus.
The first is repent and believe. Repentance is all about life orientation, turning from a life of self-satisfaction to one of service – to God and other people. Belief is really a simple heart act of trust in God. These things I did in my initial response at the youth concert.
The second requirement is baptism. This is borne out of what is known as the Great Commission in the Bible, where Jesus tells his disciples to ‘make disciples of every nation, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.’ Disciples are simply followers of Jesus. And in the book of Acts the ritual of baptism occurs again and again after belief.
The ‘sinner’s prayer’ is a widespread phenomenon in Christian culture that is commonly offered as a ticket to heaven. Usually there’s fear and guilt involved by means of scaring people from the impending doom of hell. And this is complete and utter bullshit, I have to say. How Christian faith works, and what will happen in the afterlife, are still a big mystery to me. What is true is that God became real to me at that moment many years ago. And since then I know that the Bible confirms the experience and offers a corrective on how to both be a follower of Jesus and continue on that path. It’s been an amazing journey, and there’s still so much more road ahead.