Why the so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” is BS

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.


A Peculiar People

Male.  Highly Sensitive.  Introverted.  Short.  Skinny.  Fair.  Peculiar.

A certain recipe for exclusion.

Of course, genetics are only half the story; the other half goes to the particular play or narrative that unfolds in the incubator of childhood, in the unique environment of influences that shape our attitudes and behaviour for a lifetime.  In other words, nature vs. nurture.

Without an understanding of the influence of the former, which is arguably the primary driver of life, I found myself at the mercy of the latter.  Traumatic experiences and parental emotional imbalances led to an environment less than ideal for an infant highly sensitive person.  Growing up, teasing was the norm.  I recall a time in the distant past when all the children accepted one another despite differences; then, as we matured and grew to know ourselves uniquely in our sexuality and personality, we divided into popular and unpopular.

You can see where this is going.  It didn’t help that as a family from an early age we moved several times, including one interstate relocation.  Ultimately, bullying took its toll on me as I retreated inward through my teenage years, at one point turning to the Christian faith out of my despair, and then immersing myself in the culture of the Christian church.

Numerous studies suggest that chronic loneliness can be the precursor to illness.  My highly sensitive body first succumbed to Irritable Bowel Syndrome at the age of 18, and then to Type 1 Diabetes at the age of 33.  Add to that episodes of depression coming and going, and you have a case of a difficult and frustrating life.

In light of this dark history, learning the biological specifics of my genetic history has been a godsend.  For what had been a litany of self-blame and low self-esteem, of guilt and judgment, is now explained by the meta-narratives of sensitivity and introversion, the two traits that make up the antithesis of the prized modern male, an archetype of strength, courage, and resilience.

I will never fit that archetype.  I will never be an alpha-male.  Yet I now know that my unique traits involve gifts that this atypical male can never express.  So my journey is now unfolding in the understandings coming from accepting just what and who I am, this unique product of difficult circumstances.  I have survived thus far, and am determined to thrive.

The Prodigal Returns……Again

A rather radical interpretation of the story of The Prodigal Son, as told by Jesus, is that separation from God can in fact be a necessary means by wish to know his boundless grace and love.  I say this from personal experience – my faith had become stale.

I just love how the son is surprised at his reception following his return.  All the while he was away, he knew that he was in a state of rebellion against his father.  He would have considered how his unrighteous behaviour would look dreadfully shameful to his righteous father.  Just the decision to return would have been one fraught with angst and shame.  How could a good father receive such a wicked son?  Being reduced to a pitiful existence, he knew that he must return, but hung his head in self-disgust, expecting that his father’s wrath would bear upon him in discipline and disgrace.

Yet as we know, quite the opposite occurred.  Upon witnessing his lost son, the father quickly called upon his family and servants to prepare a feast .  Coming towards his father, the son slowly raises his sullen head in shame.  Rather than rage with fury, the father’s eyes glisten with tears as he runs toward his son and embraces him with warmth and compassion.  The son attempts to bring his contrition and confession to the father, and in humility submit himself as a lowly servant unworthy of the father’s love.  The father would have nothing of it, but rather beckons his son back home to join in the celebration of his return.

The son would never have known the full extent of his father’s love had he not walked away in rebellion.  In the same way, God’s love shines forth ever more brightly in the face of my rebellion, even in the face of my denial.  Peter denied the Lord three times; surely his own faith in the love of God was exponentially strengthened as a result of the grace demonstrated in Christ’s forgiveness!  Time and time again we resist God, we rebel against God, we walk away from God, we deny God.  And yet his grace and love remain the same – he is the father who welcomes us back with open arms whenever we stray.  We literally are lambs in the care of the Good Shepherd.

Another extraordinary fact of the story is in the other son, who despises his father’s grace and generosity towards the wayward son.  “Why could you not show me such hospitality considering I’ve always been faithful to you?”, he cried.  Now Jesus was speaking directly of the Pharisees here, moaning of his grace towards the ‘sinners’.  We tend to have such a low view of this group, considering them amongst the most wicked in the gospels.  Yet in this story, even the Pharisees are included in God’s love!  The father does not reject his jealous son, but rather reminds him that his grace and goodness have been always at home, always close by.

What a story of inclusion!  The picture could not have been clearer, of a father with infinitely large arms, ready to embrace all – the wayward and the stubborn – into bountiful grace and love.