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Sinners Prayer . . . Heresy?

November 13, 2009

Bible Passage: Romans 10

“I want you to know that the greatest heresy in the American evangelical and protestant church is that, if you pray and ask Jesus Christ to come into your heart, He will definitely come in. You will not find that in any place in Scripture.” ~ Paul Washer

That’s a shocking statement to those of us raised in the American church.  It’s one of those statements where everyone gasps and the air goes out of the room.  It is the kind of statement that could change everything if it is true.  But is it?

I think I understand what he means and I agree with him.  I think it’s because we’ve gotten so casual and shallow in our understanding of redemption and justification.  I think we (the corporate American church) have gotten way too Armenian in our view of our role in salvation.  We casually talk about the number of “decisions made to trust Christ” as if people were choosing which brand of dish soap to buy.

The fact is, not everyone can or will be saved.  The typical view in America is that if you pray a prayer and ask Jesus into your heart you are saved.  No.  You are saved if God chooses you (before the foundation of the world, Eph 1:4), the Holy Spirit regenerates your heart (Ez 11:19), gives you real faith (Eph 2:8), gifts you with the understanding that is foolishness to the rest of the world (1 Cor 1:18), and motivates you to respond by calling on His name (Rom 2:4, John 10:3-5).  It is a work done completely by God (Eph 2:4-10).  We can’t produce it in others by fear, guilt, a promise of a better life, persuasive arguments, emotional manipulation, or great speaking.  We can’t affect salvation in others because they can’t choose it for themselves (2 Tim 2:25).  They are chosen.

People don’t ask Jesus into their hearts.   Where is that in scripture?  Neither do they “give their hearts to Jesus”.  I assure you, the “giving” is all done by Jesus, not to Him!  This implies the action is on your part, not God’s, as if He is sitting around completely helpless, just hoping people will choose to follow Him out of their own wisdom, intelligence, and good-natured hearts.  This may seem like nit-picking, but this theology will work itself out in some very bad ways if not corrected.  Indeed it has in America, and I believe it has caused countless people to come to a false security of their own eternal destiny.  This man-centered view, robs God of His power and places Him subject to human “free-will”.  It dangerously elevates our view of ourselves, minimizes the effects of sin within us, and cheapens Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

But where did this come from?  I think the idea of “asking Jesus into your heart” comes from a misunderstanding of the context of Rev 3:20:

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”

The problem is that this verse is frequently abused by removing it from the context within the book of Revelation.  This verse is actually referring to believers, Christians.  Jesus is speaking to the church, not to unbelievers.  Jesus redeems hearts and the Holy Spirit enters a new believer as a response to their faith in God (produced by God and gifted to them).  The action is done by God, not by us.

This raises the question; can someone pray a prayer and “ask Jesus into their heart” if they aren’t chosen by God?  Well, I think it depends on what is meant by that statement.  First off, no where in the bible does it say that praying a prayer makes you saved.  It does say in Romans 10 that if you confess Jesus with your mouth and believe on Him with your heart you will be saved.

“But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” ~ Rom 10:8-11

I think this is where people miss the boat.  These two actions (confess Jesus, and believe) seem very simple but they are, in fact, very vast in their implication and scope here.  It is tempting to break this down to a simple formula where you say these words and you’re in.  Not so.  What is going on in the heart here is key.  I think the order that Paul states them the second time  is important: “With your heart you believe and are justified and with your mouth you confess and are saved”.

1.) Believe in Your Heart

The first question is, what does it mean to “believe in your heart”?  What do you need to believe?  A person must believe the gospel.  That is, the story of redemption earned by Jesus Christ on the cross and his victory of sin and death.  They must confront the fact that they are a sinner with no hope of reconciliation with God or forgiveness by themselves apart from Him (Rom 3).  They must believe in the fact of Jesus is God and that He is the only way to forgiveness (Col 1:15-20, 2 Tim 2:5).  They must come to a place where they are grieved in their heart for what they have done to separate themselves from God and earnestly desire for that relationship to be restored (Matt 5:3, Ps 34:18).

Notice that it says believe in your HEART not in your HEAD.  This has to be more than a head knowledge, it needs to impact the heart.  This is why James says even demons can “believe” in God and it isn’t enough (Jam 2:19-20).  This is the first half of repentance (2 Cor 7:10), and it can’t be conjured up by the person (2 Tim 2:25).  They can’t get out of bed one day and choose to be broken over their sin.  They can’t suddenly choose to understand the work of Jesus on the cross.  It has to be given to them.

2.) Confess With Your Mouth That Jesus is Lord

The second question is what does it mean to confess Jesus?  Is “asking Him into my heart” confessing Him with my mouth as meant in Romans 10?  Perhaps and perhaps not.  It means that the heart belief is now pouring out of your mouth.  In Matthew 12:34-35 Jesus tells us that out of the overflow of our heart our mouth speaks.  You are confessing your sin and guilt and confessing Jesus as your only answer for it.

Additionally, I think this means boldly proclaiming your faith and trust in Jesus as your only hope for redemption from sin and hell to everyone.  The emphasis in the verse is on the mouth – speaking audibly, not silently praying.  This meant renouncing pagan gods or the Jewish tradition and boldly letting everyone know you are a follower of Jesus.   A radical life change is implied here.  Repentance is implied here.   You are turning from your old hopes, idols, and lifestyle and picking up your cross to follow Jesus (Luk 14:27, 2 Cor 5:17, Rom 12:1-2).  If there was any doubt, Paul removes it by explaining that there is no confessing Christ without repentance:

“Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.” ~ 2 Tim 2:19b

I think the word “confess” is important because it implies a consequence for this choice.  A person who confesses to a crime is going to pay the consequences.  It is interesting this isn’t translated “profess”, which doesn’t carry the same implication.  We often hear it said that someone “made a profession of faith”.  I think this takes away some of what Paul was meaning here in Romans.  Paul knew the person who confesses Jesus would suffer for that proclamation (Rom 8:17, Phil 1:29-30).  It isn’t a confession spurred on by promises of a better life.  We see this word used elsewhere in the New Testament with this same connotation.  An example is 1 Tim 6:13 where Jesus is described as “making the good confession” before Pilate with crucifixion immanent.

The person who has been gifted faith unto suffering, repentance, and grace-motivated love, is the one who is saved. This is why James stresses faith without works is not faith at all, it is dead (Jam 2:26).  This is why Jesus talked so often in the gospels about how those who don’t produce fruit will be cast off and thrown into the fire (Matt 3:8-10, 7:15-20, 12:33, 21:41-43, Luk 3:8-9, 6:43-44, 8:9-15, 13:6-9, John 15:2)

What specifically Paul tells us we must confess here is worthy of another look.  What does he say?

. . . confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord . . . (Rom 10:9)”

Immediately, it jumps out at me that it doesn’t say “that Jesus is Savior”.  It could. . . He is.  Paul could call us to confess that Jesus is God, but he doesn’t.  Why does Paul stress Christ as Lord?  What does Lord mean?  The dictionary defines it as:

A person who has authority, control, or power over others; a master, chief, or ruler.

Paul is saying that we must confess that Jesus is our ruler, king, master, and boss.  It is recognizing the reality that we are not in charge or our life but He is.  Many people love the idea of Jesus as Savior, but they have never confessed Him as Lord. They still live in rebellion to His rightful rule in their life. Many have been led astray by an incomplete presentation of the gospel that calls people to accept Jesus as Savior only.  The Lordship part is simply omitted or poorly explained.

The Christian path does not allow you to trust in Jesus as your Savior and then live your life according to your plan.  If this is you, you are not saved, I don’t care who told you otherwise.  To be a Christian means that God gets to rewrite the script of your life according to His plan.  You must seek Him and He will give you new desires, new dreams, and new goals.  They may look nothing like what you would have picked.  It will be hard.  Your life may not be comfortable.  Your dreams and plans may die.  It will cost you everything.  You will suffer. . . for a time.  But, then the reward is unmeasurable.  And, the best part is that through it all He will be there with you.  He will NEVER leave you.  He will carry your burdens for you.  He will pour out His grace upon you, which is more than sufficient for every pain and hardship He calls you to.  He will work everything (even the darkest times) out for good in your life.

Yes, it is possible to pray a prayer and ask Jesus to come into your heart and not be saved.  What is the motivation for the prayer?  Is it wanting a better life?  Is it just making sure you don’t go to hell (in case all this Bible stuff is true)? Is it even believing in Jesus, but without true repentance of your sin (head belief and not heart belief)?  Is it believing in Jesus in addition to everything else in your life and not in place if it (Jesus as Savior but not Lord)?   Does this prayer result in the person making the good confession to everyone and living for Jesus?

So many have been mislead by this most dangerous heresy.  If you are interested in watching the whole message by Paul Washer it will challenge you.

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