Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The "Sinner's Prayer" and False Assurance

[The following re-edited thoughts that I've previously posted on this blog are intended to contribute to the conversation recent discussion about 'asking Jesus into your heart' that Trevin Wax has described his blog.]

Wherever you are reading this, I invite you to bow your head and quietly whisper the prayer that will change your eternity: "Jesus, I believe in you and receive you." Go ahead.

 If you sincerely meant that prayer, congratulations! Welcome to the family of God! You are now ready to discover and start living God's purpose for your life. (from
The Purpose Driven Life, "Day 7")

Rick Warren wrote the above statement to assure people who sincerely prayed a certain prayer that they are part of the family of God. And I would say that his presentation is being indicative of an anti-assurance position. Why? Because, as I hope to demonstrate, the above statement by Warren is antithetical to true, biblical assurance in two ways:

1. It grants assurance to people who are still outside of the family of God.

2. It is detrimental to the assurance of people who have come into the family of God.

1. Statements such as the one from Rick Warren, quoted above, promote false assurance to people who are still outside of God's family: people who are yet alienated from and hostile to Him (cf. Colossians 1:21). This is made clear by the following teaching from Ray Comfort:

This is how to give false peace to a sinner. Simply ask, "Do you have assurance that you will go to heaven when you die?" Who in his right mind doesn't want to go to heaven? So a good number will say something like, "I hope I'm going to heaven when I die." Now say, "God wants you to have that assurance. All of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God, but God sent His Son to die on the cross for us so that we could have peace with God. When we repent and trust in Him, God will give us everlasting life. He writes our name in the Book of Life. Would you like to accept Jesus into your heart right now and have your name written in heaven? I could lead you in what's called 'the sinner's prayer' right now. Would you like to pray?" Many do.

 You may be asking, "What's wrong with that?" Let me see if I can answer that question with an anecdote.
A blind man is unwittingly heading for the edge of a thousand-foot cliff. A modern evangelist draws alongside him and says, "Blind man, I am going to give you a wonderful gift that will give you peace." He then hands him a CD player and adjusts some earphones over his ears. The sightless man hears "Amazing Grace" being sung by a choir of ten thousand voices. His unseeing eyes widen with delight. He smiles and says, "What you said is true. This is truly wonderful. Thank you very much." He shakes the man's hand, turns up the volume on his new gift, and continues walking toward the thousand-foot cliff.

What has the modern evangelist done? He has failed to awaken the blind sinner to his true plight. Instead, he has given him false peace. Now not only is the blind man still heading toward a horrible death, but he is deaf toward any further verbal warning. The message of peace has done an unspeakable disservice to the blind sinner.

Millions of people have been given "assurance of salvation," yet they are strangers to biblical repentance. The Law has never awakened them. They have never been warned to turn from the cliffs of eternal destruction. Now, because of the techniques of contemporary evangelism, their ears are deaf to the true message of salvation
. (The Way of the Master, 163-164 emphasis added)

The "sinner's prayer," as articulated by Warren, lacks contrition for sin and true repentance. Humanly speaking, the person who prays such a prayer is now likely worse off than than before: he is now not only spiritually blind, but has been deafened to the gospel call.

2. In addition to the promotion of false assurance in those outside of the family of God, statements such as the one from Rick Warren, quoted above, actually undermine true assurance on the part of those who have actually come into the family of God. How so? Because Warren promotes assurance on the basis of voicing the words of a certain prayer with sincerity. But as a Christian grows in his understanding of God's Word, he comes to realize that "the heart is deceitful above all things" (Jeremiah 17:9), that we are all naturally "hostile in mind" toward God (Colossians 1:21), and that due to these conditions, many people are self-deceived concerning their condition before God (cf. Matthew 7:21-23). Therefore, many Christians who have been taught that they should trust in the fact that they have prayed a prayer and meant it with all of their heart in order to know that they are saved come to realize that there is no possible way to be certain of their sincerity at the time of praying this prayer. They come to worry that they may have been self-deceived and thus they are robbed of the joy that should be theirs.

I would like to supplement the above statements on both false assurance of salvation and a lack of assurance with a challenge to self-examination using notes from the article "Religious Affections: Sorting the Wheat from the Chaff" by Jeff Robinson (The Founders' Journal, Issue 53, Summer 2003). This article is an examination of Jonathan Edwards' teaching on neutral signs of conversion versus true signs of conversion to Jesus Christ as found in his book, The Religious Affections. Jonathan Edwards was undoubtedly the greatest theologian in American history, a preacher whom God used to help begin the Great Awakening in the early 1700s. The Great Awakening saw many new believers come into the church, but, as we should expect, many also were self-deceived and did not have true, biblical faith (see Matthew 13:24-30). So the question became, 'how can a person know whether or not he or she has truly placed their faith in Christ?' 'how can someone be sure that he or she are among the elect who will receive salvation from sin, death, and hell?' Edwards provides part of the answer to this question in a letter he wrote to a young lady concerning her assurance of salvation:

It is proper to review your past experience; but do not consume too much time and strength in this way; rather apply yourself, with all your might, to an earnest pursuit after renewed experience, new light, and new lively acts of faith and love. One new discovery of the glory of Christ's face, will do more toward scattering clouds of darkness in one minute, than examining old experience, by the best marks that can be given, through a whole year. (Quoted in John Gerstner, The Rational Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards, 3 vols., published by Ligonier Ministries.)

Notes on 'neutral signs' (signs that do not necessarily indicate that salvation has taken place) vs. true signs of conversion:

I. Neutral Signs: No Ironclad Evidence of Conversion
A. Bodily Effects: Groaning, swooning and fainting over either the thought of eternal torment or blessing are no sure signs of salvation, as these can arise from self-interested affections.
B. Talk About Religious Subjects: Talk about religion or even quoting Bible verses is no sure sign of salvation as “authentic Christianity is more clearly seen in deeds rather than heard in words” (Matthew 7:15-27; James 1:26-27).
C. Sudden Bursts of Scripture Texts Upon the Mind: If someone claimed to have Bible verses often come to their mind, most of us would certainly think that this was evidence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. This is not necessarily the case, though, as the Devil is able to introduce the Word of God to people in a twisted way in order to deceive them (Genesis 3:1; Matthew 4:1-11; II Peter 3:15-16).
D. Outward Displays of Affection for Christians and Even for Jesus Himself: Those lacking in faith are easily swayed according to their desires (James 1:5-8; II Peter 3:16; Jude 12-13) and when it suits their purposes, they can even express great affection for Christians and for Christ Himself. This is seen in the church of Galatia, who helped Paul overcome an illness, accepted Paul’s preaching as if he were an “angel from God,” and sincerely expressed that they would do anything they could to help him, yet soon after he left they went after false teachers (Galatians 4:11-16). We see another example of this point in the life of Jesus, when so many that wanted to be identified as His disciples abandoned Him when His teachings became hard to accept (John 6).
E. Experience That Mimics the Experience of Another: Just because you may have a testimony of how you came to have faith that sounds in all points identical to someone else who is living out a Christian life, it does not necessarily indicate that you have experienced true conversion.

II. Positive Signs: The Nature of the True Christian
A. Love of God for Who He Is: Love of God Himself for His excellence, beauty, glory, and perfections, rather than affection for God based upon what He does for us (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Matthew 22:37-38 )
B. Love of God Directed Toward His Holiness and Worthiness: True love of God directs itself ultimately toward His holiness and worth (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8-11).
C. Humiliation Before the Holiness and Glory of God: Edwards points out that a true Christian is one who has seen the Law of God, understood God’s view of his sin, and despaired of helping himself. Then, the Holy Spirit brings to the Christian “a sense…of his own utter insufficiency, despicableness, and odiousness, with an answerable frame of heart” (Isaiah 6:5; Ezekiel 1:28; Luke 5:8; Revelation 1:17-18 )
D. A Change of Nature: One who has been truly converted will be a completely different person than they were before God converts them (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26; John 3:3,5; II Corinthians 5:17).
E. The Mind and Attitude of Christ: A true Christian will have their thinking shaped by the Word of God and will develop a truly servant-like attitude toward others (Matthew 22:37-39; Mark 9:35; Romans 12:2; I Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:3, 6-7).
F. A Balance in Our Communication with Others: True Christians desire to develop communication that both encourages and rebukes others out of their sense of love toward God and those around them (Titus 2:15; II Timothy 3:16-17).
G. A Holy Restlessness in Pursuing God: True Christians are never satisfied in their spiritual condition, but seek, rather, to always grow in their love and knowledge of God (Philippians 3:12-14).
H. The Fruit of the Spirit: All true Christians show evidence of repentance in their lives, which is evident to those around them:

"Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." (Galatians 5:19-23 NASB)


Therefore, I once again urge anyone reading this again to “examine yourselves, as to whether you are in the faith” (II Corinthians 13:5), and to “make your calling and election sure” (II Peter 1:10).

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