The other day I had an interesting conversation with a young youth pastor. For the record, it was not the youth pastor at my church. He made the statement:
“The sinner’s prayer has sent more people to hell than any one thing in our time.”
If you’re not familiar with the Sinner’s Prayer you can read about it here.
In a nutshell, it’s a prayer that Christians (usually pastors or evangelists) walk non-Christians through on the path to following Christ. Billy Graham’s version went like this:
Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name, Amen.
What?!? How on earth could such a prayer send people to hell? The youth pastor is a young man, and young men tend to be very fiery in their speech. His point, though, was that repeating a few sentences after a pastor does not save you.
What’s all this talk about saving? If you haven’t been in the church your whole life you may be wondering what on earth we’re talking about. Simply put, this life is not the end of existence – it is only temporary. Upon death we leave this life and begin the next. Depending on your spiritual condition you’ll be “saved” and in eternity with God or “lost” and in eternity apart from God.
Now, back to the prayer. The young minister was trying to express the fact that reciting words does not mean that one is saved. It’s not a magical incantation. Many people believe that if they simply say the words then they are guaranteed salvation and eternity in heaven.
But the Bible never says that you have to say magic words to get to heaven. The Bible does say:
– To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12)
– Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)
– For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
The Bible is clear that there is only one way to eternity with God, and that is through faith in Jesus. It’s not about Mohammad. It’s not about Buddha. It’s not about doing or saying the right things (works). It’s about our faith in Jesus. The youth pastor I was talking to was frustrated that too many people say the magic words, think they’re saved, and then stay exactly the same they always were.
Authentic, saving faith goes beyond reciting words – it’s about faith and the condition of our hearts, and that saving faith results in a changed life. Jesus once said:
“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15)
Pastors, evangelists, and churches do a good thing to share the truth about eternity and salvation with people. It is a good thing to bring people to an understanding and a saving faith. Then the Sinner’s Prayer becomes a useful tool for expressing that faith.
If you’ve ever said the “magic words” for fear of going to hell, saying the words won’t save you – you’ll still end up in hell if all you have is mere words.
The prayer itself doesn’t save. Our faith does.
Stay tuned…in Part II we’ll look at why a loving God will send sinners to hell.
– Why You’re Going to Hell: Part II