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
17 Replies to “Why You’re Going to Hell: Part I”
You did a good job of explaining this topic to non-Christians that talent is often lacking.
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Thanks for reading! 👍
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Before saying any kind of sinner’s prayer there is the acknowledgement in your heart that you need Jesus in your life; that you need Him to ‘save’ you from your sinful ways. Jesus does not push His way into anyone’s heart. You have to invite Him in, hence the need to pray. Without a prayer, however worded, to invite Jesus in; He remains outside, standing at the door and knocking.
I accepted Christ as my Savior at the age of 12. My pastor had a brief talk with me before praying to make sure I understood what I was doing, and what was expected of me. Shortly after, I was baptized. A good pastor, I think, can recognize if the sinner is truly repentant, or doing it for “looks”.
I’m not a perfect Christian. Teen years were rough, but it didn’t matter. Jesus was with me then, as now.
I agree with you – it’s about the condition of the heart. The youth pastor I was conversing with was expressing concern over who are told to say the words without ever having the heart. It’s easy to gauge in smaller venues, but at a huge evangelistic crusade? People could say the words because the evangelist says to – even if they don’t know what they’re really doing.
Well said! The onus on us to explain the steps and processes after the ‘sinner’s prayer’ and walk beside them through the journey.
Yes! The journey is only getting underway when the individual comes to a place where he can pray that prayer. We can’t bail after we get them to speak it.
Hi Pastor. I truly love your blog. I am a Roman Catholic and as you know we believe in faith AND works. There are many passages in the Bible that stress faith without works is not enough. James 2;26. 2;34. 2;18. Help me know whats right. Thanks so much. Kate
Hi, Kate! Excellent question, by the way, and not one that’s discussed well enough. You’re absolutely right that works plays a role in our spiritual lives – James is very clear about that.
We get into trouble, though, when we think that it’s the works that earns us a ticket to heaven. We can’t work our way up 🙂 We are saved by God’s grace through our faith in Christ.
BUT (and this is huge) authentic faith genuinely leads us to do good works. This is the point James is trying to stress – how can you say you believe when there’s nothing backing up what you say?
Without the evidence of works, faith is merely words. Authentic, Jesus-loving faith brings us to good works. They are linked 🙂
And, yes, I know you’re Roman Catholic – but that’s okay – we serve the same God and read the same Bible 🙂
I see. This makes sense. It truly does. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this with me. Youre pretty cool for a non Catholic. ;). Heehee
Gee, thanks 🙂
Lol. My pleasure. Anymore questions im coming to you Pastor. Okay?
Not a problem 🙂
This needs to be said more. Much more. Thanks for sharing.
Sure thing. Thanks for reading 🙂
Thank you for this very bold word. I’ve been growing concerned lately with the number of people I’ve heard claiming that Jesus only taught love, acceptance, and tolerance. Jesus is love, yes, and He went to the tax collectors and sinners, yes. But He did so to call them away from their sins and into repentance. He came to save them from their sins, not to tolerate and accept their sins. I’m afraid for people who only hear messages of tolerance and acceptance and pray the sinners prayer without any intention whatsoever of changing their lifestyles to glorify God. Thanks for this post. I pray God uses it to reach the lost and bring them home.
Jesus was the most balanced person in history 🙂 He touched the “untouchables”, hung out with the outcasts, and loved people in spite of themselves. At the same time he told people it was time to leave the old life behind – “Go and stop sinning.”
It’s a balance we often fail to walk. We emphasize love or we emphasize repentance but don’t hold onto both like Jesus did.
Thanks for reading! 🙂