Questioning Your Salvation?: Addressing the Misconceptions

In addressing these misconceptions as part of the Questioning Your Salvation series, I feel that I must first say that I do not think, in any way, that these misconceptions came about due to malice toward the church or God, or that there was any other negative intent when these ideas were formed and communicated. Rather, I believe that they are the result of men and women who loved God, loved Scripture, and wanted to see people come to know Christ. However, I do still believe that whatever the original intent, or original school of thought, these misconceptions are contrary to the whole of Scripture, and need to be addressed to enable Christians to have a more complete view of Scripture, and of God’s love, righteousness, grace, and mercy.

I firmly believe that much of what drives this behavior of questioning one’s salvation is promoted by a misconception of both the understanding of sin, and how one becomes “saved”. When I was growing up I always heard something like “If you want to be a Christian, you need to say this prayer.” While adamantly being taught that salvation was not of works, that I couldn’t do anything to earn salvation, I was also taught that before I could become a Christian I had to do something (say the prayer). Even something as simple as saying a prayer challenged the “faith based salvation” that was so prominently taught in church and in the private schools I attended.

Trying to understand how this misconception occurred, I thought back to the Roman Road, which seems to end at Romans 10:9.

Romans 10:9 ESV

9 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.

As best I can discern, the misconception of “the sinner’s prayer” came from this text. I’m not saying that we don’t need to confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, because Scripture clearly says that we do. Rather, I am saying that Scripture doesn’t indicate that this is the starting point of the saving work of God in our lives. This is, according to Scripture, a RESULT of God’s saving work in our lives, NOT the cause of it.

Much of the church has conformed to the concept that sin has less of an impact than it really does according to Scripture. Much of the church has embraced the misconception that sin is something that merely plagues us, an external force which attacks us and is based on our environment, not on who we are. We see this school of thought evidenced in the Baptist Faith and Message in the 1963, 2000, and 2008 versions.

Baptist Faith and Message: Excerpt of the Doctrine of Man

[Man] By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race. Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.

Much of the church confesses that we are only affected by sin as soon as we knowingly sin. There are many philosophical problems with this belief, but the main problem is that Scripture in no way communicates this message. Over time, Christianity has been taught to be something that it isn’t: under our control. It has been, and is being taught, that we are ONLY held accountable for the sin that we commit personally, rejecting the concept that Adam’s sin affects us as well, and that we can only become Christians by saying a prayer. So by our own actions we become guilty, and by our own actions we become saved, as if the work of Christ on the cross and His resurrection only opened a door which we must choose to walk through of our own volition.

I believe that many Christians question their salvation, or conversion, because of incomplete teaching regarding the “sinner’s prayer”, which is rooted in a misunderstanding of man’s nature as it relates to sin, moral ability, and subsequently the guilt from sin.

I know there may be many objections, and many questions to some of what I’ve said here. If that is the case, please leave them in a comment here (please don’t comment my Facebook page). In the next blog, I’ll be covering the effects of sin according to Scripture.

6 responses to “Questioning Your Salvation?: Addressing the Misconceptions

  1. Pingback: Questioning Your Salvation?: An Introduction | TransformingWords

  2. OOOO, Don, you’ve hit a sore spot with this gal. Never have I heard in the Baptist church what you are saying about it. Of course we already receive Jesus before we say the sinner’s prayer. Saying the sinners prayer is just our confirmation to the world and to us that we have received Christ. Apparently because of your misunderstaning of this, you think that’s what the Baptists teach.
    As for as being responsible for only the sins we commit, there is prayer in Leviticus that says the people prayed for the sins they weren’t aware of. They even gave offerings for these sins to be covered.
    We are born into sin because of the inheritance from Adam. That’s why a 2 year old screams, “Mine!” when another child grabs his toy. We are born into selfishness – the Me thing. However, I do believe that the Lord doesn’t hold us responsible until we truly understand about Jesus and total commitment. I have worried for years about children just saying the sinners prayer without understanding what it means. Our pastor always goes over it with them when they come forward for salvation. Sin is within us when we are born. However, the demons are talking to us continuously, and some people think their thoughts are their own when they are from the devil. Just as the Holy Spirit speaks to us, sometimes we don’t know if it’s our thoughts or God’s.
    We have a choice of whether to sin or not. One morning as I was getting dressed I started thinking a bunch of ugly thoughts about a friend. Then it was like I woke up and realized the devil was putting all those things in my mind. So I began to bless her and pray for her well-being and God’s will and favor to be done in her life that day. I enjoyed your message, but I think you don’t quite understand what the Baptists believe. At least not where I’ve come from in the many Baptist churches I’ve been a part of for many years. Keep on writing tho. We all learn as we go, and you’re doing a great job, Don. I’m real proud of you. You’re a deep thinker, and I admire you for that. Love you, Moopy

    • Moopy, first, I did have my church’s discipleship resource pastor look at this to make sure that I was on track, and not attributing beliefs to churches that aren’t really there. Second, more of what I believe Scripture to say about Sin and the Salvation is coming in the next few posts in this series.

      For now though:
      1) I’m not limiting this to Baptist churches. It may be more prevalent among non-denominational churches.
      2) Even the language of “accepting” or “receiving” Christ still implies that we are an active agent in our salvation. We aren’t. This is part of the problem I’m trying to address. More to come on that later.
      3) I’m not saying that all Baptist churches teach the use of such language, or even that all non-denominational churches do. There are both Baptist and non-denominational churches that express adamantly what Scripture teaches about our inability to respond to God until He breathes life into us (making Him the only active agent), and there are churches in both sides that stray from this teaching for a variety of reasons (and I’m willing to admit that it may be an unintentional straying).

      When it comes to Adam’s sin passing to us:
      1) There are churches that do admit to Adam’s sin and death being passed down to us in a philosophical or confessional sense, but they deny it functionally. They sit around a table and admit that Adam’s sin and punishment passes to all man, but then practically deny its effects on children.
      2) If we are marked by sin, there are two options: Hell or Jesus. God is loving and just, and both of these traits require Him to punish sin. That punishment will either take place in an eternity in Hell, or will have taken place on the cross.
      3) There is no third option. Saying that “God doesn’t hold us responsible until we understand” isn’t found anywhere in Scripture. It’s true, that we will be judged according to what has been revealed to us, and that’s something I’ll talk more about in the blog after next. Really though, the idea of “The Age of Accountability” is trying to find a loophole for pastors to avoid dealing with the harsh reality of what to tell parents whose children have died. This provides immediate consolation, but doesn’t do justice to God’s character and traits of love and justness.
      4) As God is the active agent in salvation, He is absolutely free to save whoever He wants by applying a person’s sin (including Adam’s sin and their own sin) to the cross. As such, Scripture doesn’t give us a clear formula for when God does this in relation to children who have not confessed Christ. It could be all the time, it could be none of the time, it could be some of the time. What Scripture is clear about is that God is loving, good, and just, and we should do the hard work necessary to let the gospel press us in circumstances as difficult as these, without inventing doctrines to make ourselves feel better about God.
      5) Granted, this concept would require an entire book to be explained thoroughly, but I didn’t want to leave it unaddressed.

  3. Pingback: Questioning Your Salvation?: The Effects of Sin | TransformingWords

  4. Pingback: Questioning Your Salvation?: Rest in the Cross | TransformingWords

  5. Pingback: Questioning Your Salvation?: Salvation is a Work of God | TransformingWords

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