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.