Is the Sinner’s Prayer a Sacrament?
Our small group recently acquired a new member who at one point called us all “fools” for being Christians. She said it with a jesting smile, but truly, she considered herself some sort of atheist, and us a bunch of dupes. We have appreciated her company, her questions, her curiosity and have watched her grow.
She started coming to church, and attending our small group every week. And then she began to pray. She would ask for prayer requests by text, and at group, and then also offer up prayers at the end of the night, and, might I mention, with her eyes open—heaven forbid! Last week she told me that someone had asked her if she was a believer and she “got to say yes.”
I was relaying this exciting story to a friend of mine, talking about how wonderful it is to see her become a Christ-follower. The response I heard was something like, “Yeah, but has she prayed the prayer?” Excuse me? The prayer? “Yeah, you know, the prayer of salvation!” Ah. There it is. THE prayer of SALVATION. Which prayer would that be I wondered? The five-step prayer that goes something like “Dear Jesus, I’m a sinner, come into my heart. . . yada yada.”
As I just typed “yada yada” I realized I’m now officially sacrificing the sacred cow of “the prayer.” Before you begin drafting your angry response, please note that I do recognize that for some, there is indeed a moment—a moment where the Holy Spirit moves and turns over a person’s heart, immediately exposing the underbelly of sin, the need for healing in broken crevices, and the recognition of the Lord Jesus. An individual’s response and turning point may be found in one moment of heart-felt prayer for Jesus to wipe away sin and show the way. What a wonderful moment! But for many, maybe even most, coming to faith is more of a long journey riddled with questions and salted with ever-maturing prayers.
Has my friend prayed “the” prayer? No, not that one per-se, but she has indeed prayed many prayers. Prayers that maybe once began with, “Uh. . . lord, are you out there?” To “Prove yourself to me God.” Or maybe “Help God I need you!” And then, “Wow, God you were there for me!” And maybe, “Jesus, I believe! Help me in my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). And so the journey goes from one of abstract denial to recognition, realization, and an ever-increasing readiness for His saving presence.
As an individual’s ability to surrender grows, the Holy Spirit moves revealing sin, brokenness, need, and the Spirit begins to grip a person’s soul with His ready arm of redemption, and this process happens throughout our entire life of faith. I don’t believe in a prayer of salvation, I believe in prayers of salvation . . . all day, every day, as I walk with God. There’s a danger in believing that once we pray “the prayer,” we are saved. Has this idea become something more akin to a magical incantation that if said right, and with “all sincerity” becomes a ticket into heaven, or even, a kind of fire-insurance? What a treacherous religious danger that is! No, I do not believe this is what Christ had in mind when he said “follow me.” My friend . . . she is following Him, one prayer at a time. And so am I.