Item #1: The Sinners Prayer
Nowhere in the Bible will you find the prayer that many people are taught to say to intiate their faith in Jesus Christ. Peter didn't do it in Acts 2 when the people asked how to place their faith in Jesus. He didn't ask the crowd to bow their head and raise their hand and say a prayer stating that "I'm a sinner, that I need God, and I invite him into my heart." Instead he said, "Repent and be baptized." In Acts 22 when Paul shares what Annaias said to him to initiate his faith in Christ. Ananais didn't have Paul repeat the sinners prayer after him. Instead, Annais said to Paul, "What are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name." For that matter, no one was asked to come down to the front of the church either and announce their faith to all. That's an invention of early American revivalism.
How did, the "Sinners Prayer" come about then? It really is an American invention. Somehow, it came to replace the role of baptism in the New Testament. D.L. Moody was the first to employ it back in the 1800's. It was not popularized though until the 1950's with Billiy Graham and the Campus Crusade for Christ. The phrase personal Savior is a late invention as well. It's not in the Bible either. This phrase was made popular by Charles Fuller during the 19th century revivalism. This phrase has led to a intensely individualized expression of faith. The New Testament doesn't teach just a me and Jesus routine. Christianity is a life lived out among believers who know Christ together as Lord and Savior.
In the early church baptism was part of the initiation of faith. Certainly, God responds to prayers of faith, but just as circumcision initaited Abrahams faith in God so does baptism initiate our faith in God (Colossians 2:11-12). In the New Testament, as soon as someone said they believed in Jesus they were baptized.
Is their something wrong with the sinners prayer? No, not of itself. It is a prayer of faith, but it certainly does not replace the role baptism was intended to have in the New Testament. Baptism and faith belong together. Those who believed and repented were baptized. This is the pattern of scripture. It is how someone came to faith.
You may ask, isn't baptism a work? How can it initate faith? Doesn't Paul say we are saved by faith and not by works? Yes, he does, and rightly so. The New Testament though doesn't see baptism as a work. That came later. In the early second century influential teachers said that before someone could get baptized the person had to go through a period of instruction, prayer, and fasting. In the 3rd century converts had to wait three years before they were baptized! Suddenly, baptism became something you had to work in order to experience. It was no longer perceived as part of grace, but as a work.
Okay, are we not saved by the blood of Jesus, and not baptism? Emphatically yes! This doesn't negate the role of baptism though. The two are actually linked together. Romans 6:3-4 shows how. Listen, "Don't you know that all of us who were baptized ino Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we to omay live a new life." (NIV)
What about the thief on the cross? He wasn't baptized and Jesus said he would see him in paradise. The thief wasn't baptized. Well, did the thief say a sinners prayer? Did he repent even? Did he say he was sorry for his sins? Understand, Jesus often forgave sins in his ministry on earth. He did it to the man who came through the ceiling too. He didn't come to ask Jesus to forgive his sins. He wanted to walk again, but Jesus forgave him anyway. Jesus can forgive anyone he wants to any way he wants too. He's God. He is the perfect judge over all.
It doesn't negate the pattern that was set down by Jesus to the apostles before he ascended into heaven. He told them to go into all the nations and to baptize people in the name of the Trinity. He didn't tell them to say a sinners prayer. That's why Peter said what he said in Acts 2, repent and be baptized. Jesus instituted it, and the early church practiced it as the intitiation of faith.
Can we do the same?
So if you are person that has said the sinners prayer but have not been baptized then you need to complete the initiation of your conversion (and be baptized)!
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