Mainstream Christian pastors want to make it as easy as possible for guests in their congregation to become members. After an emotionally charged sermon spent convincing the congregation that they are broken and need salvation from an eternity of torment, they present an offer that is too sweet to resist.
“Want to be 100% sure you’re safe from the most horrible experience possible? Do you want the infinite God to live in your heart and grant you otherworldly powers and perfect love? Then receive the salvation of Jesus Christ! It’s simple. Come kneel in the front if you want, and repeat this simple prayer after me… wonderful, if you prayed those words and meant it in your heart, you’re saved! Hallelujah!”
They portray salvation as easy, straightforward, and surefire when new church members are at stake. They say that once you’re saved your life changes because the Holy Spirit lives inside you. You are no longer a slave to sin. Your sinful nature has been replaced by Christ’s sinless life. The Holy Spirit whispers God’s heavenly truths into your heart. You will know a limitless love that could never compare to anything else on earth. Exciting stuff, right? Sounds like the kind of magic that might solve every problem you could possibly have!
You “accept Christ” and start to grow roots in the church. It’s your community now, and you accept (your pastor’s interpretation of) the Bible as the primary source of truth in your life. You spend time studying the Bible, discussing it in groups, worshiping Jesus, and you put (what you perceive to be) God’s plan for your life ahead of everything else.
For some people it feels real. They seem changed; their passion for Christianity grows. They report feeling God’s love and hearing his voice. But some of you prayed the sinner’s prayer with full sincerity only to find that you still struggled with the same destructive behaviors, couldn’t experience Jesus’s love, and your life felt the same as ever despite your newfound devotion.
You might question why your experiences didn’t match what was promised. Didn’t the pastor say Jesus was going to live inside your heart and break the chains of sin? Then why are you still bound to “evil” behavior? Why do you feel fear, doubt, and insecurity?
“Well, we’re still imperfect creatures and we’re always going to sin and struggle. Just because you’re a believer doesn’t mean you can expect God to interact with you the way you’d like. He works in mysterious ways. Just be patient and keep believing; God will reward you later.”
How interesting: apparently receiving the Holy Spirit didn’t free you from sin in a profound way? Accepting Christ into your heart didn’t make an undeniable difference? It’s possible for the omnipotent god of everything to literally live inside your body and for everything to feel exactly the same?
As you get older and keep seeking God, trying to work it out, maybe you can’t avoid the suspicion that something doesn’t add up. Maybe you realize that nothing about it makes sense to you. Maybe you learn some things about the world you can’t unlearn.
Maybe after years of hanging on, you end up changing your mind about your faith altogether. Now you’re an ex-believer.
Suddenly, your search for God was never enough. He never knew you! Because if you were really saved you would have experienced a sweetness that could never be denied, and you wouldn’t (couldn’t!) have left. Broad is the path to destruction, narrow is the path to righteousness. You must be living in sinful resistance, or your heart wasn’t in it when you asked for salvation, or you didn’t look hard enough for biblical answers to your questions, or you believed under some denomination that didn’t show you the whole truth, or you’re just going through a phase and you’ll be back, or Satan is deceiving you, or, or, or…
This is profoundly inconsistent with how they presented salvation when you were first invited to believe. It was as simple as this: God is all powerful, loves everyone, and wants none of his children to suffer. Just put your faith in him and he will come through for you. It didn’t depend on you giving it your best effort for decades, it was an immediate promise of a radical life shift.
Don’t the altar call and the sinner’s prayer look a bit phony now? How can a pastor say that salvation is an easy gift to receive after one prayer, while also saying that a person can spend dozens of years giving God their most sincere effort without receiving the indwelling Spirit?
They can’t have it both ways. Salvation can’t be as easy as a prayer to receive and elusive after years of dedicated seeking at the same time.
Pastors are either lying, or shockingly unaware of their own inconsistency, when they claim that receiving salvation is easy and profound (of course, I think it’s impossible to receive the Holy Spirit at all because it doesn’t exist). The “sinner’s prayer” drama is an emotional manipulation to make you feel like the church has given you a major life benefit, a placebo effect for which you should be forever grateful and loyal.
Written by Joe Omundson