Why Salvation doesn’t need the Sinner’s Prayer

Why Salvation doesn’t need the Sinner’s Prayer July 13, 2016

I had a “single conversion” experience when I was a kid – a moment where I consciously made the decision to repent and follow Christ. And while I do remember it being a cause of celebration, I also remember there being some element of fire and brimstone. It was a clear cut case: humans are intrinsically evil; God is righteous and cannot accommodate our wickedness; Christ was sent to bridge this gap; we must accept his sacrifice or spend eternity in hell, rejected by God.

Pulling at threads

This is no longer how I understand my relation to God, God’s relation to the world, or our conception of eternity. Those of us who have put more fundamentalist leanings behind us are left to wonder – what does that mean for how we understand salvation?

I believe God’s essential nature is goodness and love. God cannot create anything that would contradict that nature. Therefore we are, at our core, good and loving – we carry an innate ability to reflect the goodness and love of God into the world, though we certainly mess this up all the time.

I believe God is the “most moved mover,” relentlessly pursuing us, simultaneously giving birth to and providing the ground for all being. God is certainly not turning God’s back on creation – though we can absolutely turn our back on God.

I believe we can never truly escape the divine presence, therefore I don’t believe in a literal heaven or hell. Of course I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen in the afterlife, but I do know that we are called to work toward a holy kingdom that will manifest itself on earth.

Given these shifts in belief, I have wrestled with how to understand salvation in a way that reflects a theology of a constant, loving, divine presence.

#Unfundamentalist Parenting

Uniting with Christ: for a moment or a lifetime

The mystics conceptualize salvation as pursuit of unity with the divine. Many of the saints and desert mothers and fathers dedicated their lives to becoming one with God by pursuing the image of God they believed was already inside them. Of course no human can attain this successfully but many of us – mystic or not – will spend our lives developing this spiritual practice.

This is quite a different understanding from praying the “sinner’s prayer” during one single conversion experience. No doubt most Christians would say that a conversion experience is only the beginning, and in this, both ways of understanding salvation are in agreement. But the “divine unity” conception and the “single conversion” conception originate from very different places.

I’ve been wrestling through the implications of these schools of thought, and their underlying theologies and structures, with specific relation to what type of salvation I want to model for my baby girl, Junia.

Salvation, baptism, parenting, and practice

I certainly don’t want to throw out salvation or baptism, as I believe they are both Biblical and important parts of our faith expression. But since I now subscribe to a conception of salvation more inline with that of the mystics, I wonder what this means in parenting and practice. Especially when — although we attend a mainline church with progressive policies at the denominational level — at a local church level, things are a little more traditional.

Junia will grow up seeing expressions of conversion through testimony and baptism. And that’s wonderful! But how will I (try to!) make sure she understands these acts in light of our goodness, God’s love, and humanity’s role in the kingdom, rather than through the lens of depravity, separation, and hell?

I want to teach my daughter about her access and connection to God through who she is — a valued person made in God’s image. There are myriad ways I can do this via the issues I confront as I parent. Right now — as she is only 15 months! — I am teaching her to trust her own voice by respecting it myself. I am making spiritual practices like prayer, mindfulness, and meditation part of our daily routine. When we eventually do talk about things like our relationship to God and our need for salvation, I want this to be her foundation.

I hope to one day explain more fully the process – and lifetime work – of salvation to Junia. I hope it will flow logically from our family’s spiritual framework, so that she can “work out her salvation” through a pursuit of unity with God, and a passion for bringing God’s light to the world.

Alexis James Waggoner is a theologian, writer, professor, and founder of The Acropolis Project (http://theacropolisproject.com), an organization dedicated to raising the bar of theological education in communities of faith. She also serves as a chaplain in the Air Force Reserves and is passionate about ministering to women in places where they are often marginalized. She has an M.Div from Union Theological Seminary in New York, a husband of 12 years, and a baby named Junia. 

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    Mark 16:16, “(mentions that) He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Could water baptism save a person? Let’s meditate Acts 19:2-6. Acts 19:2-6, “He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism.” From the above event, did they receive the Holy Spirit after John or water baptism (Acts 19:3)? No, they did not receive it since they only received it at Acts 19:6. Did they receive the Holy Spirit when Acts 19:5, “they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus”? No, they did not receive the Holy Spirit even though they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. They only received the Holy Spirit Acts 19:6, “…when Paul had laid his hands upon them, (since it mentions that after he laid hands upon them), the Holy Ghost came on them…” As the Holy Spirit did not come upon them after John’s or water baptism (Acts 19:3) or baptism (Acts 19:5), it proves that water baptism could not save a person. There is no scriptural verse to support that God would grant the Holy Spirit at the time of laying hands except Acts 19:6. What If laying hands might not necessarily be accompanied with the receipt of the Holy Spirit & that only Acts 19:6 is the exception due to other reason, those people, who rely on laying hands to receive the Holy Spirit, might not be saved as a result of the Spirit does not come to them. Thus, the only source to receive the Holy Spirit & to have confidence with their salvation could only be through asking God to grant them the Holy Spirit by sinner’s prayer. We must not presume ourselves to have the Holy Spirit. Or else, we could regret eternally when Jesus would tell us He never knows us in Matthew 7:23.

    1 Corinthians 12:3, “Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God called Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” Could we use this verse to support that those people who call Jesus to be their Lord could have received eternal lives? No, it is not true since Matthew 7:22-23, “(mention that) Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” As Jesus would mention to them who have called Jesus to be their Lord Matthew 7:23, “I never knew you”, it implies that they do not belong to God. Romans 8:9, “(gives the possible reason why they could not belong to God is they do not have the Spirit of Christ in them since It is mentioned that) …if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” The phrase, by the Holy Ghost, in 1 Corinthians 12:3 might possibly be interpreted as the Holy Spirit is outside their bodies to stimulate them to call Jesus as Lord instead of being interpreted as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to cause them to acknowledge Jesus to be their Lord. If that is so, it is irrational to use 1 Corinthians 12:3 to conclude that all the people who proclaim Jesus to be the Lord must be God’s saints.

    Is it true that those Charismatic people who could perform miracles in Jesus’ name belong to God? Matthew 7:22-23, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? & in thy name have cast out devils? & in thy name done many wonderful works? & then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” As the phrase, in thy name done many wonderful works, is mentioned in Matthew 7:22-23 with the phrase, I never knew you, it implies that Charismatic people could not proclaim to belong to God as a result of their miraculous work performed in Jesus’ name.

    Should Romans 10:13, “(be used to support that anybody who calls the name of the Lord could be saved since it mentions that) …whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”? How about Acts 2:21, “…that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” We must not use these verses to conclude it without reading other verses in the scripture since Matthew 7:21, “(mentions that) Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” As the phrase, Not every one…saith unto me Lord, is mentioned in Matthew 7:21 with the phrase, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, it implies that calling the name of the Lord might not be saved.

    Luke 6:46 & Matthew 7:21 demand all the people who call Jesus to be their Lord to obey His commandments. The following are the extracts: Luke 6:46, “…why call ye me, Lord, Lord, & do not the things which I say?”; Matthew 7:21, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

    Romans 10:9, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, & shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised from him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” Could this verse be used to support a person could be saved through believing in Jesus’ resurrection? No, we must not isolate ourselves to this verse without reading other verses to conclude he could be saved through believing in Jesus’ resurrection without repentance of sin. This is by virtue of 1 John 2:4, “(mentions that) He that saith I know him, & keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, & the truth is not in him.” As the phrase, keepeth not his commandments, is mentioned in 1 John 2:4 with the phrase, the truth is not in him, it implies that a person, who would confess his mouth Jesus & believe His resurrection, does not have the truth to be in him if he refuses to keep God’s commandments. As the truth is not in him as a result of his rejection of God’s commandment, his salvation is in query. What if he refuses to confess his sin before God, could he be saved when 1 John 1:10 mentions that God’s word is not in him if he says that he has not sinned? 1 John 1:10, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, & his word is not in us.” Sinner’s prayer provides a way out for a person to confess his sin before God & to seek God’s forgiveness of sin.

    The word, believe, as mentioned in Acts 10:43, Acts 16:31, Acts 15:11, Romans 1:16, Romans 9:33, Romans 10:10-11, 1 Thessalonians 4:14, Ephesians 1:13, 1 John 5:13, 1 John 5:10 & 1 John 5:1 must be accompanied with repentance & confession of sin as spelt out in John 12:46, “(that)…whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.” The word, whosoever, in John 12:46 refers to anybody whether he or she has just first started to proclaim with his or her mouth to believe in Jesus. As the phrase, should not abide in darkness, is mentioned in John 12:46 with the word, whosoever, it implies that a person who has the hope to be born again must not abide in darkness before his or her conversion. The same is in 2 Thessalonians 2:12, “(that) That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” A person needs to repent from sin in order not to live in darkness. He also needs to receive God’s cleansing of sin in order to have his sin to be wiped out so that he could be pure without darkness of sin in him. Forgiveness of sin is available through confession of sin before God as in 1 John 1:9, “(that) If we confess our sins, he is faithful & just to forgive us our sins, & to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

    God is the one that does not tolerate sin. Isaiah 1:15-16, “And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil:’ As the phrase, ye make many prayers I will not hear, is mentioned in Isaiah 1:15 with the phrase, your hands are full of blood, it implies that our God will not answer our prayer if we continue in sin without repentant heart. The same is in Micah 3:2, “(that) Who hate the good, & love the evil; …”, Micah 3:4, “Then shall they cry unto the LORD, but he will not hear them: he will even hide his face from them at that time, as they have behaved themselves ill in their doings.” As God would hide His face from those people who love evil (Micah 3:2 & 3:4), do you think those people who proclaim in their mouth to believe in Jesus & yet continue in sinning without repentant heart could be saved?

    Jesus is the only source to salvation as spelt out in John 10:9, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, & shall go in & out & find pasture.” Salvation could only be activated through the receipt of the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9). Other than the receipt of the Spirit of Christ, there is no way that a person could be saved. Praying sinner’s prayer provides a way out for people to ask to receive Jesus to be their personal saviour.