Last week we touched on a dangerous practice in the Church known as “The Sinner’s Prayer”. In that post we highlighted some dangers from it such as its unbiblical origins and that it often results in either a lack of assurance or a gospel hardening, leading to the classification of “carnal Christians” by those who hold to its practice. I want to again reiterate that just because you have prayed the sinner’s prayer does not mean that you aren’t saved. There are many genuine Christians that have done so and are living for Christ, but again this is in spite of that man-made method, not because of it. I want to encourage you not to place faith in that “decision”, but to instead ensure that your faith is placed solely in Christ. Just like anyone who makes a profession of faith in Christ, there must be evidence of fruit and growing in the knowledge and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18) to make your calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). Likewise, the Christian life is not marked with a one-time “decision” of faith and a one-time repentance of sins. It’s a lifetime of each; continuing to believe and continuing to confess and repent of sin.
Recall that we also focused on regeneration and the approach of the chief Pharisee to Jesus one night where Jesus instructed him that apart from a Spiritual rebirth no one can see the kingdom of heaven (John 3). In this post, let’s look at a similar encounter with yet another religious leader who came to Jesus and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Just recently I was listening to a podcast from John MacArthur entitled “The Impossibility of Salvation” in which he focused on the encounter from Luke 18:18-30 where we learn of the “rich young ruler” who asked Jesus the aforementioned question. His sermons led me to think how very relevant this passage is to our discussion on the sinner’s prayer.
“18 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.'” 21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. 24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 But he said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” 28 And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” 29And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”
Now by any church leader’s standards this rich, young ruler was ripe for the picking for church leadership. He was wealthy, influential, and knowledgeable of the Old Testament scriptures. He even knew that Jesus had the answer to eternal life. As MacArthur points out, he was looking for a rescue from the legalistic lifestyle he had been living and despite his theological knowledge he recognized he was unsaved. This is just the kind of guy that church leadership scouts seek out. Someone with all the intangibles, but just needs a little steering in the right direction. But notice how Jesus responds. He immediately turns the tables and asks why the young ruler calls Him good, noting that no one is good except God alone. This likely was a failure on the ruler’s part to recognize Christ as the Son of God. Next, instead of taking him to the grace of God, Jesus takes him to the law, all of which the ruler states he has kept from his youth. To this Christ replied, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” It’s important to point out here that merely selling possessions and giving the proceeds to the poor will not get anyone to heaven. Jesus is highlighting the ruler’s heart which is so caught up in earthly treasure that it’s a stumbling block to living a life devoted to Christ. As Luke’s Gospel records, we know that the ruler went away sad because of his unwillingness to part with his vast material wealth. He was unwilling to lay down his life and devote it to Christ, which Jesus states will result in treasure in heaven. But as Jesus concludes, not only was the ruler unwilling, he was unable. Upon seeing this conversation, those who surrounded them began to ask, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”
If this same scenario played out in a Western Church, it’s likely that 99% of them would have led the young ruler in the sinner’s prayer. Obviously he was searching, a “seeker” by all modern accounts. It would’ve have been an evangelistic dream to have a man with his pedigree and background approach someone in the church and say what do I have to do to be saved? Simple enough right? Here are the 4 spiritual laws, pray this prayer after me and mean it with your whole heart and welcome to the family! But remember who it is we are reading about in this passage. It is Jesus Christ. King Jesus! The Messiah! No one could ever possibly understand the Gospel message like Him. After all, it’s about Him and He tells us in John 18:37 that He has come to “bear witness to the truth.” While in John 14:6 Jesus tells us that He is the Truth. So He has come to bear witness to Himself. Did Jesus then miss this opportunity to tell the rich young ruler about why He had come? Why not say to the man, here’s all you need to do, simply pray this prayer? Actually, there wasn’t even a repent and believe statement.
Jesus went straight to the heart. He went straight for what the man valued most, his possessions, and he was unwilling to part with them because of his pride. Do you see dear reader? Jesus isn’t interested in padding “decisions” for Himself. He’s not interested in overflowing pews full of halfway Christians. He’s interested in our heart, and He wants all of it. As one popular Christian rap artist states, Christ wants disciples, not decisions and converts. This is precisely why Jesus spoke so strongly about denying self in Luke 9, counting the cost of following Him in Luke 14, , and why He turned away the masses in John 6. As Christians, i.e. proclaimers of the Gospel, it is our job to follow in the path that Jesus laid for us and that is preaching the unaltered, whole counsel of God in His Gospel for the Holy Spirit to apply straight to the unregenerate heart. Ultimately, even though we may pour our hearts out in preaching the Gospel the decision rests not on us, but with God who works in the hearts of our hearers (or readers). Because remember Jesus’ response when asked “Then who can be saved?”, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” Salvation is of the Lord. (Rev 7:10)