I first asked the question here: Is The Salvation Prayer Necessary For Salvation?, which was in response to this challenge. Now I maintain that the reason why the issue of salvation is so vexing to the church is because there is no “instruction manual” in the New Testament, which I maintain is good because if there were, it would just be something else that Christians could use to turn into into a work or a ritual; claiming that the process in the Bible saved you rather than God. But a “type” of salvation by unearned grace is given in the Old Testament, in Isaiah 6:1-7. “In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.”
All Isaiah did was realize and admit before God that A) God is Holy, B) he was sinful, C) that his sinful condition was unacceptable before God, and D) being unacceptable before God because of your sin is a bad thing indeed. (Please realize that Isaiah was ALREADY SERVING GOD IN THE OFFICE OF A PROPHET when he had this vision.) In short, Isaiah, acknowledged his sin and repented of it before God. Immediately upon doing so, his sin was removed through no act of his own!
But wait: his sin was removed by an angel, and only God can forgive sin! Not so! The angel was only the messenger, the vehicle, the vessel! Keep in mind: they WERE under the old covenant; Christ had not been born, died, and raised from the dead, and there was no gospel for a man to preach. The seraphim did not forgive Isaiah’s sin, he took the live coal from the altar, put it on Isaiah’s lips, and the sin was forgiven. Why was the coal live? It had been burned in the fire. What is a common metaphor for fire in the Bible? God the Holy Spirit; Ruach Hakadosh. Consider the Holy Spirit’s role in salvation by reading this link http://www.eternallifeministries.org/awp_sal.htm, and while you are at it this brief opinion on salvation in the Old Testament in general here: http://www.biblebb.com/files/macqa/70-12-1.htm. And keep in mind: the fire of the Holy Spirit is not a regular, natural fire but a spiritual one. So, when the Bible says that the coal was “live”, it does not merely mean that it was HOT, it means that the presence of the Holy Spirit was still with the coal. How do we know this? Because the angel used tongs! The angel never touched the coal, but had to use tongs to handle it. Why do you think that the angel would need tongs, brothers and sisters? This is an ANGEL we are talking about here, a spirit being! An angel is not going to be burned by handling the bratwursts from your barbecue grill! No, the angel could not – would not – touch the coal because the presence of God the Holy Spirit was upon that coal! And when the coal touched Isaiah’s lips, the Holy Spirit that descended down from heaven by virtue of the coal carried by the angel (with tongs) played the same role in Isaiah’s salvation as it plays in this dispensation when a man hears the gospel of a preacher and believes and trusts in the message through faith in God alone.
The best part of all this is that Isaiah played no role whatsoever in this. He did not choose the time or place or manner of salvation. He did not pray for his sin to be removed or for God to accept or help Him. And no, baptismal regenerationists, he was not baptized. He played no role in his salvation whatsoever. It was 100% initiated, executed, and completed by God. The only thing that Isaiah did was acknowledge that he was a sinner, and that he was unworthy to be accepted by God because of it! Immediately after doing that, GOD SAVED HIM. After all, what is the Name by which we are saved? Jesus (more accurately Yeshua, Y’shua, Yehoshua, or perhaps Joshua) which means “GOD SAVES.”
So why, then, the gospel, and what of it? That would probably be a worthy topic for study, discussion, and debate, but I am satisfied with the explanation that it is the method that God told us to use and to leave it at that. But we see from the Isaiah experience that the critical role of the gospel is to not to get the sinner to ask God to save him. Why? Because Isaiah did no such thing! No, the critical role of the gospel is to get the unbeliever to acknowledge that he is a sinner and therefore unacceptable to God because of it, which is what Isaiah did! Only after the sinner realizes that he is a sinner and cannot be reconciled with God because of his sin can he believe that the purpose of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the Jesus Christ Person of the Holy Trinity was to reconcile the sinner to God, and to trust that the actions of God alone are what saves him!
Again, I have no problem with a sinner’s prayer, but only if it is said as a helpful exercise in “formally” fulfilling Romans 10:9 (That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved), specifically the “confess with thy mouth” part, only after the unbeliever has accepted that he is a sinner and even then only IF the sinner knows that the prayer does not save him and furthermore plays no role in his salvation! And this gets to be a real problem in my opinion. First, there is the well – known issue that a great many evangelists, especially those that rely on systematic methods (following a tract or a technique that they were taught during church evangelism training) soft – play the issue of sin because they do not want to alienate the unbeliever, and also because they may not be able to answer the unbeliever’s questions concerning sin. They may mention it, but to get around that “problem”, these evangelists purport to deal with the sin issue during the prayer, which usually starts off with “Lord, I admit that I am a sinner, please for give me for my sins.” The logic “Hey, if he says it during a prayer that he is saying out of a sincere desire in his heart to be saved, then that counts as a confession of sin and God will accept it.” No, it doesn’t work that way. The person’s KNOWLEDGE and SINCERITY is for God to save him, NOT of his sin and his separation from God because of it. This problem is added to when evangelists say that a person’s separation from God is due to their not accepting Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Well, did Isaiah accept Jesus Christ as his personal Savior? No.
The main goal for a lot of evangelists to get people to say a prayer that will not save them, even if they are sincere about a desire to be saved and sincerely recite the prayer! So how, then, are these people saved? I honestly believe that they are saved later. They go to church and (hopefully) hear preachers talk about sin and repentance (again, this cannot be presumed, even in evangelical and fundamentalist churches). Or they will (hopefully) read about the issue and (hopefully) understand when they (hopefully) read their Bibles (something else that cannot be presumed). What of praying for God to forgive your sins?1) Isaiah did not do this. 2) Nowhere in the Bible are we told to do this. 3) Will God hear the prayer of a sinner? Basically, the rub is that if you ask God to forgive your sins without meaning it or even having a true understanding of what you are asking, then it is a vain exercise. But according to the Isaiah example (and the other Bible salvation examples that I can recall), God cleanses you of your sin immediately upon your becoming aware of your sin, knowing that you are separated from God because of it, and desiring your situation to change. Thus, if you have heard and believed a true gospel presentation, then God has already forgiven you before even start to pray! (And it is a good thing too, since the prayer cannot save you!) And it may actually hinder you. What if you say the prayer (even if you mean it) without every truly dealing with the issue of your own sin? Then if you believe that your salvation came when you said your prayer, then will you even see how all of those sermons and Bible verses that speak of sin apply to you? If you regard yourself to be saved already by virtue of the prayer (or of baptism), then perhaps not.
So, the issue that must be dealt with is the scripturally untrue notion that the sinner’s prayer plays any role in saving a sinner, especially when so many Christians are convinced that they were saved when or as a result of saying the prayer, and that the way to be used by God to bring others into the kingdom of heaven is to get others to say a prayer as they did. It is tempting to say that true gospel preaching would make this matter moot, but sadly it is not true. If you believe that God saves the person as a result of his saying the prayer, then out of your love for the unbeliever and burden for his lost soul, you are going to focus your entire energy on getting him to say the prayer. Everything else will be an exercise, a ritual, a formality. Which, of course, means that it will be EXPENDABLE; meaning that you can sacrifice some of it in order not to offend so that you might gain the person through prayer. Let us be honest: suppose you were to walk up to a person on the street and ask him “Do you want to be saved?” and the person replies “Sure, my best friend just died in a car accident, so I want to be with God when I die; I have heard people say and have seen it on bumper stickers and billboards that you need to accept Jesus to go to heaven, but I do not know how.” The overwhelming majority of fundamentalist and evangelical Christians would leap for joy inside and say “Great, just say this prayer!” I would say that a sizable minority would give a quick gospel presentation about how Jesus Christ died for their sins – and may even briefly mention that the person is a sinner in the process – but that would be it! The person was sincere about wanting to be saved, the person said the prayer and asked God to forgive his sins, so there … he is saved! Before reading Isaiah 6 today, I would have agreed. But after reading it, I am forced to conclude that we cannot presume that the person is saved merely as a result of saying the prayer, and we can definitely know that the person’s saying the prayer without knowledge of sin and his separation from God because of it and without repentance of sin because of that fact will not result in his salvation.
Illustrative example: Paula White! On Trinity Broadcasting Network about a year ago, Paula White was speaking of Without Walls’ “extreme evangelism” methods. One such example was their giving a secular concert (admission was either free or with ticket prices far lower than normal) with R&B and rap artists to attract a large number of young unbelievers. That the concert was sponsored by a church was strictly withheld from the public, so the concert attendees had no idea that they were attending a church evangelism event and spent the entire evening there with nothing regarding Jesus Christ on their minds (or if they were, it had nothing to do with the event that they were attending). After the last act performed (and again, it was a secular concert playing secular music, not that I am condemning secular music or those who make or listen to it, just to point out that Christ or the gospel was unmentioned throughout the entire event) an announcer came on stage and asked if anyone in the building “wanted to accept Jesus Christ in their lives” (Paula White’s words on TBN, not mine). Of course, when you have a bunch of impressionable young people that have spent several hours being entertained by their favorite musicians in a concert setting (and R&B and rap acts frequently ask their audiences to respond … “Get up and say yeah!” sort of thing), they are going to be willing to answer in the affirmative to virtually anything almost without thinking. So, when a bunch of kids did so, the announcer had them stand up and say the sinner’s prayer! Which meant that if they were sincere in saying the prayer (and when you are a kid with your friends at a music concert, you can be sincere about a lot of things, especially for oh, about 30 seconds that it takes to say such a prayer), then they were saved. Right?
One final thing: Isaiah 6:8 says “Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who shall go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. send, and who will go for ” Once again, you have God referring to Himself as I (singular) and us (plural). I = Unity, us = Trinity. Trinity in Unity, or Tri – Unity.And in this context, this whole “royal we” (where dignitaries refer to themselves in plural) not apply. Else, the verse would have read “Whom shall WE send, and who will go for US?” No way the normal language would have been used for “I” and the royal language for “we.” Yet another example of why there is no excuse whatsoever for calling yourself a Christian while denying Trinity, or making the “the true nature of God is an unknown mystery that has not been revealed” or “the word Trinity is never given in the Bible” canards that are commonly used as excuses for following some Jesus Only oneness preacher or movement. And isn’t it amazing that God JUST HAPPENS to declare His Tri – Unity during this salvation scene? Do not be deceived, it was no coincidence. God referred to Himself as “I” and “We” during that vision precisely because the Tri – Une nature of God is integral to salvation, and that there is no salvation apart from it. All oneness dissenters: please explain how a “manifestation” of God or a “father – son – uncle relationship of God” went with that live coal to burn the sin out of Isaiah!