A few years ago I led a young man to Christ. At least I thought I did.
We met up again to work through basic discipleship. Lesson 2 was Jesus’ command to Be Baptised. We did a discovery bible study on Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. Then came the surprise.
I asked Gary how he would obey what he’d learnt in the story. Here’s how the conversation went:
Steve there’s no way I can get baptised.
If I got baptised I’d have to be a real Christian.
What does that mean?
I’d have to stop sleeping around. I’m not willing to do that.
I assured Gary we could work on this together. That God would give him the strength to do what was right. Even when he stumbled, God would forgive and restore him. But he had to be willing to let Jesus rule in every area of his life.
Gary said no.
Gary had prayed the sinner’s prayer, but he wasn’t willing to let Jesus rule in his life. That’s not saving faith.
When I’m training people to do Discovery Bible Study, I often tell the story of the woman who wept at Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-50). What amazes me is that nobody notices that Jesus announced to a room of Pharisees that this woman’s sins were “many”.
Most people think the woman was rescued from religious bigotry by Jesus’ unconditional acceptance. Yet Jesus says her faith in him brought forgiveness and freedom from sin.
Throughout the New Testament we don’t find any examples of someone being asked to pray the sinners prayer. In the NT conversion is one experience with five key elements: repentance, faith, forgiveness, baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit. These are five ways of looking at the one conversion experience. You can’t separate them. (Robert Stein has done the homework on this.)
At Pentecost Peter challenged the crowd to:
Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Peter doesn’t mention faith, but it’s assumed. Sometimes other elements aren’t mentioned, but they’re assumed.
Back to my friend Gary. What could I have done differently?
I like Chuck Wood’s approach. When someone says they what to turn and put their faith Christ, he takes them Matthew 28:18-20.
He has them read it out loud. Then he explains:
- All authority in heaven and on earth is given to Jesus. Are you willing to make him the ruler of your life?
- Jesus commands us to follow his example and be baptised. Are you willing to be baptised?
- Jesus wants us to learn how to obey everything he has commanded. Are you willing to meet with other disciples and learn how to obey what Jesus taught?
- Jesus commands us to go and make disciples. Are you willing to share the good news with others?
- Jesus promises that as we do these things he will always be with us.
Then he asks, Are you ready to turn and believe?
If the answer is Yes, you lead them to Christ, baptise them, and begin meeting for discipleship (7Commands).
If the answer is No. Offer to keep meeting for Discover Bible Study (7Stories of Hope).
The Great Commission has nothing to say about praying a prayer, it’s all about making disciples of the nations by going, baptising, and teaching them to obey everything that Jesus has commanded.
Related: 7 Ways to narrow the conversion-discipleship gap