First, let me make it clear that most people's conversions are clear cut, defined experiences that they can point to and say, "that's when God saved me." This sort of conversion was the norm in the book of Acts. People preached, people heard, believed, and were baptized. What I am meaning to warn against is:
#1 Neatly packaged sinner's prayers that guarantee entrance into heaven, regardless of internal witness or outward fruit.
#2 Those who would question the conversion of someone who has both the inward witness and outward fruit of regeneration, without having a concrete date and event to point to.
Neatly packaged sinners prayers has done a great deal of damage to the church. These little rituals of salvation, as far as I can tell, only came into existence in the 20th century. It was a great way to hit all the bases of what a conversion to Christianity was all about, and do it in a very tangible way that people could latch onto in masses. To this day I believe that part of the reasons these are used is merely for the evangelist, personal or mass, to put notches on his or her belt. I remember visiting a Baptist church and seeing a bulletin board with children's names of those who made decisions for Christ during VBS. Great. But do these kids have the inward witness and outward fruit of salvation? Or did we simply lead them in a prayer and walk away, feeling great about ourselves and the numbers we reached?
Please, do not misunderstand. A sinner's prayer is an accurate way of walking people through the gospel and what they must believe about themselves and about Christ. But, taking people, especially children, through a "repeat these words after me" prayer, and then turning to them and saying they are a "new creation" and from that point on saying that they will go to heaven when they die, while they may not experience the inward witness nor manifest the outward works of salvation, is a terrible disservice to them. I have used sinner's prayers before, and may again in the future. The problem isn't the prayer itself. The problem is the assumptions we make about the prayer and the person praying it.
The other problem I mention above is evangelists who question the authenticity of Christians who have believed "ever since they can remember." As is the case of two young people that have come through our youth group, and must be the case for others. They have the inner witness, and the outward fruit, but can't point to a single event of the new birth. I have heard preachers say "if you aren't sure, pray this prayer after me." Why? Is there something magical about it? Is it a condition for salvation? As posted in the last blog, our faith/trust/belief/confidence in Christ is what saves us.
So, I haven't really put Scripture in this blog, so upcoming, I plan to post:
The Inward Witness and Outward Fruit Part 2 (What are they according to the Bible?)
The Godward and Manward sides of redemption.