This Easter I’ve noticed some things about the Easter story that I never thought of before. I’ve always been taught to pray the sinner’s prayer; the problem is at times that prayer can become a way of earning salvation. Now, I’m not saying the prayer is bad (it’s not), but it can be used wrongly. We put such an emphasis on praying a prayer and fail to put the emphasis on faith. Then we start teaching this to a bunch of little kids and telling them that they need to pray a prayer. They’re going to start thinking that their salvation comes from the prayer and not from the work of Christ on the cross. I know that many who are teaching this don’t mean to lead kids wrongly, but they end up doing that anyway.
This Easter I had the privilege on teaching Children’s Church. I got to teach about Jesus’ death and resurrection! While studying for my lesson, I was struck by the salvation testimony of the thief on the cross. Luke 23:39-43 says, “One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And He said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”” The thief didn’t pray a prayer; instead, he believed that Jesus Christ was God’s son and trusted that Jesus would save him from his sins. Isn’t that what Christianity is all about? It’s about believing that Jesus is who He says He is and trusting that He does, indeed, have the power to save us from our sins and trusting in Him to save us. John 1:12 says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Romans 10:9 says, “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” I think this is where the sinner’s prayer comes in. It’s the confessing part. If we believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, then we as Christians are commanded to confess with our lips, to proclaim what He has done for us. The problem is, when we’re teaching children, the prayer often becomes misconstrued as the device that saves us. There’s nothing wrong with praying a prayer to “confess with your mouth,” but there is a problem when that prayer becomes the focal point. It’s really easy for a kid to misunderstand. That’s why this Easter I taught them about the thief; the thief who one day I will see in heaven. The thief who believed in His heart and confessed with His mouth Christ’s Lordship. That’s what I want these kids to do–believe and confess, not rely on a prayer.
I know I wrestled for years over whether or not I was saved. The thing that sealed the deal for me was the realization that at some point I had confessed Christ as Lord and had believed He saved me from my sins. I don’t know the date that I was saved; I don’t know the prayer that I prayed. But I do know that I’m saved. In the Old Testament faith was trusting that God would provide a way for Israel to be saved from their sins; they didn’t know about Christ’s death, but they knew that God had promised them salvation and they hung onto that promise. Wow! That takes a lot of faith. Today it’s much easier for us to believe because we know about Christ’s redeeming work on the cross.
John 19:32-33 says, “So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead , they did not break his legs.” My pastor pointed out that they broke the legs to hurry up their death. The thieves would no longer be able to pull themselves up, so they would suffocate to death. That painful act for one of those thieves hurried him into eternity! He no longer suffers! But they didn’t break Christ’s legs because He was already dead. What’s the significance of this? Christ willingly gave up His life for us! “He said, “It is finished,” and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” (John 19:30).
“When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God”” (Matthew 27:54). Another possible conversion at the cross! My point is that these people simply believed and confessed; they didn’t pray a magical prayer. Again, I’m not saying the prayer is wrong, but we should be wary of holding onto it. Remember, “we have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (Isaiah 64:6). There is nothing we can do to earn our way to heaven, not even praying a prayer. It’s all about faith. For an adult praying a prayer is their way of confessing, but for a child being taught to pray a prayer puts them emphasis on the prayer and not on faith. My concern is that children will, like I did, misunderstand and worry about the prayer. That’s why I think we need to teach kids to believe that Christ can save them from their sins and that He is the Son of God. We don’t need to teach them about a sinner’s prayer, although we certainly do need to teach them how to pray. I’m just concerned that we’re teaching kids to pray a prayer and viola! they’re now saved! For some of those kids they just prayed the prayer, and they didn’t actually put their faith in Christ. They’ll cling to that prayer, to that action, for their salvation. Never realizing it’s all about faith! Or some may pray the prayer and then for years doubt their salvation because they aren’t sure if they prayed it right. When kids come to us, we pray with them. Often times we coach them through the whole prayer because they’ll tell us they don’t know how to pray. They need to be telling God what they just told us. Christ doesn’t command us to be eloquent! The thief didn’t make an eloquent testimony of faith. Instead, he just believed. The thief knew he had sinned and asked Jesus to remember him. This man is in heaven right now because He acknowledged Christ’s lordship and believed Christ would save Him. Let’s put the emphasis where it really belongs!