Is saying the salvation prayer actually being Born-Again?

During the last two generations of Evangelicalism, we’ve exclusively emphasized that our view of being born-again is the key to eternal life, and we’ve simplified the definition of being born-again so much that there is no measurable difference in life-style between those of us who claim to have been born-again and those who do not. Jesus was clear in John 13:34 when he gave us a new command, “. . . Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” There are markers for those who are Christians. Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35). In John’s first epistle, he drove the point home by saying, “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. but anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (I John 4:7-8).

So we wonder why born-again believers are not known for their love? A few weeks ago, I did a debate on a Jewish web site and said that one of the great qualities of an authentic believer in Jesus is to serve, protect the rights of, and do what we can to improve the lives of people who are not like us. I illustrated it by saying it’s an honorable and noble role for Evangelical Christians to secure the rights, safety and security of everyone, whether they be willfully disobedient and sinful, or groups like the Jews, Muslims, secularists, agnostics, and others who are not persuaded that Jesus is the Son of God and that the Bible is the Word of God. Using our voices and strength to protect and serve others is not a validation of their beliefs or practices, but a demonstration of our faith in a Savior that saved us while we were yet sinners. It’s Christ-like on our part to serve others, even those whom we’ve not persuaded.

When my comments were covered in the press with typical excessive drama and misinformation, one wrote me out of concern for my soul, “Satan must have clapped his hands, having found another victim from inside church which he is now successfully using to establish his anti-christian and anti-biblical filth. May God have mercy on you!” I have no doubt that non-believers and those who don’t strive to live according to the Bible will not receive everything Christ has for them, but I do believe that the Bible instructs all of us to do everything we can to make life better for others, whether they are in the faith or not. After all, John wrote that “Love means doing what God has commanded us, and he has commanded us to love one another, just as you heard from the beginning” (2 John 1:6).

Why don’t we who are born-again know much about love? I think it’s partially because our leaders inadvertently equate the importance of Old and New Testament Scripture for us as 21st Century Christians, which has resulted in modern evangelicalism becoming a new religion based on a strange amalgamation of the Old Testament and, what I call, “New Testament Torah.” Sadly, the central aim isn’t abiding in and reflecting the life of Christ, birthed from a dynamic relationship with him producing fruit and life, but instead being correct according to our knowledge of what is good and what is evil . . . which we should know by now is deadly.

Secondly, I think it’s because our leaders don’t know much about love. To my knowledge, there is not one seminary or Bible school class, or even a workshop in a mega-church conference, exclusively devoted to training leaders in biblical, New Testament love and it’s application on a bad day. The application of biblical love in the midst of difficult situations is central to “proving to the world that we are his disciples” (John 13:35). Most of our leaders and teachers have never seriously contemplated the application of biblical love when responding to a non-believer, a sinning Christian leader, or what we might perceive as an ungodly social trend in our community. Thus the vacuum. We who have said the salvation prayer to receive eternal life as a free gift from God have been ushered into a discipleship process that didn’t teach us New Testament life and relationship, but instead Old Testament death often cloaked in “standing for righteousness” or “church discipline.” Thus, in the midst of New Testament grace, we died.

In 2006 when my wife and I went through the most difficult time of our lives, there was no difference between those who were born-again and those who were not in their response to us, our situation, or our family. Both groups had some supportive and helpful people among them, and both had incredibly hateful and meanspirited people among them. Both groups had some who tried to lighten our load, and both had some who tried to hurt us as much as they could. Bottom line, whether a person had been born-again or not, by our modern definition, didn’t make any difference.

Maybe we need to rethink what it means to be born-again? Maybe we need to transition our thinking of being born-again from a one time experience where we recite a prayer, and contemplate whether or not being born-again might be an arduous process of his loving hand transforming us from glory to glory as we grow in his lordship and grace. If our view of living in God’s kingdom isn’t for the good of others, even though we have said a salvation prayer, maybe we’ve not been born-again. When Jesus spoke of eternal life, he said the difference between the sheep and the goats was in the way we respond to socially unacceptable people (Matthew 25:31-46). When asked about eternal life, Jesus taught that it included giving all we have away to the poor (Matthew 19:16-22). Some of you may say that exhortation was specifically to the rich young ruler. I think I would respond that we don’t think Jesus’ word to Nicodemus that he needed to be born-again was exclusively to him, but to all of us.

No doubt, prayer is necessary to be born-again, but we can measure the effectiveness of that prayer in our lives. It could be that the evidence is obedience to his command to “love one another.”

This may be important for 21st Century Evangelicalism.

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15 thoughts on “Is saying the salvation prayer actually being Born-Again?

  1. Derek+ says:

    Certainly for me it is an arduous process being born again. Not because it is that way for God—but it is I who make it hard. Lord make haste to help me, O God make speed to save me!

  2. Avery says:

    Excellent , excellent, excellent!!! You’ve nailed it. I have taught pastors in Our pastoral training in India, Zimbabwe and other places that if you do not make love the foundational and central focus of discipleship, the disciple will become “works and performance” based in their relationship with God and others. 1 John 4:19 We love because He first loved us”.

  3. Pieter says:

    Maybe the seed is planted (conception) when we pray the salvation prayer – after conception comes a time of pregnancy where the cells develop into a baby (in the right circumstances and with the right care and nutrients) and only then birth happens. Just thinking out loud …

    • I used to believe this until I started asking people if the Holy Spirit was working on their lives in a dynamic way before they said a salvation prayer. Everyone says yes. I think we have a tradition a men in our generation that has hyper-exagerated the importance of that prayer and concluded that it is the “in” or “out” decision maker. I’ll build that this distortion of the term “born-again” and then the exaggeration of the meaning of one prayer is the reason that so many fall away, are unconverted, and are arrogant. It’s the basis for a lot of the problems evangelicals face.

      • Charles Dinneen says:

        Hello Pastor Ted: “Is saying the Salvation Prayer actually being born-again” Yes it is the first step in being born again. “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.” (Romans 10:9)
        Billy Graham went to a Mordecai Fowler Ham revival in 1934 and heard the salvation message and the rest is history.
        In the forties I attended a Southern Baptist Church and heard the Salvation message and to make a long story short in the eighties I was ordained by the Assemblies of God and was a Crusade Director for Lowell Lundstrom Ministries. People would come to a Crusade that wouldn’t set foot in a church because the church had hurt them. God used the Crusades to save tens of thousands of lost souls. Example: one Crusade in Kansas the Holy Spirit lead the town drunk to the Crusade, he heard the Salvation Message Prayed the Prayer, became active in a local Church, became a board member and God was using him to help people to over come habits that weren’t pleasing unto our Lord.
        Hundreds of marriages were restored because they came to a Crusade heard the Salvation Message and Gods Love was re-building their marriage.
        I don’t know how many times there were people who were going to commit suicide but as a last resort they came to a Crusade heard the Salvation message and God healed them and they were being helped to find God’s plan & purpose for there lives.
        I could go on and on, we had a follow-up program that assigned individuals that night to each person that came forward to help in the growing process in Gods Love. There was Cell Groups Started to help them in their growth in receiving and sharing God’s love.
        In 1980 we had a Crusade here in Colorado Springs, 104 churches involved, we started at the City Auditorium out grew it and had to move out to Penrose Stadium to hold all the people. There was a dark cloud that hung over Colorado Springs at that time, a lot of witchcraft, and it has been said that God started a revival here in the Springs at that time to help you build New Life Church. We had another Crusade here in the latter eighties when you were meeting on Centennial Blvd. in the Old Post Office Building.

  4. Tom P. says:

    It depends on the attitude of the heart when the prayer was said. I recently saw hundreds of Christian pastors, Church leaders and political leaders, wish the Rev. Billy Graham a happy 94th birthday on TBN. Because of his ministry throughout the years, thousands have “said the prayer” and for them it was truly a born again experience. The same with Greg Laurie, Luis Palau, Bill Bright and many other evangelists that give a “salvation prayer.” Just “saying a prayer” does not save unless there is a drawing of the Holy Spirit and repentance (change of heart and thought). “If you CONFESS with YOUR MOUTH Jesus as Lord, and BELIEVE in your HEART that God raised Him from the dead, YOU SHALL BE SAVED.” (Romans 10:9)

  5. Michele Tennesen says:

    Help me understand—how does this love play itself out in times of war?

    • This is an excellent question. The entire anabaptist movement (Amish, Mennonites, etc.) are pacifists because they cannot reconcile this very issue. I, and others like me, accept what Romans says about the state being given the power of the sword for a reason. Thus, when a Christian is in uniform they are acting as agents of the state, and thus can enforce the law, advance the cause of a just war, etc. Big question: was it loving for the United States and it’s allies to stop Hitler? My answer would be yes. Is it loving for the police officer to shoot a man preparing to assassinate some hostages. I would say yes. I think most anabaptists would say no. Both sides, I think, are important points of view.

      • Fully agree… here is what Bonhoeffer would say, I think and any other thinking Christian: I would place my life in the hands of a forgiving Father for mercy if my actions were out of hate rather than protecting the innocent lives of others i.e. plot to kill Hitler or any other despot that so moved against all that is pure and God’s Kingdom. I would seek wisdom and we know Father gives it to all who ask for it, discernment and courage. Life is not for the faint of heart, I am not sure it ever was on this side of paradise, that is why we need the Holy Spirit! NOT is the answer for the “now what” of our day… Not bend the knee, Not be afraid, Not be silent, Not be ashamed of the gospel. NOT!

      • sally says:

        And we have Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was hanged for his part in attempting to assassinate Hitler.
        What I can’t understand are “pacifists” who are anti war and capital punishment but consistently and with fervor support politicians who are ardently in favor of abortion—-even to the point of Born Alive Abortion; Partial Birth Abortion; Final Trimester Abortion….calling it a woman’s “right”. God help us.
        “What is right will be deemed wrong and what is wrong will be deemed right.”

  6. Gale Baughman says:

    Love is a fruit of the Spirit. Where there is fruit, there is LIFE!
    No fruit, calls to question true salvation?

  7. Joe Machuta says:

    The question I would ask is what produces the love? Is it produced by reading the scripture and following love instructions? … or… is it produced by placing faith (trusting in, relying on, and clinging too the promise of God’s love through Jesus Christ)? I think it is the latter. After apprehending the love of God by faith, clinging, and relying on God’s love produces transformational love in ourselves. Transformational love is what allows us to truly love others, even the unloveable. So then, the pure gospel of Jesus did it all, paid it all, that we are righteous because of him, is what produces the love.

  8. Where is that prayer located? Are there any examples of people praying the formula in Acts? Ancient faith requires us to enjoy the relational process of faith expressions throughout our lives in preparation for heaven. Expressing life through speech, prayer, Eucharist, baptism, mercy, the one-another’s, confession, hopefulness, seasoned fasting/prayer, worship, action and NOT silence against evil. Passivity is the fruit of the “believers” prayer in so many today and we see it in every election, action, tyranny, silence, murder, gossip… that plagues the Kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit in an ancient faith living… convicts strongly, renews the believers heart, heals the broken hearted, transforms the mind to know the good and perfect pleasing will of Father and fear will be cast out by love. YOU Ted are right…the evangelical “approach” is broken and should be transformed by our ancient faith of our fathers who followed Father anywhere He lead and served the least, the lost and the left-behind…as we should! You are a hand up to many – keep pressing into Father…peace and joy my friend…Stephen

  9. sally says:

    It’s a good place to start. Imho.

  10. Russell Tennant says:

    Pastor Ted, is the call to love our enemies the same call to love other believers?

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