Month: February 2018

The Gospel Observer

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NASB).


1) Bible Prophecy (2) (Tom Edwards)



Bible Prophecy (2)

Tom Edwards

Last week, we began considering some Old Testament prophecies that were primarily of events that were to happen around the time of Jesus’ birth. Let us now continue with more on the foretelling of Him and His kingdom that was to come.

About seven centuries prior to the Lord’s coming to dwell among us, Isaiah was already informed by God (Isaiah 9:1-2) of the Galilean ministry that Jesus would later have: “But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.

“The people who walk in darkness
Will see a great light;
Those who live in a dark land,
The light will shine on them.”

The fulfillment of this is recorded in Matthew 4:12-16: “Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet:


The passage then goes on to point out one of the things that the Lord started preaching at that time; and it was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (v. 17). John the Baptist was preaching this, too, as seen in Matthew 3:1-2.

Isaiah had also foretold of that kingdom (Isaiah 2:2-4), when referring to the future “last days,” in which

“The mountain of the house of the LORD
Will be established as the chief of the mountains,
And will be raised above the hills;
And all the nations will stream to it.
And many peoples will come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
That He may teach us concerning His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.’
For the law will go forth from Zion
And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem…”

The “mountain” represents God’s rule, His government. It is actually the primary meaning of “kingdom,” which is defined as “1) royal power, kingship, dominion, rule 1a) not to be confused with an actual kingdom but rather the right or authority to rule over a kingdom. 1b) of the royal power of Jesus as the triumphant Messiah. 1c) of the royal power and dignity conferred on Christians in the Messiah’s kingdom 2) a kingdom, the territory subject to the rule of a king. 3) used in the N.T. to refer to the reign of the Messiah” (Thayer).

So in seeking after the kingdom first, as the Lord has commanded (cf. Matt. 6:33), one is putting God before all else and submitting to His rule; and those who do so will then become a part of His kingdom, which is the church.

Notice in Isaiah’s prophecy that the LORD’S “mountain“ would be “the chief of the mountains,” which indicates God’s government, His rule, being far superior to any earthly rule that had ever been or ever would be. This is also inferred from the apostles who taught that we must obey the civil authorities (cf. Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17), for it is what God commanded. Yet, they also knew where to draw the line when particular laws of civil governments or man-made rules would be in conflict with the word of God. It was then that Peter and the other apostles declared, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Yes, God must always be first!

As Isaiah shows, on this “mountain” is “the house of the Lord”; for it would be established by Him. Perhaps this also reminds you of Jesus’ promise that “…upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not over power it” (Matt. 16:18). Similarly to Isaiah’s writing, the church is also called “the house of God” (1 Tim. 3:15 and 1 Pet. 4:17, KJV); and as “the house of the Lord” was on the “mountain” in Isaiah 2, the church today has Jesus for the foundation (1 Cor. 3:11). He, therefore, is the “rock” in Matthew 16:18 that the church would be built upon — that “rock” that Peter had just confessed, by saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16); and it is by submitting to God’s rule that one today becomes a part of that church and is being built upon the foundation of Christ (cf. Matt. 7:24-27).

As we saw earlier, the Lord, while on earth, had informed some that they would “not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (Mk. 9:1). It was then in Acts 2 when the kingdom came, for that term is used to also refer to the church. In writing to the Colossians, Paul says, “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:12-13). The apostle John also testified toward being in the kingdom (Rev. 1:9) and told the seven churches in Asia Minor that God “has made us to be a kingdom” (v. 6).

So everyone who becomes a Christian is not only put into Christ (cf. Gal. 3:26-27) and into the universal church at that same time (cf. Acts 2:47, KJV), but also into the kingdom, since it is also used in referring to the church. For there are not two different plans of admittance – one for the church and another for God’s kingdom of the Gospel Age. Nor are there two different sets of laws of God for these; but, rather, it is the same gospel, the same rules of God, that are to be submitted to by, whether we say, those in the kingdom or those in the church.

We have also seen that when Christ returns, it is not to then set up a kingdom; but, instead, it is to deliver the kingdom, which has already been established, up to the Father in heaven (cf. 1 Cor. 15:24-26).

It was also prophesied about the Lord’s priesthood in Psalm 110:4. The psalmist writes,

“The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind,
‘You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.’

The Lord’s priesthood is also foretold in Zechariah 6:12-13, in which the Lord had instructed Zechariah to declare,

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Behold, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of the LORD. Yes, it is he who will build the temple of the LORD, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices.”

And where do we find the fulfiller of that spoken of? Hebrews 5:5-6: “So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, ‘YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU’; just as He says also in another passage, ‘YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER ACCORDING TO THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK.’” Consider also Hebrews 7:11-28.

So, again, we see Jesus being the One who would “build the temple of the LORD” and rule over it, as also seen in the prophecy in 2 Samuel 7:12-16, which had a dual fulfillment involving Solomon (in building the temple made with hands and ruling over God’s people) and ultimately with Jesus (who built the spiritual temple of God’s house, the church, and not only rules over it, but also over all else, as well, with the exception of the Father (cf. Acts 2:29-31; Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:20-23).

(All Scripture from the New American Standard Bible, unless otherwise indicated.)

The Steps That Lead to Eternal Salvation

1) Hear the gospel, for that is how faith comes (Rom. 10:17; John 20:30,31).
2) Believe in the deity of Christ (John 8:24; John 3:18).
3) Repent of sins (Luke 13:5; Acts 17:30).
4) Confess faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9,10; Acts 8:36-38).
5) Be baptized in water for the remission of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:26,27; 1 Pet. 3:21).
6) Continue in the faith, living for the Lord; for, if not, salvation can be lost (Heb. 10:36-39; Rev. 2:10; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).

Tebeau Street
1402 Tebeau Street, Waycross, GA 31501
Sunday services: 9:00 a.m. (Bible class); 10 a.m. & 5 p.m. (worship)
Wednesday: 7 p.m. (Bible class)
evangelist/editor: Tom Edwards (912) 281-9917 (Older version of Gospel Observer website without pictures, but back to March 1990) (audio sermons)

The Gospel Observer

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NASB).


1) Bible Prophecy (Tom Edwards)



Bible Prophecy

Tom Edwards

One of the reasons we can accept the Bible as being divinely inspired is because of the fulfillment of Bible prophecy.  Consider, for instance, the following which pertain to the first promise of the Messiah and those prophecies concerning and pointing to the time of and around His birth:

According to Genesis 3:15, Christ would be born of a woman.  But before one would say, “Well, what is so special about that?,” we must realize that what makes it extraordinary is that Jesus had been with God before the world began and the same in Deity (cf. Jn. 1:1-3); but instead of just coming into this world, already appearing as a man, as some angels have done, Jesus entered, instead, in the form of an infant that had to grow and develop into manhood.

But notice what else Genesis 3:15 shows in God’s statement to Satan (who was in the form of a serpent):

“And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”

The term “seed” is sometimes used in the Bible to refer to descendants.  Notice, for example, Genesis 22:17-18 where God tells Abraham, “indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies.  In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”

In this passage, “seed” is not only used to refer to Abraham’s descendants (as also seen in Psalm 105:6), but, in addition, to a specific One, as Paul shows in Galatians 3:16: “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as referring to many, but rather to one, ‘And to your seed,’ that is, Christ.”

That the serpent would “bruise” Christ on the heel, while Jesus would “bruise” the serpent on the head, figuratively refers to the crucifixion of Christ and what Jesus was able to accomplish by it.  For though Jesus had to go through great suffering and death, yet He also, through that death, was able to “render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Heb. 2:14-15).

Also, in going along with Christ’s birth (and even though He has existed prior to the creation), is that the birth would be from one who was a virgin.  As also prophesied, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14).

Mary conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit.  The account declares concerning Joseph and Mary that “before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18).  Having not initially known that, Joseph was planning on sending Mary away secretly;  but, prior to doing so, an angel of the Lord assured him that “the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (v. 20).

Matthew then points out that “…this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,’ which translated means, ‘GOD WITH US’” (v. 23).

And to think that even way back during the time of Adam and Eve, while they were still in the garden of Eden and before they became parents, God had indicated Satan’s defeat at Calvary by Jesus’ death on the cross that brought about that triumph – and a triumph, as we see in the New Testament, that would lead to the victory of many!

As we continue on, not only would Jesus be born of a virgin and of the lineage of Abraham, but He would also be a descendant of David (Acts 2:29-32; Matt. 1:1).  Jesus Himself acknowledged this as well: “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star” (Rev. 22:16).  But, of course, as Paul shows, Jesus being “born of a descendant of David” was only “according to the flesh” (Rom. 1:3).  For that is the part of Christ that did have a beginning, while His true essence has always existed.  And when it comes to the Deity-side of Jesus, He was “declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 4). While on earth, Jesus was the “Son of Man” (Luke 22:48) as well as the “Son of God” (John 10:36).

It is also interesting to see that the very place where Jesus would be born was prophesied several centuries prior.  For Micah wrote about 700 to 681 B.C. and foretells:

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Too little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings  forth are from long ago,
From the days of eternity” (Micah 5:2).

“Ephrathah” is an ancient name of Bethlehem.  It is also seen as Ephrath (Gen. 35:16,19; Gen. 48:7). That Bethlehem would be the place of Christ’s birth is also referred to in Matthew 2:5-6.  For in answering Herod’s question concerning where the Messiah was to be born, the chief priests and scribes said to him: “…’In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: “AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.”’”  See also Matthew 2:1.

A terrible event of great sadness was also prophesied that would have one of its fulfillments to take place around the time of the birth of Jesus:

“Thus says the LORD,
‘A voice is heard in Ramah,
Lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
She refuses to be comforted for her children,
Because they are no more’” (Jer. 31:15).

This second fulfillment of this dual prophecy is seen in Matthew 2:16-18: “Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi he became very enraged and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi.  Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled…,” which goes on to cite Jeremiah 31:15, as seen above, but with just a slight change in wording.

Why is Rachel the one mentioned as mourning for her children?  Though there are  several different Ramahs in the Bible, this particular one was in the territory of Benjamin, which was settled by those who could trace their lineage back to Jacob and Rachel.  Hence, we read of Rachel weeping over her children (descendants) to figuratively express the sorrowful events that would come to them (and though she had long been deceased). “Ramah was intimately connected with one of the saddest epochs of Jewish history.”  The leading residents of Jerusalem who survived Nebuchadnezzar’s attack on the city had been placed under guard at Ramah, while the Babylonians continued to plunder Jerusalem, destroy the temple and the palace, and cause other ruin.  Jeremiah had also been held captive at Ramah (Jer. 40:1).  The Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature further states: “Perhaps there was also a slaughter… of the captives as, from age, weakness, or poverty” who “were not worth the long transport across the desert to Babylon. There, in that heart-rending scene of captives in chains wailing over slaughtered kindred and desolated sanctuaries, was fulfilled the first phase of the prophecy uttered only a few years before: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping: Rachel weeping for her children… ’ That mourning was typical of another which took place six centuries later, when the infants of Bethlehem were murdered, and the second phase of the prophecy was fulfilled (Matt. 2:17).”

Let us close with the following prophecy concerning Jesus who was a very special “seed” indeed — and of far superior worth and value, as Isaiah 9:6-7 sets forth:

“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Eternal Father [the Father of Eternity], Prince of Peace.
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.”

How glad and thankful we can be that Jesus fulfilled these prophecies written about Him, that He came to our rescue, and that He manifested His love in the greatest of all ways!

(All Scripture from the NASB, unless otherwise indicated.)

The Steps That Lead to Eternal Salvation

1) Hear the gospel, for that is how faith comes (Rom. 10:17; John 20:30,31).
2) Believe in the deity of Christ (John 8:24; John 3:18).
3) Repent of sins (Luke 13:5; Acts 17:30).
4) Confess faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9,10; Acts 8:36-38).
5) Be baptized in water for the remission of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:26,27; 1 Pet. 3:21).
6) Continue in the faith, living for the Lord; for, if not, salvation can be lost (Heb. 10:36-39; Rev. 2:10; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).

Tebeau Street
1402 Tebeau Street, Waycross, GA  31501
Sunday services: 9:00 a.m. (Bible class); 10 a.m. & 5 p.m. (worship)
 7 p.m. (Bible class)
Tom Edwards (912) 281-9917 (Older version of Gospel Observer website without pictures, but back to March 1990) (audio sermons)

The Gospel Observer

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NASB).


1) Motivated by God’s Love (Tom Edwards)



Motivated by God’s Love

Tom Edwards

When asked of which commandment is the greatest of all, Jesus replied that it is to “LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH” (Mark 12:30). He then also went on to say, “The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (v. 31).

What a worthy, noble, and needed pursuit for all of us today!  Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone did live according to these holy principles of love toward God and toward one another?  What great changes for the better there would be!

And what should motivate us toward doing our part in this?  Would it not be the great love that God has shown to us – and even while we were sinners and so undeserving? As Paul writes to the Roman brethren:

“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more than, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom. 5:6-10).

The word “love,” in verses 5 and 8, is from the Greek word agape. E.W. Bullinger points out that it is “A word not found in the profane writers, nor in Philo and Josephus, nor in Acts, Mark, and James. It is unknown to writers outside of the N.T.  Philanthropy was the highest word used by the Greeks, which is a very different thing to [agape], and even far lower than [philadelphia]… [Agape] denotes the love which springs from admiration and veneration, and which chooses its object with decision of will, and devotes a self-denying and compassionate devotion to it. Love in its fullest conceivable form.”

That God is love is probably one of the first things we had learned about Him. And what an amazing love that is! For though we have been so unworthy, yet God showed His love to the world in the greatest way possible by giving His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who willingly came to this world to ultimately suffer a most cruel and torturous death on the cross in order to make an atonement for every sinner.

John speaks of this love in 1 John 4:10, by saying, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” The Greek word for “propitiation” (hilasmos) has been defined as “an appeasing” (Thayer), an “atoning sacrifice, sin offering…expiation; one who makes propitiation/expiation” (Mounce Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament). Jesus is that greatest-of-all sacrifice, and the only one that can truly blot out sin (cf. Heb. 10:4; Eph. 1:7; 1 Thess. 5:10).

Among his “Believe-It-Or-Not” writings, Robert Ripley makes mention of the longest love letter ever written. It was done so by a French painter by the name of Marcel de Leclure in 1875. Though the letter contained just three words – “Je vous aime” (I love you) – yet the statement was written 1,875,000 times! And not only was it written that many times, but it was also said 3,750,000 times in the process, for Leclure would dictate the statement each time to a secretary who then would recite it back, along with writing it down. So it was said and written a total of 5,625,000 times!

God, of course, as we have seen, does much more than acknowledge His love for us in words. For He has also demonstrated that by what He has done for us – as we especially see in the passages of the Lord’s crucifixion for our transgressions. So when we think of Jesus suffering and dying on the cross for all of us sinners, we can realize that He loved us that much and has, thus, truly proven His love for His Father and for humanity.

In view of what the Lord has already done for us, what great expectation the Christian can have toward whatever else God would do on our behalf. For as Paul declares, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).

The story has been told about an eight-year old boy named Bradley who one morning at breakfast gave his mother the following bill:

Mother owes Bradley:
For running errands……….25 cents.
For being good………………10 cents.
For taking music lessons…..15 cents.
Extras…………………………….5 cents.
Total that Mother
owes Bradley………………..55 cents.

On reading this, the mother smiled; but she remained silent.  When lunch time came, Bradley then saw on his plate the bill he had left — and along with it was 55 cents.  Of course, he was glad to see that. But then he noticed another piece of paper, similar to his, that had been neatly folded by his plate. When he opened it, he saw that it was a bill from his mother, which read:

Bradley owes Mother:
For being good to him…………………………nothing.
For nursing him through his long illness
with scarlet fever…..………………………..nothing.
For clothes and shoes and gloves
and play things………………………………nothing.
For all his meals and
his beautiful room………………………….nothing.

Total that Bradley owes Mother……………nothing.

The story then tenderly closes by saying: “…the tears came into Bradley’s eyes, and he put his arms around his mother’s neck, and he placed his hand with the fifty-five cents in her hand, and said: ‘Take the money all back, Mother, and just let me love you and do things for you for nothing.”

Bradley came to realize just how much his mother loved him, and it motivated him toward wanting to show his love to her in return.

In similar manner, have we realized all that God has done for us in showing His love?  And have we allowed that love to stimulate us toward living for Him?  We certainly owe the Lord more than we could ever pay Him back.

But how many today, however, act as if God owes them something? Yet, even our obedience to His word is still part of God’s grace and not a work of merit on our part. For we can do nothing to earn or deserve God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness.  Rather, it is strictly because God chose to be merciful and extend His lovingkindness to the world that we can have His blessings when we meet His conditions.  For Jesus died for every transgressor, but we must submit ourselves to His plan of salvation in order to benefit from that atoning sacrifice.

May we, therefore, never take for granted all the things which God has done and made possible for us, and may that love He has shown be that which will also prompt us in our worship and service to Him.  “For the love of Christ compels us…” (2 Cor. 5:14, NKJV).

(All Scripture from the NASB unless otherwise indicated.)
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Ephesians 5:1-2, NASB).

Tebeau Street
1402 Tebeau Street, Waycross, GA  31501
Sunday services: 9:00 a.m. (Bible class); 10 a.m. & 5 p.m. (worship)
7 p.m. (Bible class)
Tom Edwards (912) 281-9917 (Older version of Gospel Observer website without pictures, but back to March 1990) (audio sermons)

The Gospel Observer

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NASB).


1) The “Sinner’s Prayer” (Tom Edwards)

sinner's prayer


The “Sinner’s Prayer”

Tom Edwards

A common misconception among many denominations, which is often taught and practiced today, is that non-Christians can be forgiven and become Christians by praying a “sinner’s prayer” to invite Jesus into their hearts.

Here is one such example from a very popular tract, entitled, Have You Heard of the Four Spiritual Laws?, written by Bill Bright, back in 1952, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ in 1951.  In this tract, the reader is told, “You can receive Christ right now by faith through prayer…” The following suggested prayer is then given: “Lord Jesus, I need you. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be.” The tract then goes on to say, “Does this prayer express the desire of your heart? If it does, I invite you to pray this prayer right now, and Christ will come into your life, as He promised.”

Out of curiosity, I searched to find how many of these tracts have been printed and distributed since its beginning.  Here is what some different  sources said: “well over 25 million printed copies being distributed by 1980” (R.K. Johnston, Four Spiritual Laws).  Another source stated, “over one hundred million copies have been distributed in all the major languages of the world” (, 4 Spiritual Laws),  while others have placed the number at “Approximately 1.5 billion” (Mike Riley, Four Flaws in the Four Spiritual Laws), and even “over 2.5 billion” and in “over 200 languages” (Steve Murrell, A Short History of Campus Ministry, December 2016).   So I can not give an exact answer, but definitely many have been printed and distributed over all these years.

I’m sorry to say that before becoming a Christian in 1977, I had also mistakenly passed out many of these tracts and others that contained a similar kind of “sinner’s prayer.”

I cite from this particular tract because I was overwhelmed with how many people it has been distributed to.  And that is just one particular tract!  But then when we add that to the many other tracts that also teach the “sinner’s prayer” to become a Christian, is there any wonder why so many people do not see baptism as having any connection with conversion — but as only for those who are already “saved”?

Where in the Bible, however, can we find the verses for the New Testament Age, which began after the Lord’s crucifixion, in which prayer is shown as being the means whereby a non-Christian can be forgiven and become a Christian?

The scriptures often cited to attempt to prove the “sinner’s prayer” are verses that pertain to Christians who have sinned and need to be forgiven. For instance, when John writes, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9), he was writing to Christians: “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God…” (1 Jn. 3:1-2).

Another passage often misused is Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” But to whom is Jesus saying this? Not to the world in general, but to the church at Laodicea that had become  lukewarm (indifferent toward spiritual things); and the Lord was about ready to “vomit” them out (v. 16, NKJV).

Another passage that is often misapplied today is Acts 2:21 in which Peter is quoting Joel’s prophecy and ends by saying, “And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Though that might sound like a “sinner’s prayer,” what does this same chapter show that individuals did in order to be forgiven and become Christians? Did they pray a “sinner’s prayer”?  Were they instructed to?

In reading on, we see that they were told by the apostle Peter to “know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ – this Jesus whom you crucified” (v. 36). So they were to believe in who Jesus was — but was that all?

Notice that “when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’” (v. 37). The use of the word “Brethren” was in the sense of just being fellow Jews — rather than fellow Christians.  For it was mandatory for all the male Jews to be in Jerusalem to observe the Jewish feast of Pentecost, which they had been doing.  So these who asked that question were not yet Christians – and that is why they are asking.  Also, the fact that they were “pierced to the heart” indicates they had believed the message about Jesus and were now feeling conviction for their sins.

So how did Peter answer their question of “what shall we do?” As noted, he already told them of the need to believe in Jesus, before they even asked that question; but now Peter is showing that it takes more than merely a belief toward whom Jesus is — and, apparently, they understood that, too. For in answering them, Peter instructed, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…” (v. 38).

The Greek word for “for” (eis), in the phrase “for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38), does not mean “because of” (dia).  Rather, it is a word that means “into,” which is its most common translation in more than a thousand verses of the New Testament.  It is also seen, for example, in Matthew 2:11: “After coming INTO [eis] the house they saw the Child…” In addition, the phrase “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38, KJV) is also seen in Matthew 26:28, where Jesus declares, “for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many FOR [eis] the remission of sins” (KJV, emphasis mine).  Did Jesus suffer and die because sins had already been forgiven — or did He do so in order that they could be?  Baptism, when preceded with the other necessary steps, is that which is “unto” or “into” the forgiveness of sins.  This can also be inferred from the fact that the need to be baptized is coupled with the need to repent.  For why does one repent?  Do we do so because our sins have already been forgiven?  Or is repentance one of the steps toward obtaining that forgiveness?

Notice in Peter’s response (Acts 2:38) to their question of “what shall we do?” (v. 37), that he did not instruct them to pray a “sinner’s prayer” — nor do we see them doing that.

The Bible shows that baptism is that last step that puts one into Christ (Gal. 3:26-27), after believing, repenting, and confessing faith in Christ. Baptism is, therefore, also shown to be the way in which we “call” upon the Lord to be forgiven and become a Christian. Corresponding to that is what Peter declares in 1 Peter 3:21, when he says, “Baptism…now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience…”  Webster shows that the word “appeal” means primarily “an earnest plea” or “entreaty.” And Peter is showing that baptism (when preceded by the other steps that lead to salvation) is how we are making that “plea” – or, in other words, “calling” on the Lord in a non-verbal way.

This is actually what we also see in the case of Saul of Tarsus who was told by Ananias to “Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). So baptism was involved in Saul’s calling on the Lord.

Some folks, however, might think that Paul’s “calling on His name” was a “sinner’s prayer.” But let us back up a few days in Paul’s life from his baptism. In Acts 9, 22, and 26, we have the accounts of Saul meeting the Lord on the road to Damascus. It was at that time that Saul came to believe in Jesus, but was not yet forgiven of his sins. Saul had asked, “What shall I do, Lord?” And Jesus said to him, “Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do” (Acts 22:10). Because of the great light that had blinded Saul, he was then led into Damascus by those who had been with him (v. 11). For three days in that city, Saul fasted – even going without drink (Acts 9:9). And during that time he was praying (v. 11). What do you think he was praying about? For this man who had always strove so diligently to do what he believed was right in his service to God, and then to learn how wrong he had been in persecuting Christians and consenting to their death – a major error that caused him to think of himself as the “chief” of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15) – what would you imagine he was probably praying again and again? Would it not be something like, “Lord, I have sinned greatly.  Please have mercy on my soul and forgive me of the sins I have ignorantly committed against you and your people”? Surely, Saul would be wanting forgiveness and praying for it. Yet, he wasn’t forgiven by praying a “sinner’s prayer.” For as we just saw in Acts 22:16, in order to be forgiven and wash away his sins, he had to also be baptized!

Cornelius, too, was another whom the Bible speaks of that prayed before he had become a Christian; but it wasn’t by a “sinner’s prayer” that he then became one – and even though he is referred to as having been a man who “prayed to God continually” (Acts 10:2). Yet, he still needed to hear the gospel message and respond to it in order to be saved (cf. Acts 11:13-14).   The conversion to Christ of Cornelius and his household is the first instance of Gentiles becoming Christians who had not been proselytes to Judaism (cf. Acts 10, 11, 15:7) as Nicolas had been (Acts 6:5).  So neither Jews nor Gentiles could become Christians by simply praying a “sinner’s prayer.”

It is also interesting to note that even though Jesus had appeared to Saul, and an angel had appeared to Cornelius, that these men were not saved by having such a genuine, religious experience! Rather, they still had to hear the gospel plan of salvation and submit to it – just like any of us also need to.  And what are those steps that lead to salvation? They are as follows:

1) Hear the gospel, for that is how faith comes (Rom. 10:17; John 20:30-31).
2) Believe in the deity of Christ (John 8:24; John 3:18).
3) Repent of sins (Luke 13:5; Acts 17:30).
4) Confess faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9-10; Acts 8:36-38).
5) Be baptized in water for the remission of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27; 1 Pet. 3:21).
6) Continue in the faith, living for the Lord; for, if not, salvation can be lost (Heb. 10:36-39; Rev. 2:10; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).

As we have seen in this article, no where does the Bible teach, for our Gospel Age, a “sinner’s prayer” in order to be forgiven and become a Christian. Rather, we see those steps mentioned above that are required.

We do, however, have instruction in God’s word for the need of the Christian who sins to repent and pray for forgiveness, such as in the case of Simon (Acts 8:12-23). The Christian who falls away through sin does not need to be baptized again, but there is that need to repent and pray to be forgiven and then strive to maintain a right relationship with God (cf. 1 Jn. 1:6-7).

What the Bible teaches on the plan of salvation is not a popular doctrine — even among millions of religious people who would profess to be Christians.  For how many denominations and individuals include baptism as part of the plan for being forgiven to become a child of God?

Perhaps the idea of going against the belief of the majority can make it difficult for some to actually accept what the Bible teaches on the plan of salvation.  But if we truly love God and want to please Him, we will do what is right — and at whatever the cost.

Jesus says, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction; and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7:13-14).

(All Scripture from the NASB unless otherwise indicated.)

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