During the terrorist incident in Mali this past week, many hostages died. But one hostage was let go after an Islamic attacker told him to recite verses from the Koran. 1 This reminded me of an episode of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown where he was at the wailing wall in Jerusalem. Anthony said he didn’t believe in a higher power. But after finding out he was a Jew, a rabbi quickly grabbed him, strapped on a phylactory, and got him to recite the words of a bar-mitzvah blessing.
I think it’s pretty obvious the freed hostage did not become a Muslim merely by reciting verses from the Koran, just as Anthony Bourdain did not become a practicing Jew and believer in God merely by reciting the words of a blessing. Words are just words. They don’t have the power to do anything… and they are very often said in vain.
Yet many people believe they will get to heaven because they said the words of a “sinner’s prayer” at some point in their lives. It’s as if the words had some kind of miraculous power to save. But this is unbiblical. There is no command or example in the scriptures that show salvation comes by means of saying certain words. 2 Salvation is a gift from God, and it comes by grace through faith. Faith can be expressed by the words of a prayer (written or not), but it is not the words that save. God saves, and He does so in response to from-the-heart faith.
This goes beyond salvation. Living the Christian life is also by faith, not words. Christians do not grow by speaking affirmations, positive words, or blessings. Only God has the power to cause things to happen by speaking them into existence. We don’t. Our part is to trust God in every situation we find ourselves in and to obey Him, leaving the results in His hands.
The saved have already been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms 3. To believe otherwise is to buy into a lie like the one Eve fell for: God is withholding good from you.
- http://www.foxnews.com/world/2015/11/20/mali-hotel-attack/ ↩
- The first part of Romans 10:9 is not about repeating the words “Jesus is Lord”, but about testifying to His lordship in your life. But notice the requirement for faith in Jesus (“…believe in your heart…”). This faith requirement is repeated throughout the New Testament, but mouthing words is not. ↩
- Ephesians 1:3 ↩