Update: I’ve been informed that Paul Washer suffered a heart attack last year at around this time, so, obviously, I pray for his full recovery. This article appeared before I was made aware of his situation. It is a review of a video posted at Pulpit & Pen in last two weeks.
Paul Washer is definitely a genuine believer who preaches from the heart, but I’m not sure he would appreciate me saying so, because Pulpit & Pen quote him getting very passionate about evangelicals who preach that Christ needs to be formed in the hearts of those who hear the gospel.
Washer has ‘declared war’ on what he calls ‘the sinner’s prayer’. He qualifies this as a prayer spoken by people who are encouraged to come forward during altar calls, following an appeal for Christ to come into the hearts of the candidates for conversion.
Does Christ come into our hearts or not?
So is Christ formed in our hearts, or are we to believe He comes to us in another way?
Let’s start with scripture, and with the Evangelist Philip. He was sent by God on a journey to minister to an Egyptian eunuch, who had read the scriptures at Isaiah, but was having trouble understanding a passage that spoke of the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ.
You can find the passage that the eunuch was reading out aloud at Isaiah 53:7-8. Philip, hearing the eunuch recite Isaiah, ran to him and asked if he understood what it meant. The eunuch said he needed a guide to help him. Then Philip began to evangelise.
Acts 8:35-40 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.
Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”
Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.”
And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.
Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.
If he believed with all his heart, he could be baptised and be saved.
So the eunuch confesses Christ and is born again. The Bible actually tells us that we should confess Jesus as Lord to confirm what we believe in our hearts. Both faith and confession lead to salvation.
Faith is of the heart, and the mouth confirms what we believe in our heart. Having someone confess Jesus as Lord before witnesses is actually Biblical. Their confession of faith in Jesus confirms what they believe in their hearts.
Whether you call it the sinner’s prayer or not makes no real difference as long as the candidate confesses Jesus as Lord in faith. The truth is that before the confession is made the candidate was a sinner. He or she is a sinner who confesses Jesus as Lord. Whether you call the confession a prayer or not depends on your understanding of what a prayer is.
Prayer can take a number of forms, from intercession, to confession, to requests, to thanksgiving, to supplications, and the rest. I would prefer to call it a confession because that is the Biblical term.
War on the sinner’s prayer
But Paul Washer says,
“What we face is the sinner’s prayer. I’m here to tell you, if there’s anything I’ve declared war on, it’s that. That sinner’s prayer has sent more people to hell than anything on the face of the earth.”
What? The sinner’s prayer is the primary cause of people going to hell? I thought, from scripture, that it was the sin of unbelief that convicted a sinner. I didn’t notice that the sinner’s prayer would be sending anyone to the Lake of Fire. Let’s see what God says about it.
Revelation 21:5-8 Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”
And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.
He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.
But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
So those who thirst after God, overcome, confess their sin and receive Christ as Lord will actually be given of the fountain of the water of life and inherit all things. The sinner who cries out to God will not be put to shame, according to scripture. The most important thing is to be found in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
The Lake of Fire is reserved for those who do not confess their sin, repent and receive Christ as Lord. It is set for those who are found on the wrong side of the ledger ‘when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (2 Thes.1:7-8).
The sinner’s prayer, or confession, then, is the way in, not the way out.
The heart and the sinner’s prayer
Going on, Washer clarifies what he means by linking the sinner’s prayer with a person asking Christ into their heart.
“Go with me to scripture and show me please, I would love you to stand up and tell me where anyone evangelised that way. The scripture does not say that Jesus Christ came to the nation of Israel and said, “The time is fulfilled and kingdom of God is at hand, now who would like to ask me into their heart?”
Well, I’ve already shown you that Philip evangelised that way. It is in scripture. He told the eunuch he must believe with all his heart and then he could be baptised.
Jesus says that if we confess Him as Lord He will come and dwell with us and make His home with us. He will also give us the kingdom. All we have to do is genuinely believe and be doers of the Word.
Well where does a person believe? In his head? With his mind? Surely the heart is the seat of faith. Hasn’t Philip already told the eunuch that he should first believe with all of his heart that Jesus is the Son of God?
The heart is the key to our spiritual well-being, according to scripture.
Proverbs 4:23 Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.
The Apostle Paul, calling converts his ‘epistle’ – his letter of commendation – speaks of the letter being written in his heart and in theirs.
2 Corinthians 3:1-3 Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Or do we need, as some others, epistles of commendation to you or letters of commendation from you?
You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.
The tablets of flesh are written on the heart. God has removed the tablet of stone that was the formerly hardened heart that resisted His will, and replaced it with a soft, malleable, fleshly heart of faith.
Ezekiel 36:26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
There is a compete change of heart when a person believes and confesses Jesus as Lord. There is no way to take the heart out of the equation. It is all over scripture. That is why ministers talk about the heart when giving an altar call.
We believe with our heart and confess with our mouth
We are saved because we believed with our heart and made confession with our lips that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Romans 10:5-11 For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, “The man who does those things shall live by them.”
But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, “ ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).
But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”
The Word is near us. It is on our lips and in our heart. We believe with the heart onto righteousness. We confess with our mouth unto salvation. How then, is it not important to speak, as Philip did, to candidates for salvation of the importance of believe in the heart?
Washer goes on, speaking of Jesus…
He said, “Repent, and believe the gospel.”
Well, yes, He did say that, but where do we believe? We’ve already seen that faith is of the heart. How do we repent? We have a change of heart that leads to us turning from our own ways to the Way of Christ.
The Spirit of Christ is sent into our hearts
Speaking of how we become the sons and daughters of God through faith, Paul tells the Galatians…
Galatians 4:6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”
God sends the Spirit of Christ into our hearts. Why would we not invite candidates to receive Christ in their hearts? Part of repentance is having the heart changed.
The Greek for ‘repent’, metanoia, means to ‘turn around’, to have a change of direction, literally to think differently, or have a change of mind and will. Accepting Jesus as Lord and Saviour is a change of heart that leads to a change of life.
How is this sending more people to hell than anything? It is not. Unbelief is the number one thing that sends people to hell.
The Apostle Paul prays that Christ be in our hearts through faith.
Ephesians 3:14-19 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
‘That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith’. How can scripture be more clear?
Preaching criticism rather than the gospel
I genuinely believe Paul Washer has a call of God on his life as an evangelist. I believe he could lead many souls to Christ, and maybe does. There is an urgency to his preaching that compels people to come in.
However, this kind of preaching is actually criticism of other ministries, and it is ill-founded and inaccurate to scripture. He may not appreciate the way those ministries he opposes go about their vocation, but he is allowing them to become a distraction to his own call. He needs to stick to the scriptures and preach for souls to be saved.
I’m sure that if he was to have altar calls people would rush to the front of the altar to be saved at his meetings. The Holy Spirit would move in power. There may be souls that could be saved but are not because the offer is not given.
It is sad that he has such an aversion to altar calls and is critical of those who give them as if they are ineffective. They are not. I know many, many believers who have been with the Lord for several years because they responded to an altar call. Some of them are in full-time ascension gift ministry today. Some are in eldership. Others serve faithfully in local churches.
All have Christ in their hearts through faith, according to scripture.