Prayer Prompted by Faith can Claim God's Promise of Salvation
"For everyone who shall calll upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call to him whom they did not believe? And how shall they believe him of whom they did not hear? And how shall they hear without a preacher? . . . So then the faith is from hearing, and the hearing is through the word of God." (Romans 10:13-17, improved translation.)
Can or should a lost sinner pray, and if he does pray, will God hear him? One preacher tells the sinner to "accept Christ"; another urges him to "come to Christ"; a third demands that the sinner "repent" and "turn to God"; a fourth says "believe" or "trust" Him; still another invites the sinner to ask God to save you for Jesus' sake." Are there so many different ways to be saved? Or are these just different ways of directing sinners to the one Way, Jesus Christ?
Our answer must depend upon whether these and other invitational expressions are scripturally explained and understood.
A PUZZLED PREACHER
Specifically, I have at hand a letter from a good and faithful brother asking some questions about Romans 10:13 and context - questions of general interest and deserving sincere and earnest attention. I shall try to give honest and scriptural answers to these questions after a careful examination of our text.
First of all, if we recognize the Bible as God's word, we must agree that this word is truth and therefore is in perfect harmony with itself. If our interpretations of different portions of scripture conflict, our interpretations must be wrong: ALL scripture is "God-breathed" and profitable. (II Timothy 3:16.)
CALLING IN TRUTH
One time a preacher was arguing that a sinner cannot be saved without praying or asking God to save him. Then how about the mute, who has no voice with which to call? Oh, of course, "prayer is the heart's sincere desire," and he need only call upon God from his heart Then cannot any sinner be saved the same way, calling upon God from his heart, but without audible voice? Must any prayer be audible to human ears to order for God to "hear" it?
In fact, under the name of "Wisdom," God declares to rebellious sinners: "Because I have called, and ye refused; . . . I also will laugh, at your calamity; . . . Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they "shall seek me early, but they shall not find me." (Proverbs 1:24-28.)
Again we read, "As he cried, and they would not hear; so they cried, and I would not hear, saith the Lord of hosts." (Zechariah 7:13.)
And again, "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear." (Isaiah 59:2.)
Space forbids multiplied quotations from scripture to show that a mere calling upon God with the lips, while the heart remains unbelieving and rebellions, is an abomination to God. (Proverbs 28:9.) But, on the other hand,
"The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him IN TRUTH." (Psalm 145:18.)
It is too bad that even good preachers and other Christians are sometimes more interested in winning theological arguments than in simply declaring the message of God's word and leaving some room for the Holy Spirit to interpret and apply the truth to individual hearts.
Really, salvation has its past, present, and future aspects, including, besides salvation from the legal penalty of sin (justification), salvation from, the practice of sin (sanctification) and salvation from the presence and effects of sin (glorification).
So to win an argument, we might say that the promise of Joel 2:32, Acts 2:21, and Romans 10:13 refers only to the continuing and eternal salvation of believers already saved by faith. But I am not sure that this would be quite fair or completely adequate interpretation.
True, when Paul analyzes the promise in our text, he shows that, logically, the word of salvation must be preached, heard, and believed, in this order, before there can be the kind of calling upon God to which the promise of salvation is attached.
It is good to have this analysis, and if heeded it will deliver us from the folly of supposing that a sinner can "pray through" to forgiveness without accepting the terms of the gospel.
Nevertheless, human beings are seldom logical, especially in religious matters. Probably most sinners do some vain praying before they have the saving faith that enables them to call upon God "in truth." And it is doubtful that there is often any lapse of time between the first exercise of true faith and the first (inner) expression of true prayer.
Now we come to some of the questions in the letter before me:
1. Should unsaved sinners ever pray?
Yes, of course, everyone should do all kinds of "good" works, rather than bad. But sinners need to learn that "they that are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:8) and that all their righteousnesses "are as filthy rags" (Isaiah. 64:6).
Still, it is better for sinners to pray, as sincerely as they can, than to blaspheme, or to forget God entirely.
2. Is "believing on Jesus" the way to be saved from the penalty of sin?
Yes; see John 3:18; Romans 3:26.
3. Is "calling on the name of the Lord" the way to be saved from the penalty of sin?
I know of no scripture that says so, exactly. As Paul explains it, a true calling on the name of the Lord is an expression of faith.
4. Would it be improper to urge sinners to "Ask the Lord to save you for Jesus' sake, and trust Him to do it"?
This is not quite scriptural language, and yet I find it difficult to see how a sinner could be led far astray by it unless it is so emphasized that it becomes a sort of magic formula of mere words without scriptural meaning.
5. In Romans 10:14 does the first sentence mean believe historically or is the belief mentioned there a heartfelt trust?
Of course, logically, there must be saving faith before there can he a saving call, "in truth." If the sinner will not believe the promises of God he is calling God a liar (I John 5:10), and his call is a call of hypocrisy.
6. Is "calling on the name of the Lord" what we would call prayer?
Yes - although "prayer" can include much else. Jesus tells us of a Pharisee who "prayed thus with himself." (Luke 18:11.) This Pharisee addressed God formally, but certainly he did not call upon Him in the sense of Romans 10:13.
7. Should I continue to urge the lost to "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" or should I, in addition to or instead of this, urge them to "Call on the name of the Lord"?
Indubitably the scriptural emphasis is on faith, and you need never apologize for urging the lost - and the saved - to bielieve - and to keep on believing - on or in the Lord Jesus Christ.
I do doubt the necessity of much urging of the lost to call on the name of the Lord. When spiritually convicted of their sins and brought to a saving knowledge of, Christ, they "just naturally" come to, receive, and call upon Him.
Saved people are generally the ones that need to be reminded to "pray without ceasing." (I Thessalonians 5:17.)
[From Ashland Avenue Baptist paper, November 17, 1972, pp. 1, 3. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall]
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