Sincerity Is Overrated

“If you prayed that prayer, and you really meant it in your heart, then you’ll go to heaven when you die.”

Many of us who grew up attending Gospel-preaching churches have heard–and repeated–this statement countless times. Of course, I don’t debate its truthfulness. Whenever a sinner genuinely calls upon Christ in repentance and faith, their salvation is secure.

But what this statement reveals is the weight we place on sincerity as a test of the genuineness of a person’s salvation experience. As long as you “meant it,” you’re good to go.

I believe this is a serious mistake, especially when dealing with children.

Sincerity is an inappropriate test of the genuineness of a child’s salvation. Why? There are at least five reasons:

  1. Sincerity is an ambiguous concept to begin with.
    I’m sure Judas was sincere about following Christ in the beginning. But he proved himself to be a fake. Maybe last week you meant to paint your living room. That doesn’t mean you actually did it. A child can be sincerely scared of hell, sincerely interested in the Bible, sincerely wanting to obey God, and yet remain lost. It’s just not a clear concept.
  2. Sincerity, at least as it concerns salvation, involves a mere point in time.
    The new birth takes place at a point in time. Things lead up to it; other things follow from it. But it happens all at once. It’s extremely difficult to assess whether you’ve been sincere for a day or a month, let alone at a point in time. People who obsess over whether they “meant it” as they prayed a prayer at the age of 7 will go crazy. It’s just too hard to tell.
  3. Children are not able to evaluate their own thinking.
    We adults have a difficult enough time assessing ourselves. Children are simply not wired to make such a judgment. They think–all the time–but they are unable to think about their thinking. That comes later. I believe a very young child can experience conversion. But they can’t tell you whether they “meant” what they prayed or not.
  4. The Bible teaches that our hearts are deceitful (Jer. 17:9).
    Scary. The unregenerate heart is a chronic liar. It is a self-justifying, conscience-deadening spiritual organ. So why do we trust it to tell us whether we are genuinely believers or not? Introspection can be very helpful, but it may be an exercise in self-deceit.
  5. Sincerity is necessary for salvation, but as a test of genuineness, it’s simply not biblical.
    If you purposely don’t mean to be saved, then you never will be. But the Bible never once asks us to evaluate whether we are saved or not based on our level of supposed sincerity at the time of conversion. Never once. So why do we place so much importance on this as a test of genuineness?

So how do you know whether your child–or yourself–is a Christian? Check out the audio from our recent Children’s Ministry Enrichment Seminar for a discussion of this very topic.

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