We've considered the use of the word "hear" as it relates to man, but can we say the same about God? We know that God is omniscient (all-knowing), but does He respond differently to the prayer of a sinner than to that of a Christian? Let's turn to 1 Peter 3:12. Peter quotes a passage from Psalm 34. Note what he says: "For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil." Jeremiah records the response of the Lord to the children of Israel when they pray to be delivered from their times of trouble. In chapter 2:26-28 Jeremiah records the idolatry of Israel and how the Lord would let them fruitlessly appeal to Him for help during their time of trouble. The Lord would say to them "Let your gods arise, if they can save you in the time of your trouble." Notice where the faces of Israel were directed: away from God (verse 27). Jeremiah again records in 32:33 how Israel turned their back to the Lord. If we were having a conversation and suddenly I turned my back to you, what would you think? I doubt you would think I had any regard at all for your thoughts and ideas. We see clearly in the book of 1 Peter how the eyes and ears of the Lord are open to the prayers of the righteous, but His face is against those who do evil! Are those evildoers in 1 Peter only those who commit murder, adultery, etc.? Notice what Peter says in verses 10 and 11: "He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it." Notice the last sentence: "Let him turn away from evil and do good." Certainly those who commit wrongs such as murder and adultery are included in the group who does evil, but what can we say about the "good" mentioned in verse 11? Notice James 4:17: "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." What?! It's not enough to keep from murder, adultery, lying, stealing, etc? No! If I know to do good and fail to do it, I have sinned! Let's consider this passage in light of obedience to God's word as we answer our question. If I know that I must hear the word of God, believe in Jesus as the Son of God, repent of my sins, confess the name of Jesus before men, and be baptized to receive the forgiveness of sin, what have I done if I fail to obey these commandments? Are these acts good, or evil? Obviously they are good! Therefore, if I know to do that which is good but fail to act, what have I done? I've sinned! I've committed evil by failing to do that which I know is good! Now reconsider Peter's words in 1 Peter 3:12. If I know to do good by obeying God's plan of salvation but fail to act, where is the Lord's face turned? It is against me! If God's face is against me because of my unwillingness to submit to his will, is my prayer heard? No! Peter clearly states that the ears of the Lord are open to the prayers of the righteous, not those of the unrighteous!
Someone is going to say, “But I know God hears my prayers! I have received so many blessings from Him! The things I’ve prayed for I’ve received!” This person is absolutely right in that they have received so many blessings from God. However, they are not right in assuming these blessings are a result of answered prayer. Many people attribute good things that happen to them to their prayers being answered by God. But is this a proper conclusion to make? As we continue our study I would like to examine a few scriptures which deal with blessings and see if we may correctly claim that the good things which happen in our lives are a result of God's answering prayer. All good things come from God. James tells us that, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." (1:17) However, he doesn't state that every good gift that comes from above does so because we asked God for them. We see the degree of God's goodness recorded elsewhere in the New Testament. Paul and Barnabas were in Lystra, where they met a man impotent in his feet, being in such a state from birth (Acts 14:8). Paul healed him (verses 9-10). When the people of Lystra saw what Paul had done they cried, "The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men" (11). They proceeded to rename Paul "Mercurius" and Barnabas "Jupiter" (12). The priest of Jupiter brought oxen and garlands, with the intention of doing sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas (13). Paul and Barnabas proceeded to rent their clothes in anguish over these actions (14). Paul's words to these people tell us much about the goodness of God. After rebuking them for their attempted sacrifice Paul tells them that, God "in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless He left not Himself without witness, in that He did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness" (15-17). Were these people obedient to the commandments of God? No! They were idolatrous people who would not have been considered righteous even under the old law (recall the first commandment, thou shalt have no other gods before Me). Could they have prayed to God in an aiteo fashion? Absolutely not! Did they fear God and work righteousness as we've seen we must in order to be accepted by God? Again, absolutely not! Was God’s face turned towards them? No! But what did they receive? God in his goodness blessed them with all they needed to sustain physical life. These things serve as witnesses for God. In Romans we see how all of us will be without excuse in the day of judgment. In verse 20 of chapter 1 Paul tells us that, "the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:" What effect should the goodness of God have on us? Again in Romans, chapter 2 verse 4 we see that, "the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance." If our heart is tender, the good things all of us receive from God should lead us to repent of our sins and submit our will to His. But this goodness is not a result of answered prayer. It is simply God providing for us what we need to sustain physical life. In the sermon on the mount Jesus again teaches us of the goodness of God. In verse 45 of chapter 5 He states that God makes, "His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." Here again we see those who are evil and unjust receiving the same physical blessings as the just. However, they do not receive them because of answered prayer. It is only because of God’s goodness that these people receive what they need to sustain life.
What we’ve considered so far are physical blessings. Are there other types of blessings? Yes. In Ephesians 1:3 we read of spiritual blessings. Paul tells us, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:” We see in these verses that some group of people (the “us”) have been blessed with all spiritual blessings. Does “us” refer to all of mankind, or to only certain people? Paul tells us later in the same sentence: “us” have been blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ! So, in order to receive these spiritual blessings one must be a member of the group that is in Christ. But how does one get “in Christ?” In Galatians 3:26-28 Paul tells the Galatian Christians, “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” When we put on our clothes every morning, aren’t we “in” our clothes after they are put on? So you can see the relationship between putting on something and being in something. In order for us to be in Christ, we must put on Christ. We aren’t in Christ until after we’ve put Him on. In order to put on Christ we must be baptized. So, those who haven’t yet been baptized for the right reason have not put on Christ, are not in Christ, and have no access to all spiritual blessings. So we see that in order to get into Christ we must be baptized.
But what must we do after being baptized? We must stay in Christ. Paul tells the Romans, “Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.” (chapter 13:13,14) Once we’ve put on our clothes how long are we in our clothes? As long as we keep them on! Once we take them off, we are no longer in them. Just as one must be baptized to put on Christ, one must be faithful to Him in order to remain in Christ. Once we’ve resumed committing willful sin we have taken off Christ. So, one must be faithful to Him in order to continue having the promise of access to all spiritual gifts. However, those who have never put Him on have never had the promise of access to all spiritual gifts! Praying for salvation (a spiritual gift) will be fruitless for the one who has failed to obey the commandments of God! They haven’t put on Christ and are not in Christ! Only once we have obeyed fully the instructions given us will we have any hope of having this prayer answered. However, the promise of salvation is given only as long as we are faithful! Once we take off Christ in disobedience, we lose the promise of salvation.
Before we conclude this study let's consider one more thought regarding God's hearing the prayer of a sinner. Jesus teaches in John 16:23 that "And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you." It sounds reassuring, doesn't it? If I ask the father for something in the name of Jesus, He will give it to me. I'm sure those of you who have studied with me so far realize that I often look to the original language when I wish to more completely understand what the writer is saying to us. I was studying this verse recently and I asked myself "Is there any difference between asking something of Jesus and asking of God." I pulled out my Greek concordance and was surprised to learn that 6 different Greek words are translated "ask" in the New Testament. In John 16:23, two different Greek words are used by Jesus when he tells the apostles that they would eventually ask Him nothing, but that whatsoever they ask the Father in Jesus' name He will give it them. The first use of "ask" in this verse is the Greek word erotao. The second time Jesus uses "ask" the Greek word is aiteo. Vine's dictionary gives a meaningful discussion of the difference between these two words. Erotao indicates the one asking is on an equal plane with the one being asked. For example, if I ask another person for assistance who is a member of the same social status as I, a writer recording my life would state that I had asked them in an erotao fashion. However, if I am a member of a monarchal society and I petition the king for assistance, the one recording my life would state that I asked in an aiteo fashion. When I petitioned the king I recognized his greater status than mine and was willing to submit to his authority as a requirement for his consideration of my petition. Now, let's say I'm praying to God. I know His will but I haven't obeyed His will. What am I saying to God? In essence I'm saying, "God, my will for my life is just as valid as Your will for my life. I know you said I must be baptized to receive the forgiveness of sin, but I just don't see how that is important. However, I know I'm limited in my abilities and I need your help with something. I've recently been told I have a serious illness. I've read in the Bible how Jesus was able to cure those with incurable diseases and I'm asking for your help with mine." Which Greek word would the one recording my life use in this situation? He would use erotao. If I truly recognize God's superior status to mine, I will be obedient to the commands He gives. One who approaches God in prayer but who fails to acknowledge God's greater status through obedience is approaching the throne of God in an erotao fashion. Does Jesus state such a one will have their petitions granted? No! Jesus clearly states that the one who asks God in an aiteo fashion will have their petitions granted. Therefore, only those who have been obedient to the will of God and approach His throne in an aiteo fashion have any promise of having their prayers answered.
I'm sure most if not all of you have heard of the "sinner's prayer". It goes by different names and is prayed in different ways, but the end result is the same: some preacher on television, radio, or in an assembly instructs the listeners to say a few words indicating their willingness to have Jesus come into their hearts. According to these preachers, those who follow through with this simple act will have their prayer answered and Jesus will come into their lives, forgiving their sin. Based on the word of God, is this valid? No! We have revealed to us in simple language what God requires of us in order to receive forgiveness of sin. Nothing else will do. Any other "method" is not of the truth. Remember what we learned in our study "Who is a Christian"? Any teaching other than that contained within the Bible is not a part of the truth. Since it is not part of the truth, it is a lie. Who is the father of lies? Satan. To follow any teaching other than that contained in the scriptures is placing man's will on a plane equal to the will of God. God will not respond in a positive fashion to the prayers of one who refuses to acknowledge God's authority.
I hope this study has been valuable to you. It in no way is meant to intentionally inflict hurt. But apply James 4:17 to one who sees another failing to follow the teachings of God. If such a one fails to point out the error, what has he/she done? Committed sin! Therefore anyone who is made aware of the error of another's way and fails to try to instruct them in the right has failed to perform an act of good and will be judged a sinner because of it. If I know another is in need of food or clothing and give it to them, someone for the love I’ve shown would likely commend me. But if I fail to teach that person what they need to know in order to be saved, have I really shown much love for them? Jesus asks a profound question in Mark 8:36: "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" Of what profit has my gift of food or clothing really been if I fail to instruct them in the way which leads to eternal life? Of course they have enjoyed physical comfort, but Jesus tells us that such comfort is of no lasting value. I could give him all the world has to offer, but really not profited him at all if I fail to teach him what he needs to know in order to be saved. Each soul is worth more than all the world's gold, silver, jewels, etc! I pray that you will thoughtfully consider the things we study together and determine to be obedient to the will of God.