After a stirring message, an impassioned plea on television or radio, a conversation with a close friend or relative, or at the urging of a counselor during a time of great distress many people are led in what has come to be know as the “Sinner’s Prayer” for salvation. In that prayer we acknowledge our sinful state and the fact that we need a Savior or we will live in eternal torment separated from God. We are told that if we confess it we will be saved.
Romans 10:8-11 (NKJV)8 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):9 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. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.11 For the Scripture says, "Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame."
All Christians (believers) prayed this or a similar prayer at the time of their confession and salvation. I wrote a post two years ago titled “Saving Faith” and I included what many call the “Sinners Prayer”
“God, I know that I am a sinner. I know that I deserve the consequences of my sin. However, I am trusting in Jesus Christ as my Savior. I believe that His death and resurrection provided for my forgiveness. I trust in Jesus and Jesus alone as my personal Lord and Savior. Thank you Lord, for saving me and forgiving me! Amen!”
We prayed it in answer to an “alter call”, or raising our hands in response to a preacher’s urging us to pray, or we signed a card, or we prayed with somebody on the phone after we dialed in to a Christian radio or television broadcast, or even alone in our home. We were told after praying that prayer that we were now saved and justified by God and a subject of His kingdom, a child of God, and that we now have eternal life. All of that is absolutely true if the prayer was made in “saving” faith.
We hear so much about the “Sinner’s Prayer” and have heard it so much, even led others in it, that it’s easy to see why some people believe that it is in the Bible. No, there is no Sinner’s Prayer in the Bible. There is no example in scripture for a “Sinner’s Prayer”, and there’s no specific formula for a "Sinner’s Prayer". For that matter there’s no mention of an alter call or “every head bowed, every eye closed” either. The use of a Sinner’s Prayer may have originated in the 19th Century and make popular for evangelists who spoke at large meetings revival meetings.
Having said these things there is nothing bad about or evil with a Sinner’s Prayer. It is biblical for a sinner to pray to Jesus to forgive him of his sins. It is not biblical to say someone is saved "because of reciting the Sinner's Prayer". It is biblical to confess one's sins and ask for forgiveness and put trust, hope, and faith in Christ and his sacrifice on the cross.
Many people have truly been saved along with saying the Sinner's Prayer. However many Christians make the unbiblical mistake of giving the person praying the Sinner’s Prayer a false sense of assurance of salvation because they simply said the words.
But beware, it is not biblical to give someone assurance of salvation based on reciting a prayer - on simply saying the words. “Saving faith is believing in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, a living person, for the forgiveness of sin and trusting Him because He provides eternal life with God. It isn’t enough to simply believe in the actions of Jesus Christ or the abilities of God. True saving faith is more than that; it is a personal relationship with the Savior. As a result, we desire to repent and to surrender every aspect of our lives to Him. He will then transform us and conform us to His image. As we walk with God, the more He will bless each of us with perfect assurance regarding our salvation and our relationship with Him. (InTouch Ministries)
Can God use the Sinner’s Prayer inHis sovereign work of salvation? Of course. But we need to be very careful and not urge someone to recite a prayer and have them put their hope in that alone to be saved. Walking an aisle in response to the emotional and caring invitation of a pastor does not save anyone. Writing the date in the back of one's Bible to commemorate the day a decision was made to follow Jesus does not save anyone. And praying a prayer does not save anyone. There are no "magical" words that result in salvation. It is only faith in Jesus' death and resurrection that can save us.
Choosing To Believe
Praying a prayer like the "sinners prayer" is important because in it we confess our sins, and our belief that Jesus died on our behalf for our forgiveness, and we acknowledge Him as our Lord and Savior. What is most important however is that praying the prayer is a choice. When we pray we are showing that we are choosing to believe and accept God's undeserved gift of salvation (grace).
Dr. Charles Stanley in one of his Daily Devotions of InTouch Ministries goes into some depth of that choice. Here's part of that devotion;
A clear understanding of the gospel is essential for a person to believe and receive the good news of Jesus Christ. His death on the cross was the only sacrifice required to remove our sins. God offers His grace as a gift to anyone who will receive it.
A definite decision at a particular point in time serves as a sort of landmark of the heart and mind. People do not just slip into Christianity; faith in Jesus must be chosen. Believers are those who have made a deliberate decision to trust the Lord and follow in His ways.
A blessed assurance follows the clear-cut decision so that believers can be certain of their salvation. God wants confident, assured children.
1 John 5:13 (NKJV) These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.
A visible symbol of what happens when someone receives the Savior--namely, baptism--illustrates dying to one's old ways and rising to new life in Christ Jesus. Believers are to take this step as a public way of identifying with Him.
Matthew 28:19 (NKJV) Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
A man or woman of faith chooses to surrender to Christ, embraces the Word of God, and lives fully for the Lord. True believers no longer muddle through the practices of religion out of habit, but instead worship and rejoice in a vibrant personal relationship with the Lord. (Emphasis and Scriptures inserted by me)
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Donald Jacobs is an ordained minister with the spiritual gift of teaching. He is the Associate Pastor of a non-denominational church in Los Angeles, CA.