The Sinner’s Prayer: (is it necessary for salvation?)
I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the Sinner’s Prayer lately. The Sinner's Prayer is an evangelical term referring to any prayer of repentance, prayed by individuals who feel convicted of the presence of sin in their lives and desire to form or renew a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ…It is intended to be an act of initial conversion to Christianity, and the only way to receive salvation according to some Protestants” –Wikipedia.
Typical Sinner’s Prayers:
“Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. Guide my life and help me to do Your will. In Your name, Amen.”
“Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be.”
Now I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater by saying, “I totally reject the use of the Sinner’s Prayer! I do realize that there are many who have prayed that prayer who are true believers in Jesus Christ. I repeated that prayer when Dr. Jim Combs led me to Christ. And I have led many sinners to Christ by asking them to repeat a prayer after me. Most of them were genuinely saved. After all, the word of God says in Romans 10:13, “For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But the question is, “Is it necessary to pray a prayer in order to be saved?”
The necessary elements of salvation are believe and repent! Believe and repent are never used together as if teaching two different requirements for salvation. When salvation from eternal condemnation is in view, repent (a change of mind) and believe (faith) are in essence used as synonyms. Lewis Sperry Chafer wrote: “Therefore it is as dogmatically stated as language can declare, that repentance is essential to salvation and that none could be saved apart from repentance, but it is included in believing and cannot be separated from it.”
Acts 23:19, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out…”
Acts 20:21, “Testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Luke 13:3, “I tell you, Nay: but, except you repent, you shall all likewise perish.”
There are some who go so far as to say that the Sinner’s Prayer is so unbiblical as to give a false sense of hope to sinners. Others say that it is necessary for one to give assurance of salvation.
“The Sinner's Prayer, as we know it today, was invented by twentieth century preachers as a quick and easy way to save people…In the early twentieth century, revivalist preachers began simplifying their doctrines of salvation…Also, large crusades became popular resulting in denominational preachers desiring a simple way for hundreds of people to be simultaneously saved within just a few minutes. So, preachers began asking people to come to the front and pray a prayer to be saved. By praying the prayer, people were led to believe they were forgiven of their sins and saved. This prayer soon developed into what is called the Sinner's Prayer today” (Bible Study Guide.org).
Can one be saved simply by praying, and asking Jesus to come into his heart? Nowhere in Scripture does it require that a person must ask Jesus into his heart! Nowhere in scripture is a sinner required to pray certain words in order to be saved. When a person realizes that he is guilty before God and doomed to spend eternity without God, and when he understands that he is lost forever, it will prompt him to pray in his own words. If the sinner is truly repentant and understands the consequences of his sin, he should be able to call on God for salvation without being given a sample prayer! God saves the vilest sinner who cries out for mercy, believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. If the Bible does give a Sinner’s Prayer it would be “O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner” (Luke 18:13, NLT).
Are we too easy on the lost world by not telling them the fate of those without Christ? Are we so afraid of getting people out of their comfort zone that we fail to tell them of the horrors of an eternity without God and without hope?
Isaiah 30:10 (MSG), “They tell their preachers, ‘Don’t waste our time on impracticalities. Tell us what makes us feel better. Don’t bore us with obsolete religion. That stuff means nothing to us.’”
Isaiah 30:10 (NLT), “They tell the prophets, ‘don’t tell us what is right. Tell us nice things. Tell us lies.’”
In churches across America, hell is being frozen out as clergy find themselves increasingly hesitant to sermonize on Christianity’s outpost for lost souls.
“There has been a shift in religion from focusing on what happens in the next life, to asking, ‘what is the quality of this life we’re leading now? You can go to a whole lot of churches week after week, and you’d be startled even to hear a mention of hell.’” –Harvey Cox Jr., eminent author, religious historian and professor at Harvard Divinity School.
“Hold the fire and brimstone,” Los Angeles Times, June 19th, 2002: “Mention of hell from pulpits is at an all-time low. The downplaying of damnation shows the influence of sectarianism on Christian theology.” –Staff writers, Mike Aaron and William Lobdell: “Bill Faris believes in hell, that frightful netherworld where the thermostat is always set on high, where sinners toil for eternity in unspeakable torment. But you would never know it listening to him preach at his South Orange County Evangelical church. He never mentions the topic; his flock shows little interest in it. ‘It isn’t sexy enough anymore.’ Hell’s fall from fashion indicates how key portions of Christian theology have been influenced by a secular society that stresses individualism over authority and human psyche over moral absolutes. The rise of psychology, the philosophy of existentialism and the consumer culture have all dumped buckets full of water on hell. The tendency to downplay damnation has grown in recent years as non-denominationalism ministries, with their focus on everyday issues such as child-rearing and career success, have proliferated and loyalty to churches has deteriorated.”
“It’s just too negative,” said Bruce Shell, a senior professor of church history at Denver Theological Seminary, “…churches are under enormous pressure to be consumer-oriented. Churches today feel the need to be appealing rather than demanding.”
Are we too sophistcated to tell what Christ said about the fires of hell?
Matthew 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Matthew 13:41-42, “The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
Matthew 13:49-50, “So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
Matthew 25:41, "Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’"
John MacArthur writes in Lordship Salvation, “The gospel that Jesus proclaimed was a call to discipleship, a call to follow Him in submissive obedience, not just a plea to make a decision or pray a prayer. Jesus' message liberated people from the bondage of their sin while it confronted and condemned hypocrisy. It was an offer of eternal life and forgiveness for repentant sinners, but at the same time it was a rebuke to outwardly religious people whose lives were devoid of true righteousness. It put sinners on notice that they must turn from sin and embrace God's righteousness. Our Lord's words about eternal life were invariably accompanied by warnings to those who might be tempted to take salvation lightly. He taught that the cost of following Him is high, that the way is narrow and few find it. He said many who call him Lord will be forbidden from entering the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 7:13, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
Matthew 7:21-23 (NLT), “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’”
This shallow understanding of salvation and the gospel, known as easy-believism, stands in stark contrast to what the Bible teaches. To put it simply, the Gospel call to faith presupposes that sinners must repent of their sin and yield to Christ's authority.
Where in the Bible do we see a person being told how to be saved?
Acts 16:30,31, The Philippian jailer asks Paul and Silas, “’Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
Acts 16:30,31, (AMP), “Men, what is it necessary for me to do that I may be saved? And they answered, Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ [give yourself up to Him, take yourself out of your own keeping and entrust yourself into His keeping] and you will be saved, [and this applies both to] you and your household as well.’”
Picture a blind man in a totally dark cave, without the slightest flicker of light. He is groping along the walls, feeling his way along, just looking for one spec of light, trying to find his way out. That is exactly the condition of the lost! (a person who has never been saved, or converted).
Acts 26:17,18, (TLB). Jesus said to Paul, “I am going to send you to the Gentiles to open their eyes to their true condition so that they may repent and live in the light of God instead of in Satan’s darkness, so that they may receive forgiveness for their sins and God’s inheritance along with all people everywhere whose sins are cleansed away, who are set apart by faith in Me.’”
Ephesians 5:8, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light”
1 Peter 2:9, (NLT), “But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for He called you out of the darkness into His wonderful light.”
Once a person is convinced of his lost condition before God and the consequences of his condition, he will call on God, “O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner” (Luke 18:13, NLT).
Salvation is not to be taken lightly! It is radical! The change is incredible! It is like giving sight to a blind man, revealing that one speck of light to the man in the dark cave. It is like breath to the man who is suffocating, water to the man who is dying of thirst, life to the man who is dying. Why would anyone knowing the benefits of salvation not call on the only One who can save him? Does the man dying of thirst need a sample prayer? Does the blind man in that dark cave need help in framing a prayer, asking for light? No one gave blind Bartimaeus a sample prayer! “As Jesus was leaving town, trailed by his disciples and a parade of people, a blind beggar by the name of Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, was sitting alongside the road. When he heard that Jesus the Nazarene was passing by, he began to cry out, ‘Son of David, Jesus! Mercy, have mercy on me!’ Many tried to hush him up, but he yelled all the louder, ‘Son of David! Mercy, have mercy on me!’” (Mark 10:46-48, MSG).
One more fact to consider. No one is saved without the Gospel message! You can pray for someone to be saved, but until they hear the message from God’s Word, they are still lost!
Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.
Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”
A better way to pray would be, “Lord, send someone to (their name), to whom they will listen.”
Now to conclude: Is it wrong to suggest a prayer for a lost person to pray? Probably not! Just as long as they know it is not the prayer that saves them. I would first try to get them to pray in their own words, understanding that they are lost, damned, and doomed to spend eternity without God in the fires of hell.
If you are convinced that they understand the Gospel message, and they have cried out to God for mercy, let me suggest a sample prayer to conclude their conversion experience.
"Thank you God for giving me the faith to believe. I do believe that Jesus Christ is my Savior. Thank You for forgiving all of my sins. And thank You, Lord that you have given me Your Holy Spirit to live in me forever. I now confess that You are the Lord of my life, and that I am saved for eternity. I know that I now have a home in heaven with You, that I will go to be with when this life is over. Live through me as I tell others what You have done for me."
2 Corinthians 5:17, NLT, “For if a man belongs to Christ, he is a new person. The old life is gone. New life has begun.”
Unless otherwise noted, The New King James Version of the Bible (NKJV) was used, also The Message (MSG); The New Living Translation (NLT; The Amplified Bible (AMP); The Living Bible (TLB); and The New American standard Bible (NASB).
Permission is hereby granted to use any of Dr. John Sparks’ materials. If this message was helpful, please E-Mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org