If you’ve ever been around an Evangelical church, you certainly have witnessed the Sinner’s Prayer. It is the supposed goal of the gospel witness, to lead the person to Christ by a simple prayer. The words are not firmly established but typically include an affirmation of belief in the risen Christ and promise to turn from sin.
I have personally led several people through this prayer. I know Christians who do on a regular basis. One man that I met boasts that he has led thousands of men to Christ with his witness and their recital of the Sinner’s Prayer.
Does the Sinner’s Prayer do what we intend? Does it “save” people? Do they become Christians simply by saying this prayer? The evidence suggests otherwise. If the Sinner’s Prayer works, then we have a very difficult time explaining why so many quickly “fall away” from the faith. Millions of kids have prayed this at Christian summer camp. Yet most go to college and “lose” their faith.
Are we fooling ourselves with the Sinner’s Prayer?
What Must I Do To Be Saved?
Certainly, many who have recited this prayer have evidenced salvation. Then why does it seem that most don’t? It should be obvious that mere words don’t accurately reflect the heart. Salvation is proven over time. Who hasn’t said, “Only time will tell.”? If that is the case, why do we tell the person that they are saved? In fact, we ASSURE them they are saved! Wouldn’t it be better to say, “Well, you could be lying about this, and the only way to know for sure is if you become a better person than you are right now.” At least that would be more honest than giving anyone a sense of false hope.
Now, I could go on about who chose whom, but I won’t. I do want to get you to thinking about the way we use the Sinner’s Prayer. What are the “visible” components to salvation? Certainly, repentance must by one. Anyone who has experienced genuine repentance will tell you that it is gut-wrenching process. Repentance isn’t possible unless you have been broken by the weight of your sin. Let’s face it, most who say this prayer are not broken.
Another component is faith. Faith in what? Faith in the risen Jesus Christ and that he will return. Millions say they believe, but does agreement with a “creed” mean one has faith? Even demons believe, but they certainly aren’t saved (James 2:19). Faith has to include belief and trust and obedience. Am I willing to do as God instructs because I trust him?
The bottom line, as Jesus said, is that we must be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven (John 3:3). We know who these are because they are not the same person they once were. They are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). While this is certainly a spiritual event, it is also evidenced by their actions (James 2:17). In the end, repentance is a gift of God (2 Timothy 2:25). So is faith (Ephesians 2:8).
Does the Sinner’s Prayer somehow move God to giving the gifts of repentance and faith? Like some claim infant baptism does? Our actions indicate that we certainly think so. However, the evidence is clear that it doesn’t – otherwise we would see many, many more bible-thumping, Jesus freaks than we do. We wouldn’t have a problem with our teenagers “falling” away from their faith after summer camp.
There is a real problem, my friends, with the way we do things.
Certainly, truth must be something Christians are unwilling to compromise – even if it hurts. Hiding the truth is dishonesty. Look, there will come a day when this passage will come to pass:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:21-23
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want anyone pleading to Jesus by saying, “Scott PROMISED me that I would be saved! He said so when he led me in the Sinner’s Prayer!” That’s not going to happen because I know that most people who say this prayer aren’t saved by it. To give assurance to someone yet think, “time will tell,” is a very, very serious problem.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. Most will refuse to enter the narrow gate; few will be saved (Matthew 7:13-14). Share the gospel with all humans, but be honest with them about it. Few will be saved. Repentance is radical. Being a disciple will cost them much, much more that they realize. Count the costs before making any rash (and phony) decisions. Make sure they understand their sin and that they are headed straight for the lake of fire. Hammer at the fact that their ONLY hope of salvation comes from believing and obeying Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, the King of kings and Lord of lords. Make sure they understand Jesus won’t accept any half-hearted commitments; it’s all or nothing with him.
Is that reasonable? Won’t that scare away everybody? It certainly will – most people. But for those few with whom God is stirring, you will see great things happen. The gospel does one of two things. Either if softens the heart or it hardens it. We aren’t given an option about sharing the gospel. When we do, it either hardens hearts or softens them. Which way is up to God, and God alone. Our job is to share the gospel and leave the rest up to him.
You and I don’t save anyone. We don’t “lead someone to Christ.” God the Father is the only one who draws anyone to Jesus (John 6:44, 65). If you happen to be there when someone is saved, it is your good fortune to have been a witness. Salvation is the business of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You simply get the privilege of being taken along for the ride.
Christians need to talk about these things. Summer is coming. Thousands of kids are going to Christian summer camps and will be led in this prayer. Your church may do it every week during service. Are we doing right with everyone by this? I don’t think we are. If we’re not doing right, then we’re doing wrong. Let’s also ask ourselves who might be behind that? Might the Sinner’s Prayer be a good thing – in the right place at the right time? Like sex becomes sinful when done outside of marriage, so, too, might the Sinner’s Prayer outside of genuine repentance and faith.
For more on my thoughts on this, check out a previous post of mine.
Father, this is bound to stir up some trouble for me. So be it. Grant that this post makes an impact in the minds and hearts of those who believe. Amen.
Copyright © 2021 Scott Powers