Advanced Bible Studies
17. What About the "Sinners Prayer"?
What About the "Sinners Prayer"?
The world of denominationalism has a dirty little secret and that dirty secret is the doctrine of “Faith Only.” But, the dirtiest little secret of all is “Faith Only’s” doctrine of “The Sinner’s Prayer.” (The fact is one cannot hold to a “Faith Only” position and be consistent with either Scripture or with any sort of logical and spiritual thinking. For an extensive study of “Faith Only” go here.)
One of the most popular forms of “conversion” in the religious world is to use the “Sinner’s Prayer” as a part of the salvation experience. In fact, it becomes almost a kind of formula that is used to conclude any and all evangelistic efforts to save souls. You will find the “Sinner’s Prayer” as a part of the popular preaching of most evangelical and even many mainstream denominations. Dear friend, if you were saved by the “Sinner’s Prayer” please consider your very salvation and whether or not it is really according to the will of God and the truth of Scripture! There are some things that you should know about the “Sinner’s Prayer.”
First, the “Sinner’s Prayer” is neither biblical nor Scriptural and none of the passages used to support “sinner’s prayer” salvation work as advertised. We must not read a modern-day contrived invention back into the Bible text as if the early disciples practiced the “Sinner’s Prayer” in the church you read about in the New Testament. They did no such thing! (In fact, if you ever study what the Church Fathers in the Second Century said about faith, repentance and baptism you will notice that they knew the truth about faith and did not teach “Faith Only.” They also knew the truth about baptism and that it was for the forgiveness of sins. And they say nothing about the “Sinner’s Prayer.” No, the Christians in the Second Century were not inspired – only the Word of God is inspired; but, the believers in the Second Century held to a far more genuine faith and authentic practice than most any of the churches in modern day America.) Here are most all of the verses used to teach the “Sinner’s Prayer”:
- Revelation 3:20 – But, this passage is not written to tell the unsaved how to get saved, but rather in context it is written to the lukewarm church at Laodicea telling Christians that they had better get their act together.
- Romans 10:1-15 – Once again, this passage is written to believers, not unsaved unbelievers, telling them exactly how they are to live their faith. Many seemingly cannot understand the real meaning of “calling on the name of the Lord” without seeing in it (i.e., reading into it) some kind of “Sinner’s Prayer.” A closer reading of Scripture would show that “calling on the name of the Lord” is not salvation by “faith alone” or “prayer alone.” See Matthew 7:13-27 cf. Luke 6:46-49 (Hebrews 5:9) … Acts 2:21,37-41 cf. Acts 22:16.
- Luke 15:18-19; 18:13; 23:42 – The use of these verses to “prove” the “Sinner’s Prayer” are more eis-egesis (i.e., reading into the text) than exegesis (i.e., reading out of the text). (The covenant and terms of Jesus’ new covenant were not in force while he still lived. They did not go into effect until he died. This is the clear teaching of Scripture. See Hebrews 9:16-17! Before the Cross Jesus could dispense his grace “any way” he wanted. But, when he died the terms [i.e., conditions] of that covenant went into effect. And, yes, there are God given “terms and conditions” for salvation! Thus Jesus could and did forgive sins “any way” he wanted during his ministry. Baptism for the forgiveness of sins and into Christ was one of the terms of salvation preached after [and even before!] the Cross, from Pentecost and beyond.) Take a look at Acts 2:21 and Acts 2:27-47. If “calling on the Name of the Lord” was equivalent to the modern-day practice of the “sinner’s prayer” why don’t we ever see it in Acts or the epistles?
It must also be noted that in these samples in Luke we do in fact have examples of sinner’s praying, but we have absolutely no correlation to the “Sinner’s Prayer” that the denominational world talks about. Take the case of the Pharisee and the Publican going into the temple to pray as found in Luke 18:13. Both of these men lived before the Cross event and both were Jews who were already members of the covenant of God that was in effect for their time. Thus, both were already children of God – one was prideful, the other was humble. They were not “alien sinners” outside of a covenant relationship with God. What is more, there is no idea of “accepting Jesus into your heart as your personal Savior” in the prayer of the humble tax collector.
Second, the sinner’s prayer actually grew out of much later Reformation practices as churches tried to figure out and settle on a way to call men to salvation. It developed in the context of “altar calls” and “mourner’s bench” practices. Beginning in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, various Reformers made popular the idea of “praying through” for a salvation experience. Some of this involved extreme forms of psychological pressure and manipulation which were used to induce a supposed conversion experience. (Some of these kinds of tactics are still shamefully used in some churches today!) None of this was an early church practice. What all of this (including the modern manifestation of the Four Spiritual Laws and the Sinner’s Prayer) clearly shows is a very serious defect in the “Faith Only” position.
What is that defect? Simply this: The Reformers know that “Faith Only” just does not make any sense either Biblically or practically. Here is the problem: It is just too vague. When exactly is one saved? Don’t say, “at the point of faith alone without any works of obedience.” No one really believes that and that is not what the Bible teaches! There has to be some point of practical reference in which (at which) one goes from “being unsaved to being saved.” Where is that point in real time? Exactly when does the “new life in Christ” begin? With “Faith Only” there is just no real or perceived point that is easily clarified in the minds of men. It is just too vague and nebulous. (“Faith Only” is a great sounding doctrine, but it is a lousy one when it comes to practice and practical implementation.) So, enter the “Sinner’s Prayer”! Now we have an actual moment – a line of demarcation – a dividing point from the old life to the new life. A time that can be specifically identified (and remembered) when someone “gets saved.” The Sinner’s Prayer is only the result of the doctrines and commandments of men, not God. It is a sorry attempt to fix the defective doctrine of “Faith Only.” What is more, it does not do a very good job of it. And all of this is the “dirty little secret” of “Faith Only.” So, what is the real point at which an unsaved sinner goes from the old life to becoming a new creature in Christ? That’s easy! That “point” is in baptism. See Romans 6:3-14 cf. Galatians 3:26-27. And baptism is effective only through “faith in the working of God.” See Colossians 2:9-12. (For more on Baptism, go here.)
Third, the “dirty little secret” of “Faith Only” is that it’s not “Faith Only”! It is faith plus repentance plus the “Sinner’s Prayer.” Funny how Reformers and their Creeds reject (i.e., blaspheme) baptism and teach “Faith Only” but they merely substitute the “Sinner’s Prayer” in the place of baptism. And, everything they say that baptism does not do, the Sinner’s Prayer now supposedly does! (Why don’t we just stay with Scripture and keep baptism? Why don’t we just throw out “Faith Only” and the “Sinner’s Prayer”?) Go read every last presentation of “The Four Spiritual Laws” and you will notice that they all actually say that “you can receive Christ right now by faith through prayer” and then they tell you to “ pray this prayer right now, and Christ will come into your life.” (So, if you don’t do the Sinner’s Prayer Christ won’t come into your heart? And, if Christ is already in your heart, why do the Sinner’s Prayer?) Here is the actual text of point number four of “The Four Spiritual Laws” in blue text with our comments in black text:
4. We must individually RECEIVE Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; then we can know and experience God's love and plan for our lives.
We Must Receive Christ
"As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name" (John 1:12).
(It is rather strange how many ignore what this passage actually says – “He gave the right to become children of God” not “they are already made children of God by faith alone.” Too many read “faith” in every passage as “Faith Only.” This is not at all the kind of faith that John or Jesus ever teaches. See John 3:16,21,36. To study more about faith in the Gospel of John go here.)
We Receive Christ Through Faith
"By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast" (Ephesians 2:8,9).
(For a complete discussion of salvation by grace through faith and for a proper understanding of faith and works and of Ephesians 2:1-10 please go here.)
When We Receive Christ, We Experience a New Birth
Read John 3:1-8: Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: the same came unto him by night, and said to him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter a second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God! That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born anew. The wind bloweth where it will, and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
(Does anyone ever notice that the “new birth” that is absolutely essential to enter into the kingdom of heaven is one birth of two parts: water and Spirit? Where is the water in the “new birth” if it is not realized in baptism? The earliest church understood John 3:5 and Titus 3:5 to be a reference to baptism. Even many of the leaders in the Reformation Movement understood these two passages to be a clear reference to baptism. It is only in modern times that more and more churches are blaspheming the “new birth” by denying that baptism has anything to do with salvation.)
We Receive Christ by Personal Invitation
[Christ speaking] "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him" (Revelation 3:20).
(It is simply amazing that almost all the churches that teach the “Four Spiritual Laws” also teach that we are saved by “Faith Only.” What is more, most of these churches also teach that there is nothing that we can “do” in order to be saved. Some even say that we do not have to “obey” God in order to receive salvation. But here, Jesus says we do have something that we must do – we must “open the door.” But wait, there is more … )
Receiving Christ involves turning to God from self (repentance) and trusting Christ to come into our lives to forgive our sins and to make us what He wants us to be. Just to agree intellectually that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He died on the cross for your sins is not enough. Nor is it enough to have an emotional experience. You receive Jesus Christ by faith, as an act of the will.
(There is not a man alive who really and truly believes the doctrine of “Faith Only”! Why? Because sooner or later those who hold to the dogma of “Faith Only” will usually admit that, “Well, yes, you must also repent in order to be saved.” So it’s not “Faith Only.” It’s faith plus repentance! What is going on here? Then notice that when “faith” in the “Four Spiritual Laws” is actually [and correctly!] described, it is described in terms of the intellect, the emotions, and the will. Note particularly that we are told, “You receive Jesus Christ by faith, as an act of the will.” The term “act” means: “the doing of a thing; a deed that is done.” Wait a minute! That means that “faith” is actually a “work” that we must do. That’s exactly right! See John 6:28-29. But almost no one accepts the full implications of this truth. So, all of this talk about salvation by “faith alone” is nonsense! And, all of those doctrines that state or imply that we can’t or don’t have to “obey” God in order to be saved are just plain wrong! See Hebrews 5:9. Faith is a “work” that we must do even as part of our obedience to God.
Faith is about "lovingly keeping (obeying) the commands of God." See John 14:15,21,23,24; 15:10,14; I John 2:3,4; 3:23,24; 5:3. In fact faith is a command of God which we must obey: "And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ ... Those who obey his commands live in him and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us." (I John 3:23-24)
We must not only believe, we must also repent. And we must also be baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of sins in order to receive the Spirit. If only those who use and follow these “Four Spiritual Laws” would understand and believe what they have really said on this point they would abandon the false doctrine of “Faith Only.”
The article then goes on to chart “The Self-Directed Life” or “The Christ-Directed Life” and asks whether Christ or Self sits on the throne of your life. Excellent question! Basically it asks the question, “Is Jesus Christ the Lord of your life?” The trouble is, there are all too many churches out there that claim that Jesus is Lord yet they won’t submit to his authority and teaching on baptism! Consider Matthew 7:21 – “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Dear friend, “baptism [i.e., immersion into water] for the forgiveness of sins” is the will of God for you! Finally the article closes with the “Sinner’s Prayer”)
You can receive Christ right now by faith through prayer:
(Prayer is talking to God)
God knows your heart and is not so concerned with your words as He is with the attitude of your heart. The following is a suggested prayer:
"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."
Does this prayer express the desire of your heart? If it does, I invite you to pray this prayer right now and Christ will come into your life, as He promised.
So, the sinner’s prayer formula (invented by men like Bill Bright and used by men like Billy Graham) is something you must say – it is something you must “do” in order to be saved! But, I thought (according to the man-made doctrine of Faith Only) we weren’t supposed to “do” anything in order to be saved? I thought we were saved at the point of faith alone without any further acts of obedience. Note what the “Four Spiritual Laws” actually says: “You can receive Christ right now by faith through prayer … pray this prayer right now and Christ will come into your life.” Just taking it for what it says means that the “Sinner’s Prayer” is necessary for salvation! There is just no way to get around this. Saying some “Sinner’s Prayers” is actually nothing less than keeping the laws and commands of men in order to be saved! (But, see what Jesus says about that in Matthew 15:1-19 and Mark 7:1-23!) And yet, men say that baptism is wrong? What is going on here? Well, let me conclude by summing it up this way…
The denominational world has turned the “Sinner’s Prayer” into not only a substitute for baptism, but also it has become every much a “work” as baptism. The religious world calls baptism a work of man that violates the principle of grace through faith only. (But that is not what Scripture teaches!) And yet the “Sinner’s Prayer” is every bit as much a work of man, and even more so! To put it another way, everything that the religious world says about (i.e., against) baptism can also be said about (i.e., against) the “Sinner’s Prayer.” But baptism is biblical and the “Sinner’s Prayer” is not. (Remember, baptism is at least found in Scripture and, properly understood, baptism is actually a work of God through faith. See Colossians 2:12.)
If you read the Four Spiritual Laws carefully and realize that they are based upon the assumptions of “Faith Only” then the “Sinner’s Prayer” has no place in such a system. Why? Because the “Sinner’s Prayer” is something you must “do” in addition to faith in order to be saved. It is something you must actually say. You can’t be saved without it and you can’t be saved until you say it. This is the dirty little secret that our “Faith Only” friends never talk about, let alone own up to. Why? Because they know that salvation must have some signifying event that clearly separates the old life from the new. Without that event in our own personal lives, conversion becomes a vague and nebulous process with no clearly defined moment of salvation. When exactly is a person saved? They know deep down that we need some defining moment and so they invented the “Sinner’s Prayer.” (But, the defining moment of salvation in the obedience of our faith is baptism into Christ for the forgiveness of sins!) What is more, most practitioners of “Sinner’s Prayer Salvation” feel the need to help (i.e., coach) you through it by scripting the prayer for you. How nice ... except for one thing. Whenever anyone ever asked, “What must I do to be saved?” in the New Testament, they were never told, “Oh, there is nothing you can do! You are saved by “faith alone.” So, pray this prayer and receive Jesus into your heart.” Now go back and re-read Acts 2:1-47 and particularly notice Acts 2:21,37-41,47. Herein we find the real meaning of what it means to “call on the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ” and be “saved by faith” as we “receive and accept Jesus into our heart and life.” Do this and you will live!