The sinner’s prayer has been a taboo topic in Christian culture for a while now. People take pride in the date they have stamped in their Bibles as their “spiritual birthdate.” It’s a date they can reminisce when they raised their hand when the preacher said “three” with everyone’s eyes closed and replicated the scripted prayer. So many churches in America deceive people into thinking they are saved and safe from hell because they said a prayer once at a church service. But what does the Bible say about genuine salvation? Is it just a prayer you say or is it a commitment to Christ and his lordship in your life? In this article, I’m going to make the argument that true faith is the latter.
It should be obvious that simply saying the words that follow “repeat after me” apart from any real heart change is not salvific. In the book of James he writes that even the demons believe and shutter (James 2:19). As Pastor John MacArthur has put it, believing on Christ is not just an intellectual understanding or assent, there has to be also a spiritual commitment to Christ. Yet, you will see churches tout that hundreds of people raised their hands to “receive Christ” at a church service and count these as genuine salvations. It can be dangerous because everyone there takes it at face value and feels comfortable because they’re “in.” There is rarely any follow up with true discipleship. The Bible is clear about what it means to be a Christian. Repentance of sin and trusting in Christ are the necessary vehicles for genuine salvation. Jesus himself says in Matthew 16:24, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” There is an obvious commitment being described in these verses, not just a flippant claim to Christ.
There is a requirement to deny one’s own sinful desires, habitually forsake sin in one’s life, and commit to following Christ and his commands found in Scripture. The problem with the sinner’s prayer is that often the preacher does not explain what it means to be a true follower of Christ and therefore, the attender of the church service is not afforded the opportunity to “count the cost” of following Christ. Additionally, people are too often just told to “accept Jesus into their heart.” The idea of “accepting Jesus into your heart” is not found in Scripture and shares only half of the gospel. Ultimately, we need God to accept us (Gal 4:9). We are the ones that have offended God and thus need Him to forgive and accept us, not the other way around. Furthermore, people are told that God loves them without any talk of God’s justice, holiness, and man’s utter sinfulness and God’s necessary wrath that must be satisfied for sin to be forgiven (John 3:36). People are only told the second half of the gospel; that God loves them. Ray Comfort puts it like this, imagine giving people parachutes that were on a plane with no explanation, people would think you are crazy. However, if you told them the plane is going to crash and if you don’t take this parachute and put it, on you will surely die. They then can understand their need for the parachute and without it they would plummet to their death. Now, translate this to the gospel. If I only share with people God loves you, repeat this prayer “I have sinned please forgive me, come into my heart Jesus.” How does the person even understand why they need a savior if I don’t explain to them their need for one?
Ultimately, my biggest indictment against the sinner’s prayer is that it causes some people to be self-deceived into thinking they are saved, when in reality they are not. I am not saying that God can never use the sinner’s prayer as a tool to save some; he can. However, people are primarily saved by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17), not some formula or prayer we come up with. People should examine their heart first and see if their faith is genuine by the scriptural standard. People should not look to a prayer they said once years ago as evidence for their salvation. If this is your story, I urge you to examine your life as Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 13:5 to see whether or not you are in the faith. Walk through the book of 1 John as you examine your faith. 1 John 1:4-5 says that the one who says I have come to know Him and does not keep His commandments, is a liar and the truth is not in him. If you claim to know Christ but have no love for him or desire to obey His commands, you’re not in a good place. The Bible says you are a liar and not a Christian. If you encounter people who cling to their sinner’s prayer they repeated, ask them the following questions: Has there been any growing in hatred for sin and love for God? Have you sought after fellowship with believers in the church? Do you fight against sin in your life? Are you growing in your love for Christ and his word? If the answer to these questions is no, share with them the gospel from beginning to end and encourage them to repent, for today is the day of salvation.
Rachel is a wife and mother of four young children. She has a love for listening to expository preaching, theology, and doctrine. She desires to make Christ known through her marriage, parenting, and in every word and deed.