Praying a Sinner's Prayer
by Jarrod Jacobs
via “Common Questions -- Bible Answers”
(Southside church of Christ, Owensboro, Kentucky)
A while back, I received a sample packet of tracts from "The Tract League" (a.k.a. "Faith, Prayer, & Tract League") out of Grand Rapids, MI. According to their form letter addressed to the "Pastor," they have over 300 tracts in stock "designed to point to Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation." While their intentions may be admirable, they are going about it in the wrong way. In nearly every tract, they encourage people to say a"sinner's prayer" and then join a church, be baptized, etc. I have printed some examples of their "prayers" below:
- "Jesus, I believe and I need the salvation you have provided. Come into my heart, rule
my life today, and show me how to live. Amen"
From the tract: "The Plain Gospel"
- "Jesus, I believe that you are the holy Son of God. I believe that you died on the cross
for my sins and that you rose from the dead. You are my salvation. Please wash all my
sins away and make me a child of God. I give my life to you today. Amen"
From The tract: "What Is Meant By Salvation?"
- "Jesus, I need your salvation. I open my heart to you. I confess that you are God's own
son, and that you died on the cross to save me from my sin. Help me to turn from my
ways and follow you. Make me ready for your return and show me how to live in the days ahead. Amen."
From the tract: "Jesus Is Coming Again"
- "Jesus, I am sorry for the things I do and say that are wrong. Make me your child, take
care of me and help me from now on to follow you. Amen."
From the tract: "Here's A Treat For You And Some Good News."
Probably all of our dear readers have seen similar tracts to these, and as well have seen these little "model" prayers at one point or another. Unfortunately, some, after reading such tracts as these may say a similar prayer, and go on their way thinking that they are saved. Perhaps you have heard a denominational preacher on the radio or on TV encourage people to say words to this effect. This is disturbing at best, and spiritually fatal at worst. Let us study and see what the Bible has to say about such prayers.
The Bible Never Mentions Such a Thing as a "Sinner's Prayer."
Pray tell, which verse might one use to prove that one can pray a "sinner's prayer" in order to be saved? Some might look to Luke 18:13 and think that this shows us an example of a sinner's prayer. There is just one problem with this, and that is that the men mentioned in this text (Pharisee and publican) were both Jews! They were already children of God and allowed to enter the Temple; but no "stranger, uncircumcised in heart, nor ... in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary" (Ezekiel 44:9). Therefore, the publican's prayer of "God be merciful to me a sinner" would not be applicable to one outside of Christ today.
Now, which New Testament passage teaches the necessity of saying a "sinner's prayer" where, at that moment, one is saved, before and without anything else, including baptism? Brethren, no Scripture teaches us to pray some kind of "sinner's prayer." In fact, "we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth" (John 9:31).
Each of the Prayers Mentioned are Different.
Reread the "prayers" recorded on this page. Notice please that each one is different. Two prayers don't even mention Christ's death on the cross! Two prayers mention faith ("I believe") and two do not. (I wonder if our denominational friends would consider one saved if he tried to join them and said he had prayed one of the two prayers that doesn't even mention faith in Christ?) Further, three of the prayers mention something about the person following Christ after being "saved," while one doesn't mention it at all. One prayer mentions being washed from sins, and the other three do not.
Why bring this up? It is because in the New Testament, we find that everyone that God considered saved did the same thing in order to be saved.
- Each one heard God's word (Romans 10:17; Acts 8:5,35; 16:13; 2:22),
- They believed that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (Acts 2:36; 8:12; 16:31; Mark 16:16),
- Repented of their sins (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38; 17:31),
- Confessed their faith in Christ (Matthew 10:32; Acts 8:37),
- And were baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; Mark 16:16; Acts 8:12-13; 16:15,33; 22:16).
Notice also that in the Bible, the washing away of sins came after one had been baptized (Acts 22:16). Each case of conversion in the Bible is consistent with the other. We cannot say this about these so-called "prayers" men have suggested we say in order to be saved.
These Prayers Offer Another Way to Salvation.
While the "The Tract League" of Grand Rapids, Michigan, claims they are pointing people to Christ, the truth is that they are not. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6). People such as Philip (Acts 8:5,12,35-39), Paul (Acts 17:3; 18:8), and Peter (Acts 2:22, 36-38; 3:19) pointed people to Christ. They did this by telling people what Christ had taught (Acts 4:20; 9:22). Where in the Scriptures does Christ teach men to pray a "sinner's prayer" in order to be saved? In truth, the "sinner's prayer" is the old denominational doctrine of "praying through" to God. The only difference is that in the past, "praying through" meant one might pray one prayer after another, with the person not "getting through" on the first try. This version of "praying through," as portrayed in the tracts and by modern denominational preachers, promises you'll "get through" on the first try! Promises; promises; promises! How convenient!
Once we know what is necessary to be saved, we learn that the "sinner's prayer" is nothing more than a veiled attempt by man at circumventing God's law through providing an alternate way to be saved. Remember what Christ said? "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber" (John 10:1). Who is the door? "I am the door" (John 10:7,9). Christ is the way, and He is the door!
Therefore, our responsibility is to follow Christ's word "as is," and not be caught up in the feel-good, free, no cost, nothing to do, and nothing to lose salvation that the world is promising. The "sinner's prayer" promises something it cannot provide (i.e., salvation). Let us be found doing the will of God, and following His word all the days of our lives (Acts 2:36-38; Acts 22:16; II Peter 1:5-11; Revelation 2:10; I Corinthians 15:58).
Friend, instead of trusting in man's words, why not go to God's word and learn what is necessary to be saved. Nothing can compare to knowing exactly what God expects of you. The salvation of a man's soul is a serious matter; for no greater injustice can be done to any person than to give them the impression they are saved, when, in fact, they are not. The "sinner's prayer" leaves people in their sin.