Should You Pray for Salvation?
A man is sitting at home alone, feeling empty & in need of something real & meaningful for his life. He turns on the television & there is an evangelist who speaks movingly about the need for faith in Jesus & how He has the power to turn your life around. The man’s curiosity is aroused, b/c his life needs turning around, so he listens intently. At the end of the message, the evangelist says, “Now if you want to receive all the blessings I’ve just described, here’s what you need to do. Just say this prayer after me:
Dear Jesus, thank you for dying for my sins. I confess that I’m
a sinner & that I need your forgiveness. I take you as my Lord
& Savior & ask you to take away all of my sins at this very
moment. I ask you to come into my heart & make me clean in
your sight. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”
The evangelist then declares, “If you prayed that prayer with me, you are now saved, all your sins are forgiven, & the Holy Spirit has come to live in you.”
- That prayer, or something very like it (it has 1000s of versions) has become the standard way in evangelical circles that people are taught to accept Christ.
- So much so, that to question or deny its validity is considered to be heresy.
- Ironic, b/c the prayer itself is never found anywhere in the Bible, nor do we ever find anyone in the Bible being told to pray in order to be saved. So where did this Prayer come from??
- Nobody really knows where the Sinner’s Prayer originated.
(1) Some say it has its roots in the Protestant Reformation, as a reaction to RC teaching of salv. by works. “Just say this prayer. . . .”
(2) Others suggest it originated on the American frontier, when large revival meetings saw 100s of people at a time moved by highly emotional preaching (“The Great Awakening”). Meetings outdoors or in large “tabernacles” w/out baptisteries, so needed a way to “process” so many conversions. Sinners Prayer = result.
(3) One recent study says the SP grew out of the large Billy Graham crusades of the 1950s-80s, when again there were 100s each night. So many heard for so many years that that’s the way to accept Christ, assumed it as “the” right way to respond to the gospel.
- One thing is certain: It didn’t originate from the Bible. From the way the prayer is taught, you would think there is a script of it somewhere in Scripture – but there isn’t. It’s an entirely human invention, presented as the God-ordained way to find salvation in Christ. That ought to make us more than just a bit uneasy!
- NOTE: There’s nothing wrong with a sinner praying, & lost people for centuries have cried out to God to show them the way to find salvation. But nothing in the Bible ever suggests that prayer itself results in salvation.
- NOTE: I am in no way questioning the sincerity or good intentions of those who teach this prayer, or of those who pray it. What I AM questioning is the validity of something that the Bible doesn’t teach.
- What is the big concern here? The big concern is that the “Sinner’s Prayer” (something the Bible doesn’t say) has been substituted for what the Bible does say re how to accept Christ.
- We’ve been talking about it for the past 2 Sundays: Matt 28:18-20, Acts 2:36-38 & 41, Acts 8 (Ethiopian), Acts 10 (Cornelius), Acts 16 (Lydia & her household, & Jailer & Family), Gal 3:26-27, Rom 6:1-5, 1 Peter 3:21.
- Scripture is clear: When people trust in Christ & are baptized into Him, that’s when salvation comes, when sins are washed away, when the Spirit begins to dwell w/in, when we are buried & raised with Christ, when we put Him on.
- Here’s the question: Why does anyone think it’s okay to substitute what God doesn’t say in His word for what He does say? Isn’t that what the scribes & Pharisees did? Mk 7:1-13. “You make void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.” Making substitutions for what God says is NOT OKAY!
- That’s not “legalism” – that’s respect for God & His word.
- So here’s the question everyone needs to ask: “Do I want to put my confidence in a prayer that isn’t taught in Scripture, or do I want to follow Christ in the way the Bible teaches?”
- That raises another big concern: The notion of simply praying to find salvation undermines what Jesus taught about obedience.
- Thankfully, many who still believe in the SP are getting away from the idea that the Prayer is “all you need to do in order to be saved.” Have seen that leads to shallow discipleship & often doesn’t lead to a Christ-focused life.
- It’s what some have called “easy believism” – the idea that salvation is “easy” – all you need to do is recite the prayer.
- That may not be the intent of those who teach the SP, but it’s easy to see how “easy believism” is the result.
- But that should have been evident all along:
(1) Jesus never taught that any single act – whether prayer, baptism, or anything else – is “all you need to do” to be saved. That was the RYR’s question: “What good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matt 19:16)
(2) Rather, Matt 7:21. Discipleship is a consistent following of the Lord & His teachings. Bap only the beginning.
(3) He asked this ques in Lk 6:46 – “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ & not do what I tell you?”
(4) To those who would say, “But I love the Lord so much, obedience doesn’t matter,” Jesus says in Jn 14:15 – “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
(5) Do you see how hollow the SP sounds when compared with Jesus actually said?
- Make no mistake: You cannot, even by obed. to Christ “earn” or “deserve” the salvation He offers. Nothing you or I could ever do could make us “worthy” of the blood of God’s Son.
(1) Salv. is a gift – it comes to us by God’s grace (Eph. 2:8-10).
(2) Obed (including bap) is simply the way God has ordained for us to receive the blessings He offers through His Son. It’s how we “unwrap the gift” God has given us.
(3) The power of God for salvation comes from God, not from our side. But that salvation is received by those who obey & rejected by those who don’t.
- Back to that man watching TV & hearing the evangelist.
- He prays the SP – & then what? Chances are, nobody ever knows he even did so. May or may not be any changes in his life.
- Sometimes people who pray the SP anonymously are urged to find a church & join it, but the overall thrust of Evangelical thought is that what is really important is simply your “personal relationship with the Lord,” so nothing else is really necessary.
- In other words, that man can supposedly live the rest of his life w/out contact with other believers. He doesn’t need the church.
- What does the Bible say?
(1) Acts 2:41, 47 – “the Lord added” – i.e., to the body of those who had previously believed.
(2) 1 Cor. 12:12-13. “For just as the body is one & has many members, & all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Grks, slaves or free – & all were made to drink of one Spirit.”
(3) Bap puts us into the “body” of Christ (the church). It connects us to other believers. It isn’t a solitary act done alone that may never even be known by anyone else.
(4) It is both an individual response to the gospel & a communal act, b/c it joins us to the “one body” of Christ. EX: Gatherings around the pool* when someone is bap’d.
- There’s nothing about the SP that does that.
Concl: Scrip rdg. from Acts 22. After his vision on Damascus Rd., Saul prayed for 3 days. Nothing ever says all that praying saved him. Rather, Ananias was sent to tell him “all that is appointed for you to do.” First thing A. told him to do was “Rise & be baptized & wash away your sins, calling on His name.”
Question: Was he saved before his sins were washed away?
More important question: Can you be saved w/out having YOUR sins washed away?
*For those not familiar with the Glen Allen church, we are one of the few churches I’ve ever heard of who has a swimming pool, which we affectionately refer to as “the world’s largest baptistery.” It was part of the property which was donated to us back in 2000, & since our building doesn’t have a baptistery built in it, in the warm months, our baptisms take place outdoors in the pool. It makes for some inspiring gatherings as people put on their Lord with virtually the whole church standing around them, welcoming them into the family.