A major shift has been developing in the religious world over the last few years, and it’s a truly exciting trend. The sinner’s prayer – the 20th century’s primary prescribed method for conversion to Christ – is falling out of favor. Millions of people were led to believe that they were saved by praying a prayer to “ask Jesus into their hearts” by men like Billy Graham, whether in their homes as they watched on TV or in massive stadium crusades, and the trickle down effect made this prayer the standard practice for many of America’s churches.
Thankfully, that’s finally changing. As we’ll discuss in this article, a number of prominent names in the evangelical world are rejecting the sinner’s prayer. And though they haven’t all embraced a biblical view of salvation, they’re moving in the right direction. Best of all, they’re rejecting the concept of the sinner’s prayer for the right reasons.
As Ray Comfort (of Living Waters Publications) puts it, we would place no value on an apology from an adulterous man if he had to repeat it word for word from someone else feeding it to him. For the same reason, the rote repetition of the sinner’s prayer shows very little sorrow, repentance, faith, and commitment. John MacArthur shared similar thoughts, contrasting the typically recited prayer with thee “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner” prayer prayed by the tax collector in Luke 18. When you consider the two, the difference is night and day. The sinner’s prayer is almost always a cheap substitute for the true feelings of a life changing repentance and faith that lead to full obedience.
It gives a false sense of safety
Because it is cheap, it opens the door for belief in salvation without repentance, obedience, and fruit bearing. Sadly, this country is filled with at least one generation of people who have this false sense of safety. You know, the type who live lives that are anything but Christian but still claim to be 0n their way to heaven because they were “saved” 20 years ago by repeating a prayer. For this reason, Paul Washer refers to the prayer as a flu shot, something people get one time and go on living as though they don’t have to worry about anything anymore because it was all taken care of in the past. “That sinner’s prayer has sent more people to hell than anything on the face of the earth,” Washer said in another sermon.
It’s biblically inaccurate
Most importantly, the sinner’s prayer simply doesn’t exist in the Bible. The more I researched for this article, the more I kept coming across articles, videos, and sermons by denominational leaders that proclaimed this truth, and it’s a thrilling thing to see. Though many tracts have tried to base the concept in Revelation 3:20, where Jesus said “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” – leading to the idea that we must ask Him in – the context shows us that He was talking to an unrepentant church that had shut Him out. It has nothing to do with inviting Him in to give us salvation.
If the sinner’s prayer were a biblical method of being saved, you would think that at least one of the many conversions we see in the book of Acts would have made use of it. Or that it would have surfaced somewhere in Jesus’ teachings or in Paul’s writings. But it doesn’t. It’s simply not in the Bible. As bestselling author Francis Chan asked in a YouTube video, could a person really sit down and read the Bible and come to the belief that they needed to say a prayer to be saved? Or would they believe that they need to repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit as Acts 2:38 says?
Of course, these truths about the sinner’s prayer aren’t true because John MacArthur, Francis Chan, or anyone else said them. They’re true because they’re what the Bible teaches. Sadly, most of the men quoted here have yet to embrace the true biblical teaching of salvation and becoming one with the blood of Christ. But they have opened a door of opportunity for us. With the most commonly taught method of finding salvation in Jesus being dismantled, a vacuum is being left. The opportunity is ripe for a new, more biblical teaching to take its place.
Watch some of the videos linked in this article and you’ll see that some of these men don’t have an answer for the moment when a person is saved. But the Bible does, and that’s where we come in. We can capitalize on the disfavor being cast on the sinner’s prayer by showing people that the Bible truly does show us the way to be united with Christ in the likeness of His death (Romans 6:3-4) and that we can know when we’re saved. As David Platt, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board preached: “Based on what the New Testament teaches, I want to say tonight as clearly, and in some senses, as bluntly as possible: If you are a follower of Christ, and you have not been baptized, you are living contrary to the New Testament.”
We’re being given a priceless opportunity. The false sense of hope that millions received by repeating an unbiblical prayer is being shaken by the very institutions that gave them that hope, and I can’t help but be excited by that. Let’s use this chance to help people understand biblical truth about one of the most damaging lies the Christian faith has ever faced.
By Jack Wilkie