For those who know me, I’ve never been a man to shy away from controversy, whether it’s political or theological. Honest questions are never a threat to truth. So here’s an honest challenge regarding conventional American churchianity, if you are brave enough to accept or consider it: the “prayer of salvation” or “sinner’s prayer.”
We’re most familiar with this prayer from television evangelists or in a local church. Perhaps we’ve found a tract left on the seat of a bus with such a prayer in the back of the leaflet. There are many different forms of this prayer, but they all generally go something like this: Dear God, I know that I am a sinner, and I am sorry for my sins. Today I accept Jesus, and the sacrifice He made for me at the cross. Father God, cleanse my soul from the stain of sin. Now I receive Jesus as my Savior and Lord. Amen.
Certainly short and sweet. For the Christian there is tremendous truth and sentiment in such a prayer, but there’s an elephant standing on top of this prayer that nobody is talking about.
The doctrinal statements of many churches and denominations says something to the effect that we believe the Bible to be our sole authority for faith and practice. If we really hold that statement to be true, shouldn’t we judge the “prayer of salvation” by the Bible standard?
A reading of the New Testament book of Acts reveals an interesting fact: No one – not a single time – is ever told, nor is it ever suggested, to say a prayer to be saved. In every example (but one), salvation is a direct result of preaching on the death and resurrection of Jesus, and we’re told in every case (but that one), that upon hearing the message they believed and were saved. Not a single mention of prayer as the conduit to receiving Christ.
The one exception is that of Saul, later to be the Apostle Paul. He believed upon Jesus after a personal encounter with Him, and yet still, Jesus never said, “Saul, now say this prayer and I’ll save you.” Paul was saved by grace through faith totally apart from any prayer.
Here are a couple of things to ponder:
(1) The Bible says that God only hears the prayers of the righteous (Prov 15:29; Ps 66:18; Is 59:1-2; James 5:16; 1 Pet 3:12). Since every single person is absolutely unrighteous apart from faith in Jesus (Rom 3:10), even the “prayer of salvation” would go unheard. Righteousness, as the only basis for accepted prayer, comes by only one means: faith in the completed work of Christ Jesus at the cross (Romans 3:21-4:25; Heb 10:19-22). You cannot pray and be heard without first being righteous, and said righteousness comes only as a result of applied belief.
(2) Requiring or suggesting a prayer to be saved places an un-biblical hurdle to faith. The Bible is replete with the truth that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus alone (eg, Eph 2:8-9). To suggest that a prayer be offered as the means of faith adds a personal work to salvation. I might be convinced to accept a prayer of salvation as a symbol of existing faith, but that is neither the current practice, nor is that found in the Book of Acts.
(3) A prayer of salvation creates a false and dangerous security. I’ve heard it untold number of times: “I prayed the prayer of salvation, so I’m saved.” Again, that is faith in a prayer rather than faith in Christ Jesus alone. Many people rest their eternal destiny on the fact that they said some prayer at some church service or evangelistic rally, as if that is the foundation of salvation. It is not! Salvation is a result of belief/trust/full dependence upon Jesus alone to be your salvation, it is never a result of a prayer. Such belief is instantaneous and a prerequisite prayer thus impossible. The result is that, from a non-Biblical and anti-Biblical idea, we’ve created millions of people who think they are redeemed without personal faith in Jesus.
As always, your thoughts and questions are greatly appreciated.