What I am referring to as the “sinners prayer” is the “repeat after me” method given at the end of a gospel presentation which is supposed to lead someone to accept Christ. I have no issue with a repentant sinner calling out to God for forgiveness.
I have two problems with the “sinners prayer.”
My first problem is that it is not found in scripture. Christians should be leery of using anything that’s not found in the Bible, especially when it’s dealing with the gospel. People are saved through faith in Christ. Some may say the sinners prayer when they put their confidence in the Savior, but it is in spite of the sinners prayer, not because of it.
Reason number two: It has led many into false professions of salvation.
Many people, myself included, have been led in a prayer which resulted
in a false profession. I believe that the number one cause of false
professions today is the sinners prayer. Part of the problem is that it
gives people an action to perform. They can easily end up trusting in
something they did, instead of what Christ did for them. They look back
to the prayer instead of looking to the cross for assurance. In calling
people to perform an action we are jeopardizing one of the main points
of the gospel, which is that there is nothing that we can do to be
saved. We don’t think we are giving an action to perform, but repeating a
prayer can mislead them into thinking they had a part in saving their
Leading someone in a prayer often
ends up with the person only mentally acknowledging their sinful state
and mentally assenting to a formula. While it’s good to acknowledge
those things, that won’t save you, it’s believing in your heart, not in
your head. It’s like leading someone half way down a trail to your house
in the woods, then declaring that they have arrived, when they are
In all of the salvation accounts
found in scripture none of them involve saying a prayer, saving faith is
what is shown again and again. John 3:15-16 make it clear that it is belief in the Son and nothing else.
In Acts 10:44 it says “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.” Peter was preaching and all who were listening that believed what he said were saved. They
didn’t say a prayer. They just recognized that they were sinners and
that Jesus had died for their sin and risen again, and if they didn’t
believe on Him they would be under judgment.
Real Christian have a desire to see people saved. Unfortunately many try to rush the work of the Holy Spirit by leading unbelievers in a prayer. This can interfere with the work of the Holy Spirit. If we interfere with that work and it ends up leading someone into a false profession then we have a lot to account for, and personally, I don’t want to run that risk. All we need to do is give people the gospel and the Holy Spirit will do the rest. Rushing someone into a prayer could be a lack of faith that the Holy Spirit will do His part. Our job is not to open hearts, our job is to shut mouths, and let the Holy Spirit open the heart.
In all of the salvation accounts in scripture no one was ever led in a prayer, not even once. Seriously, go look it up. I would suggest that leading someone in a prayer could be considered adding to the gospel, which is very dangerous. If you only based your evangelistic method on the bible you would not come to the conclusion that saying a prayer is the way to receive salvation. Rather you would see repentance and faith (Acts 20:21).
The Ethiopian Eunuch
Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (Acts 8:35-37).
The Philippian Jailer
And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house (Acts 16:27-32).
Often people say that they will lead someone in a prayer if they feel that they have arrived at a point where they are ready to accept Christ. In both situations above, the evangelists (in this case Paul, Silas, and Philip) were presented with opportunities that many modern day evangelists would use to lead someone in a sinners prayer. The Philippian jailer was ready to be saved, but Paul did not lead him in a prayer, instead he tells him to “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ”. From what we see in scripture this is what we should be telling people, not “Would you like to ask Jesus into your heart? Okay, say this prayer with me…”
Children and the sinners prayer
Children are extremely susceptible to false professions due to the sinners prayer. The gospel needs to be presented in simpler terms with children, but it does not need to be dumbed down to “Ask Jesus into your heart” or “Talk to God about your sin.” Talking to God about your sin is not what saves people, neither is asking Jesus into your heart (whatever that means). What child wouldn’t “ask Jesus into their heart” when they’re told that God will come live inside of them and they will go to heaven? Far too often the child has no grasp of what they are doing or why they are doing it. It is often a mental “salvation” instead of an honest realization that they are sinners and that only Jesus, and what He did for them on the cross, can save them. I was led in a prayer when I was a child and had absolutely no idea what I was doing. It’s far too easy to manipulate a child into saying a prayer and professing salvation.
A new breed of the sinners prayer
Recently I’ve seen a new trend in the way people are led in the prayer, it goes something like “Saying this prayer is not what saves you, praying is simply how you tell God what you are doing”. This disclaimer doesn’t dismiss the fact that the people still did something that they are liable to trust in, instead of only trusting in the all sufficient work of Christ on the cross. The logic behind using this disclaimer doesn’t even make sense. Why do we need to tell God what we are doing? He already knows. If you offer me a gift would it be normal for me to give you a commentary on what I am doing? For example, as I take the gift from your hand it wouldn’t make sense for me to say “I am taking the gift from you”, you would already know what I was doing. Even with this disclaimer the prayer falls short of being a solid part of the gospel.
You said the prayer, are you saved?
The purpose of this paper is not to cast doubt on anyone’s salvation, but instead to (unless you’re not saved), it is to show the dangers of the sinners prayer. Being saved has nothing to do with a prayer. If you said a prayer you could very well be saved, but don’t base your salvation on your prayer. I know a lot of people who I believe they are saved, and they repeated a prayer after someone. God sees your heart, and if your heart was truly repentant and believing then you are saved. Psalm 51 well describes the condition that a heart should be in, in order to be saved.
Examine it for yourself
I would encourage all of you to examine this matter for yourself, especially if you are involved in any type of gospel or childrens work. Don’t just take my word for it, seek out the matter with an open heart and God will show you what is right. Keep this question in mind: should we use an extra-biblical, or possibly an anti-biblical, practice in our gospel outreach? Study it out…someones eternity just might depend on it.
Posted by Caleb Caeton at
Excellent work, glad you brought it to public light. As one who said a prayer at a young age, and then realized 19 years later that I was never truly saved, I caution others to examine themselves. If the testimony of the Holy Spirit is evident in your heart, it will only serve as a confirmation. If, however, you were still dead in your sins, this self examination followed by true repentance toward God and new birth in Christ will change your eternal destination, and you will be given the gift of eternal life.Reply
Thank you for posting this Caleb. A difficult issue for I am sure many who read this, hold to or know someone who holds to encouraging people in praying a prayer.thanks Caleb!
I have heard of those who, when they recognized their sinfulness, their need for the Savior and believed, prayed a prayer of thanksgiving and praise. They had prayed without any encouragement from others with the desire to simply thank the Lord for His abundant grace and love.
I myself, for years assumed that praying to God for salvation was the means that I had been saved. Of course, I believed in Jesus Christ and that He died on the cross, but my faith was in what I did- I PRAYED. Someone asked me, “Are you SAVED?” and my reply was yes. But when I was challenged (Thank the LORD for that dear brother to challenge me!) on what my faith was in and how I knew I was saved, it was because I prayed. Because of my prayer, I had a sense of security. It is interesting the terms that we find in the Scriptures are RECEIVE, TRUST, BELIEVE even to OBEY in that God commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). I had never believed in my heart. I had placed all my stock in my knowledge of God and the Scriptures that I had assumed I MUST be saved. Concerning the line above- “Often people say that they will lead someone in a prayer if they feel that they have arrived at a point where they are ready to accept Christ.” I may step on toes here, but if I were to lead someone in a prayer for salvation because I feel they have arrived at a certain point, isn’t that too many ‘I’s? I don’t know the condition of ‘this’ soul or that soul. Even in speaking the Truth to someone, we don’t know their hearts. We should be perceptive in knowing if the soul we are speaking but the LORD does not expect us nor would He take pleasure in us discerning another person’s heart. This is the Holy Spirit’s. The Holy Spirit can apply the conviction to the soul through the Word of God. We need to preach the Word of God, and allow the God’s Spirit to convict. This was my problem- I said to myself I KNOW MY OWN HEART, I KNOW GOD. Yet, Jeremiah 17:9 states it so plainly. My heart is just like everyone’s heart- DESPERATELY WICKED. It was when my heart was challenged that I realized my dire need, and I believed God. I trusted Him and that it was on Christ that all my sin was laid. Praise God for His long-suffering towards me.
Good Morning Caleb,
I stumbled across your blog through Mark’s blog. I really enjoyed reading this post. I believe the biggest problem with the “sinner’s prayer” (and I think you mentioned it too) is that there is no real repentance involved. I’ve been to churches before where the people just seem to “live” the sinner’s prayer every Sunday. The mindset it that the sinner’s prayer is sort of like a “get out of jail free card.”
Verbal acknowledgement of who Christ is means nothing without faith and true, genuine repentance. Even the demons know who Christ is (Luke 4:41). Those who are saved will not only acknowledge that Christ is Lord but will also live in obedience to Him, like a wise man who built his house upon a rock (Matthew 7:24-25)
Thanks for sharing this post.