Q: #245. Do you have to pray a "sinner's prayer" to be saved?
By: Steve Shirley
A: (Rom 10:13) For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
This verse is the basis for my discussion on this topic. There is much controversy today about whether or not a person needs to actually pray what is often referred a "sinner's prayer" to be saved (go to Heaven after you die) or not. Some say that simply "believing in Jesus" is enough (i.e. Jn 3:16) (See my note below). Others say that it is more than simple belief . If I were to get into what various groups believe a person needs to do to be saved, I would be writing a book here. So, I am focusing solely on the "sinner's prayer."
*** Note: Here is an example I use concerning "just believing." Judas certainly had a "belief" in Jesus to some degree. He was one of His 12 disciples that "left everything and followed" Him (Mt 19:27)(Mk 10:28), and even performed miracles and cast out demons in His name (Mt 10:1-8)(Mk 3:13-19). However, Judas clearly did not have the right kind of "belief in Jesus" (Jn 6:64), and was not saved (Jn 17:12)(Mt 26:24)(Jn 6:70-71).
Let me begin by stating my view right off that I believe a "sinner's prayer" IS a Biblical thing. I will freely admit that there is nowhere in the Bible that actually shows people "praying to be saved," but this does not mean it was never done. Christians believe in a triune God (the trinity), but the Bible never uses the word "trinity." Nonetheless, we believe in a triune God because the concept is shown in the Bible. I believe the same holds true for a "sinner's prayer."
(Rom 10:13) is the main verse pointing to a "sinner's prayer". It is actually part of a group of verses that some call "the Roman Road." These are several verses found in Romans that some groups use to lead people to the Lord and salvation. Usually, (Rom 10:13) is the last step that people take in coming to Christ for salvation. (The preceding verses, (Rom 10:9-10) mention that "confessing" [Gr = "homologeo" Strong's - lit. "to speak the same thing"] Jesus and His resurrection leads to salvation, which I also believe points to praying.)
I believe that "calling" upon the Lord to be saved means praying. I also believe the Lord = Jesus. So, in other words, we are "praying to Jesus to ask Him to save us." Let me explain my thinking on this.
First, the words "call upon" the Lord are shown numerous times in the Bible to refer to prayer. The Greek word for "call" in Greek as found in (Rom 10:13) is epikaleomai, and the short, primary definition is: appeal (unto), call (on, upon), surname. It is used 15 times in the New Testament. How do you "call" or "appeal" to God? It seems clear to me, that when we call to God, we call this "prayer." For example, in (Acts 7:59), it says, "They went on stoning Stephen as he called (epikaleomai) on the Lord and said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!"" Stephen was calling out to or praying to Jesus.
There are also some good Old Testament verses showing "call upon" as praying.
(Prov 1:28) Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer...
(Jer 29:12) Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will not hearken unto you.
Let me give you something else to consider. When you, as a Christian, need healing, what do you do? Don't you "call upon" God in prayer to heal you? When you need forgiveness, don't you "call upon" God in prayer to forgive you? Don't you pray to God for ANYTHING you need help with? Do you just "believe" God is going to heal you, or help you with your need? Or, do you couple your belief with prayer when you bring your petition to God? Doesn't the Bible say this is the proper thing to do: (Mt 21:22)(Mk 11:24)(Jas 1:5-8)? Why is the same not true in "asking Jesus (God) to save you?" I believe this is exactly what (Rom 10:13) is saying. You are coupling your "belief" in what you have been told you need to do to be saved with prayer, ASKING Jesus to save you. CRYING OUT to Him!
Here is another way I think about this. The
Bible tells us in several places that when we are saved (or born again), the
Holy Spirit comes to live inside of us (i.e. Eph 1:13-14). This is the proof
of our salvation. From the moment He comes in, you belong to God and are
"sealed with the Holy Spirit." So, the Holy Spirit does not live in you (you
aren't a Christian), and in an INSTANT, He does live in you, and you ARE a
Christian (He doesn't come in gradually). How does the Holy Spirit come in?
I think about it like this. Let's say you (paralleling God) are standing
outside of the door of my house. Do you come into my house because you
"believe" I want you to come in, or do you knock on the door and come in
when I open (or unlock) the door and invite you to come in? I believe this
parallels what happens with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Jesus doesn't just
walk into our house (= to our body), He "stands at the door knocking,"
waiting for you to invite Him in (see Rev 3:20 for a picture of this).
** Doesn't it make more sense to say Jesus waits to be invited in than to say He invites Himself in without being asked?
There seems to be a movement lately which is saying that asking someone to pray a prayer for salvation is somehow a "bad thing" and "misleading" (someone might pray and not mean it, so they are given a false sense of security that because they prayed, they are saved). It is said to be better to just "present the Gospel," send them on their way, let them think about what you have said, and maybe at a later time they will accept Jesus and be saved. How often do we see this done in the Bible though?? In fact, I see the the exact OPPOSITE happening over and over. Let's look in Acts:
(Acts 2:37-41) About 3000 at Pentecost believed "that day" after hearing Peter.
(Acts 4:4) At Solomon's Porch about 5000 men "who had heard the message (of Peter) believed" the SAME day.
(Acts 8:34-38) The Ethiopian eunuch was immediately converted.
(Acts 16:13-15) Lydia heard Paul's message "and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things shown by Paul" (immediately after he spoke), and she was baptized.
(Acts 16:29-35) Paul and Silas "spoke the word of the Lord" to the jailer and all his household. "That very hour" they were all baptized, "having believed in God."
I am not saying that it is wrong in and of itself to share the Gospel with someone and give them a chance to think about what you have said. But, what I AM saying is that there is equally nothing wrong with sharing the Gospel with someone and then asking them if they want to accept Christ right on the spot, and leading them in prayer to make that decision. More often than not, people in the Bible were converted IMMEDIATELY after hearing the Gospel presented.
I would also add two more comments for those who say it is "wrong" to lead someone in a "sinner's prayer." First, I think it is important for everyone to understand that NO ONE is going to be saved unless they are first drawn by the Father (Jn 6:44). Whether you believe a person shouldn't pray or should, they are not going to be saved unless drawn. I don't see how anyone can say it is misleading to pray with someone to accept Christ, but it isn't to say "think about what I have told you, and if you believe it, you will be saved." Either can mistakenly lead a person to believe they are saved. I can tell you from experience, I mistakenly believed I was saved because of what I learned in church. THIRTY-TWO years later, I learned the truth.
Secondly, when you offer to pray with someone for salvation, it is not a "demand," it is an "offer." They do not need to accept that offer (I have had many refuse my offer). But, some genuinely want to "call" upon Jesus and ask Him into their life in response to what they have heard. However, they have no idea what to say or pray, and I see no harm in helping them. If they aren't ready (or aren't being drawn), they aren't going to be saved, but they may have a MIRACULOUS life changing moment. I have seen lives change INSTANTLY in response to crying out to Jesus in prayer for salvation, INCLUDING MINE. On the flip side, I have seen people pray the prayer who obviously did not become Christians (based on the lives they led after praying). My job is to "present the Gospel" and share with people how to be saved (including I believe praying), but it is God's job to draw them and actually save them.
Now, you might now be asking, "Are you saying that if I didn't pray a sinner's prayer, I am not saved?" No, I am not going to presume any such thing. Only God can know that. Nor am I saying that everyone who prays a "sinner's prayer" is saved. I have no doubt there are MILLIONS of people in this world who have prayed a "sinner's prayer" who are not saved at all. The Bible says a person must be taught (Rom 10:14-15,17)(Eph 1:13), understand, and accept certain things before he/she can pray that prayer. I could not just walk up to some stranger and say, "Hey, there is this wonderful place called Heaven that you can go to when you die. All you have to do to go to this place is pray a prayer saying you believe in this guy named Jesus. Do you want to pray this prayer?"
Ultimately, what I am saying is this. If the Bible says that I need to forgive someone (Mt 6:14-15), I should to forgive. If the Bible says I need to "love my neighbor as myself" (Mt 19:19)(Mk 12:31)(Mt 22:39), I need to "love my neighbor as myself." If the Bible says I should not lie (Ex 20:16), I shouldn't lie. And, pertaining to being saved, if the Bible says I need to:
Repent to be converted (Acts 3:19) or I will perish (Lk 13:3,5)(2 Pet 3:9). I think repentance is important for salvation.
Admit that I am a sinner (Rom 3:10,23)(1 Jn 1:8,10), and accept that only Jesus Christ can save me from Hell (Rom 6:23)(1 Pet 2:24) through His shed blood on the cross (Col 1:14)(Eph 1:7), I had better accept Jesus' payment for my sins.
Believe in Jesus to have eternal life (Jn 3:16)(Jn 1:12-13), then belief is crucial.
"Confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus (Lord = realizing Jesus is God), and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved" (Rom 10:9-10), then this should be done.
And finally, if the Bible says to "call upon the name of the Lord" (Rom 10:13) to be saved, I think it is important to "call upon" (or pray to) Jesus to be saved.
Do you HAVE take all these steps? Maybe not. But, when I share the Gospel, I am going to teach each of these steps because I believe they are ALL Biblical and ALL important, not just one or two. But, feel free to disagree.