If you were to ask me, “When did you get saved?” my immediate response would be, “15th September 2015”. That was the day I said the Sinner’s Prayer and genuinely meant every word of it. Like countless other Christians, that particular day when I said the Sinner’s Prayer marked the “defining moment” when I professed my faith in Christ.

Understanding the Sinners’ Prayer

The Sinner’s Prayer is typically employed during an altar call at the conclusion of a sermon by pastors, to invite sinners to welcome Jesus into their hearts. 

While the wording varies, it usually involves a simple and heartfelt prayer that often goes something like this:

“Dear Lord Jesus, I am a sinner. I repent of my sins and ask for your forgiveness. I believe that you died for my sins and rose again. Please come into my heart and be my Lord and Savior. In Jesus’ name, I pray, amen.”

While the Sinner’s Prayer is sincere and well-intentioned, it’s important to acknowledge that it does raise some Biblical concerns. In this blog post, we will delve into some of these concerns that merit consideration when employing this practice.

A woman in church lifting her hands while saying the sinners' prayer

1. Lack of Scriptural Precedence

The practice of the “Sinner’s Prayer” is a relatively recent development within Christianity. It became popular in the 19th and 20th centuries, primarily as a tool for evangelism. While it has become a widely accepted practice, one of the main concerns with the Sinners’ Prayer is that it’s not taught in Scripture.  

Don’t get me wrong here. Its absence in the Bible doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s an unbiblical practice. However, it becomes problematic when it’s perceived as the only way in which one can come to faith in Christ as if reciting the prayer in itself has the power to save. Which is the case in most churches.

But nowhere in the Bible do we find a specific template for a prayer that guarantees salvation. In fact, the New Testament reveals a variety of ways people came to faith, For instance, there are examples where individuals believed and were baptized (Acts 2:41), where faith led to immediate conversion (e.g. the thief on the cross in Luke 23:39-43), and cases where people were saved after hearing the Gospel (Acts 16:14-15). 

The Bible teaches that salvation is a matter of faith (Eph 2:8). Whether or not one says the Sinners’ prayer doesn’t matter. What matters is whether they believe in what Christ accomplished for them on the cross.

Romans 10:9-10, a commonly cited passage in support of the Sinners’ Prayer, actually emphasizes the importance of faith, not just a spoken confession. It reads, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

While the Sinner’s Prayer can be a meaningful way for individuals to express their faith and commitment to Christ, it should not be seen as the exclusive or sole means of salvation. Instead, it should be understood within the broader context of a transformative relationship with Christ, involving genuine conviction of sins, faith in Christ, and a commitment to follow Him.

2. Salvation is a Gift

A key element of the Sinner’s Prayer involves the act of “inviting” Jesus to enter one’s heart.

While I get the sentiment behind the expression, Scripture does not approach salvation in this way. It however teaches that salvation is a gift that God initiates in a sinner’s heart. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works so that no one may boast.”

Sinners in the Bible are described as those who are “dead in sins” (Eph 2:1). Their mind is set on the flesh and, therefore, hostile to God (Rom 8:7). Consequently, left to their own devices a sinner cannot seek after God (Rom 3:11). 

Unless their heart is supernaturally regenerated by the Holy Spirit, a person who is spiritually dead in their sins and trespasses doesn’t have the capacity to invite Jesus into their heart or make a decision for Him.

Considering this, salvation is not something we can lead someone into by pressing them to say a prayer because faith in Christ is not something we can conjure up ourselves. As such, the “Sinners’ Prayer” can only be a meaningful expression of faith when it represents a genuine belief in Christ brought about by the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, it’s just mere lip service.

“I frequently hear persons exhorted to give their hearts to Christ… But that is not the Gospel. Salvation comes from something that Christ gives you, not something that you give to Christ. The giving of your heart to Christ follows after the receiving from Christ of eternal life by faith.”
Charles Spurgeon

3. True Repentance vs. Words

When reciting the “Sinner’s Prayer” people are typically asked to confess their belief in Jesus as the Son of God by acknowledging their sins and asking for forgiveness. While a confession of faith is indeed a critical aspect of salvation (Rom 10:9), it must be accompanied by genuine repentance.

Contrary to what most believe today, repentance is not merely asking for forgiveness. It involves a sincere turning away from sin and a desire to live in accordance with God’s will. In Acts 2:38, Peter told those who asked what they must do to be saved: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” 

It is in light of this that the Bible emphasizes that true faith produces good works. In James 2:17, we read, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Belief is not a one-time utterance but a continuous, transformative relationship with Christ characterized by repentance.

While the Sinners’ Prayer, as a practice, can serve as an initial expression of faith and a sincere desire for salvation, in isolation, it can sometimes give the impression that saying the right words is enough for salvation, without a corresponding change in lifestyle.

4. False Conversions

It’s not uncommon to encounter people who have repeatedly prayed the Sinner’s Prayer. Heck, I was one of them! And if my memory serves me right, I think I walked down the church aisle and said the Sinners’ Prayers probably 6 times before I was genuinely converted. Regrettably, after each of those initial professions, it didn’t take long for me to revert to my old sinful ways. 

In hindsight, I recognize that I was, in fact, a false convert.

Upon reflection, I can pinpoint several reasons that prompted me to respond to those altar calls. And for all six instances, it wasn’t because I was burdened by the weight of my sin.

Instead, my decisions were influenced by an emotionally charged atmosphere, observing my friends making their way to the front and feeling the social pressure not to be left behind.

Since then, I have witnessed many instances where the Sinner’s Prayer has been misused or employed to manipulate people into inviting Jesus into their lives. This is particularly common in the context of conferences, revivals, crusades, and even regular Sunday gatherings. Especially today when the success of a sermon, a church, or a ministry is measured by how many people say the Sinners’ Prayer.

In a bid to get people to come forward and say the Sinners’ Prayer, pastors will preach sermons that stir up people’s emotions, deliberately use slow music during altar calls that create a heightened emotional atmosphere, or encourage the congregation to cheer when someone steps forward.

Such environments, intentionally or unintentionally serve as tools that emotionally manipulate people into “accepting” Jesus Christ. Sadly, this is often done as a mere formality rather than a genuine expression of faith. It is in this way that the “Sinner’s Prayer” can lead to false converts who often struggle with uncertainty about whether a particular recitation was the one that solidified their faith. 

Or worse yet, it can lead to false converts who have a false security. “Converts” who are inoculated against having a deep and sober understanding of what it means to follow Jesus; counting the cost and carrying one’s cross (Mark 8:34-38; Luke 14:28) making them immune to the true Gospel altogether.

Related: Why the Youth Are Leaving the Church -My Thoughts

Final Thoughts

While the “Sinner’s Prayer” is well-intentioned and has helped many people like me profess their faith, it’s essential to view it with a discerning and biblical perspective. It’s important to recognize that salvation is fundamentally a matter of the heart. It’s not about reciting a scripted prayer but about repenting from our sins, believing in Jesus Christ, and living a life that reflects this faith.


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