The Danger of Emphasizing “The Sinner’s Prayer”

by Jared Moore on March 6, 2013 · 174 comments

This article was originally posted at my site. I’m married with three children, an SBC pastor, a PhD student at SBTS, and an average Southern Baptist. I’ve authored two books. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and YouTube.

An Example of “The Sinner’s Prayer”:

Dear God, I know I’m a sinner. I know my sin deserves to be punished. I believe Christ died for me and rose from you grave. I trust Jesus alone as my Savior. Thank you for the forgiveness and everlasting life I now have. In Jesus’ name, amen.1

I can remember early in ministry looking for the Sinner’s prayer in Scripture, and when I couldn’t find it, I was shocked. I can also remember being terrified early in my ministry that I would say the sinner’s prayer wrong when I attempted to point sinners to Christ with it. For, if I got it wrong, regardless if they prayed the prayer or not, they would still be lost! This mentality is wicked, for it adds to the gospel of Christ. By believing that sinners cannot be saved without “The Sinner’s Prayer” (see above), we communicate that “The Sinner’s Prayer” is essential for salvation, even though the Bible knows no such reality.  In his dissertation on the subject, Paul Chitwood warns us of emphasizing “The Sinner’s Prayer”:

This ethical consideration for evangelism applies to usage of the Sinner’s Prayer in much the same manner as the first. When a prayer is the supreme goal of a witnessing encounter and based upon that prayer we determine our success or failure in leading lost souls to conversion, we run the risk of allowing that prayer to become a stumbling block.  On the one hand, we may as [Jim] Elliff charges, bring people to “believe in the efficacy of a prayer and not the efficacy of Christ’s work.” When we do so, the prayer becomes a stumbling block to that person’s salvation, the chief stumbling block indeed. On the other hand, we may communicate to people who have not prayed the prayer that they are lost and without praying the prayer they cannot be saved. I refer back to the incident recounted by George Martin in which a pastor had a young boy repeat the prayer again to be certain he had done it correctly so the church family could, in good conscience, acknowledge the boy’s salvation.  We also recall Leonard’s comments, “At the slightest doubt, simply pray the prayer again and settle it.  Lots of people repudiated earlier events—childhood professions dimmed by age, aisle walking without understanding, praying the prayer without meaning it, or praying the wrong prayer.” It may very well be that we have indeed “enthroned” the Sinner’s Prayer to the point that it has become a stumbling block instead of a stepping-stone as a method in evangelism (pg. 122-123).2

When pastors, evangelists, church leaders, etc. make “The Sinner’s Prayer” necessary for salvation, they add to the gospel, and thus make it twice as hard for someone to truly trust in Christ (It is no different than making baptism necessary for salvation. At least baptism is in Scripture.). In other words, in trying to simplify the gospel, we’ve actually added to the gospel, possibly eliminating the gospel in the process. For, if our hearer(s) trust in the prayer instead of in Christ, they are doomed for Hell while possessing assurance (false) of their salvation. I fear there will be millions of sinners in Hell who prayed “The Sinners Prayer,” but there will be none in Hell who repented of their sin and put their faith in Christ. Instead of emphasizing “The Sinner’s Prayer,” let us emphasize repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ, who died and rose from the dead to forgive us of our sins and bring us into right relationship with God.

1“May I ask you a Question?” (Dallas: EvanTell, 1996). 2Paul Harrison Chitwood, “The Sinner’s Prayer: An Historical and Theological Analysis,” (Dissertation, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2001).

This article was originally posted at my site. I’m married with three children, an SBC pastor, a PhD student at SBTS, and an average Southern Baptist. I’ve authored two books. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and YouTube.

1 Rick Patrick March 6, 2013 at 7:10 pm

I will grant your point about not making the Sinner’s Prayer the requirement for salvation when it is truly repentance and faith. However, the Sinner’s Prayer, when properly used with integrity, is a fantastic way of helping people to express that repentance and faith to the Lord.

I believe the far greater danger lies in NOT giving people such a clear way to express their repentance and faith to God. Weighing everything in balance, the Sinner’s Prayer is a very good thing. Those who claim otherwise are really starting to make me nauseous.

2 Joshua T March 6, 2013 at 7:39 pm

Rick,

Why is there a danger in not giving them a clear way to express it? Does the Holy Spirit intercede for us our not? I will agree it is foolish for a minster to not explain. But I can’t see how there is danger.

3 Nate March 6, 2013 at 9:59 pm

Joshua,

I guess Peter shouldn’t have told the people what to do at Pentecost either than… He didn’t leave them wondering what to do.. By telling them Peter wasn’t diminishing the Spirit’s work.

4 Joshua T March 6, 2013 at 10:10 pm

Nate,

Peter was asked a question and he answered it. Please do not make more of my questions than is really there. I was simply wondering what the “danger” was. I completely agree with having a good answer to the question.

5 Nate March 7, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Joshua, your reply seemed to insinuate that clear directions were not necessary. I would contend that Peter would have still given clear directions even if they hadn’t posed the question. Paul did similarly when addressing those who had only been baptized into John the Baptist’s baptism. I do agree that the Scripture and the Holy Spirit would suffice for clear direction, but there is nothing wrong with the pastor giving concise directions on how to be saved.

6 Joshua T March 7, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Nate,

I apologize if that was inappropriately insinuated. I specifically said “I will agree it is foolish for a minster to not explain. But I can’t see how there is danger.”

This was to meant to help emphasis that only my specific question (“Why is there a danger”) mattered with respect to Rick’s statement that there was “far greater danger“.

Since we are in agreement on so much, I don’t want this to get blown out of proportion. I simply wanted an explanation of the minor disagreement.

7 Randall Cofield March 6, 2013 at 7:45 pm

Rick,

Do you see anything wrong with the example of the sinners prayer at the head of Jared’s article?

8 Rick Patrick March 6, 2013 at 10:34 pm

Yes, in the third sentence the word “you” should be “the.”

Also, while it conveys a basic understanding of sin, punishment, the cross, death, burial and resurrection, there is not a very clear statement of repentance or turning from sin. The prayer confesses Jesus as Savior but does not indicate an acknowledgement that He is Lord.

Having said that, I believe a person who genuinely repents of their sin and trusts in Christ could express such faith through a prayer like this one, or even a prayer far worse, and God would still answer such a prayer by entering this person’s heart and saving their soul.

9 Randall Cofield March 6, 2013 at 10:54 pm

No problem with the blatant presumptuousness in the next-to-last line?

10 Rick Patrick March 7, 2013 at 12:23 am

If everything that preceded the last line was sincere and genuine, then there is no presumption at all, just the gospel faithfulness of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who is mighty to save “whosoever” believeth in Him!

11 Randall Cofield March 7, 2013 at 12:45 am

Rick,

If everything that preceded the last line was sincere and genuine, then there is no presumption at all…

And if everything that preceded the last line was not sincere, the one leading the person in the “Sinner’s Prayer” has just aided and abetted the sinner in committing the breathtaking-awful sin of presumption.

That’s a huuuuuge “IF.”

As there is no inscripturated evidence of anyone leading sinners in a sinner’s prayer, I’ll stick with the Peterine Pentecostal Practice–command ‘em to repent and exhort and bear witness with many other words…

The “Sinner’s Prayer” made me “nauseous” even before I became a Calvinist…

12 Rick Patrick March 7, 2013 at 7:32 am

We should never give anyone the impression that insincerely praying words will save them.

Then again, I’ve never heard anyone tell people such a thing.

What you guys really oppose, deep down, is not the prayer itself, but the insincere and false profession that makes such a prayer a farce. You are throwing out the baby with the bath water.

13 dean March 6, 2013 at 7:24 pm

If you have a person witnessing who says put your hope in this prayer then you have a spiritual idiot witnessing. The sinners prayer has become one of the ultimate straw men in the debate on Calvinism in the SBC. Jared, you speak of becoming angry and annoyed because your views of Calvinism are misrepresented. I would like for you to share quotes and names of trads who believe the sinners prayer is “necessary for salvation.” What book did you read that from? Once again, you have created an imaginary friend to play with. Have fun!

14 Jared Moore March 6, 2013 at 9:48 pm

Dean, this is not a Calvinist/Traditionalist issue.

15 dean March 6, 2013 at 10:47 pm

Jared, I am sorry. I can’t possibly know your heart. Maybe when you wrote this article you had no inkling of trads and the sinners prayer resolution in the convention. Maybe you had no thought of defending your beliefs as a Calvinist. I spent about 20 minutes looking at articles that came up on voices when I typed in “sinners prayer” in the voices search box. There were many. Those articles are usually followed by comment streams a mile long where debate rages between Calvinist and trads. Jared, it is a trad/Cal issue. I will stop short of telling you that I don’t believe you when you say you don’t believe its a trad/Cal issue. What is clear to everyone else who has read the SBC blogs very often is it is a Cal/trad issue to everyone else.

16 Jared Moore March 6, 2013 at 10:52 pm

Dean, I was against using “The Sinner’s Prayer” even when I believed like you concerning soteriology. I don’t see it as a Calvinist/Traditionalist issue. I think there’s people on both sides who have seen it abused, and realize the danger of emphasizing it.

17 Joshua T March 6, 2013 at 10:58 pm

Jared,

I know it doesn’t prove your point by both my father-in-law and I sat in wonder at last year’s convention over the Sinner’s Prayer. He a Trad and me a Calvin finally agreed on something. Neither of us like it.

In a similar fashion, one of the elders at my church is Wesleyan-Arminian and we too are in agreement that the emphasis on the Sinner’s Prayer can be detrimental.

This doesn’t have to be a soteriological debate. But I agree with Dean that it does seem to be a chosen battle ground by both sides.

18 Tom Fillinger March 6, 2013 at 7:30 pm

The text of Scripture calls upon sinners to, 1. Repent, and 2. Believe. The ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ as I have seen it used makes absolutely no mention of repentance. For that reason alone it is a seriously flawed resource. When examining the text of Scripture those expressing faith were not coached or instructed on what to say but what to do.

19 Karen March 7, 2013 at 4:55 pm

I do not understand your comment. The word “repentance” is not used, but it seems to me that the concept clearly is there, with the prayer talking about my sin deserving to be punished and forgiveness coming through Jesus.

20 Christiane March 6, 2013 at 7:34 pm

JARED,

there is a prayer that is of very ancient origin still used in Eastern Christianity today (and in the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church also), this:

“ ????? ????? ??????, ??? ??? ????, ??????? ?? ??? ?????????. ”

“ Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. ”

It is said to be based upon the prayer of the publican in the Gospel of St. Luke, and has a praxis origin so ancient that no one can pinpoint exactly when it first became a part of Christian worship.

21 Christiane March 6, 2013 at 7:35 pm

sorry about the ???’s . . . I tried to copy the Greek alphabet spelling of the original prayer . . .

22 Bob Cleveland March 6, 2013 at 7:40 pm

In the context of making disciples .. not just getting Sunday morning “professions” .. I have to ask how it’s working.

23 Randall Cofield March 6, 2013 at 7:49 pm

It ain’t. 16m SB church members, 10m AWOL.

No use in anyone telling me there is not a correlation between the two.

Been a pastor too long to be convinced otherwise.

24 dean March 6, 2013 at 8:01 pm

Randal, how many of those 16 m SB were led to make a profession of faith using the sinner’s prayer? How many of those 16 m SB are on more than one church roll inflating the number of members we have as SB? Randal, how many of those SB were never made disciples by any means at all following the profession? How may of those 16 m SB made professions of faith at high pressure events and evangelistic endeavors and were not sincere? My point is you are too smart of a person simply to say this is what I am going to hang my hat on as the direct correlation between our membership and attendance – the sinner’s prayer. Without solid research you simply can’t make such a claim with validity. You can point out the lack of repentance in Jared’s sinner’s prayer at the top and make a real argument against sinners prayer. Your correlation is not a reasonable argument. Its not provable or dependable.

25 Randall Cofield March 6, 2013 at 11:09 pm

Dean,

You said:

My point is you are too smart of a person simply to say this is what I am going to hang my hat on as the direct correlation between our membership and attendance – the sinner’s prayer.

I said: “No use in anyone telling me there is not a correlation between the two.”

See the difference?

Again, I’ve been a pastor too long–and have seen the Sinner’s Prayer abused too often–to be convinced otherwise.

The number of people I have seen living so hellishly you could smell the smoke on them–yet were clinging to a prayed Sinner’s Prayer–is staggering.

26 theoldadam March 6, 2013 at 8:05 pm

The only thing about that prayer (example) that I’m not too crazy about is the “…I now have.”

That could be construed by some that they have it as a result of their prayer…or as a result of something that they felt, or did, or said, or prayed.

They have it the moment when God gives them the gift of faith. The Bible tells us that that comes as a result of hearing (really hearing) the gospel.

__

We confess our sin (corporately) and thank God for having mercy on us and saving us each week in worship (as well as everyday, or as often as we are moved to do so as individuals…all throughout the week…and throughout our lives).

27 David R. Brumbelow March 6, 2013 at 8:39 pm

Is the Sinner’s Prayer in the Bible? Yes.

And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’
-Luke 18:13

9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
-Romans 10:9-10

For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
-Romans 10:13

http://gulfcoastpastor.blogspot.com/2009/09/saved-by-sinners-prayer.html

No one is in Hell who prayed the Sinner’s Prayer and meant it.
David R. Brumbelow

28 Tom Fillinger March 6, 2013 at 9:02 pm

The tax collector spoke from the depths of his being – no one “coached” him on what to say.

29 Joshua T March 6, 2013 at 9:34 pm

David,

Perhaps you should have quoted 1 John 1:9. I’m not sure Romans can be used as a “confession of sin” text. It really is more of a confession that Christ is above Ceaser and God rules over all. God bless.

30 Randall Cofield March 6, 2013 at 11:55 pm

David R. Brumbelow,

None of these texts constitute what is being used as a “Sinner’s Prayer” in the SBC.

The publican spoke voluntarily out of the depths of his conviction, and both of the Romans texts are simple declarative statements.

If there was a “Sinner’s Prayer” in scripture, Peter sure missed a golden opportunity on the Day of Pentecost.

Poor Peter, rather than leading a mass “Sinner’s Prayer,” foolishly commanded those convicted by his words to “repent.” He then wasted all kinds of time and effort by continuing “with many other words” to “bear witness” and “exhort” them.

Of course, 3,000 were miraculously converted by the power of the Holy Spirit–and that without a hint of a “Sinner’s Prayer.”

Perhaps we need a new resolution at this year’s SBC:

WHEREAS the Apostle Peter probably understood how to correctly present the Gospel and call sinners to repentance and faith…

(Throw in a half-dozen or so additional WHEREAS’s to make it official)

RESOLVED: That we promote the biblical means of commanding those under the convicting power of the Holy Spirit to repent, and that we continue with many words to bear witness and exhort them to flee from the wrath to come.

31 Christiane March 7, 2013 at 11:44 am

:)
I think you are right about the Presence of the Holy Spirit bringing the power for conversions.

The concept of the Presence of God amongst us is often spoken of as a ‘Holy Fire’, even in the Old Testament.

In the second century A.D., St. Justin Martyr also wrote of the Presence of this Holy Fire at the baptism of Our Lord:
“When Jesus went down in the water,
fire was kindled in the Jordan;
and when He came up from the water,
the Holy Spirit came upon Him.”

Repentance and the power of the Holy Spirit . . . apparently key to the growth of the Church, yes.

32 Jess Alford March 7, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Randall,

It cannot be said any better than you just did. Thank you.

33 Jess Alford March 7, 2013 at 11:10 am

David,

No one can be saved without being called, either.

34 Christiane March 7, 2013 at 1:31 pm

JESS,
you wrote: ‘No one can be saved without being called, either.”
and I would emphasize that WAS Our Lord’s intention when He came amongst us, as it testified to us through the revelation of sacred Scripture:
His mission was to compassionately call to Himself the ones who were ‘lost and harassed and without a Shepherd’

(from the Holy Gospel of St. Luke 5:32)
I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

(from the Holy Gospel of St. Matthew 9:13)
“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’
For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.””

(from the Holy Gospel of St. Mark 2:17)
” On hearing this, Jesus said to them,
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.
I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

(from the Holy Gospel of St. Luke 5:31)
” Jesus answered them,
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”

35 theoldadam March 6, 2013 at 8:43 pm

Praying to God and asking His forgiveness is all over the Bible.

Being saved by something that you do, say, feel, or think…is not in the Bible.

The Holy Spirit creates and gives the gift of faith, when and where He wills.

That’s what Jesus told Niccodemus.

36 Jess Alford March 6, 2013 at 9:22 pm

The Sinners Prayer (repeat after me) is responsible for sending more folks to hell, second only to not being called. This is why parents and pastors should not prey on young children. They are already saved until they become accountable for their sins.

37 Jon March 6, 2013 at 9:36 pm

The sinner’s prayer is where I started. It’s arguably the only thing I could have understood at the age of eight. It’s a simple point and probably the most profound one to make. It intersects the person’s life at a moment of crisis. And that’s not a good time to introduce subtleties regarding sovereignty and freedom, and eternity and time!

38 TimG March 6, 2013 at 9:43 pm

“Dear God, I know I’m a sinner. I know my sin deserves to be punished. I believe Christ died for me and rose from you grave. I trust Jesus alone as my Savior. Thank you for the forgiveness and everlasting life I now have. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

Just for the record, I have never heard “the sinners prayer” worded this way and I would never lead someone to use one similar.

And now to the theme of the post: This argument is getting beyond silly. Maybe someone can point me to a person who believes the “sinners prayer” saves someone, but as Christian of 35 years, and Southern Baptist all that time, I have never heard someone say “it” saves someone.

This is the ultimate straw man!

39 Jared Moore March 6, 2013 at 9:59 pm

Tim, I’ve heard numerous pastors/evangelists say, “If you meant that prayer in your heart, you’re saved.” I’ve also heard numerous evangelists tell those who’ve prayed the prayer, “If Satan ever causes you to doubt your salvation in the future, remember this day that you asked Jesus into your heart.”

I have heard the sinner’s prayer abused many times.

40 Tim G March 6, 2013 at 11:18 pm

Romans 10:13 “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

That does it for me. And you better believe I will encourage one to have assurance when they have lived out this verse.

Why?

1 John 5:13 “I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

41 Jared Moore March 6, 2013 at 11:30 pm

Tim, even the Pharisee in Luke 18:10-14 “called out to the Lord.” Yet, Jesus said he went away without being justified. Also, one day many will say to Jesus, “Lord, Lord,” yet He will say, “Depart from Me, I never knew you.”

We must tell Christians to trust in Jesus alone for their salvation. If Jesus indwells them, they will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit’s work in their lives described by the apostle John in 1 John. We trust in Christ alone, not our own so-called “sincerity” when we “cry out to God.” The proof of the sincerity is the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. No fruit = a previously insincere sinner’s prayer.

42 Tim G March 6, 2013 at 11:35 pm

Jared,
I never said different nor have I ever.

Yet the verse quoted still stands and will forever. It is truth. Obviouslybthere was a difference with the Pharisee did. Basic Bible 101 man.

43 Jared Moore March 6, 2013 at 11:42 pm

Tim, so you admit there are ineffectual sinners prayers?

44 gracewriterrandy March 6, 2013 at 11:39 pm

I don’t question whether sinners should call on the name of The Lord or that they will certainly be saved if they do so. What I question is whether they need someone to tell them what to say when they do so. The tax-collector in the temple didn’t need any instruction.

45 Tim G March 6, 2013 at 11:44 pm

Jared,
What Joel O does probably fits this post. What I do and what I have seen and heard others do does not.

46 Adam G. in NC March 7, 2013 at 2:52 am

see my post below

47 Jon March 6, 2013 at 9:50 pm

Good point, TimG. What’s happening is that people are doing what they always do: they’re swinging back and forth. We can’t just be in the middle. That’s what this whole thing is about for the past two years. Everything is Calvinism and Arminianism, God’s actions and ours, etc. I’m waiting for a really new subject and when it arises I’m gonna’ keel over.

48 Tim G March 6, 2013 at 11:18 pm

That makes two of us!

49 theoldadam March 6, 2013 at 9:52 pm

I have heard plenty of people tell me that they “accepted Jesus”…or “made their decision for Jesus”.

Is this an outcropping of that prayer, or similar prayers?

The words “accept Jesus”…or “decide for Jesus”…do not appear anywhere in the New Testament.

God decided for us. He accepts us…even as we were yet sinners.

50 Adam G. in NC March 7, 2013 at 2:53 am

Steve, you old lutheran, you. I love ya!

51 Jon March 6, 2013 at 9:56 pm

The language of Scripture suggests, I think, that we make a decision or series of decisions that amount to an acceptance or rejection of God and his plan.

52 gracewriterrandy March 6, 2013 at 10:09 pm

Jon,

We do decide, but that is not the issue. The issue is why we make the decisions we make. A person cannot choose that for which he has absolutely no desire and to which he completely averse.

53 Jon March 7, 2013 at 8:39 pm

I know the Calvinist argument. It simply doens’t make sense, and even if it were true, it makes no sense to think about and discuss it, and to become that philosophically subtle.

54 gracewriterrandy March 6, 2013 at 10:07 pm

When, through the preaching of the gospel of grace, God brings sinners to a profound sense of the depths of their guiltiness and pollution before him so that are deeply gripped with their absolute helplessness to satisfy his justice and deliver themselves from sin’s bondage, one does not need to help them call on the Lord’s name.

55 Les Prouty March 6, 2013 at 10:18 pm

Brothers, I’m a Calvinist. Through and through. I’ve seen and been a part of the sinner’s prayer. John Benton is a Calvinist as are all writers of Banner of Truth articles and booklets. See what you think of his approach at the end in my most favorite booklet to give to the lost. Title is Coming to Faith in Christ.

“Can anyone else speak to God for me?

Other people can pray for you, but no one else can make you a Christian. Becoming a Christian, being saved, is something between you and Jesus Christ. It has nothing directly to do with anyone else. Are you sorry for your sin and do you want to finish with it ruling your life? Do you want to be saved from the judgment to come? Do you want to know Christ as your Friend and Lord? Then God’s word to you is:

‘Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.’[44]

You should find a place where you can be alone, and there seek God in prayer.

What shall I say when I pray?

God is not interested in fine words or speeches. But he will listen to anyone who is sincerely wanting to speak to him, whatever words are used. As you pray you should:

Confess your sins to God.

Confess that these sins are evil in God’s sight and you deserve to be sent to hell for them.

Tell God that you have no power to save yourself.

Ask the Lord Jesus to help you repent and believe. Ask him to save you.

Tell Jesus that you want him as the Lord of your life.

Then trust God to hear and answer your prayers because of Jesus Christ, according to his promises in the Bible.

‘Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’[45]

Jesus spoke of a man praying for forgiveness of sin:

‘the tax-collector standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house right with God.’[46]”

http://www.gospelpedlar.com/articles/Salvation/comingtofaith.html

56 Jared Moore March 6, 2013 at 10:28 pm

Les, that’s not “The Sinner’s Prayer.” I encourage sinners to pray as well. I, however, don’t do a “repeat after me” formula prayer, but do something similar to what you describe.

57 Les Prouty March 6, 2013 at 10:35 pm

Jared, I agree what I posted by Benton is not The Sinners Prayer as most understand it. I just want to put out there that Calvinists are not necessarily against us calling on a sinner to call out to God. Seems that many non Calvinists (that’s how the divide usually falls) think we Calvinists are against urging sinners to call on God in prayer. Some may be. But I’d say most are not. Most are very good with something like Benton’s approach.

58 gracewriterrandy March 6, 2013 at 11:01 pm

Here in Costa Rica, I have used many of Benton’s little booklets that have been translated into Spanish. The difficulty I have with the “sinner’s prayer,” is the same problem I have with canned evangelism. Jesus seldom dealt with any one sinner in the same way he dealt with another. There are certain elements that must always be present in the gospel message. The specific message must be tailored to individual sinner’s needs. I have no problem with a general outline of the gospel or a general outline of those sentiments sinner’s should feel in the conversion process. I believe that asking a sinner to repeat a canned prayer is unnecessary. God can tell him what he should confess and on whom he should call.

My larger problem with this method is what people are often told after they “pray.” We cannot know the reality of their faith. We should never assume they have become true believers and should refrain from giving them assurance of salvation.

59 Tim G March 6, 2013 at 11:21 pm

But:
1 John 5:13 “I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

60 gracewriterrandy March 6, 2013 at 11:35 pm

Tim G,

I don’t question that believers can and should enjoy assurance of salvation, but the verse you cited refers to the entire Epistle not to simply believing in Jesus. Additionally, it is God’s Spirit who grants this assurance, not the Christian witness. God knows sinners’ hearts, we don’t.

61 Tim G March 6, 2013 at 11:38 pm

I guess I am going to have to get my nat swatter out. Come on guys. This is getting beyond belief.

62 Tim G March 6, 2013 at 11:41 pm

As if anyone suggested something different? The assurance is based on scripture. Show me where I said different please?

63 gracewriterrandy March 6, 2013 at 11:42 pm

Could you tell me what is beyond belief about my post?

64 Tim G March 6, 2013 at 11:46 pm

This whole straw man discussion. Call up Houston and speak to Joel O and maybe you guys would be making a difference.

65 gracewriterrandy March 6, 2013 at 11:50 pm

To what specific “straw man” are you referring? Having been involved in the methodology we are discussing, I know this is no “straw man.”

66 gracewriterrandy March 6, 2013 at 11:53 pm

I have even heard instruction to the effect that the “soul-winner” should tell the new believer that if he ever has doubts that his conversion was genuine, he is “calling God a liar.”

67 Tim G March 6, 2013 at 11:54 pm

I have never that in SBC life!

68 gracewriterrandy March 6, 2013 at 11:54 pm

I have.

69 Tim G March 6, 2013 at 11:55 pm

Then names and where please!

70 gracewriterrandy March 6, 2013 at 11:56 pm

Simply because you have not experienced something personally, does not mean it does not occur. Unless, of course, you are ubiquitous.

71 Tim G March 6, 2013 at 11:58 pm

Many a time I said the same thing and been asked as I now ask you, names and where please?

72 gracewriterrandy March 6, 2013 at 11:59 pm

I have seen it in several SBC churches in FL and NC. I will not give you the specific names.

73 Tim G March 7, 2013 at 12:01 am

I cannot address hearsay.

74 gracewriterrandy March 6, 2013 at 11:45 pm

Tim G.

It was the “But” before the citation of the 1 Jn verse. That would indicate to me you were taking exception to the statement I have just made, “We should refrain from giving them assurance of salvation.”

75 gracewriterrandy March 6, 2013 at 11:48 pm

Tim,

If I misunderstood your reason for that citation, please forgive me. Perhaps you can tell me what your point was.

76 gracewriterrandy March 6, 2013 at 11:54 pm

Tim,

I am waiting for your response.

77 Tim G March 6, 2013 at 11:55 pm

See all I have written above.

78 gracewriterrandy March 6, 2013 at 11:58 pm

No, we are not discussing what you wrote above. We are discussing your response to what I wrote.

79 gracewriterrandy March 7, 2013 at 12:03 am

Tim,

Have you ever heard the phrase “Praying to receive Jesus?”

80 gracewriterrandy March 7, 2013 at 12:04 am

Well Tim, you have a good night.

81 Tim G March 7, 2013 at 12:04 am

Randy,
I have stated my points. Good night!

82 Jared Moore March 7, 2013 at 12:09 am

Greg, I’m glad you wanted your comment deleted. That was a prime example of an unjustified over-reaction.

83 Ron F. Hale March 7, 2013 at 12:19 am

Jared,
I’m guilty. Yes, it’s true. Over the last 35 years, I have visited prisons, jails, rehab centers, many nations around the world, revivals, street soul-winning, a little radio preaching, and preached in over 350 churches, and I have to admit, I have extended gospel invitations, and used some form of the sinner’s prayer to help lost people turn from their sinful lifestyle and turn to Jesus by calling on Him for salvation.

Man, I’m sorry. I was saved back in the 70’s … after too many Jesus Freaks boldly witnessed to me during the Jesus Movement and Charismatic movement. Like I said, I’m sorry … I just didn’t know any better. They just turned me on to Jesus and I thought I have been doing the right thing all these years.

My bad, I didn’t know the SBC had changed from when I got saved. I’m turning sixty this year, Brother, I’ve just got to get with the new program.

Again, sorry … I will try to catch the new wave.

Blessings!

84 volfan007 March 7, 2013 at 12:33 am

Ron,

:)

David

PS. I have led many people to the Lord…helping them to repent and put thier faith in Jesus….sinners prayer. My 3 children for example were all led to Jesus by using the sinners prayer. My oldest son is a Youth Pastor, today…he loves the Lord. My daughter is married to a young man, who feels called to the Youth ministry…she loves the Lord, and walks close to God. My youngest son is 20 yrs old, and he loves the Lord…is very active in our Church.

Wow, I wish I would’ve know all this, too, Ron, before I messed up by leading my children and so many others to Christ by using the sinners prayer…helping them to pray and ask Jesus to be their Lord and Savior.

85 cb scott March 7, 2013 at 9:35 am

Ron F. Hale and Vol Worley,

What always amazes me about these debates is the fact, and I mean fact, that so many pastors who are in such diametric opposition to asking a lost person to turn to God, upon their Holy Spirit impelled recognition of their being a sinner before a just and righteous God, in repentance and faith in the biblical gospel, openly manifested by a prayer of repentance and faith from a heart filled with Spirit motivated godly sorrow, are pastors whose yearly baptisms can be counted on one hand.

I realize that is not true of all, but it is true of far too many.

86 gracewriterrandy March 7, 2013 at 9:52 am

This is the real issue. God has not told us to count them. He keeps the records. It is the job of the historian to count and report what happened on certain occasions. It is for this reason we have Luke’s records of what occurred in the early days of Christianity. But, mind you, Luke was writing after a lengthy period of observation, not on the day they signed the decision card.

87 cb scott March 7, 2013 at 10:28 am

Randy,

Has anyone here mentioned a “decision card’??

No. You superimpose that of which is not existent upon this debate when you bring in such foolishness as to suggest that anyone here, on either side of the debate, would think the signing of a decision card to be of any value whatsoever toward the salvation of a lost soul.

88 gracewriterrandy March 7, 2013 at 10:56 am

CB,

My point is, it isn’t about the decisions. Who knows, people probably dial in numbers on their cell phones now. Our faithfulness and the success of our ministries is not measured in then number of decisions we can count. You aren’t going to get anyone into the kingdom by having them pray a prayer. You are not going to keep anyone out by not doing so.

Paul wrote that we are always successful when we are faithful in proclaiming the gospel. We may be a savor of death to some and a savor of life to others. That is not our business.

89 cb scott March 7, 2013 at 1:52 pm

Randy,

My point is that the “point” you are making is without merit. It is without merit because no one here believes that signing decision cards has anything to do with being born again from above by the power of the Living God.

90 Jared Moore March 7, 2013 at 10:39 am

CB, the only thing this article is against, and those in this thread are against, is the misuse of the canned “repeat after me” “Sinner’s Prayer,” and the declaration, “You’re saved.” Everything else you said in your quote, no one here is against.

Does God produce baptisms or do we produce baptisms? Also, for the record, it took 2 hands to count the baptisms my first year at this church. I’m optimistic about this year as well, having baptized an 11 year old, and her mother publicly repented three weeks ago, and is now seeking baptism as well. I’ll baptize all who repent and believe and who want to follow Christ in baptism.

If we can manufacture baptisms, then we’re all failures. People are still going to Hell in our communities. We’re not manufacturing enough salvations and baptisms.

91 cb scott March 7, 2013 at 1:45 pm

Jared Moore,

It is my opinion that no one here would believe a manufactured baptism would be in accord with biblical faith.

I am glad you are baptizing people. Keep up the good work of the evangelist. And most certainly, be sure you use no “canned” presentations or prayers in your evangelism.

As for the statements I made; I stand by them. There are guys who do not share the gospel and excuse themselves with by stating they do not believe in the “sinners prayer.”

In addition, it is as I stated with many. They spew about false professions of faith and never seek to share the gospel of our Lord and no children of God are birthed into their flocks.

BTW, you know full well that we do not “produce” baptisms. You also know that I do not believe we “produce” baptisms. However we should be work in accord with the biblical mandate of the Great Commission and baptize all of whom God adds to the flocks to which we have been asigned as shepherds.

92 Jared Moore March 7, 2013 at 1:55 pm

CB, this article is about the “misuse” of “The Sinner’s Prayer” and is against “emphasizing” “The Sinner’s Prayer.” I assume you’re against these things as well.

93 cb scott March 7, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Jared Moore,

Be assured, I am against the misuse of the “sinners prayer.” I will also state that I have witnessed such misuse in cheap grace presentations.

In addition, I am against the hiding behind “the misuse of the sinner’s prayer” to justify the absence of controntational evangelism in the ministry of a local pastor.

To present the gospel and challenge people to prayerfully repent and believe the gospel is not an act of cheapening the Good Story of Jesus. It is the fulfillment of that of which God has called every man He has asigned with the oversight of one of His flocks.

94 Jared Moore March 7, 2013 at 12:49 am

Ron, you don’t want to bring Church History into this discussion. “The Sinner’s Prayer” is virtually absent from Church History from the New Testament Church to the 20th Century. Here’s another quote from Chitwood’s dissertation:

“In addition to the Sinner’s Prayer not occurring in the Bible, it is also absent from the pages of church history. We fail to see it even through the rise of revivalism and mass evangelism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In fact, research suggests that leading lost persons in praying the Sinner’s Prayer is a relatively new method in evangelism. My studies have revealed no occurrence of the Sinner’s Prayer before the twentieth century. The routine use of a model prayer for salvation of any form is also absent before the twentieth century (pg. 4).”

I’m not trying to get you to believe something “new.” I’m trying to get you to be traditional.

95 gracewriterrandy March 7, 2013 at 12:35 am

That didn’t seem to be very sincere. Maybe it was just my imagination

96 volfan007 March 7, 2013 at 12:36 am

Jared,

Let me ask you something…..do you think that any people make a false profession of faith after hearing a Calvinist preach the Gospel, and are “led to Christ” without using a sinners prayer? Dont you think that there are some people, who just dont truly get saved, no matter how a person leads them to Christ?

Even Jesus some people following Him, who were not truly converted. I wonder how many the Early Church had fall away?

David

97 Jared Moore March 7, 2013 at 12:51 am

David, What does Calvinism have to do with this discussion? I didn’t say a word about Calvinism.

Do you think “The Sinner’s Prayer” can be and/or has been abused?

98 volfan007 March 7, 2013 at 12:53 am

Jared,

Please, dont dodge the question. I asked you first!

David

99 Randall Cofield March 7, 2013 at 1:20 am

Volfan,

Dont you think that there are some people, who just dont truly get saved, no matter how a person leads them to Christ?

Granted. Still does not justify the use of questionable means.

Even Jesus some people following Him, who were not truly converted.

How many of those did Jesus lead in the “Sinner’s Prayer”?

I wonder how many the Early Church had fall away?

Number of those who fell away in the NT church after being led in praying the “Sinner’s Prayer”—according to the biblical record:

ZERO

100 volfan007 March 7, 2013 at 1:25 am

Randall,

People fell away from following JESUS. People fell away from the Early Church. People have been making false professions for as long as there has been a Church.

David

101 Randall Cofield March 7, 2013 at 1:36 am

David,

This does not justify the use of questionable means in pointing people to Christ.

102 volfan007 March 7, 2013 at 9:07 am

Randall,

It’s a lot of you, Calvinists, who’ve been saying that Non Calvinists are leading people to false professions by using a sinners prayer…..whenever the truth is that there’s always been people, who make false professions of faith….even in the day when Jesus walked this Earth.

The Parable of the Soils and the Sower.

David

103 gracewriterrandy March 7, 2013 at 12:42 am

I have spent the past 45 years teaching people the gospel of grace and watching God bring them so saving faith in his own time and his own way. Paul wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused it to grow.” The truth is we don’t lead anyone to anything. We must be faithful in witnessing the good news, but only God can bring sinners into a saving relationship with himself.

104 Randall Cofield March 7, 2013 at 1:32 am

The implicit denial by some of the deleterious effects of the “Sinner’s Prayer” can only lead to one of two conclusions:

1) The “some” need to explore the vast SBC realm that exists outside their box.

or

2) The “some” don’t recognize the abuse because they themselves are abusing the “Sinner’s Prayer.”

105 volfan007 March 7, 2013 at 1:35 am

Oh yeah, this kind of talk is gonna lead to unity in the SBC….lol.

And then, some of yall wonder why there is such a backlash against the New Calvinists?

Wow.

David

106 Randall Cofield March 7, 2013 at 1:41 am

David,

I’m not a “New Calvinist.”

Do you deny that the Sinner’s Prayer is abused in SBC churches?

107 Rick Patrick March 7, 2013 at 8:08 am

Whatever you would replace it with would also be abused.

Let’s just say you replace the “Sinner’s Prayer” with some kind of “personal confession of faith” by the new believer. They tell you they really have repented of their sins and placed their faith in Jesus Christ for forgiveness and eternal life. They are a new creation.

You baptize them. They enroll in classes. A few years later, they are nowhere to be found. Your “personal confession of faith” is now said to be responsible for thousands of people going to hell.

This whole argument is totally illogical. We all agree it’s not the prayer that saves them, so it must not be the prayer that sends them to hell either. It’s the false profession, whether that profession is expressed through the Sinner’s Prayer or any other type of communication.

108 Les Prouty March 7, 2013 at 8:54 am

Rick,

We all agree that people falsely come before the church professing faith in Christ, either by a so called sinners prayer or not.

Here’s a question: would you be comfortable going through a booklet such as the one I linked to by Benton or some other one which does not have a pre printed sinners prayer? And urge the person to repent and believe as the booklet pointed out? And then send them home to ponder these things and get back to you? And then a couple days later they come to you and declare that that they’ve repented and believd as you showed them from scripture and the booklet? And you begin there to instruct them in the faith and what God expects of them, and so forth?

I am and have done so many times. Would you be comfortable with that or would you want to see/ hear them pray a prayer?

Les

109 gracewriterrandy March 7, 2013 at 9:16 am

Rick,

The point is, we don’t have to replace it with anything. God never commanded us to do it in the first place. There is not a single example in the evangelism of Jesus and the Apostles of a person being “brought to a decision.” Luke tells us God opened Lydia’s heart so that she attended to the message Paul paul taught. Our task is to be obedient to God in the proclamation of the gospel and leave the results to him.

110 gracewriterrandy March 7, 2013 at 9:35 am

It has been reported that a person said to Spurgeon who refused to invite people to the front but rather invited them to meet with him in his study on Monday night, “You need to strike while the iron is hot.” To this Mr. Spurgeon replied, “If God heats the iron, it will stay hot.”

*For those who have never seen a blacksmith shop, metal was put into the fire and had to be molded and fashioned while it was still red hot and malable.

111 Rick Patrick March 7, 2013 at 10:52 am

Les,

I have no problem with that. Give it twenty years, and I will march tons of people up to tell you they read a book and made a statement to a minister and were accepted into a church but did not sincerely believe what they had done.

I would not, at that moment, declare that “Benton’s booklet has sentenced thousands of people to hell by giving them false assurance.”

As clearly as I know how to put it, there is no method of discerning a decision for Christ that is immune to a false profession–Sinner’s Prayer or Benton’s Booklet or anything else.

The false profession is the real culprit…not the Sinner’s Prayer.

112 Les Prouty March 7, 2013 at 10:58 am

Rick,

By golly, I think maybe, just maybe, we agree. Mark the date. My only point is whether Benton’s booklet or any other, we can show sinners the scripture and leave the rest to God. We don’t really need to lead them to pray in our hearing. We MIGHT do that in some cases. But it isn’t necessary. And we all agree that it can be and has been associated with abuse.

“As clearly as I know how to put it, there is no method of discerning a decision for Christ that is immune to a false profession–Sinner’s Prayer or Benton’s Booklet or anything else.”

Agree. We ultimately cannot know with certainty anyone’s heart. And any method will not be fool proof. No booklet will be fool proof. Tares will pop up amidst he wheat.

Blessings,

Les

113 Adam G. in NC March 7, 2013 at 1:49 am

True Story…saw it with my own two eyes and heard it with my own two ears…

Last Fall a teenage boy says to a Youth Pastor at my old home church, “I want to believe in Jesus, but I dont know how”. The pastor takes 5 minutes and leads him in a sentence-for-sentence recitation of a very convoluted version of the prayer listed at the top of this article.
When they were done, the pastor says, I quote, “as far as I’m concerned, you’re a saved man.”
His wife comes in and the pastor exitedly says “so-and-so just prayed to receive Jesus!”. Celebrations commenced. He clearly substituted the meaning of the words “got saved” with “praying to receive Jesus”.

That youth attended about half of youth meetings/activities for the next two months and as far as I know hasnt been back since.

114 Adam G. in NC March 7, 2013 at 1:58 am

I forgot to mention that this happened during Sunday School class. After the regular service that morning, during the last verse of the “hymn of invitation” the Youth Pastor noticed the youth hadnt walked the aisle yet, so he left his front-row pew and walked to the back of the church where the youth was sitting with his friends and took him by the arm and escorted him to the front of the church and spoke/prayed with him and the senior pastor. After the song was sung, the youth was presented to the church and they voted him into membership.

I talked with the Youth Pastor about this and it was a good talk. We are good friends. I think he understands why I had a BIG problem with all of this. The youth was never baptized, so I dont think (not sure) his membership was finalized.

115 volfan007 March 7, 2013 at 11:52 am

Adam G,

Let’s see…a Pastor spends 5 minutes sharing the Gospel with a youth, who had probably heard the Gospel numerous times. …..Jesus spent how long saying to John and Matthew and Andrew , “Follow me.” Hummmmm….

False professions of faith are not good…I agree. And, has the sinners prayer been misused and abused by a few people? Most definitely. Is easy believism being preached in our day and time? Yes. And, I agree that it’s a shame. But, someone who stresses REPENTANCE and FAITH in their witnessing and preaching of the Gospel is not preaching easy believism, nor are they misleading someone to a false profession.

David

116 Adam G. in NC March 7, 2013 at 12:32 pm

I think you pulled out an insignificant part of my post (5 min) and gave it an emphasis that was never intended. Take it as a whole please

117 Randall Cofield March 7, 2013 at 2:00 am

Heartbreaking…

I remember back when the “Sinner’s Prayer” resolution was being hotly debated right after its passage last summer, a pastor posted over at SBC Today that he had lead 60 VBS kids to pray the prayer.

All 60, according to the pastor, were “saved.”

That’ gospel inoculation…

118 Randall Cofield March 7, 2013 at 2:03 am

Correction: “That’s gospel inoculation.”

119 gracewriterrandy March 7, 2013 at 9:21 am

Randall,

That is exactly what it is in their eyes, but in reality it is false inoculation. Faith is an ongoing experience, not a one time decision.

120 volfan007 March 7, 2013 at 11:45 am

Faith begins with a one time experience, and then continues….

David

121 Les Prouty March 7, 2013 at 7:00 am

Well we probably all have similar stories. I remember back in the early 1990s when I was 3 years into a 4 year stint as associate pastor of a SB church. A new sr. pastor had come and I knew we would not “gee-haw” theologically. He became aware that I was a Calvinist. He was decidedly not.

So, he assumed I didn’t share the gospel (and really didn’t know how) with people. His big thing was to sort of collar any and everyone and ask them, “Have you received Jesus?” He implemented a Monday staff report time wherein we all would have to report back to him exactly how many people we had shared Jesus with and how many people we had led to pray a sinner’s prayer (a requirement if the “convert” was to count). I routinely faild his expectations. As time went on, he imposed a minimum # on each of us.

The minimum was no problem for the other new staff he brought with him. I was the only one looking like a non-evangelist.

So, he assigned me to tag along with his new young (23 or 24 yr. old) youth guy so I could learn how it’s done. Many trips out to a local high/middle school could be cited. I’ll cite one.

We walked up to a group of kids at a middle school, probably 6-7 kids about 6th grade. He asked how they were doing. Introduced himself. Then asked, “have you boys ever asked Jesus in your hearts?” They all said no. He said, “would you like to?” All but one said they would. He said, “Ok, repeat this prayer after me and if you mean it you’ll be saved.” He had them repeat essentially what Jared has written above. He concluded and shook all their hands and told them they were now saved.

The next Monday he reported: shared with 7, 6 got saved. He grinned real wide. The sr. pastor congratulated him and then looked at me and said, “See how it’s done?” This story could be repeated over and over. Same MO, different players.

I was already one foot out the door and I resigned several months later in total disgust.

122 Bruce H. March 7, 2013 at 7:07 am

The sinner’s prayer is just the beginning. Discipleship is where you discover if the person was truly saved. The SBC has lost that commitment to the new believer. We preach commitment to Christ but not to each other where Christ dwells.

123 William Thornton March 7, 2013 at 7:49 am

Just for fairness and consistency, every anecdote offered about the abuses of the sinner’s prayer must be rejected and discounted, certainly by the Calvinists here. Who knows if these stories are true and really happened?

124 Adam G. in NC March 7, 2013 at 10:23 am

Fair enough. As long as you are not calling me a liar.

125 William Thornton March 7, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Adam, read my response to Randy.

126 Bruce H. March 7, 2013 at 8:24 am

A complete understanding of our position before our holy God will generate the sinners prayer automatically. That understanding only comes when the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see ourselves as God sees us. That is where eternity and time intersect.

Another failure some make is to indoctrinate the person about the security of the believer after the sinners prayer. In many cases, that is the only discipleship the person ever receives.

127 gracewriterrandy March 7, 2013 at 9:25 am

William,

You can’t discount it if you have witnessed it. Still, we miss the point if we don’t understand we don’t need to do it. Even if it worked every single time, we don’t need to use it. The only reason you need to get them to sign on the dotted line is so you can report them for the record. I would rather depend on God’s record.

128 William Thornton March 7, 2013 at 9:36 am

Those who participate here regularly will understand my somewhat TIC statement. A regular subject here includes mention of SBC churches that Calvinist pastor have entered and ‘blown up.’ When I or others use some of these anecdotes, some Calvinists here immediately discount them as unverifiable or fictional; hence, my comment above.

Now you know.

129 William Thornton March 7, 2013 at 9:32 am

I have maintained for years that this is an area where our Calvinist colleagues can help the SBC. Evangelism in our convention is a mess to some degree whether or not one admits. In a study I read a few years ago nearly half of the baptisms in SBC churches were actually re-baptisms, including, naturally, some who came from traditions that practice infant baptism but also some who had made childhood decisions in an SBC church but later rejected that as premature and not a genuine salvation experience.

Unfortunately, some of our strident Calvinists insist on banning certain words and phrases and demanding others. There is a reasonableness and balance in all this that demands responsible evangelism. One can be responsible and employ the sinner’s prayer and one can be highly irresponsible in employing it.

The more sensible Calvinists and non-Calvinists in the SBC practice authentic, responsible, biblical evangelism. This may or may not include the use of a model sinner’s prayer of some design.

130 gracewriterrandy March 7, 2013 at 9:44 am

We must engage in “biblical evangelism” as did Jesus and the early evangelists, but does not biblical evangelism require that we say what they said and do what they did? I don’t find any evidence of any of them ever bring anyone to a decision. If a person had become a believer, they baptized them as an outward, public expression of their faith. It is not our business to pull people over the line.

131 Les Prouty March 7, 2013 at 9:33 am

For other advocates of the so called sinners prayer, would any of you advocating it’s use be comfortable with what I asked Rick above at 8:54 am today?

132 David R. Brumbelow March 7, 2013 at 9:54 am

Charles H. Spurgeon on the Sinner’s Prayer:

“Oh, that the unconverted among you may be moved to pray. Before you leave this place, breathe an earnest prayer to God, saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner. Lord, I need to be saved. Save me. I call upon thy name.” Join with me in prayer at this moment, I entreat you. Join with me while I put words into your mouths, and speak them on your behalf—”Lord, I am guilty. I deserve thy wrath. Lord I cannot save myself. Lord, I would have a new heart and a right spirit, but what can I do? Lord, I can do nothing, come and work in me to will and to do of thy good pleasure.”
-C. H. Spurgeon, A Free Grace Promise; 1888.

David R. Brumbelow

133 gracewriterrandy March 7, 2013 at 10:12 am

David,

I have no problem with that at all. That is quite different from what we are discussing. I have often quoted Spurgeon’s words describing his own conversion experience and told sinners that was an example of what should be in their hearts and on their lips as they came to faith in Christ. It is God’s work to make that an actual reality in their experience. The problem rests in assuming they have been truly been converted because we got them to repeat certain words. If we never learn they have been converted under our ministry, are they any less converted?

134 volfan007 March 7, 2013 at 11:43 am

Thank you, David B., for bringing us back to sanity, once again.

Just about everyone that I know, who uses a sinners prayer to lead someone to Jesus, uses it in the way that SPURGEON did.

David

135 Adam G. in NC March 7, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Yes, you are correct in saying that its not ALWAYS abused, but it does happen, and frequently. We shouldnt try to shut the mouths of those who try to point that out.

136 volfan007 March 7, 2013 at 12:50 pm

I’m not trying to shut the mouths of those people, who are crying out against the abuses. I’m trying to hush the people, who are saying that even using a sinners prayer is taking away glory from God; and misleading people to make false professions and into Hell. I’m trying to get the people, who are condemning all of us, who use a sinners prayer, to stop condemning all of us, just because of what a few do.

Adam G, I am very much against the abuses and misuses. I am very much against easy believism. I join with all of you, who say that we should make sure that people understand clearly that repentance and faith are necessary for salvation.

David

137 gracewriterrandy March 7, 2013 at 3:01 pm

David,

Spurgeon was not asking sinners individually to recite a prayer after him in a private situation to “receive Christ.” He was asking them to acknowledge their absolute guiltiness and helplessness before God. He gave them no indication that if they would say these words they would be saved. He simply asked them to acknowledge that they needed salvation and that if they were to be saved, God was going to have to do it all.

138 David R. Brumbelow March 7, 2013 at 10:32 am

SBC Resolution on the Sinner’s Prayer:

http://gulfcoastpastor.blogspot.com/2012/06/final-copy-resolution-on-sinners-prayer.html

David R. Brumbelow

139 Brent Hobbs March 7, 2013 at 10:56 am

Jared, the article at the top of this book-as-comments-section is an excellent, balanced statement. Good work and thanks for that Chitwood quote.

140 Greg Harvey March 7, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Regrettably, our emotional devotion to “the Sinner’s Prayer” might have overcome our reason. Chitwood’s dissertation frames up the problem nicely and gives a very specific example of what someone else–Chitwood doesn’t use this terminology–might refer to as “abuse”.

Now I think the word “abuse” is overwrought. I am an adherent of Calvinist soteriology (I agree with Estep on eschewing the vast majority of Calvin’s ecclesiology as expressed in The Institutes but I disagreed with his in-class comment about inerrancy being bibliolatry) but my dad led me to a private profession of faith on March 1, 1969 which led to a public profession of faith the next day at Lawn Baptist Church in Lawn, Texas some 18 miles south of Abilene using a version of “the” Sinner’s Prayer. I recall–in part because I was eight at the time–the entire event quite clearly. And I do not recall any sense of manipulation or insistence on the prayer itself being important. I remember him saying that any prayer can work but that sometimes people used that one and asking me if I’d like to say it with him.

In all honesty: it was the diligent preparation for faith brought about by the orchestration of the Holy Spirit through human hands in the form of parents, teachers, and even pastors–my dad for instance–that I believe led to the sinner’s prayer being effective. Which is to say:

“But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher?”

Note calling on him follows belief in that verse. But both are preceded by hearing and by someone preaching. Discipleship starts before belief and finds its firm, fertile soil through the preparation and orchestration of the Holy Spirit. Belief depends on that preparation and orchestration from every evidence I see in the Bible. Because faithful believers can disagree on exactly how belief occurs, and because we’ve discussed it extensively, I’ll simply note that belief is NOT something a human being can judge for another human being:

“But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature, because I have rejected him. Man does not see what the LORD sees, for man sees what is visible, but the LORD sees the heart.”

At this point I think we need to confess that we’re typically pretty bad at discipleship and that the lack of discipleship is the most likely explanation for how our children and other converts “fall away” from faith. But an even better explanation very well could be that we have misread the evidence of faith in them because we’re misled by our deep desire to see them saved in order to obtain both their eternal security and our personal comfort. No parent wants to consider living eternity without those whom he has been given the spiritual responsibility to guide and raise also receiving that same blessing. So sometimes we take unnecessary liberties to provide ourselves comfort.

Similarly: it isn’t entirely implausible that a preacher or an evangelist seeks to take credit for conversions and baptisms because he considers such metrics as a totem for effective and faithful leadership. But the opposite situation is equally deplorable: if none of them happen, how effective is the man? It’s a tough situation and I’m not sure that we are quite a serious in addressing it as we ought to be.

But from my personal history let me just make a very clear, simple statement: a simple expression of faith that a child can understand is hardly an awful thing as the key and repeated method for asking people to express faith in Jesus Christ:

“Leave the children alone, and don’t try to keep them from coming to Me, because the kingdom of heaven is made up of people like this.”

141 Mark March 7, 2013 at 1:51 pm

I’m not sure this is solely a Calvinist issue, i.e. Tracts and the “Sinner’s Prayer”.

There may be some talking past each other in the comments too. The distinguishing difference comes down to this, IMO: 1) praying to get saved vs. 2) praying because you are saved.

No. 1 summarizes the complaints about the sinner’s prayer. The emphasis is on the prayer as if it is the means by which God grants salvation.

No. 2 summarizes the proper view of a sinner’s prayer. The emphasis is on God who changes the heart and the prayer then verbally expresses that change.

Since both sides agree that the sinner’s prayer has been, and can be, abused, I wonder if the debate over the sinner’s prayer might be somewhat calmed by a simple preface. Maybe a preface like: If you just repented of your sins and believed in the gospel of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, repeat this prayer as a profession of your new faith/life in Jesus Christ….

I have personally witnessed the abuse of a sinner’s prayer. It was used as a way to try to persuade someone to be saved by saying the prayer.

Ironically, I was alone in my studio apartment when God saved me. And I did pray to God confessing my sin, repentance and faith in Jesus Christ alone.

142 Mark March 7, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Oh, I forgot to ask. What makes the sinner’s prayer so sacred that, in light of agreed upon abuse, so many will take so much time to defend it? And even write resolutions defending it?

143 volfan007 March 7, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Mark,

I guess the flip side to your statement is why do so many want to attack it? and write books against it? and speak of it in such a bad light, often, at conferences? And, say that those people, who use a sinners prayer, are leading people to false professions and to Hell?

I dont know about you, but I dont like for people to accuse me of doing something so terrible and horrible as stealing God’s glory and leading people to Hell.

David

144 Mark March 7, 2013 at 2:29 pm

David,

I don’t like people wrongly accusing me, or any Christian, of leading people to hell.

You may not know, but I recently wrote a post somewhat defending the sinner’s prayer. :)

I think people write both historically and critically about the sinner’s prayer because of the abuse as well as the historical precedent. Note, by “critically” I mean “to do an examination of” not criticize.

Sometimes when a methodology becomes popular it becomes overused and possibly abuse. Then, people are motivated to study that methodology. Studies may be used to improve, modify, disguard or defend.

I read this article as one that warns of potential dangers of “emphasizing” rather than merely “using” the sinner’s prayer. I’m not sure Jared is in 100% objection to using such a prayer.

Again, it seems all sides agree that it is abused so why the offense? What makes the sinner’s prayer so sacred to some?

145 gracewriterrandy March 7, 2013 at 2:46 pm

That is simple David. It is because over several decades now we have seen the tragic results some of these unbiblical methods have caused. I have no doubt the people who have used this method and others like it were sincerely trying to bring sinners to Christ. Still, I believe their faulty theological presuppostions let to faulty methodology which in turn led to faulty results. The fruit will tell you about the tree and the tree will tell you about the roots.

146 cb scott March 7, 2013 at 5:27 pm

I do not think anything is “sacred” about the sinner’s prayer, but there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

So maybe it is a sacred thing in heaven when a sinner truly prays a prayer of repentance and faith in Christ and Christ alone to save him/her.

147 volfan007 March 7, 2013 at 5:40 pm

CB,

Amen, Bro. And, what a joy it is to win souls. May the Lord give me more of a desire to win souls.

David

148 gracewriterrandy March 7, 2013 at 3:11 pm

If no one ever used the “sinner’s prayer” again, would God save any fewer people?

149 cb scott March 7, 2013 at 4:49 pm

Is God’s power sufficient to create a rock too large for Him to move?

Randy, your question is absurd.

I shall quote Jared Moore. This subject of this article is the misuse of the sinner’s prayer. It is not a post about soteriological dogma.

150 Jess Alford March 7, 2013 at 5:01 pm

cb scott,
Where in the world have you been, brother. I was thinking about you today, then I started thinking about some good things.

151 Jess Alford March 7, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Randy,

God would not save any fewer people. Actually there would be more genuine conversions.

152 gracewriterrandy March 7, 2013 at 7:56 pm

CB,

It really isn’t an absurd question at all. Neither is it an impossible question to answer. The question you compared it too is absurd since it misrepresents the nature of omnipotence. The question, I believe, exposes the heart of this issue which is indeed theological. Faulty evangelistic practice springs from faulty theological presuppositions. We only employ extra-biblical practices when we believe we can augment God’s work by using them. I am not questioning anyone’s motives who use such methods. I believe my non-Calvinists brothers are quite sincere in their gospel efforts. I think many of them honestly believe they will make more converts if they use such methods. That seems to be evident by a couple of comments here about the number of baptisms logged in by those who use the “sinner’s prayer.” in contrast to those who don’t use it. I simply asked the question to confirm whether that is what truly being said.

153 gracewriterrandy March 8, 2013 at 9:45 am

What is absurd is to believe we can separate soteriological dogma from soteriological practice.

154 Dale Pugh March 8, 2013 at 12:20 pm

I guess it isn’t enough to “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” You have to believe the right things in order to truly be saved. Thanks for the head’s up, guys. I’ve been doing it wrong all these years.

155 Les Prouty March 8, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Dale,

I haven’t read all the comments by Calvinists (of course you know I am one) but as for me, “it IS enough to “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Now I share more from scripture than that one verse, but that verse is the essence of the gospel.

I’m on record here as stating that this Calvinist can and will stand side by side with any non-Calvinist anywhere anytime and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. I have to say, though, that I get the idea that some of the NCs here would not stand by me and evangelize together. I hope I’m wrong about that.

Les

156 gracewriterrandy March 8, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Les,

I am not a NC but I will stand by and evangelize with anyone who wishes to preach the biblical gospel and use biblical methods.

157 Dale Pugh March 8, 2013 at 12:46 pm

As determined and defined by you.

158 gracewriterrandy March 8, 2013 at 12:58 pm

No, as defined by the Word of God. Or don’t you believe the Scriptures speak clearly on such matters?

159 Dale Pugh March 8, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Yes, I do. Romans 10:
8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; 13 for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
What is necessary?
1. The Word of Faith
2. Verbal Confession (a sinner’s prayer doesn’t count, of course)
3. Heart Belief in the Reality of Resurrection
Notice that the belief results in righteousness, and the verbal confession results in salvation. It isn’t either/or but both/and. It also says that “whoever believes” will be saved, but then that isn’t correct either, is it? “Everyone” who calls on Him can receive the same abundant riches of His grace. And again Paul repeats, “whoever calls” on Him will be saved.
Fact is, Randy, you and I will never see eye to eye on this. Honestly, I wish we could work together contending for the faith, but that just doesn’t seem to be possible. You don’t recognize the validity of any interpretation other than your own. I find that difficult to swallow.
I apologize for my contentious tone. Sadly, I have to admit that it was intentional, and I ask your forgiveness. I could have left it alone, but I didn’t. I repent of it. I do not repent of my strongly held convictions, though.

160 Les Prouty March 8, 2013 at 12:54 pm

I’ve typed something like this here before but can’t find it now. But here is my best memory.

I’ve said that Cs and NCs proclaim the gospel the same way (at least there is not reason that we should differ). We say to people that you are all sinners in need of a Savior. You can’t save yourself. Your sin has seperated you from Holy God and you deserve hell and damnation. But the good news is that Jesus Christ came to save sinners like you and me. He commands all men everywhere to repent of their sins. If you will repent and believe in Jesus as the Savior from your sins, the bible says you will be saved. So today, repent of your sin and rebellion and believe in Jesus as the Savior. Come to Him and find rest.

Now that is a quick, almost elevator version. But there is no reason that Cs and NCs should not be able to stand side by side and proclaim that message of hope.

161 gracewriterrandy March 8, 2013 at 1:04 pm

Les,

That message is a bit different from telling sinners indiscriminately “Jesus died for you. If you will just open your heart and let him come in, he will forgive all your sins.”

162 gracewriterrandy March 8, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Les,

It almost sounds as if you beleive we should use the preaching of Jesus and the early Apostles/evangelists as a pattern for gospel preaching. What a novel idea.

163 gracewriterrandy March 8, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Dale,

Glad to be of help, and glad to hear you will be changing your methodology.
Of course, believing on The Lord Jesus Christ is sufficient to be saved. What I find lacking in that passage is any evidence that the Apostle asked to the Jailor to immediately confess his faith or pray a prayer. You will notice this was not the entirety of the message. The next verse tells us, “And they spoke the word of The Lord to him and all who were in his house.” They professed their faith by being baptised, but there is no evidence they prayed a prayer.

164 Dale Pugh March 8, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Yeah, I know what the next verse says, Randy. You aren’t the only one here who reads it contextually. You know nothing about my methodology, so making any kind of pronouncement on it is the arrogance of ignorance.

165 gracewriterrandy March 8, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Dale,

Thank you for your kind, loving and Christian like response. It must have been difficult for you to muster up that much grace.

166 Dale Pugh March 8, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Not really.

167 gracewriterrandy March 8, 2013 at 12:57 pm

BTW, you are the one who mentioned changing your methodology, not I. I simply said I was glad you were going to do it.

168 Dale Pugh March 8, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Yeah. It’s called “sarcasm.”

169 gracewriterrandy March 8, 2013 at 1:09 pm

oh really?.

170 gracewriterrandy March 8, 2013 at 1:14 pm

Sarcasm is anger’s ugly cousin.

171 Dr. R. Richard Tribble, Jr. March 8, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Jarred,

I read with interest your post and I have a question. But first some background for my question. In Rom 10, God specifically tells the unbeliever to confess what he believes; i.e. that Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again; then in v 13 he states that everyone who calls upon the Lord will be saved.

While it is true the bible does not give the specific language a repentant sinner is to use in calling upon God for salvation in response to God’s invitation through His Word, (which I believe is good otherwise men would focus on the words recorded rather than acting upon one’s belief in God’s revelation) the bible does seem pretty clear that an individual must act on his professed belief.

So here’s my question: Since you do not believe in using a form of what is deemed the “Sinner’s Prayer”, under your belief system how does a person acknowledge their dependence upon Jesus Christ for their salvation?

I’m truly interested. I have had a few from the Calvinist persuasion answer this question only to leave both of more confused.

I look to be enlightened.

172 gracewriterrandy March 8, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Christian baptism is an eloquent confession of faith in Christ. Even Charles Finney understood this. He stated in his Lectures on Revival that the “anxious seat,” the rough equivalent to todays “invitation” would have the same place that baptism had in the days of the Apostles.

173 gracewriterrandy March 8, 2013 at 1:32 pm

Dale,

Of course, I will forgive you. I believe your assumption that we will never see eye to eye is premature. However, one thing that will prevent that is statements such as the following that you made: “It isn’t either/or but both/and. It also says that “whoever believes” will be saved, but then that isn’t correct either, is it? “ I don’t know why you would make a statement like that. You don’t think I would deny that “whoever believes will be saved,” do you?

174 gracewriterrandy March 8, 2013 at 1:37 pm

To my knowledge, no one here is denying that sinners need to verbally confess that Jesus is Lord. My belief is that if they have been adequately instructed in the biblical gospel, they will not need to be coaxed into doing so or further instructed as to what they should say when they make such a confession.

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