The “Sinner’s Prayer” by Ron Thomas

     At a second-hand store the other day, I picked up a number of small booklets pertaining to the subject of religion. I check this particular store on a regular basis. Sometimes I come across some really good finds that are of great value to me. Most often, however, I come across books that have little value, so I pick them up with the intention of reading and writing a word or two about it.

     Today, I am writing about such a booklet. The book is: Living in Christ & Gospel of John, published by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (2014). The intent of the book is encouragement in one’s daily walk as a Christian. Within the pages, early on, is a page dedicated to “how to receive Christ.”

     On page 4 of the book, in the introductory section, one learns “how to receive Christ.” In answering the question, there are steps one must follow. I have numbered them at five (though the booklet has them numbered at four). They are: (1) recognize God’s plan (John 3:16); (2) realize one’s separation because of sin (Romans 3:23; 6:23); (3) respond to God’s remedy (Romans 5:8); (4) receive Christ (John 1:12).

     What is of particular note in these four steps is the inclusion of Scripture to buttress a particular point (or step). But, with regard to the fifth step, they offer nothing in the way of scriptural support. What I have numbered as the fifth step reads: “Through prayer, invite Jesus to come in and control your life through the Holy Spirit (receive Christ as Lord and Savior).” This is followed by a “prayer of commitment.”

     This “prayer of commitment” is a prayer the reader is invited to repeat. This is known as the “sinner’s prayer.” This sinner’s prayer is a worded prayer given to the reader as an answer to the question “how to receive Christ.” There is no Scripture to support the giving of it, just an answer to “pray this prayer.”  Don’t miss this. In the earlier remarks on the page there is scriptural support for the answers, but none for this one. Might there be a reason for that?

     There is, very much, a reason for this. In taking note that no Scripture is used to buttress the point, there is something that comes from this that teaches us much. The sinner’s prayer, a standard teaching in the Protestant denominational world, is a teaching that has been conjured up by man and, thus, is not of God. If it was of God, then one can be sure the author(s) of this booklet would have included the scriptural reference alongside the remark. As it is, there is not.

The Prayer

     In their “last step of the way” (if you will) in “how to receive Christ” the reader is invited to recite a prayer. The prayer reads this way:

“Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner, and I ask your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from running my own life, and now I ask you to run it. I invite you to come into my heart and life [sic]. I trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior.  In Jesus’ name, amen” (page 4).

     The sinner’s prayer is misguided at best and flat out biblically wrong at worst! This is a teaching of man, and not of God (Matthew 15:8-9, 13-14). It is a serious matter and not one to be lightly dismissed. The biblical answer to “how to receive Christ” is not so difficult that one needs to make up an answer that is not in the Bible!

     “How to receive Christ” is similar to the question that was asked of Peter in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost. After hearing Peter preach, citing Scripture to support his points, and laying at the feet of the Jewish community the killing of the Lord’s Anointed, they inquired of Peter what they must to do.

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:36-38, NKJV).

Another Gate

     Thus, those who desired to become Christians by the sinners’ prayer have tried to enter through another gate (or door). There is no other gate, however. The gate they tried to enter, they thought, was Christ. In fact, the gate they thought they entered through was not of Christ, but a gate that belongs to another (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

     Now, what do people do if they feel they became a “Christian” by the sinner’s prayer? To begin, since the sinner’s prayer is not a teaching of the Bible, it is biblically impossible for one to become a Christian in that sort of way. Whatever purity of motive might exist on the part of the one who prayed for Christ to “come into the heart” is not a sufficient biblical answer to becoming a Christian. Second, it is important to understand there are two equally important components to serving God; Paul identifies these as “sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:8). With regard to the sinner’s prayer, only sincerity is satisfied. The other component needs to be satisfied too – the truth.

     This is a hard matter for a great many people. It is hard because for a period of time they have lived with the strong conviction that Christ has been on their side, that their prayers have been heard, and they have come to believe that all of the good blessings they experienced are directly from God. As you can well imagine, it is a hard thing to be told you are wrong when you have lived with a conviction for so long.

     It is, moreover, a potentially fruitless matter to speak to their strong convictions as to whether or not their prayers were heard, and to the blessings they are convinced came from God.  It is not a fruitless matter, however, to speak to what the Scripture says. With the former it is an entirely subjective matter, but with the latter it is a matter of what God said, it is a matter of biblical evidence. How does one then begin to convince them?

What Does the Bible Teach?

     It is interesting to note that on the following page of the booklet (page 5, Living in Christ & Gospel of John) there are three questions, all related to how one knows. How does one know he (she) is saved? How does one know he (she) is a child of God? How does one know he (she) has eternal life? The answer to these questions is settled with a simple reply. God said it in the Bible. This is not true, of course, with the sinner’s prayer.

     Since the sinner’s prayer is found nowhere in the New Testament, exactly what does the Bible say about “how to receive Christ”?

     Earlier, mention was made of Peter’s words to those in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). It was there that Peter made plain to his hearers their guilt in killing the Lord’s Anointed (Acts 2:23). Responding to the weight of their guilt, the crowd asked Peter what they must do to remove their guilt of killing the Lord’s Messiah.  Peter replied, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

     This is a biblical answer to the question “how to receive Christ?” It is not a made up answer, but one that is straight from the words of the apostle.

     Here is another biblical answer to “how to receive Christ?” “But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized” (Acts 8:12).

     In these two biblical passages we learn the following things the Holy Spirit said one needs to do to “receive Christ.” They are: (1) believe the good news, (2) repent, and (3) be baptized.

     That is the Bible’s answer, and one that is easily supported by the Bible. Why didn’t the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association give this Bible answer? It appears they desire to teach entry into Jesus by some other means than that by which Jesus said one must enter (cf. John 3:3-5).

     My friends don’t try to enter by some other way than Jesus’ way.