Easy Believism and the Sinner’s Prayer

prayer

Easy Believism and the Sinner’s Prayer

Easy Believism and the Sinner’s Prayer

Richard Hollerman

Most of us have heard of the term, “easy believism.”  This is given to the idea that all one needs to do to be forgiven of his sins and be born again is to “simply believe.”  Properly understood, this may be a proper Biblical term, providing one means a sincere heart-felt faith that is qualified by genuine repentance of sin and manifested in baptism that issues in an entirely new life through the Holy Spirit.   But those who subscribe to the view that believing is “easy” and “simple” don’t really believe that.

Scripture does say that one is saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8).  If we understand this faith to be a repentant faith (Acts 20:21) manifested in baptism (Acts 8:12; Galatians 3:26-27) and expressed in a new life (2 Corinthians 5:17), then this is just what the Word of God teaches.  But this Biblical view is rejected by proponents of easy believism. They go so far as to say that the Biblical view constitutes “works righteousness” and is heretical!

“Easy believism” has other connotations. It often refers to merely an inner trust in Jesus and nothing more. Sometimes even repentance is minimized or carefully disallowed.  A favorite passage cites Paul’s words to the Philippian jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). Yet this passage doesn’t really support the easy believism view.  The context does show that the jailer responded with a manifestation of contrition and repentance that was manifested in baptism (vv. 32-34).  The Bible shows that one is saved by a fully expressed faith in God and the Lord Jesus Christ and a belief in the objective facts of the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  And this was coupled with a repentance of sins and determination to live henceforth for God and His will (cf. Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 3:19; 17:30-31; 1 Thessalonians 1:9). And this repentance is revealed in deeds of repentance (cf. Luke 3:8; Acts 26:20). Further, it is immediately expressed in baptism into Christ and into His death (Romans 6:1-5; Colossians 2:11-13; Acts 2:38-41). This is not an “easy believism” as it has been popularly taught.

Along with the idea of easy believism is the further idea that one is saved by a bare faith when he “invites Jesus into his heart” or “prays the sinner’s prayer.” We look in vain for any reference to inviting Jesus to enter the heart.  Perhaps the chief verse used to “prove” this idea is Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him and will dine with him, and he with me.”  It must be pointed out that Jesus in this verse is seeking entrance into the life of a group of Christians who have become lukewarm and left Jesus out of their lives (cf. vv. 14-22). There is a sense in which the sinner must open the door of his heart but we can’t use this passage to substantiate this.

As to the idea that the sinner is to pray for his salvation, the closest that we can find in Scripture is Peter’s quotation of Joel 2:38 in Acts 2:21: “It shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” There definitely is a “calling” on God to save us when we come to Jesus. But this is in the context of repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38-41) and we must never forget the connection. Romans 10:13 also cites Joel 2:38 but points out that faith in Christ and confession of Him as Lord is the fulfillment of this calling (vv. 9-10).  Finally, Ananias came to the deeply repentant Saul who would become Paul the apostle. He said, “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). In this case, the “calling” occurs when one is baptized into Jesus Christ.

A final verse that is often used to “prove” the so-called sinner’s prayer is 1 John 1:9. John writes, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is in the context of past and present sin in the life of a Christian (vv. 8, 10; 2:1-2). It has no direct reference to the unbeliever is wants to be forgiven, but it has direct bearing on the Christian who has sinned and seeks forgiveness from God.

Generally today—in the Evangelical, Fundamentalist, Charismatic, and Pentecostal groups—the so-called “sinner’s prayer” is greatly stressed.  This has been the case especially for the past two hundred years in America and may be traced to the revivals on the nineteenth century.  Sacramental churches that emphasized infant baptism for regeneration continued to believe that a child was saved when only a few weeks or months old, but those who held to conversion of older children and adults began to stress the need to “make a decision” for Christ or turn to Christ would use the “sinner’s prayer” in their plea.  In our own day, the faith stressed was watered down to the point that it was very easy to “come to Christ” and be born again.  This resulted in people claiming to be born again even if their life showed no evidence of this change!

The Billy Graham “Crusades” of the second half of the twentieth century greatly promoted the easy believism attached to “the sinner’s prayer” form of evangelism.  James Kennedy’s “Evangelism Explosion” program also promoted the idea that coming to Christ was very simple and didn’t require great sacrifice. A huge boost in the easy believism approach was found in the Campus Crusade booklet, “Four Spiritual Laws,” by Bill Bright. Hundreds of millions of copies of this tiny booklet circled the earth and became the “gospel” that supposedly brought salvation to many thousands. But is this a true Biblical presentation of the gospel, one that would lead to someone’s salvation from sin and new birth into the Kingdom of God?

With this background in mind, let’s examine this common but faulty presentation of the message of the gospel. Is it really the way to accept the gospel or is it a false teaching that must be rejected?

Samples of “Gospel” Presentations

In order to see how popular and widespread this idea of “easy believism” is, let’s actually examine a number of gospel presentations. Notice the following samples.

Steps to Peace with God (Billy Graham)

After citing Revelation 3:20; John 1:12; and Romans 10:9 (which we have discussed earlier), Graham tells the reader “what to say” with the following:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner and need Your forgiveness. I believe that You died for my sins. I want to turn from my sins. I now invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust You as Savior and follow You as Lord, in the fellowship of Your church.

The tract then quotes Romans 10:13; Ephesians 2:8-9; and 1 John 5:12-13.  Although there are some good concepts found here (such as turning from sins), do we really think that the reader will understand what is involved in a denial of self, taking the cross, and following Jesus (Mark 8:34)? There is no mention of baptism which was coupled with faith (Acts 8:12) and repentance (Acts 2:38) in the Scriptures.

Have You Heard of the Four Spiritual Laws? (Campus Crusade for Christ)

Many of you have seen or read this little tract, first written by Bill Bright in 1952.  The publisher states that it is “. . . likely the most widely distributed religious booklet in history, with approximately 2.5 billion printed to date.” (Wikipedia) We know of no other piece of literature that has had such a widespread distribution!

Following is a portion of this booklet:

The following explains how you can receive

Christ:

You Can Receive Christ Right Now

by Faith Through Prayer

(Prayer is talking with God)

God knows your heart and is not so concerned

with your words as He is with the attitude of

your heart. The following is a suggested prayer:

Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for

dying on the cross for my sins. I open the

door of my life and receive You as my

Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving

my sins and giving me eternal life. Take

control of the throne of my life. Make me

the kind of person You want me to be.

 

Does this prayer express the desire of your heart?

If it does, I invite you to pray this prayer right

now, and Christ will come into your life, as He

promised.

 

How to Know That Christ Is in Your Life

Did you receive Christ into your life? According to

His promise in Revelation 3:20, where is Christ right

now in relation to you? Christ said He would come

into your life. Would He mislead you? On what authority

do you know God has answered your prayer?

(The trustworthiness of God Himself and His Word.)

The Bible Promises Eternal Life to

All Who Receive Christ

“God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His

Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does

not have the Son of God does not have the life.

These things I have written to you who believe in

the name of the Son of God, in order that you may

know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:11–13).

Thank God often that Christ is in your life and

that He will never leave you (Hebrews 13:5). You

can know on the basis of His promise that Christ

lives in you and that you have eternal life from the

very moment you invite Him in. He will not

deceive you.

Like the other illustrations of “easy believism,” this tract has a tiny prayer to “open the door” of the person’s life to receive forgiveness. Then there is an assurance to the person so that he or she may not doubt the genuineness of salvation and eternal life supposedly received at the point of the prayer.

Scientific Facts in the Bible (Ray Comfort, Living Waters) 

This interesting little book comes to the end with an invitation to accept forgiveness through Christ.  Here is the final section and the “sinner’s prayer” concept:

There is no second chance: “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). What will you say on Judgment Day?

“Hare don’t chew cud?” Will you be worried about where Cain got his wife? Or will your defense be that insects don’t have four legs? What do they have to do with the fact that you have sinned against God? It is not God’s will that you go to Hell.

Please, come to your senses and obey the Gospel. If you will admit that you have broken the Commandments, earnestly pray something like this:

“Dear God, please forgive my sins (name them). Nothing I can do could merit everlasting life. I trust alone in the mercy that You offer me in Jesus Christ. I put my faith in the Savior (not in man, in a church or my good works) for my eternal salvation. I will read the Bible daily and obey what I read. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.”

Now carefully read John 14:21.

“Born Free” (Discipleship Counseling Services)

After referring to Ephesians 2:8-9 (by grace you are saved through faith); Romans 10:9-10 (confessing with the mouth and believing in the heart); and John 1:12-13 (those who “received” Jesus have the “right” to become children of God); the tract then offers a “suggested prayer” as follows:

Lord Jesus, I need you. I confess that I have been in control of my life and as a result have sinned against you. Thank you for dying for the forgiveness of my sins. Come into my heart. Take control of my life and make me the kind of person you want me to be. I now thank you for coming into my life and for giving me eternal life.

In order to assure the reader of salvation, we read:

Would you like to pray right now and ask Christ to come into your heart and to make you what He wants you to be? Were you sincere when you prayed this prayer? If so, the living Christ has come to dwell within you FOREVER and you have begun the great adventure for which you were created as a child of God.

Sadly, this presentation also is a very superficial discussion of salvation and an easy way to receive eternal life. Does the reader feel the impact of deep conviction of sin? Does the reader know that he is to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of his sins (Acts 2:38)?

“Eternal Life” (Southern Baptist Convention)

The Southern Baptists also have a tiny tract that seeks to present the gospel and calls on the reader to come to Christ.  This is what we read:

Please read this prayer and see if it is what you want to say to God.

Dear Lord, I believe you are the Son of God, and that you died on the cross and were raised from the dead. I know I have sinned and need forgiveness. I turn from my sins and receive you as my Savior and Lord. Thank you for saving me.

Call upon the Lord in repentance, faith and surrender, using these or similar words of your own; and Jesus will become your Savior and Lord.

Welcome to the family of God. You have just made the most important decision of your life. You can be sure you are saved and have eternal life.

Similar to other presentations, this tract also offers a small “sinner’s prayer” as a means of believing and coming to the Lord. But does it really do this?

“The Real Life” (Southern Baptist Convention)

This is a similar tract to the above presentation but this one is for children. This is what we read:

Does this prayer say what you would like to say?

Dear God, I know that I have sinned and need forgiveness. I believe that Jesus died for my sins. Forgive my sins and put me right with you. I will follow Jesus as my Lord and obey him in all that I do. In the name of Jesus I pray. Amen.

Will you pray this prayer or express your thoughts in your own words? As you pray, Jesus Christ will become your Savior and Lord and you will have REAL LIFE.

Again we ask the pointed question, does the child really know what is happening here? Does this little prayer really convey salvation?

“Bridge to Life´(Navigators)

This is a little tract that also quotes John 1:12 (“To all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God”).  Then we read:

Jesus says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knowck. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will go in and eat with him, and he with Me.” Revelation 3:20.

How does a person receive Jesus Christ?

Jesus said, “You may ask Me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” John 14:14.

Therefore, if you pray sincerely, asking Him this:

Lord Jesus, please come into my life and be my Savior and Lord. Please forgive my sins, and give me the gift of eternal life.

–He will do it now.

This is a simple presentation but it is too simple! It simply lacks the kind or repentant faith response that Jesus and the apostles require. Further, it totally omits a response of baptism. Yet probably many hundreds (thousands?) have been misled by this tract of the Navigators!

“How to Be Born Again” (American Tract Society)

Once again, this is a presentation of a watered down message of salvation. We come to the question of how to be saved and we read the following:

You can be born again simply by praying and asking Jesus Christ to work this miracle in your life.  Although it’s your hearts attitude that counts, here’s a suggested prayer that might help guide you.

God, I am willing to repent of my sins and receive Jesus as my Savior. I do believe He died for me and was raised again to give me new spiritual life. Thank you, God, for saving me.

If you truly believe, you will be born again and you will begin an exciting, eternal journey, one that can take you through the pressures of this life like nothing you’ve ever experienced before!

With these presentations, we can’t deny that there are certain basic elements that are accurate (like Jesus dying for us, rising from the dead, and offering forgiveness).  However, so much is missing. The whole issue of repenting of one’s self-life and sin, surrendering one’s heart and life to the Lordship of Christ, being baptized into Christ, and living faithfully in a practical way.

“Where Will You Spend Eternity?” (American Tract Society)

Notice the presentation that we find in this short tract:

Now, are you willing to settle the matter of your eternal destiny? Will you do it? You can, right this moment. I sincerely hope that you will.

Then, just sign the following indication of your decision and send it to the address below so that we might pray for you and also send you some literature to help you start your new life.  –Arthur DeMoss

I am concerned about eternity and am willing now to repent of my sins and receive Jesus Christ as my Savior. I hereby do so, committing unto Him my salvation and eternal destiny.

While it is vital that we ask and answer the question of our eternal destiny, we need to have the right answer so that we might not be misled. This would be a tragic mistake if we were to think we were saved but failed to truly submit to the Lord’s requirements!

“Four Things God Wants You to Know” (American Tract Society)

This little tract says, “Therefore . . . . Change your attitude toward sin” (it then quotes Acts 3:19 about repentance). Then, “Put your trust in Jesus Christ” (with the proof text being Acts 16:31 in believing). Finally, “Make your decision today” (with Romans 10:9-10 quoted). After this, we simply have the following: “I do believe! Today I have decided to accept God’s offer of eternal life through Jesus Christ.”  This surely is a simple tract promoting an “easy belief” approach and a mini-prayer!

“How to Become a Christian” (Billy Graham, American Tract Soceity)

After stating, “We must receive Christ” (with John 1:12 mistakenly used as a proof text), we read:

When you receive Christ—when you accept what He has done for you—you become a child of God. Picture, if you will, Jesus Christ standing at the door of your life. Invite Him in. He is waiting to be received into your life.

Receive Christ now

You can invite Jesus Christ into your life right now by praying to God something like the following.

Dear Lord, I know that I am a sinner and that I need Your forgiveness. I believe that Christ died in my place to pay the penalty for my sin and that He rose from the dead. I know invite Jesus Christ to come into my life as my personal Savior. Thank you for making me Your child. Help me learn to please You in every part of my life.

Graham presents this form of easy believism in his tracts as well as in his large crusades around the world.

“What Must I Do to be Saved? (American Tract Society)

After quoting Romans 10:9 and John 1:12, this little pamphlet reads:

Will you pray to God something like this?

“God, I’m convinced I am a sinner, and that Christ alone can save me. I willingly repent of my sinful life and believe Jesus Christ died for me. I want to receive Him as my personal Savior.”

If you have just now received Christ as your Savior, please let us know by signing the decision space and mailing it to the address below. We want to help you get started in this new relationship with God.

MY DECISION

Being convinced that I was a lost sinner, I now believe that Christ died for me so God could forgive my sins. I have now received the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal Savior.

It is good to believe that Christ died for us so that God can forgive our sins, but does this “sinner’s prayer” really represent what God wants?  Does this “easy believe” approach really bring us to God?

“How to Have a Full and Meaningful Life” (Southern Baptist)

In this little tract, we read the following:

Be willing to turn from your sins. “Repent yet therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19).

Ask Jesus Christ to forgive your sins and take control of your life. “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth until righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10).

You become a Christian and possess this full and meaningful life at the moment when by faith you turn to God through Christ.

God offers you this full and meaningful life now.

“Behold, now is the accepted time, behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

Is there any reason why you cannot accept his offer now?  Does this prayer say what you want to say?

Dear Jesus, I know I have done wrong and need forgiveness.  Thank you for dying for my sins and for offering me eternal life. Please forgive my sins and help me to turn from them. I now confess you as my Lord and receive you as my Savior. Take control of my lie and make it full and meaningful. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Will you pray this prayer or express your thoughts in your own words? As you ask him, Jesus Christ will become your Lord and Savior and give you a full and meaningful life.

This is somewhat fuller than the previous examples but it still lacks substance and does convey the little “sinner’s prayer” approach to salvation.

What Does Believing in Jesus Mean?

This is a short article found on Stephen Ricker’s website.  This presentation asks the question, “How to become a believer in Jesus?” The answer: (1) Admit that you are a sinner (Romans 3:23; 6:23). (2) Repent of your sins (Acts 3:19). (3) Believe in Jesus (John 3:16). (4) Receive Jesus into your life (Romans 10:9).

The question is then asked, “Have you ever done this? If not, would you like to pray this prayer now?”  The sinner’s prayer is then given:

“Dear God, I know I’m a sinner. Please forgive me. I believe that Jesus died for my sins. I want Jesus to come into my life and be my savior. I will follow Him and obey Him. I want Him to be the Lord of my life. Amen.”

There follows another short section: “If you just prayed this prayer fully believing: Jesus came into your life and person. Your sins are forgiven. You are a child of God. You have an eternal home in heaven. YOU ARE A CHRISTIAN! And now that you are a Christian, you will want to make a . . . ‘Profession of Faith.’ This means that you will want to tell others what just happened in your life! ‘Whoever acknowledges Me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.’ Matthew 10:32.”

Child Evangelism

The approach to salvation made by proponents of “child evangelism” agrees with the examples we have noted above.  A young child cannot understand the full implications of coming to Christ and taking the yoke of discipleship, thus the presentation must be kept simple.  Easy words are used and simple concepts are communicated.  “Child evangelists” may attempt to share the gospel with an eight-year-old child, a six-year-old child, or even a four-year-old youngster. Some of these may not even have a Christian background to enable them to more easily grasp spiritual and Biblical concepts. Let’s notice one presentation intended for children:

“The Bible for Children” (Presentation: “The Girl Who Lived Twice”)

This little presentation ends with this explanation:

This Bible story tells us about our wonderful God who made us and who wants us to know Him.

God knows we have done bad things, which He calls sin. The punishment for sin is death, but God loves us so much He sent His Son, Jesus, to die on a Cross and be punished for our sins. Then Jesus came back to life and went home to Heaven! If you believe in Jesus and ask Him to forgive your sins, He will do it! He will come and live in you now, and you will live with Him forever. If you want to turn from your sins, say this to God:

Dear God, I believe that Jesus died for me and now lives again. Please come into my life and forgive my sins, so that I can have new life now, and one day go to be with You forever. Help me to live for You as Your child. Amen.

Read the Bible and talk with God every day! John 3:16.

We definitely want children to come to know the Bible and Jesus as early as possible.  Children are open to learning and our description of the good news of Jesus should be communicated clearly and simply. But does this kind of presentation (above) really lead the child to salvation through a repentant faith?

A Few Problems with Evangelizing Children

Probably many people do recognize certain problems inherent in the child evangelism movement.  We recognize that parents are concerned about their children’s spiritual welfare and they want to be at peace with the thought of their child’s relationship with God. If this is combined with a defective or limited view of sin and conversion, we can see why a devoted father and mother might want to urge their young child to be saved from sin and go to heaven.

Historians suggest that this same idea was motivational in the early second and third century church. People thought that their newborn child would go to hell without baptism, thus they began to emphasize the importance of baptizing a child as young as possible. Some said immediately at birth and others said to wait for eight days (similar to the Jewish practice of circumcision). Therefore, they discarded the first century emphasis on faith and repentance found in baptism and began to “baptize” babies who could neither repent or have faith. The important thing—according to developed theology—was for the child to be “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5).

This same kind of pressure is found among parents today. Since the wages of sin is death, and since baptism has nothing to do with forgiveness (according to Evangelical theology), there must be a way for young children to be saved from sin.  There must be a way for an eight-year-old, a seven-year-old, or even a six-year-old child to be saved (one person I knew even said that her three-year-old grandson had been saved and baptized!).  If we combine this idea with the false but popular idea that we are saved by “simply believing” with little or no genuine repentance, we can see how this promotes child evangelism.  A child cannot weight the cost of following Christ, cannot know the seriousness of sin, and cannot have a comprehensive faith in Christ and the saving work of Christ, but that same child can “simply believe” in Jesus. Along with this is that we just “invite Jesus into our heart” even if this idea is absent from the New Testament.  Certain scriptures (e.g., John 1:12; 3:16; 1 John 1:12; Revelation 3:20) are also employed to promote the easy believism response.

Why doesn’t a child of eight, six, or four have the capacity to come to Christ and understand the gospel of Christ?  We suggest the following:

  1. A child doesn’t have the capacity to understand the abstract concept of God (John 5:24).
  1. A child can’t understand the rationale of Christ’s death for sin (Romans 3:24-25; 5:6-11).
  1. A child can’t understand the need of faith in Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9-10), as Son of God (John 20:30-31), as the Christ (the Anointed one or Messiah) (1 John 5:1)—all of which is necessary content of our faith.
  1. A child doesn’t have the ability to have a change of heart and mind—repentance—that is necessary for salvation (Luke 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 20:21; Romans 2:4-5).
  1. A child can’t comprehend the need for a radical change of direction in life from being self-centered to being God-centered (1 Thessalonians 1:9).
  1. A child can’t see the need for a commitment of life that will impact one’s entire life and what we do and say (2 Corinthians 5:17).
  1. A child doesn’t have the ability to deny self and take up the cross of true discipleship (Mark 8:34-37).
  1. A child can’t perceive the meaning of baptism into Christ and into His death (Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:11-13; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Mark 16:16; Matthew 28:19-20).

These are a few reasons why a young child doesn’t have the capacity to come to Christ as the New Testament envisions.  For this reason, those who stress child evangelism devise certain means to help the child understand salvation. They use the “invite Jesus into your heart” approach. Or they use the “sinner’s prayer” approach.  They want the child to make some kind of step of faith and then assure the child that he or she is saved. Regretfully, from what we’ve read, many of these young children later have little idea what they did as a first or second grade child. They frequently (or perhaps usually) find the need to “invite Jesus into their heart” when they are adolescents.

A General Critique of Easy Believism and the “Sinner’s Prayer” Approach

We have probably already covered much that could be mentioned under this heading.  Those who are older than the youngsters in the above section (from adolescence to old age) are often presented with this emphasis on “simply believe and you will be saved!” We don’t debate the fact that the general principle of salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), but we do question the thesis that one is merely saved by a bare belief in Jesus as presented in the common Evangelical, Fundamentalist, and Charismatic circles.

In one respect, faith is simple but we question whether it should be considered easy!  Here are a few objections that we would have to this faulty “easy believe” presentation:

  1. Our response of faith is more than an intellectual exercise, but it does involve some understanding of the core facts of the gospel (cf. John 20:28-31; Acts 2:22-24, 37ff; Romans 10:9-13). This requires something more than a momentary and superficial approach of reading a “Four Spiritual Laws” tract.
  1. Our faith must view such things as God as Creator (Acts 17:24-31; Romans 1:16-21) as well as Jesus as the Christ (Messiah, the Anointed One) (1 John 5:1), the Son of God (John 20:30-31; 1 John 5:11-13), and as the risen Lord (Romans 10:9-10; 1 Corinthians 15:1-5). A “quickie” message can’t approach such a comprehensive faith.
  1. Our repentance must involve a remorse over our past sins and inner sinful self and a determination to turn from those sins to God and His kingdom (Acts 3:19; 20:21; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).
  1. Our repentance must be coupled with a purpose to henceforth walk according to the will of God and “perform deeds appropriate to repentance” (Acts 26:20; cf. Matthew 3:7-8). We must be willing to forsake our sinful ways and do God’s will (Proverbs 28:13). Further, we must be willing to make restitution for our past wrong-doing (cf. Luke 19:8-10).
  1. Our believing and repentant response to Christ must involve a commitment of life in which we are willing to deny self and take up the cross of discipleship and self-denial (Mark 8:34-37). We become a disciple of Christ Jesus when we come to Him for salvation (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 11:26).
  1. At times, our decision to come to Christ in repentant faith will result in great sacrifice and suffering. This is a sobering reality that must be faced by one who would turn to God in Christ (cf. Luke 14:25-27, 33; Matthew 10:32-38).
  1. Our coming to Christ will result in our becoming a member of Christ’s body (part of God’s congregation of saved ones) (cf. Acts 2:47; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Romans 12:3-8). (The manifestation of this will vary from person to person. We must remember that the Ethiopian departed for his home country as a lone individual, Acts 8:26-39.)

These observations should not suggest that one who comes to Christ for salvation must have a fully-developed faith and a full comprehensive of repentance and what it will mean in his life. But he must, at least, have some elements of genuine repentant faith that goes beyond mere mental acceptance of Jesus.

The “sinner’s prayer” approach is generally coupled with easy believism. A few observations must be made about this means of coming to Christ:

  1. The so-called “sinner’s prayer” is not really described on the pages of the New Testament. One can only hold to this through certain implications found in Scripture. If it is not really taught, why should we believe in it?
  1. The passages that are thought to support a “sinner’s prayer” are problematic. One of the chief ones is found in Acts 2:21 where the words of Joel 2:28 are found: “It shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” However, when the people want to know how to be saved, they asked, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (v. 37). Peter didn’t reply that they should pray to God for their forgiveness, but he did say, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v. 38). Repentance expressed in baptism was the means of coming to the Lord for His forgiveness.
  1. We also read of calling on the name of the Lord for salvation in Romans 10:13. But it is interesting to read of Paul’s own experience of this when he wanted to be saved. Ananias said to him, “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). Calling on the Lord is found in the context of baptism into Christ.
  1. The “sinner’s prayer” advocates also cite 1 John 1:9 to support their belief. There we read, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Confession of sin is definitely important for it shows that we recognize our sins and are prepared to repent of those sins. However, this passage is directed toward Christians who are already forgiven and are children of God. It is not given to those who are not yet saved.
  1. Probably the most popular passage to “prove” this approach is Revelation 3:20 where we read of Christ’s standing at the door and knocking. As we noted before, this is given to unfaithful and apathetic Christians who need to repent (cf. vv. 14, 19-22). It is not given to show unbelievers how to be initially saved.
  1. If the “sinner’s prayer” as it has come to be practiced is not found in the New Testament, why do we have this teaching? Probably many people think that a bare mental faith was not sufficient. They concluded that there needed to be some overt expression on the part of the sinner to solidify his own faith and decision.  It would seem that the human personality needs such an explicit committal. But why choose a simple little prayer? Why not accept what Scripture says about baptism? This is the Lord’s own overt act of faith and repentance and commitment and it is found repeatedly in Scripture (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38-41; 8:12, 35-39; 10:47-48; 16:15, 30-34; 18:8; Romans 6:3-5; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 2:11-13; 1 Peter 3:21).
  1. The “sinner’s prayer” idea is a relatively new teaching. Mainly, it has been promulgated during the past two hundred years and was popularized during the American revivals.  The famous and popular Billy Graham crusades in leading cities did much to promote the “sinner’s prayer” concept, along with Bill Bright’s “Campus Crusade” use of his “four spiritual laws” approach. But why not go back to the New Testament and see what “method” of coming to Christ is found there? That is the best way. No, that is the only way!
  1. The concept of “inviting Jesus into your heart” isn’t found in the New Testament. Quite frankly, the idea of being in Christ is found many places in Scripture, especially used by Paul in his writings (cf. Ephesians 1:3, 4, 6, 7, 13; Philippians 1:1; 2:1; Romans 16:3, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13). But the idea of inviting Jesus into the heart is absent in the New Testament writings. We do read of being baptized “into Christ” (Galatians 3:27; Romans 6:3-4). The important thing is being in Christ, for Paul wrote that the gift of God “is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Let’s Return to the Salvation of Scripture

Whether we are speaking about a person seeking to be saved by means of a superficial faith, or a child who isn’t old enough to respond to the crucified Christ with an acceptable level of commitment, or someone who assumes that it is right to “invite Jesus into his heart,” we encourage you to return to Scripture to discover how to be saved.

This matter is of utmost importance for it is a matter of life and death, of a false conversion and a true salvation experience.  The Lord Jesus gives us a preview of the great Judgment scene: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23). These are religious people. They must be professing “Christians”!  They even claimed to prophesy, cast out demons, and perform miracles!  But Jesus, the Judge and King, will say, “Depart from Me!”

We don’t want this to be our experience on that great Day that is surely to come!  Let’s make sure that we truly come to Christ Jesus for His great salvation, and let us do so in the way that He has given. That Day will show the fallacy of the false ways that religious leaders and others have devised.  Let’s search the Scriptures and discover how people were saved in the first century under Christ’s apostles, and let’s make sure that this reflects our own experience with the Lord!

Suggested Reading

  1. Shipwreck to Salvation
  2. Are You Truly a Christian?
  3. Have You Been Deceived?
  4. Can I Be Sure of Going to Heaven?
  5. The Roman Road to Salvation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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