The “Sinner’s Prayer” and Standard Evangelical Views

prayer

The Sinner’s Prayer

The Sinner’s Prayer and Standard Evangelical Views

(With the Assemblies of God used as an Example)

Richard Hollerman

While it is not universal, we find a belief in the so-called sinner’s prayer very widespread. One would think that it is clearly taught in Scripture and exemplified in the early church. But is it? While some Calvinists object to it, many evangelical denominations just take it as a “given” in their presentation of the gospel.

As we understand it, the “sinner’s prayer” has been taught and practiced for about 200 years, from the early nineteenth century, during the revivalism of the early days of the country. With the help of D. L. Moody, Billy Graham, and other evangelists, this “easy believism” approach is something that nearly all of us know. Sadly, probably some of our readers have submitted to this approach and think that it is God’s will. And it might be that you think that you were saved through this rather modern method.

Recently I was going over the Assemblies of God website (as you are aware, this is a leading Pentecostal denomination in the United States but its influence is felt overseas). I typed into the search feature something like, “how can one be saved?” Let me show you the last part of the response I received:

You can receive Christ as your Savior right now, this moment! You don’t have to be in a church or special place, or have the help of a minister or priest. . . .

You can pray now, wherever you are. God is listening. Tell Him in your own words that you are sorry for your sins and that you want to receive Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. Ask God to help you change your heart and life. It’s your prayer He wants to hear. You can pray the following prayer, but it is not enough just to say the words. You must mean it from your heart:

“God, I know I have sinned. I believe Your Son, Jesus Christ, died to take the punishment for my sin. I believe Jesus came back to life from death and has the power to forgive my sin and change my life. Forgive me. Come into my life and change me. I want to live for You and follow Your plan for my life. I believe You have forgiven me, and I thank You for hearing my prayer, in Jesus’ name.”

God has forgiven you if you prayed this prayer and meant it from your heart. God knew before you were born that you would receive His Son as your Savior. Now you can begin the life He has planned for you! Step by step God will lead you to what He has chosen for you. He will show you the way to live and will teach you each day as you grow spiritually and become the person He planned for you to be.

http://followchrist.ag.org/decision.cfm

Let me make the following comments on parts of this presentation. We’ll just go over the several paragraphs that the Assembly of God gives as to how to respond to the good news of Christ:

You can receive Christ as your Savior right now, this moment! You don’t have to be in a church or special place, or have the help of a minister or priest. . . .

It is definitely true that one doesn’t need to be in a “church” or special place. Think of the different places where people were saved in the first century, as reflected in the New Testament. Those on Pentecost were saved in the city of Jerusalem (Acts 2:38-41), Cornelius must have been saved in Caesarea, along the Mediterranean coast (Acts 10:34-48; 11:14-18), the Ethiopian was saved along a road going to Gaza (Acts 8:26-39), the jailer was saved in Philippi in the middle of the night (Acts 16:31-34). In other words, God can reach a person wherever he or she may be.

You can pray now, wherever you are. God is listening. Tell Him in your own words that you are sorry for your sins and that you want to receive Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. Ask God to help you change your heart and life. It’s your prayer He wants to hear. You can pray the following prayer, but it is not enough just to say the words. You must mean it from your heart:

This is where the “sinner’s prayer” method is introduced. But the problem is that this is not found in this way in Scripture. Where is a prayer given as the way a sinner comes to Christ for His forgiveness? 1 John 1:9 can’t be the text since this is given to sinful Christians, not outright sinners. Revelation 3:20 can’t be the text for this, also, is a way for sinful Christians (in Laodicea) to get right with God.

Probably Acts 2:21 and Romans 10:13 are the closest that we would be to finding a “sinner’s prayer” in the New Testament. Here there is reference to “calling” on the name of the Lord. However, it is interesting that in Acts 22:16, which recounts Paul the apostle’s own conversion, we have the words of Ananias: “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” It appears that one “calls” on the name of the Lord when he is baptized.

“God, I know I have sinned. I believe Your Son, Jesus Christ, died to take the punishment for my sin. I believe Jesus came back to life from death and has the power to forgive my sin and change my life. Forgive me. Come into my life and change me. I want to live for You and follow Your plan for my life. I believe You have forgiven me, and I thank You for hearing my prayer, in Jesus’ name.”

This is an example of what has been called “easy believism,” showing that they think one can be saved by hearing the gospel and responding to it, in perhaps a 15-minute time span. Then this one or two minute prayer is thought to bring salvation or the new birth! Indeed, it is an “easy” approach. The website is so confident that this is the way to be saved that the one who prays says, “I believe You have forgiven me.” But where is the guarantee that this is so?

Can one truly believe in Christ as He is presented in Scripture and also repent of his sins as found in Scripture? Can it be done in just a few minutes’ time?  But of even greater importance, where is there any reference at all to baptism? We know that the inspired record of the New Testament shows the importance of baptism. Peter, on the day of Pentecost, declared, “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” (Acts 2:38). Notice also Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 8:35-39; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 2:11-13; 1 Peter 3:21). As we read passages like these, we see that when a person turned from his sins and placed his faith in Jesus Christ, he was immediately baptized, and the result was that the person was accepted by God and forgiven by Him.

God has forgiven you if you prayed this prayer and meant it from your heart. God knew before you were born that you would receive His Son as your Savior. Now you can begin the life He has planned for you! Step by step God will lead you to what He has chosen for you. He will show you the way to live and will teach you each day as you grow spiritually and become the person He planned for you to be.

Yes, there are some truths here, but is it right to offer the sinner some assurance like this when Scripture places so much importance on the response of baptism? We think that the response above, from the Assembly of God, is presumptuous and fails to take Scripture seriously.

What Shall We Do?

Elsewhere in the True Discipleship site, you will find a lengthy article entitled Easy Believism and the Sinner’s Prayer which we would encourage you to study carefully, especially if you have been affected by this subject personally.

We need to point out here that although we have given the denomination known as the “Assemblies of God” as an example of an easy believism approach, this is something that you might find in other Pentecostal bodies, in the various Baptist denominations, in many independent churches, and many others. Wherever you may find it demonstrated, recognize the need that these groups have of changing their approach!

But what happens if you thought that you were saved, forgiven, and born again by repeating a little prayer like the one offered above? Are you convinced now that this is not the way one is to respond to the gospel to be saved? If you can see this yourself, we wouldn’t want to reply on this “method” as the way to become a Christian. If you are now convinced that it is false, I encourage you to do just what Scripture says to do to be saved!

A relationship with God is too precious and eternity is too long to jeopardize your present relationship and eternal welfare by depending on an “easy believism” response and the “sinner’s prayer” approach. Be willing to humble yourself and come to God for His forgiveness in just the way that Scripture teaches.

Please look into this today and determine that you will believe, then obey what you read in God’s Word. This is the best and only way!

 

 

 

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