The sinner’s prayer – can it save you?
As a child I was raised by two loving parents with a deep abiding faith in Jesus Christ with an equally strong faith in the “power” of the sinner’s prayer to save the lost soul. As a child I obeyed the “gospel”, as I had been taught, and prayed the sinner’s prayer with the full expectation that when I was through with the prayer my salvation would be secure. From the age of eight I set about trying to live a Christian life. As a teen I went to church regularly, I studied (though mostly in Sunday school) and I sang in the youth choir. I did all the things the “church” and my family expected of me and yet I grew increasingly concerned that something was missing. I reached a point where I lay in my bed praying for God to guide me into a more complete understanding of his will.
I grew up at a time when a prominent evangelist would preach to stadiums full of people and convince them of the need to obey the gospel then end with an invitation for each one to utter the “sinner’s prayer”. He would encourage the people watching at home to do the same thing and assure them that this was enough to secure eternal life for them. I frequently saw people who had “been saved” by uttering the “Sinners Prayer” only to watch as their lives disintegrated into chaos.
In my later teens, either by a chance meeting or an answer to prayer, I met someone from the Church of Christ who introduced me to a group of diligent young bible students who began to study with me. It was then that I began to realize that there had been no confirmation from the scripture of the salvation process which I had been taught. I had been taught that the bible was the complete infallible word of God but my reason and logic had not been engaged in the salvation process so doubt and uncertainty were the inevitable result. I came to realize that what I had been taught was a small portion of the scripture which had been taken out of context without the supporting instructions from our Lord. It was only through study of the full context and depth of instruction found within the scripture that I finally learned the formula; [Faith + Acknowledgement + Repentance + Baptism = Salvation].
To be more precise one must:
1st Hear the gospel, the good news that Christ died for us and rose again (Romans 5:6-11, 14:9, I Corinthians 15:3-8, Matthew 27:35, Matthew 28:5-6, Luke 23:46, Luke 24:1-3).
2nd One must believe (have Faith) that Jesus is who He said He is (the Son of God) and that indeed He died and rose again (Mark 16:16, John 8:24, Hebrews 11:6, I John 3:23).
3rd One must also Repent (experience sincere regret or remorse and turn away from sinful behavior) (Acts 17:30-31, Acts 2:38, Luke 13:3 & 5, Mark 6:12).
4th One must Acknowledge or Confess their Faith in Christ as the Son of God and our risen savior. (Matthew 10:32, Luke 18:8, Romans 10:9-13) Worthy of note: Romans 10:13 is a key text used by proponents of the Sinner’s Prayer only group to claim that all one must do is believe, without any consideration given to the multitude of passages regarding the necessity of baptism. Faith and acknowledgement lead to baptism but stopping short in the process puts ones soul in great peril.)
5th Having repented and acknowledged ones faith in Christ, One must then be “Baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). It is through Baptism that we are buried with Christ (Romans 6:3-4) that we may live a new life. Scripture clearly indicates that It is through Baptism that our sins are washed away (Acts 22:16). 1 Peter 3:21 tells us that it is baptism which now saves us. Mark 16:16 says “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Without Faith, baptism is meaningless and does not save the lost. Conversely, without baptism, faith (and obedience) is incomplete. The Sinners’ Prayer, no matter how well intentioned, is still Faith incomplete. It may represent a great start down the road toward salvation but is does not signal arrival at the destination.
Acts 8:34-39 Recounts a journey during which Phillip was teaching a eunuch. “34 So the eunuch answered Philip and said, "I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?" 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. [Here the eunuch heard the gospel] 36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?" 37 Then Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." [Notice the faith and acknowledgement] 38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. [Note that Baptism was the act ultimately sought by the eunuch but that faith was a given prerequisite. Faith in itself was not enough].
Just a few verses later in Acts 9:17-20 Saul/Paul was baptized and immediately began to preach that Christ is the Son of God.
Matt 28:18-20 records the words of a resurrected Jesus Christ.
18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.
Christ provided a very clear path to salvation and one must take scripture in its entirety.
2 Tim 3:16-17 says, “16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
In all of scripture the sinner’s prayer is not shown as a route to salvation but has been arrived at by taking select passages out of context or by applying a principal inferred from an exceptional situation, specifically the thief on the cross (Luke 23:40-43). This situation is unique in that Christ himself is the sacrifice and the son of God. He alone has the power to forgive sin. For Christ to forgive a thief on a cross who had no way to be baptized and who had acknowledged him as the son of God is no stretch of the scripture. But to imply that this forgiveness is available to us without following the instruction which Christ himself had given (see Matt. 28:18-20) is a distortion of scripture.
In addition, Christ, upon his death, burial, and resurrection instituted the new law, the new “testament if you will”. Upon his resurrection the new law was complete. His forgiveness was only then available to all men without needing a high priest and the old animal sacrifices. Christ had to die first before the new law took effect.
Heb 9:16-10:1 lays out the need for the death of the testator in order for the New Testament to become effective.
For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. 17 For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood. 19 For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, "This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you." 21 Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. 22 And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission. 23 Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; 25 not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another -- 26 He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. 27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, 28 so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.
The thief on the cross died under the old law because Christ had not yet died and been resurrected. The thief did not have a risen savior to believe in and no need to be baptized into that death burial and resurrection of our now risen savior. Christ, in person, was his only answer as the thief hung on the cross beside our Lord. Connecting to the death burial and resurrection of our now risen savior through baptism is our only option.
Now for us, living under the new covenant or new testament and having done all that Christ commanded (in all scripture) to gain salvation gives a calm assurance that you did what Jesus asked us to do and that he is then faithful and just to forgive us. To give up that rock solid assurance that God’s grace is extended to us would be folly.
Thank you Lord Jesus for loving me so much.
By: Daniel Holzer
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