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“I read through some of the tracts that are posted on your blog and I cannot find any prayer of repentance. Do you have people ask Jesus to come into their heart or life?”

This is a good question and of the utmost importance, for it deals with the way in which we share the gospel…which is of the utmost importance.

In fact there are no examples of sinners’ prayers on my tracts nor do I lead people in a sinners’ prayer when doing evangelism. This is not to say that I think it is unbiblical to pray to God with contrition and repentance, asking for forgiveness, pleading his Son’s mercy and declaring allegiance to him. For I understand Scripture to teach that there is a needed response to the gospel. One must receive the truth of the gospel, embrace it by faith, and in this reception of divine truth there is a turning away from sin and self (repentance) and a desire to follow Jesus (cf. Luke 13.3; John 1.11-12; Acts 16.14, 17.30-31; Rom. 10.9-11, etc..). So my encouragement to pray is not to get people to pray a canned four sentence formula and then believe that it saves them, but rather I encourage folks to retire privately and do business with God that they might cling to Jesus who alone can save them.

Much of the issue that I have with the contemporary employment of the “sinner’s prayer” is the amount of trust that evangelists and professing Christians put in it (this is not a universal portrayal but is accurate in many circles). Many times I have spoken with someone about the gospel and the individual is living in unbroken patterns of sin, however, when confronted with the absence of holiness that is incumbent upon Christians and empowered by the Holy Spirit, the individual will dismiss my challenges by pointing to a day of decision and a reciting of a sinner’s prayer. What becomes sadly evident is that the individual is trusting in a prayer that they offered rather than in Jesus Christ who bled and died for sinners. In this end the sinner’s prayer unwittingly becomes an evangelical sacrament or work upon which the sinner clings to for merit and assurance…this is extremely dangerous and blasphemous.

So what do you do?

I think the biblical model is to hold forth (lovingly explain and proclaim) Jesus Christ in the gospel. In this explanation you tell who he is (creator & king), why he came (incarnation), what he did (redemption), and what he will do (judge & rule). This is laid out in a patient and loving manner but it does not lack the pointed urgency that is required (or the need to respond to Jesus in the gospel). Consider Paul’s example:

Acts 17:30-31 30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

You will notice that at the end of the tracts I write something like:

Based upon God’s loving exhortation, examine yourself, based upon the Scripture, to make sure that you are truly following Jesus.

It is a healthy and helpful spiritual exercise to examine our own hearts in light of God’s word to determine where we truly stand with Jesus (2 Cor. 13.5; 2 Pet. 1.10)

There are only two ways to respond:

.1. Continue rejecting God’s authority (sin)… result: guilt, death and judgment

.2. Submit to and depend upon Jesus (faith)… result: forgiveness

So at its heart it is a call to submit to the loving rule of Jesus in all areas, following him in earnest obedience.

So in a quick summary, I do think it is right to urge people to respond (ie repent—Acts 17.30) however I do not think it should be a magic formula prayer that ends up replacing Jesus as the Savior. I plead the glory of Jesus to hearts and if God is drawing them to himself he will make Jesus gloriously irresistible to their eyes (2 Cor. 4.4-6), knowing that no amount of striving either on my part or the unbeliever will bring about conversion, but rather that it is wholly the work of God.

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irishcalvinistemail.png-Fridays are Q&A Fridays here at IrishCalvinist.com so if you have a question fire it in to…

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14 thoughts on “Q & A Friday :: Do you use the sinner’s prayer in evangelism?”

  1. Barry says:

    This sounds so anti-F.A.I.T.H. Praise God and Amen! There are so many folks hanging on to that vapor with no signs of regeneration.

    This formula of directing folks toward saying a “sinners prayer” is so engrained in contemporary evangelism it is a hard habit to break. I was truly amazed after going out to evangelize with Chris I. in Old Market and with Chris P. in neighborhoods when they did not pursue this. In my mind the type of evangelism they were using allows the Holy Spirit to drive the agenda and not ourselves. Just preach the gospel. Let God draw whom He will.

    Thanks for the post Erik. Good stuff to think on this Friday.

  2. Matt says:

    Very interesting points. In thinking through the biblical examples of witness and conversion, I have to agree with you. Certainly prayer will be an expression of faith and repentence (perhaps even immediately and memorably), but it is not necessarily a moment of salvation experience and certainly not the basis for assurance. Those are given to us very clearly in scripture (1 John). “The prayer” (or prayers to God in general), like water baptism, should be expressions of obedience as result of faith. Only in that sense are they any basis for assurance. Continued obedience, love for believers, a lack of affection for this present world, and abiding in the truth must also be considered (1 John 2:3, 9-10, 15-17. 20-24).

    I also appreciate your point that we should encourage the lost to repent and believe. It is not as though we are just telling them that God is sovereign and will save them when He’s ready (true but not the whole picture nor the biblical example of evangelism). We are to “beg them to be reconciled” (2 Cor. 5:20), but not to manipulate them to simply recite a prayer. They should understand that salvation comes in Jesus Christ and not a formula. They should also understand the cost of this faith (Luke 14:25-35).

    By the way, I think I was saved the day I prayed “the sinner’s prayer”. By the grace of God, I understood the gospel and responded in faith and prayer. At the time I thought it was the moment. I was a young child but I remember it vividly. But in retrospect, as I’ve grown, I’ve learned that I cannot rely on my prayer for assurance (when I did, I didn’t get assurance anyway). I must look at God’s work in my life as the Bible prescribes to find my assurance. The prayer wasn’t the problem though; it was my understanding of what it meant that was flawed.

    I have one question, perhaps for another time. In thinking through the biblical examples of conversion in Acts, it seems water baptism is immediately encouraged as a response to faith (please tell me if I’m mistaken). Do you think this example is followed today? If not, why not? The issues are the same today as in the early church, are they not? I’d appreciate your thoughts. Thanks for the post.

  3. Don White says:

    Erik,
    Thanks for your post on this topic. I think that there are a large number of people trusting in a prayer rather than in the saving work of Jesus Christ. I wonder how many people have been inoculated to the true gospel because they have prayed “the sinner’s prayer.”
    When sharing the gospel, I usually point people to the example found in Luke 18:9-14. In this parable the tax collector demonstrates true humility and sorrow because of his sin. “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!'” Jesus said, “I tell you, this man went to his house justified….”
    This is a simple prayer that people can use as an example of how one who is under the conviction of their sin and guilt might come before a holy God.
    What I try and explain though, when using this example, is that the reason God can have mercy on a sinner who is undone by his sin is because of what Jesus Christ has done by giving Himself as a propitiatory sacrifice as described in Romans 3:21-26. God grants mercy not because of a prayer but because His justice is satisfied through His Son.
    Thanks again for your biblical insight into this issue.

  4. Eric, I agree with you 100% on this issue. I just finished writing my journey from false conversion on my blog. Here is a snippet – it demonstrates the foolish that some people actual view ‘praying a prayer’ as being the gospel:

    So I decided to go to church with him the next day. He asked me at the end of the service, “So what did you think of that?”, I said “I dunno…”. So he took me to a pastor, who led me in another prayer, and I was a Christian again!

    I was not regenerated by the Holy Spirit at that time, despite being told I was a Christian as I ‘prayed a prayer’ (my life was clear evidence that I was not converted). I praise God that He did in His timing bring the biblical gospel to me, that He then regenerated and saved me, and that I now trust in Christ and Him alone for my salvation.

  5. Bob says:

    The problem I have with the “sinner’s prayer” is just what is expressed or implied in the responses here and in other forums. And that is, everyone seems to assume something different about the meaning. Going on assumptions in any endevor can be dangerous, and I would say especially so in the matter of salvation.
    If after sharing/preaching “Christ crucified” (1Cor 1:23), we then make it clear that “Salvation is from the Lord” (Jon 2:9), that we must be born again John 3:3, that we must repent Matthew 4:17 and Luke 24:47, that we are saved by faith and not works Eph 2:8, then we can confess with our mouth Rom 10:9. That all these things may (?) be bundle into the “sinner’s prayer” is where I think the confusion comes. Many, many don’t understand this and therefore it becomes a mental exercise (works) rather than a piercing of the heart Acts 2:37.

  6. Javaguy says:

    Erik,
    before you groan, I just want to say that I agree with you. There has been way too much emphasis on the formula of being saved and not enough on the reason or the actual change that happens in the life of a new-born Christian. So, to say that there is a “sinner’s prayer” that needs to happen is wrong if the person doesn’t understand the meaning behind it. At the same time, I honestly thing that the moment a person makes the conscious decision to turn their life over to Christ is a prayer. It is speaking to God. It is opening the heart to Him and communing with Him. It may be the most genuine and sincere prayer that a Christian can offer. So, in my mind, praying A sinner’s prayer is absolutely vital, but praying “The Sinner’s Prayer” is dangerous. Thanks to Erik and whoever offered the question.

  7. erik says:

    Matt, good question…
    “I have one question, perhaps for another time. In thinking through the biblical examples of conversion in Acts, it seems water baptism is immediately encouraged as a response to faith (please tell me if I’m mistaken). Do you think this example is followed today? If not, why not? The issues are the same today as in the early church, are they not? I’d appreciate your thoughts.”

    There is no doubt that we see baptism closely connected to faith in Acts. It is difficult to gage how closely we model what they did. I can speak for us, we try to encourage new converts to make baptism a priority and offer them regularly. But I could see things being a little different on a mission field though…it is interesting to think about. I may be off of what you were thinking though Matt.

  8. mike says:

    Erik,

    Thank you for your continued devotion to the gospel of Jesus Christ. After reading this, I cannot help to think about Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians where he states that he did not come in cleverness of speech but to preach Christ and Him crucified!! Thank you for being Pauline in your thinking but more importantly fearing God rather than men!!

  9. Matt says:

    Erik,

    No you’re not way off, you addressed my queston. Thanks, I’m encouraged by your response.

  10. Javaguy says:

    This post was my last positive and constructive comment. FYI

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Erik Raymond


Erik Raymond is senior pastor of Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha, Ne. He and his wife Christie have six children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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