Over the last year or so, the idea of the “sinner’s prayer” has come under fire in many Christian circles. Some see it as harmful, some see it as Biblical, but most people are probably somewhere in between. Lately in a Bible study that I lead in our church, this topic seems to have found its way to the forefront of many of our discussions. What we come back to time and time again is that the “sinner’s prayer” is something that can be both helpful and harmful in our understanding of the Gospel. Let me give you a few examples.
The “sinner’s prayer” is helpful in providing a verbal expression for the desire of the heart. I think this is the most obvious benefit of the ides of the “sinners prayer”. For many people who are overwhelmed emotionally, intimidated by the moment, or just plain not well spoken, the traditional sinner’s prayer is a template for them to express their own desire to repent of their sin and place their faith in Jesus for salvation. Still, it is important to note that the sinner’s prayer is only helpful at this point if it does truly reflect the attitude of the person’s heart.
The “sinner’s prayer” is harmful when it makes us question if “we did it right”. Far to often in my ministry, I have seen believers, both young and old, tormented by the fear that they “did something wrong” when they were saved. Did they says the right thing? Did they walk the aisle? Did they really really really mean what they said? This is extremely harmful, because it puts the emphasis of salvation on a one time, past event, while totally disregarding the biblical understanding of salvation as a present posture of repentance and faith.
The “sinner’s prayer” is helpful in providing a moment in time that we can look to for our salvation. While it certainly is true that Scripture puts a very high emphasis on understanding salvation in terms of a present posture of repentance and faith, we must also acknowledge there is a definite, fixed event in time when a person goes from lost to saved, from dark to light, and from headed for hell to bound for heaven. To put it simply, there must be a point in time when someone first responds to the Gospel. The sinner’s prayer is helpful in giving us a memorable marker for this event in time.
The “sinner’s prayer” is harmful in giving many a false hope of salvation. You and I both know people who claim to be Christians but have absolutely ZERO evidence in their life to back this claim up. They simply rely on a prayer that they prayed as child, or when a FAITH team showed up at their house, or at a revival in a church they have never been to again. Needless to say, this reliance upon the sinner’s prayer as proof of salvation is devastating to these people ever truly understanding the Gospel and their need to be saved.
The “sinner’s prayer” is helpful in affirming the necessity to “call upon the name of the Lord”. One of the most helpful aspects of the sinner’s prayer is that it reminds us that we must all come to the place in our life when we call out to God in repentance and faith asking for the forgiveness of our sin and the transformation of our heart and life. The sinner’s prayer reminds us that we do not simply grow into faith, rather we must actively respond to the message of the Gospel and the drawing of the Holy Spirit.
The “sinner’s prayer” is harmful in reducing salvation to a one-time decision. Perhaps the most harmful consequence of the sinner’s prayer, even when it is unintended, is the reduction of salvation to a one-time decision that we make and move forward from. As we have discussed earlier, believers must learn to embrace the biblical presentation of salvation as a present posture, not just a past event. The mercies of the Lord are new every morning, and every morning we must respond to them. That is why the truest test of our salvation is not a prayer that we have prayed, but a faith that endures to the end.
Maybe the best way for us to summarize is by saying that the “sinner’s prayer” is both helpful and harmful to believers. When used properly, it is an awesome expression of faith, but we must be keenly aware of its limitations, namely that the prayer is useless unless there is faith in the heart for it to express. Leave your comments and thoughts below and check out the clip of David Platt discussing the proper use of the sinner’s prayer.