Does the Sinners Prayer Save You?
As a Pastor, I have the responsibility of meeting and doing a lot of counseling with not only those who attend the church I pastor, but also ones in the community.
I would say out of 100 people I have sat down with and worked through issues in their lives many of them were not truly followers of the Messiah. Most could not tell me how they knew they were followers or Christians, only that they had said the sinners prayer when they were a little girl or boy at summer camp.
Why is it that we have so many people attending service every week, in over 4200 different denominations yet their life styles and behaviors are not much different than their counterparts who are not “professed” believers? Why are so many churches filled with people who do not have the evidence of a follower of Yeshua?
Well I think first and foremost you must go back to how they started. Most, if not all, went to a church service, heard a very heart touching song, and a message from a very polished speaker and then at the end of the service something like this was said:
“If you are here and you do not have a relationship with Jesus and you want one today, I would love for you to raise your hand, and let me pray with you. I don’t want to embarrass you, but would love to pray for you to invite Jesus into your heart”.
“Oh, ok, I see you, I see you over there. Yes! You in the back. I see you. Ok, now if you will repeat after me, or say something like this, “Heavenly Father, I invite you into my heart. Forgive me of my sins, make me new. I believe Jesus died on the cross for my sins, and today I commit my life to you. In Jesus name, amen.”
They are then given further instructions to fill out a card or let someone know that they made the decision and said the prayer.
You might be thinking or wondering, well heck, that’s exactly what I did!!
And you very well may have, but unfortunately, this is not in the Bible. As a matter of fact Yeshua, Paul, or any of the apostles did not tell their followers to say a prayer and they would be saved. No. But more on this in a minute.
Say what??….That’s not in the Bible??
So where did the sinner’s prayer originate from? Well it came about in the late 1950s or early 1960s when the big tent revivals were going on. A famous evangelist and baseball player Billy Sunday from Iowa, had been converted in Pacific Garden Mission. The Mission was Chicago’s most successful implementation of Moody’s scheme. Eventually, Sunday left baseball to preach. He had great public charm and was one of the first to mix ideas of entertainment with ministry. By the late 1900s he had become a well-known crusade leader. In his crusades he popularized the Finney-Moody method and included a bit of a circus touch. After fire and brimstone sermons, heavy moralistic messages with political overtones, and humorous if not outlandish behavior, salvation was offered. Often it was associated with a prayer, and at other times a person was told they were saved because they simply walked down his tabernacle’s “sawdust trail” to the front where he was standing. In time people were told they were saved because they publicly shook Sunday’s hand, acknowledging that they would follow Christ.
James 2:18 (TLV)
18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith without works and I will show you faith by my works.
The biggest issue with the prayer of salvation is that when asked, “are you a follower of Christ?” The overwhelming response is yeah I said the sinner’s prayer. The book of James tells us that this is not enough that it must be followed up by our works.
REPENT AND BE IMMERSED???
Mark 1:15 (TLV)
15“Now is the fullness of time,” He said, “and the kingdom of God is near! Turn away from your sins, and believe in the Good News!”
Luke 24:45–47 (TLV)
45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and He said to them, “So it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance for the removal of sins is to be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
Acts 2:38 (TLV)
38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be immersed in the name of Messiah Yeshua for the removal of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Ruach ha-Kodesh.
Coming to Christ is understanding that He paid the price for our sin (lawlessness – breaking of the Torah). It’s the turning away of those sins and following him, ie.. living as he lived:
1 John 2:5–6 (TLV)
5But whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God is truly made perfect. We know that we are in Him by this— 6 whoever claims to abide in Him must walk just as He walked.
This is powerful. Whoever claims to abide in Christ must walk just as He walked, so then the opposite is true as well, that those who say they are followers but do not walk as He walked are still in darkness and are not followers of Yeshua.
In Mathew 5 Yeshua tells us He came to complete the law, to fulfill it, to demonstrate to us what it looks like to walk out an obedient life. Our response to His love and grace at the cross is to live out our life for Him, truly becoming disciples of Him.
We don’t obey Torah to be righteous, but because we are made righteous through Messiah we obey the Torah
The evidence of a follower of Christ is not that we said a prayer and it’s not that we invited Yeshua into our hearts, it’s that we have repented of our sins, accepted His blood sacrifice on the cross for those sins, been immersed, and then we walk it out in obedience.
1 John 2:3–6 (TLV)
3 Now we know that we have come to know Him by this—if we keep His commandments. 4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God is truly made perfect. We know that we are in Him by this— 6whoever claims to abide in Him must walk just as He walked.
Salvation is by Grace
Now don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that works alone save. No sir, it’s by grace, through faith, lest any man may boast. We don’t follow and obey the Torah to gain righteousness, but because Yeshua has made us righteous, we obey the Torah. The prayer is not what saves people, it’s putting our hope and faith in Yeshua, who took on the penalty of our lawlessness that saves us.
Yeshua died on the cross paying the sacrifice for our lawless deeds. All 10 commandments each carry with them a death sentence for breaking them. He did not die on the cross for us so we can continue to live out a life of lawlessness.
This is the problem with the “sinners” prayer.
Now in closing I want us to understand that I truly know people who have said the sinner’s prayer, and by faith, turned from their ways and followed Messiah in obedience. But I know even more folks who go to church every Sunday, and yet their lives are no different from those of the world. They haven’t repented of their sins. They have been deceived that if they just say this prayer, then salvation is promised. So say the prayer, but put your faith and hope in Yeshua and live as He lived in obedience to the Torah and the commandments.
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