The Gospel and the Sinner's Prayer

An encounter with a gentleman the other day reminded me once again of the need to preach, teach, and clarify the gospel as much as I can.

During our conversation, I asked this gentleman if he was saved and, if so, how did he know he was. It is his response that really concerned me.

He emphasized that he knew God was real and that as a boy he had asked Jesus into his heart. Now I can certainly understand how a five-year would share such a testimony of his salvation. Although, I would hope that if the child is in a home where the father or mother understands the truth; he or she would be able to do a better job of articulating the gospel. This gentleman was not a child, and I certainly would have thought he could be more defining in his explanation of the truth.

Once again, I was in situation in which a person was taking me back to a point when they prayed a prayer.


Prayers don’t save people from their sins; prayers don’t justify people before God; prayers don’t sanctify believers; and prayers don’t take people to heaven.

It is FAITH in the Lord Jesus as one’s Savior and FAITH alone that saves. Saved people have believed the gospel. Saved people have fully embraced the truth of the gospel as their own and are trusting in God to fulfill His promise through His Son Jesus.

The thief on the cross was not baptized and was NOT led in the “sinner’s prayer”. The thief on the cross acknowledged that the one being crucified to his left or right was an innocent man. He was so much more than an innocent man, He was the Messiah! By faith and faith alone, the thief believed that Jesus of Nazareth was not just the son of a carpenter—He was the Christ.

How do you know you are saved?

Give testimony of your present day faith in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Testify of your need for forgiveness and the truth that Christ died so that you now do not have to be condemned. Speak of God’s act of justification whereby your sins are pardoned because He who knew no sin was made sin so that you could be righteous. Talk of your dependence upon God to fulfill His promises in and through His Son Jesus and your faith in those promises.

Share how you were once a child of wrath but by the power of the gospel, Christ has radically changed your life and you are counting on Him who began a good work to perform that work.

When someone says, “How can I know for sure?” Please don’t respond with, “Has there ever been a time when you asked Jesus into your heart?”

Do you realize that there are millions of people who ask Jesus into their heart every day over and over and over again? Catholics ask Jesus into their heart. Mormons ask Jesus into their heart.


This is what we need to be asking: “Can you give me a Bible reason why you know you will not experience the wrath of God in a place called Hell forever and ever?”

And when they say: “NO, I can’t.” Don’t lead them into a prayer to receive Jesus—show them Bible verses that explain God’s plan of salvation and challenge them to begin believing this very moment on the truth of the gospel by faith alone. It is when they believe that they are saved, not when they say the “magical” words. In Acts chapter 2, Peter did not lead the crowd in a prayer of salvation. Instead, he told them to repent and be baptized. Yet we have preachers and famous television Bible teachers, of both genders, leading people corporately in the sinner’s prayer.

“What are we doing?” What Biblical example are we following when we lead someone in a “sinner’s prayer” and then tell them that because they prayed this prayer they are saved?

Jesus commends FAITH in Himself as the Messiah in the gospels.

Perhaps a prayer to increase one’s faith would be appropriate. “Lord I believe, help thou in my unbelief.” And on a different occasion, the apostles collectively asked Jesus to increase their faith.

In Luke 18.42, Jesus said your FAITH [in Jesus] has saved you.

To another man Jesus indicates that because of his faith, his sins were forgiven.

I am afraid we are confusing a lot of people when we say that this prayer has no power to save you, and then we proceed to lead them in a prayer of salvation.

There is nothing wrong with praying during a gospel presentation; the thief on the cross prayed but his prayer was a Spirit led petition for mercy—he asked the Lord Jesus if he would remember him when He entered into His Kingdom. The thief already had saving faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ and acknowledged him as King. Another human didn’t prompt him or pressure him into praying a prayer; it was the Holy Spirit working in an invisible way that gave him the faith Christ on the cross to petition God.

We want them to believe—believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.

Believe the gospel. Believe in the person of Christ, believe in His salvific work on the cross, believe that He who was sinless became sin so that we could be made righteous, believe that He rose from the grave and eternally defeated every enemy of God, believe that He is currently on the right hand of the Father advocating on behalf of all those who believe, believe, believe and believe again.

We want them to understand that this type of belief results in a changed life that gives evidence of conversion or fruits of repentance and faith, because the power of the gospel to save souls has already begun to work in the life of the believing sinner the moment he or she trusts in Christ.

To the unsaved man or woman we say: Submit to God today in faith and trust the Lord Jesus Christ with the destiny of your life. We ask them if they are willing to do that today and wait for an answer. If they answer YES, then we: assure them, using Bible verses, that this kind of faith results in conversion; we invite them to church; encourage them to begin reading the Gospel of John; tell them we would like to meet again to talk about baptism; and close in prayer.


Please recognize that in times past God turned a blind eye at man’s ignorance but now commands all people everywhere of every socio-economic level, gender, color or creed to REPENT (Acts 17.30).

The apostle’s message must be our message and it is summed up quite nicely in Acts 20.21:

Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

Turn to God and trust Christ today. Do it today while you still have an opportunity to believe. Almost persuaded is completely lost. You are either saved or lost. There is no in between. Either you are condemned or you are not condemned. There is no in between. You are either pardoned or NOT. There is no in between.

If you are struggling at believing, pray that God would reveal Himself to you and give you the faith you need to believe. Ask God to show Himself to you and reveal the truth of the gospel in your life so you can believe.

Cry out to God in the privacy of a walk in a field and ask Him for the faith that changes hearts, opens blind eyes, and converts the soul. (If you are the soul-winner encourage your lost friend to seek God while He still may be sought.)

If you believe, confess sin and thank God for sending His Son to be your Savior. You don’t have to say anything special because if you are a believer, this prayer will be the first of thousands upon thousands in which you will praise God, confess sin, petition God, and express thanksgiving.

What if I prayed a sinner’s prayer in the past—did I do something wrong? No, praying a prayer to God is not wrong, but it didn’t and doesn’t save you. Don’t cling to your prayer—cling to Jesus. Recognize that the reason you had a hunger and thirst for God was because God was at work in your life, and in all likelihood, you were already born-again before the soul-winner led you in a prayer. If you have doubt about your own salvation, ask yourself if you have been depending on the efficacy of your prayer or the finished work of Jesus on the cross.


Some may say, “but doesn’t the Bible say: ‘If you ask anything in my name I will do it?’ (John 14.14)” Yes it does. It does say that, and it is most generally understood that asking “in my name” reflects asking according to His will.

So what is God’s will concerning man’s salvation? God’s will is that men, women and children repent and believe the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. If this wasn’t God’s will, then I need an explanation as to why Christ presented a continuous requirement for all people to repent and believe the gospel.

A prayer that is contrary to the will of God is a prayer that God does not answer. There isn’t any indication in the New Testament that one must ask Jesus to come into their heart. There are examples of broken and contrite hearts asking for mercy and forgiveness, but in these cases the petitions are not prompted or pressured by a soul-winner. They come from the heart of a person convicted by the power of the gospel.

No one can say I don’t want to repent, but I do want God to save me—that is ridiculous. Likewise, if someone has repented and placed their faith in Christ, then there is no reason for them to pray for Jesus to come into their heart and save their soul. If they have already believed the truth, then they are born-again and their prayer should be a prayer of confession and thanksgiving.

What the Bible indicates is that the Spirit of Christ fills the believer when he or she is saved—not when they ask.

When the jailor asked Paul what must he do to be saved? Paul did not respond with: “Ask Jesus into your heart.” His response was recorded and preserved in the Word of God as inspired and instructional. It was very simple—“BELIEVE in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” Someone may say I don’t see repentance in that verse. Look again. Look again at the very specific reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith in the Lord—the King—the Master explicitly implies repentance. Even a moment’s worth of repentance is a clear indication of the Spirit of God at work—think about the thief on the cross again.

Think about how much we confuse people when we say: “now the words that we are going to pray will not save you” and then we lead them in a prayer. There are even websites that say: “If you prayed this prayer and meant it click here.” (What the site should say is: “If you have decided to follow Jesus click here.”)

May I ask why we do this? Why have we been taught to do this? Let’s be honest—we know the prayer isn’t necessary for salvation, but we feel we need to know if God saved them. So we say “would you like to pray to receive Jesus or to have eternal life or to be saved?” This is when we introduce confusion and potential future issues for this new convert. The reality is you have a greater assurance that they are saved if they become faithful to corporate worship, volunteer to be baptized without being pressured, read their Bible without anyone nagging them, and begin to change all to the glory of God.

Why would anyone tell someone: “You are saved if you pray this prayer” when you can’t assure them of that fact? I can’t save anyone. What I can do and must do is preach the gospel. Look again at the Apostle Peter’s message in Acts 2. I want to model my life and ministry after the apostle’s doctrine.

When a new believer begins to doubt their salvation, they will doubt with questions like: “Did I say the right words?” “Was I sincere enough?” “What if I can’t remember what I prayed?” Questions like this and so many others are completely unnecessary because praying a prayer doesn’t save a soul. It is the power of the gospel that makes a new creature in Christ—not a prayer of salvation.

Saving faith is faith in the Word of God and the God of the Word, not in the prayer of salvation.

If they have expressed faith in the finished work of Christ, may I suggest that we give them assurance of their conversion BEFORE we close in prayer? This is an intentional decision to interject assurance verses before prayer to prove to them that they are not praying to receive Christ or eternal life.


The doubting Christian who doesn’t understand that it isn’t a prayer that saves will attempt to evaluate their sincerity or their emotions when they prayed the “sinner’s prayer.”

Instead, every doubting convert should examine their present day life to see what fruits of repentance exist.

In Acts 26, Paul pushes King Agrippa to believe, not to pray a prayer. Paul asks the King: “Do you believe the prophets?” (At that time there wasn’t a New Testament to ask about). So Paul asks do you believe in the truth of the prophetical predications of a coming Messiah. Every Christian needs to follow Paul’s example and ask the potential brother or sister in Christ: “Do you believe the gospel presented in the New Testament?” Obviously, the gospel must be thoroughly presented before the person can ask do you believe the gospel; but once it is presented, the only thing left to do is to ask this question: “Do you believe?”

Do you believe? If the potential convert believes, the Spirit of God residing inside them will lead them to pray; the soul-winner will not have to guide them to pray. The Spirit of God will guide them, and no one has to stand by to hear, observe, or lead the person in prayer. Obviously, I am not saying to leave as they are praying. My point is we don’t have to hear or approve the prayer, nor do we need to challenge them with “if you were sincere” or “if you meant it”.

If they need instruction on how to pray, teach them how to pray. But teach them how to pray after you have assured them of conversion based on repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But you say: “How will I know if they have repented and believed?” Ask them.

But you say: “How will I know if they meant it?” Tell them that the Bible teaches that people, who have repented (given an opportunity) always follow Jesus in believer’s baptism.

And when they schedule a time to be baptized in a local church, you will have a lot more assurance that they are born-again than if they prayed a sinner’s prayer. Don’t give them a false sense of assurance. Instead, challenge them to make a public profession of their faith in Jesus.

Let them know that when God saves someone from their sins, He makes them a new creature in Christ. They should begin to experience a sense of a burden being lifted, and a change will begin to happen in their life concerning their thoughts and attitude about God and godly things.

All this will be their confidence that God has begun a work in their lives and they must live by faith that God, who began this good work in their life, will perform it until the end as they outwardly express their salvation as salt and light.

This will take more than five minutes on the front porch—this will take time. But, isn’t just one soul truly converted worth it all?

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