By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)
Recently while studying with a friend about the Gospel, I was reminded again of the need to study the Word of God carefully (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
You see, there are many false ideas and notions in the religious world around us (1 John 4:1).
For that reason, we must make sure that we receive the Word with all readiness of mind and search the Scriptures daily to determine whether or not the things which we are told are true (Acts 17:11).
My friend that I was studying with had made the comment that they were trying to teach people of the need to be saved.
That was wonderful!
Indeed, all the fallen sinners of Adam’s race need redemption (Romans 3:23).
My friend had pointed out that it was only through Jesus that a person could be saved.
That was wonderful!
Indeed, Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).
Then my friend made the following comment (paraphrased):
“Mark, I have been trying to get the lost to see their need to pray the sinner’s prayer and be saved from their sins.”
How tragic and how sad.
While I commend my religious friends for teaching people of their need to be saved, I am very saddened that so many proclaim that this salvation takes place in the form of a “sinner’s prayer.”
You see friends, there is no sinner’s prayer salvation in the Bible!
In each of the conversion accounts mentioned in the Book of Acts, sinners are NEVER told to pray the sinner’s prayer to be saved.
Instead, they are told of their need to believe in Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31) when they hear His Word (Acts 2:40; 8:11-12; 18:8), to repent of their sins (Acts 3:19-21), to confess their faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 8:37), and to be baptized into Christ to receive the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38).
It it is often argued that the statement “whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21), refers to the “sinner’s prayer.”
Yet does it really?
I would ask you to consider three things with me regarding this allegation.
First, the phrase ‘calling on the name of the Lord’ was a common expression used throughout the entire Bible.
It simply meant to serve or to obey God in whatever He has commanded.
The Lord was clear about this in HIs statement through the Prophet Zephaniah:
Zephaniah 3:9-For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, That they all may CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD, To SERVE HIM with one accord.
Do you see that here “calling on the name of the Lord” simply meant to “serve” or “obey” Him?
Isaiah the Prophet also made it clear that ‘calling on the name of the Lord” means to obey Him completely and with the whole heart:
Isaiah 55:6-7-6 Seek the LORD while He may be found, CALL UPON HIM while He is near.
7 Let the wicked FORSAKE HIS WAY, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him RETURN TO THE LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.
Calling on the name of the Lord simply meant to obey God with the whole heart.
Second, that “calling on the name of the Lord” here in Acts does not have reference to praying the sinner’s prayer for salvation is evident from the text itself; for if the people in Acts 2 had understood the phrase “calling on the name of the Lord” to be the sinner’s prayer, then they would not need to have asked, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).
They would have already known that they needed to pray the sinner’s prayer! Yet their response shows that they understood the phrase “calling on the name of the Lord” simply meant to obey God’s Word.
Third, the connection between Acts 2:21 and Acts 2:38 is clear, and it is here that we see what ‘calling on the name of the Lord” meant in this particular context.
Acts 2:21-And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on THE NAME OF THE LORD shall be saved..’
Acts 2:38-Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
We “call on the name of the Lord” when we as believers repent of our sins and are baptized by Jesus’ authority (in His name) for the remission of our sins.
Don’t we also see this with Saul of Tarsus? Saul was a believer who had repented of his sins and who had been praying to the Lord for three days and nights (Acts 9:9-11). Yet what was he told after those three days of prayer and fasting?
Acts 22:16-And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, CALLING ON THE NAME OF THE LORD.’
Most of our religious friends would have told Saul that he was forgiven when he prayed as a believing sinner who repented of his wickedness for those three days and three nights. Yet he was not forgiven until he arose and “got himself baptized” (literal translation).
Further, even though he had been praying for those three days and nights, he still had not truly “called on the name of the Lord,” i.e., he still had not done what God instructed him to do.
Since the sinner’s prayer is not in the Bible, where did it originate?
One author, carefully investigating that very question in great detail, has written the following:
“It is clear from this study that a theology that could support the use of the Sinner’s Prayer emerged in the middle of the nineteenth century. This is evident in the teachings of Methodist preachers, such as James Caughey and, especially, William ‘California’ Taylor. It was a crucial component of D. L. Moody’s preaching from the mid-1870s. At the end of that century, it would also seem very likely that the use of spoken Sinner’s Prayers was being encouraged in Moody meetings by some counsellors and by officers in The Salvation Army. This practice seems to have become common in the first half of the twentieth century, especially in America, with printed forms certainly appearing in books in 1922 and 1945. Cards, booklets and tracts with Sinner’s Prayers were being used from the late 1940s and 1950s, and they became common in the 1960s. Billy Graham and Campus Crusades’ Four Spiritual Laws have done more than anything else to popularise this method of evangelism, taking it to most countries in the world. Sinner’s Prayer evangelism, therefore, can be regarded as first emerging in the late nineteenth century, developing in the first half of the twentieth, before becoming a major form of evangelism from about 1960. Yet it is not good evangelism. As we suggested in chapter 2, there are better and more biblical ways to evangelise. It is recommended that you read chapter 2 again to become more familiar with those practices. Jesus said, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Matt. 28:19). This we must do and do it well.” (David Malcolm Bennett, The Sinner’s Prayer: It’s Origins And Dangers, 4039-4050 (Kindle Edition); Capalaba Qld; Even Before Publishing a division of Wombat Books)
To all of my denominational friends and preachers, I plead with you: please return to the Gospel plan of salvation that is clearly outlined in Scripture. Let us turn away from these human constructs and return with all of our might to the Word of God.
The sinner’s prayer IS NOT found in the Bible.
Could you face criticism for speaking out against these ideas (2 Timothy 3:12)?
Could friends from your denominational affiliation reject you for preaching what the Lord did (Mark 16;15-16)?
Is it possible that you will be hated by religious people for speaking the words of the Bible and turning away from the innovations of man (Galatians 4:16)?
Will God be proud of you for not being ashamed of His Word (Mark 8:38)?
Will people who desire to hear the Word of God be saved because you had the courage to speak that Word to them in love (1 Thessalonians 2:13)?
Without a doubt!
Friends, I plead with you: drop the “sinner’s prayer” and embrace New Testament Christianity.
The God of Heaven loves us so very much that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for the sins of mankind on the Cross of Calvary (Isaiah 53). Jesus died for each and every person (1 Timothy 2:6; 2 Corinthians 5:15) because He wants all sinners to be saved (Ezekiel 18:23; 1 Timothy 2:4). He died for us, was buried, and on the third day arose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).
With His blood, He established His church (Matthew 16:18; Acts 20:28) to which He adds all those who are saved (Acts 2:47).
Who are those whom He saves?
Those who obey His plan of salvation outlined above (Romans 6:17-18).
Why not today turn your life to the Son of God and let Him save you from your sins?
If we are faithful to Him, He has promised us a home in Heaven when He returns in judgment on the world (John 14:1-3; Revelation 2:10).
When we sin and fall away after being saved, He forgives us when we repent of that sin and confess it to Him in prayer (1 John 1:9).
Why not obey God today?
If I can help you in any way, please call upon me.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.